HOLYOKE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - Fifty years ago, shopping shifted from downtowns to suburban malls.
Now, many malls are suffering, some even closing, with the shift to online shopping, but some malls, including two here in western Mass, are adapting to the changes in shopping.
Gap, Victoria's Secret, J.C. Penney, and Abercrombie & Fitch have all announced they'll be closing stores this year.
More than 4,800 store closings have already been announced by retailers in 2019, according to Coresight Research.
Many of those stores are in malls, but many malls are now looking to non- traditional tenants to fill vacant storefronts.
"A lot of non-traditional uses for our shopping centers. That's what customers want, more new and exciting things. They're looking for a place to go where everything is under one roof," Hampshire Mall General Manager, Lynn Gray tells us.
Lisa Wray has seen a lot of changes over the last few years.
"We've undergone a major transformation in response to that. We have backfilled with a lot of unique uses, including PINZ Bowling, Arcade, and Restaurant . They just recently added axe throwing. We opened Autobahn, the electric go cart racing," continued Gray.
"Especially in a mall where there's a lot of traffic coming in, a lot of people don't expect something like this coming in here. Definitely a lot of wow moments when somebody comes in," stated Jake Sabageau of Autobahn Indoor Speedway & Events.
Malls like Hampshire and Holyoke, both owned by Pyramid, are now focusing on quality experiences, a range of non-retail services, and a greater mix of categories.
"Years ago, you wouldn't see big box tenants in shopping centers. They were one of the first developers to add them in, and then also adding entertainment. Some of our sister malls even have spas and hotels now, so it's really just evolving and changing all the time," says Pyramid's Director of Marketing Lisa Wray.
The Holyoke Mall, the biggest mall in Western Mass, opening in 1979, a year after the Hampshire Mall.
"Retail is always changing, but just staying at the forefront, trying to have new and unique experiences," continued Wray.
90,000 square feet of retail space has been filled by non-traditional businesses over the last six months at the Holyoke Mall
"Of that, it's been services like Xfinity. We've had a salon and spa open, we had a pop culture retailer open, called 'Box Lunch', we've welcomed Flight Fit and Fun, [and] Round One for entertainment, and, of course, restaurants, destination restaurants, 110 Grill and Sumo," said Wray.
Patrick McClelland is the area director for 110 Grill.
"Coming into the Holyoke Mall fits demographically. The mall is beautiful. They've done a lot here. This was a perfect opportunity for us coming in. It allows us the atrium seating, the outdoor patio seating, and it also offers something different to the mall," explained McClelland.
This is the second mall location for 110 Grill. There's also one in Albany, NY.
"We try to bring the atrium out into the mall for folks who want to be part of it. It's like sidewalk café dining. But then our outdoor patio with big fireplaces, tiki torches. This property allows us that too," says McClelland.
So mall owners continue to look to the future and adapt to remain viable.
"I think that we'll continue to bring in dining. I think we'll continue to look a new and unique entertainment concepts," says Gray.
"I see retailers continuing to evolve, and a lot of on line retailers are having a presence in shopping centers, so I think the successful retailers will have multi-channels to reach their shoppers," added Wray.
The latest addition to the Hampshire Mall is 'Faces'. The downtown Northampton fixture opened in Hadley a couple of weeks ago after it closed its Main Street store.
Abercrombie and Fitch told Western Mass News that while some stores will be closing, they will be investing in their stores, including 85 new stores experiences with 40 new stores