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Malls turn to luxury retailers

Matt Levin Nov 23, 2021
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Purveyors of luxury goods have largely fared better during the pandemic than lower-end shops. Spencer Platt via Getty Images

Malls turn to luxury retailers

Matt Levin Nov 23, 2021
Heard on:
Purveyors of luxury goods have largely fared better during the pandemic than lower-end shops. Spencer Platt via Getty Images
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After turkey and football, what else is there to do this Thanksgiving weekend? Well, there’s always the mall — if it still exists.

If your mall has survived the pandemic, it may look a little more bougie than it did in 2019. Think more Burberry and Cartier stores, and fewer JCPenney storefronts or Hot Dogs on a Stick. It’s all part of a very K-shaped mall recovery.

The 5.5-million-square-foot Mall of America near Minneapolis felt more like a retail mausoleum for much of 2020. That’s why Executive Vice President Jill Renslow is very eager to share what’s new.

“We have a new, 25,000-square-foot attraction that has go-karting and ax throwing, amazing pizza,” she said.

If you have too much tryptophan in your system for ax throwing, you can always do some shopping. Although some stores will have longer lines than others. “Chanel, Gucci, Prada, which do phenomenal in this marketplace,” Renslow said.

You’ll still find GameStops and Gaps at the Mall of America, but the bread and butter of many malls is looking more like caviar and blinis these days.

“During the pandemic, there was a huge demand for luxury goods,” said Venky Shankar, a marketing professor at Texas A&M University.

Wealthier people didn’t spend money on vacations in 2020, but Shankar said they would run out to the mall for a handbag. “And so the luxury retailers had more opportunities to sell, and so they become a safer bet for [a] mall.”

While malls in higher-income areas are still struggling to find anchor stores, they’re making do, said Matt Quint at Columbia Business School.

And for malls in less wealthy neighborhoods? Some can be turned into housing or mixed-use developments, but “the reality is, many will be ghost malls,” Quint said. “And there will not be an appetite for quite some time to convert it into anything.”

Can’t bring the kids to a ghost mall this weekend. Maybe see if an Amazon warehouse will let them play with the forklift.

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