Will others follow Mall of America and provide free space for struggling moms and pops?

Discussion
Some of Mall of America’s Community Commons participants - Photos: (left to right) Captain Rebel, CandyColors, The Peach Eatery
Oct 02, 2020
Tom Ryan

Mall of America is donating temporary space to several local businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest. Called the Community Commons, the 5,000-square-foot space will be the rent-free home to 17 retailers starting on opening Oct. 1. The shops will be allowed to remain open for free until next spring.

Mall of America selected the businesses, all from the Minneapolis and St. Paul area, via an application process and partnered with nonprofit and municipal organizations as part of the effort. Although not part of initial plans, the businesses are all minority-owned.

The pandemic has taken its toll on retailers and restaurants. Yelp’s new “Local Economic Impact Report” indicates that from March 1 through August 31, 97,966 businesses across the country had permanently closed.

Some of the 17 stores participating in Community Commons were waylaid by riots that followed the death of George Floyd in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of Minneapolis.

The goal is to help the businesses get back on track. The program provides fixtures as well as marketing and promotional materials for every business at no extra cost.

“The Community Commons initiative is one of hope and possibility as Mall of America joins the efforts to help rebuild the hearts, minds and livelihoods of our diverse retail community,” said Jill Renslow, EVP of business development and marketing for Mall of America, in a statement.

Beyond any goodwill, Mall of America gets to fill a vacancy and avoid the eyesore of empty storefronts. Mall traffic may also benefit as consumers are looking to support local establishments.

“Skeptics may say Mall of America is just looking for positive PR at a time when most headlines are about delinquent mortgage payments, store closures, and thin crowds,” wrote Allison Kaplan for Twin Cities Business. “And who could blame them? Lively storefronts are a heck of a lot more inviting than empty storefronts. Even if there’s no money coming in, keeping the lights on conveys hope. Community Commons is a savvy gesture that comes at a time when people are anxious to lift up the disadvantaged and desperate to find some good in the world.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see Mall of America gaining more than good press from Community Commons? Does such an incubator program make sense for other malls trying to manage empty storefronts?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I love this idea for so many reasons. It helps small businesses, it helps the local community, it helps MoA."
"Genius move. It’s certain to attract new traffic. The two malls near me are nearly empty, and would certainly benefit from new tenants."
"It’s the perfect time of the year to do this; the offer through Spring of 2021 is generous. I hope more malls across the U.S. follow MoA’s lead before the holidays."

Join the Discussion!

18 Comments on "Will others follow Mall of America and provide free space for struggling moms and pops?"


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David Naumann
BrainTrust
David Naumann
CEO and President, Cogent Creative Consulting
6 months 10 days ago

Kudos to the Mall of America for helping small businesses in distress. Beyond the good press, the Community Commons initiative will bring more shoppers to the mall. This is a practice that I hope other malls with vacant space will adopt to help struggling business owners and bring fresh new retail concepts to malls.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

So these are businesses that could not reopen because of lack of funding? If it means they can continue their dream without having to pay rent, then this a great thing. I suspect this took a lot of coordinating but it’s a great people-helping-people moment and I believe everyone can learn from them.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

I love this idea. The Mall of America had experimented with an incubator space for local micro-businesses before COVID-19 and it looked to be very successful. Anything that lowers the barrier of entry for entrepreneurs is great, both for the mall as their offerings are more interesting and diverse, and for the community as more small business have access to the market. Win-win.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

Awesome idea and great to see. Benefits aside from the good press could be longer term. By providing incubator-type facilities MoA are potentially earning themselves future tenants as well as experimenting with the potential of making the space that they have “multi-functional” – a corporate adaptation that could well have huge benefits in the future.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I love this! It’s a win-win for the indie retailers AND for the Mall of America. Rent didn’t have to be free but it is, MoA’s generosity will result in strong word of mouth.

It’s the perfect time of the year to do this; the offer through Spring of 2021 is generous. I hope more malls across the U.S. follow MoA’s lead before the holidays.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Genius move. It’s certain to attract new traffic. The two malls near me are nearly empty, and would certainly benefit from new tenants. Let’s hope everyone gives this a look.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Interesting idea that solves problems for both sides. The question is, will anyone shop/buy at these places? There has to be a secondary screening, as in, does the business look like it’ll be a success? Otherwise you’re creating a whole new set of issues. Still, I like the thinking.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

I love this idea for so many reasons. It helps small businesses, it helps the local community, it helps MoA. Are you listening, Westfield?

