The food court doesn’t cut it any more. Shopping centers look for creative ways to lure potential customers; ‘anything that creates buzz is wonderful for us’
Hoping to increase foot traffic, the Rosedale Center in Roseville, Minn., opened its doors to dog owners, offering them a place to walk pets on frigid Sunday mornings before stores opened. The mall wasn’t prepared for what it unleashed.
This year, more than 400 pooches descended on the two-story shopping center each week. There wasn’t enough time to clean up before the stores opened and many dog owners ignored the free wipes and reminders posted throughout the property. Shoppers groaned about odors, allergies and pet hair on mall furniture.
“We started getting complaints from our customers that were coming in because we just couldn’t keep up,” said Lisa Crain, general manager of Rosedale Center, which is 1.1 million square feet.
The American mall is fighting for its life using the one advantage it has over online stores: vast amounts of space perfect for a giant dance party or a parking lot circus. Sometimes, like the dog-walking play, ideas backfire. But malls plow ahead. “We’ve got to think outside the box. Why not see what happens?” said Ms. Crain.
Pacific Retail Capital Partners last month threw a silent disco dance party in Santa Barbara, Calif., at the Paseo Nuevo open-air shopping center, where attendees grooved to music played on wireless headphones rather than a speaker system. The dance party draws big crowds, mostly college students. Stores experienced a 20% to 200% uptick in business on the day of the disco dance party, said Najla Kayyem, senior vice president of marketing at Pacific Retail.
In Los Angeles, the colossal Beverly Center decided to use its space to support LGBTQ rights (and increase foot traffic) with a Pride celebration in June.Drag queens performed and spoke in the mall’s Grand Court—between the Macy’s and the Bloomingdale’s. The event featured a “Tea with the Queens” interview panel, moderated by television personality Carson Kressley, followed by performances, including a lip sync by Bob the Drag Queen. Bob, a winner of TV’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in a short black sequined dress that unfurled into a long rainbow dress halfway through the song. The audience erupted in cheers. The event drew more than 1,500 people, according to the center’s owner Taubman Centers Inc.
Some attendees received drag-queen makeovers from staff at Sephora. The event helped to keep the shopping center relevant to the community, said Susan Vance, Beverly Center’s marketing and sponsorship director. Some people who attended returned later to shop, she said.
Participants at an indoor dog-walking event atthe Rosedale Center in Minnesota. North Riverside Park Mall in North Riverside, Ill., used its ample parking lot to host the Paranormal Cirque 10 times this summer. The acts included acrobats and illusionists with elements of horror, and ticket prices ranged from $10 to $50. Children under 17 had to be accompanied by an adult.
More than 500 people turned up for each show in the black and red big top tent during the two weeks, said Lidia Darkova, North Riverside’s marketing director. “It was very edgy,” she added. “Anything that creates buzz is wonderful for us.”Despite the show’s R-rated material, “mall landlords are now reaching out to us,” said Chante’ DeMoustes, chief operating officer and producer at Cirque Italia, the parent company of Paranormal Cirque.
Most of its recent performances have been in mall parking lots, she added. Rene Pulido went with her husband and another couple to a Paranormal Cirque show this summer at the parking lot of Orland Square Mall in Orland Park, Ill. Instead of going to a restaurant in the mall, they stopped at another a mile away. “We went to Hooters because we wanted some cocktails beforehand and a little snack,” said
Mrs. Pulido. The 48-year-old hairstylist added that for future shows, she might go into the mall “if it was nice and close to the event.” The Minnesota mall that opened its doors to dog walkers couldn’t bring the event to heel and ended up canceling it, disappointing many. A performance by the Paranormal Cirque.
What would you do with vast, empty mall space? Rollerblade? Scavenger hunt?
Ann Marie Froehle says she shops at the Rosedale Center mall once or twice a month, and enjoyed going there with Jax, her Shih-tzu and Bichon Frise mix, when the indoor dog walking program was launched. “People weren’t being good to the mall and that bothers me,” said Ms. Froehle. The mall hasn’t been discouraged from experimenting with other events to increase foot traffic. In May, Rosedale hosted a drag show that drew a sellout crowd. Tickets were $35 to $125, and those over 21 could sip on cocktails in the seating area. The show was held in an open area of the mall near Von Maur department store and stores like Aldo and Zumiez, so people who stood could see it free. Ads for the event said, “Shopping doesn’t have to be a drag.”
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