Shopping malls struggling? Not around here
Attractions, additions, even housing enhance shopping experience
Forget about the mallpocalypse.
Online shopping continues to do damage to retail hubs around the nation, but for a variety of reasons, southwestern Connecticut is its own bubble as shopping mall owners adapt their facilities to meet shifting trends in customer demands.
Though owners and managers suggest the state isn’t exempt from the nationwide trend away from malls, many in the region are thriving during turbulent times.
“We had to change our thinking and we had to change as quickly as possible into how we view our property and what works,” said Ken Sterba, general manager of the Connecticut Post mall in Milford. “And we saw that the sales were eroding from internet shopping, the lack of new retailers coming on the market for brick- and- mortar stores. You have to find different ways” to make a mall successful.
National reports have shown vacancy rates in shopping centers nationwide rising to new heights in recent years. Closures among department store like Macy’s and J. C. Penney have dealt the biggest blow, and hit local malls, as well. But successful centers have managed to shift with different trends to attract new businesses and visitors.
In many cases, Sterba said area malls throughout the region like Danbury Fair and Stamford Town Center have maintained their status as primary retail hubs in their respective cities. Being in one of the country’s richest counties is a major plus.
“I think we’re exempt down here because of not just the population, which I believe is growing, but also the household income here is higher than other parts of the country, as well,” Sterba said. “I think we are doing the right things now.”
According to census data, Fairfield County is the the fourth richest metropolitan area in America, with almost 20 percent of households earning at least $ 200,000 a year.
It’s that market that has allowed the region to not allow refrain from closing malls, but in fact build a new one, with the ongoing development of the SoNo Collection mall in Norwalk.
Experience- based tenants
Industry observers say regional malls have changed with the times. As the rise of retail boxes slows, mall owners and developers are creating locations for people to live, work and play.
“( Customers) don’t want to go to a traditional big box retailer, especially when you can buy most of it online,” said professor Jose Mendoza of Sacred Heart University. “The newest stores that we are going to get … will be stores that emphasize a brand experience or a consumer- toproduct interaction.”
In Milford, the Connecticut Post mall has sought out new businesses that can boost its entertainment value with customers, featuring a number of a bars and restaurants along with a long- standing movie theater.
The mall also debuted its latest addition with a new Dave & Busters in recent weeks. It’s the only location for the bar/ arcade in southwestern Connecticut and the second in the state.
“This tells you the direction that we are moving to,” Mendoza
“We had to change our thinking and we had to change as quickly as possible into how we view our property and what works. And we saw that the sales were eroding from internet shopping, the lack of new retailers coming on the market for brick- and- mortar stores.”
Ken Sterba, general manager of the Connecticut Post mall
said, adding that developers and mall owners are “building the millennial playground.”
A step further
Additions of theaters, aquariums and even bowling alleys are rapidly becoming the norm in the mall industry, which is driving other locations to go even further.
Across the country developers are even adding multifamily housing to their parcels to increase foot traffic. In Trumbull’s case, hundreds of apartments are likely to play a major role in that mall’s future.
“We’re not just putting in movies and health clubs, we are also looking at other things like bowling.” said Jim Agliata, vice president of development at Westfield, which owns the mall in Trumbull.“That all brings in more customers because it’s a broader offering to the customers and it increases their dwell time. Those people also have to eat and shop, so that adds a synergy to the center.”
Westfield officials are still awaiting word on their plans for 260 apartments units that were proposed in June. If approved, the center which has restaurants, an LA Fitness and a new aquarium, would have hundreds of shoppers at its doorstep every day.
Shoppers look for Black Friday deals at the Westfield Trumbull mall in Trumbull in 2016.
Construction workers build the SoNo Collection Mall in Norwalk in September.
Black Friday shopping at the Danbury Fair mall in 2016.