Mixed-use designs resurrecting “dying” malls

Becca Posner
Becca Posner

Many cities and towns face declining demand for retail space and the so-called “dying mall” dilemma. The closure of major retail stores has created ghost malls and empty shopping centers in areas that once thrived with activity. Fortunately, new mixed-use designs have repurposed and resurrected many of these centers.

Malls and other large box centers once designed specifically for retail have been reconfiguring to offer a variety of new experiences. These designs have combined a mix of uses that include bowling alleys, churches, concert venues, condos, grocery stores, ice rinks, medical practices, museums, offices, parks and, of course, retail outlets.

These developments are intended to create a city inside a city. And like a city, the more variety that’s offered, the more activity these repurposed spaces experience. The more creative developers have become in designing mixed-use spaces, the better the chances these centers have for survival.

Many successful reconfigurations have opened interior spaces and made them into outdoor parks and play areas. The goal is to create places at which the public will want to hang out for hours.

Pop-up stores constitute another successful concept that’s recently emerged in repurposed retail centers. Pop-ups are experimental stores that give new businesses opportunities to test concepts and promote excitement around new brands. Some development groups help pop-up stores design layouts, build interiors, hire employees and even run stores to measure performance.

Restaurants also have been successful in using the pop-up concept. In fact, the pop-up concept has helped reinvent, or even replace, the traditional food court model. Many malls have created marketplaces for local vendors, farmers and food court incubators to use.

The design has developed community kitchens or commissaries entrepreneurs can rent to create their own dishes and serve customers. This idea is essential for helping restaurateurs ease into business without the tremendous startup costs.

If a concept works at a food court incubator, it can be refined prior to establishing a permanent location. The entrepreneur tests their concepts in these marketplaces while being coached by experienced chefs, business developers and marketing experts. These contemporary designs to food courts give entrepreneurs opportunities to gain success while providing a full-service experience to consumers.

The creative solutions to our “dying malls” dilemma can be seen as inspirational. More and more people rally around local businesses and understand it takes the local community to make these stores and restaurants successful.

Incubators for pop-up restaurants at mall food courts could offer our restaurateurs a place in which to test their dishes and realize their dreams. Progressive ideas and movements like pop-up stores might become as widespread as retail centers once were, but only time will tell.