What kind of shopping mall is successful today?

Phipps Plaza manager Dwayne Herbert stands beside a $330,000 McLaren.

The LegoLand Discovery Center at Phipps Plaza features a Lego version of Atlanta. The high-end mall brought the attraction in a few years ago to diversify its offerings.

In the final shopping days before Christmas, many of us will walk into the American staple known as 'The Mall.'

Just a few years ago, many deemed the indoor shopping mall a dinosaur, on the brink of extinction. Many malls still exist as remnants of their former glory. 

So what makes for a successful mall?

“I guess [a mall] about like this,” says 44-year-old Kellie Skelton, who’s doing some holiday shopping at Phipps Plaza in Atlanta.

Built in 1969 and now owned by Simon Properties, Phipps is easily Atlanta’s most upscale mall. Stores include Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany and Gucci. Local car dealers display Maseratis. 

For Skelton, it’s where she’s always come.

“I like to shop here. And I like to eat here. And I like the Santa Claus here,” she says.

That’s exactly what mall manager Dewayne Herbert wants to hear.

The upscale cars, the chic shops and restaurants -- even the exclusive, reservation-only Santa -- they’re all part of a ‘bigger’ plan to not only lure shoppers, but to keep them in the mall longer.

“Where we see the value in coming to one of our shopping centers is we want to improve the experience,” Herbert says.

At Phipps, crafting that experience includes a 35,000 square foot LegoLand Discovery Center, one of just 10 in the world. A few years ago when the economy tanked, upscale became a harder sell. Bringing in a kids attraction seemed a gamble for the swanky mall. 

Turns out it was a smart one.

“Anything that brings in customers for purposes other than specifically to shop has proven to work pretty well,” says Jesse Tron with the International Council of Shopping Centers. 

In the face of the Great Recession, Tron says successful malls became nimble. Many dropped food courts in favor of sit-down restaurants. Others added services consumers can’t buy online, like salons.  Some are being repurposed into everything from community colleges to grocery stores.

And while new construction was in full-force pre-recession, “what we’re seeing now is redevelopment,” Tron says.  

Malls that didn’t survive are now being re-thought.  That’s the plan for Twin Peaks Mall in Longmont, Colorado, which is seeing its final holiday shopping season.

Anchor stores Sears and J.C. Penney have already closed. The city and a developer are fronting $80 million to demolish the mall and rebuild. The new outdoor shopping center will feature a Whole Foods, Sam’s Club and a mega cinema.  

About the author

Jim Burress is a reporter for WABE in Atlanta.

The LegoLand Discovery Center at Phipps Plaza features a Lego version of Atlanta. The high-end mall brought the attraction in a few years ago to diversify its offerings.

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