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The future of malls: Shaky? Or a chance to shake things up?

"Change is always an opportunity for people who are entrepreneurs," said University of St. Thomas Marketing professor Dr. Mike Porter.

EDINA, Minn. — Here's a problem older than the COVID-19 pandemic, malls, and what to do with them.

All around us, we've seen big box stores like SEARS come down, and that had been happening before 2019.

"Normally a mall is getting someone to come to a particular store and they end up going to other stores while they're there," University of St. Thomas marketing professor Dr. Mike Porter said.

Porter establishes what we've accepted as fact at this point. Those so-called "anchor" stores have been disappearing.

"If fewer people are going to any one store, fewer people are going to the other stores that are in that mall," Porter said. "And more in the future than has ever been true, malls are going to have to be more of a destination or they're going to be offering some sort of experience you can't get online or otherwise."

We've seen Lifetime fitness try to do that at Southdale mall in Edina. However, Porter said they've also thought outside of the building.

"One of the things that this footprint here in Southdale has changed is that part of the parking lot that were important 30-40 years ago in order to have cars there, now we have residential buildings, new retail out on the fringes," he said. "Some parts of the parking lot are being used for popup venues like garden centers or whatever. They need to use all of the facility because this parking spot is worth a different amount now."

And if it sounds like malls are trying to throw stuff at the walls to see what sticks? That is partially correct.

"We'll never run out of ideas, and I think that retailing is sort of what you described as throwing something at the wall and seeing what sticks and it's always been that way," he said. "Think about 20 years ago, every mall had a video store. Well no malls have a video store. And ten years before then no malls had a video store, but there was a time and place when that retailing establishment made sense."

He added that now is the time for reinvention.

"Change is always an opportunity for people who are entrepreneurs, are retailers who want to see things grow," Porter said. "Malls are not going to be dead anytime soon. Like all businesses right now they're going to be facing different kinds of struggles and business people are good at being creative and finding their way through those things. the footprint may change, the face may change, but retailing is not going away."

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