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

This makes ultimate business sense. Fill those empty storefronts and do some good along the way. Yes the PR is nice, but I imagine this came out of an idea in a meeting where the topic was “what do we do with the empty store fronts?” I am not sure this leads to any more business for the mall, but empty store fronts cast a pall over the entire shopping environment.

Scott Norris
Guest

The museum where I volunteer (Northwest Airlines History Center) and the hotel it is situated in depend heavily on spillover traffic from the Mall of America — we are hearing about half the doors there are still dark. This move is appreciated but until the Upper Midwest as a region gets serious about stopping community spread, there’s no tourism coming here to spark the Megamall back to life.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

You bring up something that’s been little touched upon (except for a single thread about airport concessions): the devastating impact of the loss of spillover business as airport traffic has collapsed (still down 50, 60, even 80% … with little recovery in sight). Given the proximity of MoA to MSP, I’m guessing the NWAHC has been doubly affected; and sadly, there are hundreds — thousands — of sadly similar stories around the country.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Fifth Avenue and Times Square are the same way in NYC. No tourism. Those are two areas I would never go to because of the crowds. Now they are quite pleasant. A small upside to a serious financial problem. The big upside however is that rates of spread of the virus in NYC are the lowest in any city and most states.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Great stuff, indeed! According to a new University of California study, more than 40 percent of Black-owned businesses in the country have gone out of business since the coronavirus pandemic began. This is really a shocking statistic if accurate. Any way to help struggling retailers is a great thing.

RandyDandy
Guest
6 months 10 days ago
This is a definite win for MoA and the “mom and pop” retailers included. But the greatest majority of smaller businesses could not take advantage of this kind of opportunity. Case(s) in point, the condensed areas where most are at risk of going under (as some already have) —the neighborhood business district — need pure physical presences to ensure the vitality of the entire enterprise. This is for their own sake, as well as for all their neighbors’ businesses. So even though MoA’s undertaking is demonstrably beneficial to all involved, it is left to the heads of commerce, in cities grappling with the threat of one closure after another, to find ways of duplicating this process in a more wide-open environment. Is it their offices imploring commercial landlords to defer or reduce rents to these “one-offs”? Is it finding ways to corral businesses from barely managing to prospering, within these areas, to offer goods and services in unison with each other? In a controlled environment, like that of MoAs, creating a solid structure taking into… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

It depends, obviously, on the types of merchants that are enrolled. Traditionally, the presence of “mom and pop” retailers was the sign of a mall in decline — and perhaps it still is, given widespread reports of the same — but that had a lot to do with failing facilities that had little real choice in who they could select. Hopefully, by being preemptive this problem can be avoided.

One of the main problems they may face is that some of the things that make a business “mom and pop” — independence, quirkiness, a disdain for being told what to do — are 180° from what operators look for in tenants … some accommodation may be necessary.

William Passodelis
Guest

It is really tough to run a single “Mom and Pop” location! You all know that. I applaud this move and think it’s great, but being the realist, I want to know what is going to happen in Spring? These operators are making it, but most likely not raking it in. Once these stores are known and people perhaps get comfortable with their location, then what is MOA going to do? Perhaps a small fee to help support the incredible expense of heat and lights, okay, but if it becomes “pay up or get out”? That will be a huge disappointment. Time will tell, but this is so great to bring some reason and relevance as well as community to the mall.

Rachelle King
BrainTrust

This isn’t just goodwill, it’s just good sense. The sight of an empty mall is tough, both visually and emotionally, especially on local communities. What a smart but undoubtedly strategic decision to share this space. The people of Minneapolis/St Paul need this, especially going into the holiday season.

Sure, MoA will get press about this, but let’s hope what sustains is the gesture of goodwill and community support. But this is bigger than just community feels. From a business and industry standpoint, seems like Simon Property Group has just been tagged and they’re it right now.

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

Applause to Mall of America or any firm that helps those in need.

Here’s the rub: it’s very difficult for local firms to survive when surrounded by professionally merchandised stores in a different part of town.

The press won’t be as positive when evictions begin.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I love this idea for so many reasons. It helps small businesses, it helps the local community, it helps MoA."
"Genius move. It’s certain to attract new traffic. The two malls near me are nearly empty, and would certainly benefit from new tenants."
"It’s the perfect time of the year to do this; the offer through Spring of 2021 is generous. I hope more malls across the U.S. follow MoA’s lead before the holidays."

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