NEW YORK CITY -- The look of America's malls is changing. Once the sole domain of deep-pocketed retailers, malls are now wooing small, mom-and-pop stores. According to recent press reports, management companies across the country are trying their best to fill space abandoned by national chains and franchises by luring in local retailers. According to one mall management executive, "We're taking a look at anything to generate traffic."
The reason for the new approach, the experts say, is the recent wave of bankruptcies and strategic store closures among name-brand retailers. And the strategy seems to be working. Reduced rents are attracting owner-operated businesses that typically have lower salary overhead than larger retailers; the owners are the ones behind the counter. While not as profitable for malls as the larger chains, this new class of stores does avoid unseemly empty storefronts along a main concourse.
This new crop of mall tenants not only includes mom-and-pop stores that once graced downtown shopping districts, but the relatively new "pop-up" stores whose length of operation is determined by design through short-term leases that extend anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Larger spaces are now being filled with everything from churches to so-called "bounce centers" that include inflatable attractions for kids, while smaller retail spaces are going to stores that sell products ranging from locally produced gourmet goods to craft stores.
For bulk vending and novelty amusement operators, the change represents an unprecedented opportunity. While vending and coin-op have been increasingly welcomed in malls across the country over recent years, retail outlets owned by larger companies have remained elusive. Franchise agreements and corporate policy have prohibited the introduction of bulk vending and other coin-operated devices into locations. Now, with the proliferation of independent retailers into mall spaces, traditional bulk racks, skill cranes, prize merchandisers and photobooths can be located in mall stores in much the same way they were once placed in independent shops lining Main Street.