Mall Stars

New experience-based businesses reinvent and reinvigorate the identity of the local mall

Malls are no stranger to changing trends when it comes to fashion. Yet in the last several years, malls have had to keep up not only with the evolving interests and shopping habits of its customers, but an increasing number of national retailers closing their doors.

Mall property managers and business owners have needed to get creative with ways of drawing in foot traffic. From kart racing to karaoke, Lansing-area malls are expanding beyond traditional retail anchors to focus on experience-based businesses. It’s a shift that aims to reinvent and reinvigorate the local mall — and Greater Lansing — for a new era.

According to a recent study, 74% of Americans are prioritizing experiences over products. That doesn’t come as a surprise to Amy Richter-Perkins, senior associate and retail adviser at Martin Commercial Properties in East Lansing.

“Studies show that millennials are experience-driven and are more likely to spend money on an experience rather than on material things,” she said. “As retailers are investing in innovation to cater to the shopping habits of this generation, malls are also looking to add attractions to bring them through the doors.”

While entertainment in malls is not a new concept, Richter-Perkins said the range of uses has grown from movie theaters to include bowling alleys, indoor rides, escape rooms, trampoline parks, laser tag arenas, rock climbing, family fun centers and other attractions. From the first quarter of 2010 to the first quarter of 2019, the square footage occupied in malls by entertainment concepts increased by 44.7%, according to a report published by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Richter-Perkins said that Meridian Mall in Okemos, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in November, and owner CBL Properties have been effective in reshaping its identity as a local mall.

“CBL has had great success with implementing the new trends, starting with adding center court attractions and then alternative users Planet Fitness, Launch Trampoline Park and High Caliber Karting,” she said.

Launch, a 30,000-square-foot indoor trampoline facility, opened in the former Gordman’s space in February, while High Caliber Karting and Entertainment recently took over the 80,000-square-foot space left by Younkers.

High Caliber Karting and Entertainment opened its doors in October, offering two indoor go-kart tracks, axe throwing, an arcade, and a trackside bar and bistro. Two years ago, co-founder and President Jordan Munsters initially considered the property next to Best Buy in Okemos, now occupied by OfficeMax. He said he wasn’t initially sure about choosing a mall location for his business but added that changed when he saw the space.

“I went by this facility and thought, ‘God, I can see it plain as day,’” he said. “The big thing was that I called up the mall management, and they were so accommodating and helpful to us. Nobody has been more impactful to us than this mall management.”

Munsters agreed with the statistics that show younger generations are spending less on material possessions: “They don’t care to own stuff. We’re more of a community type of group of people.”

Instead, the biggest goal for his business comes down to one word: joy. “That’s an interesting word that a lot of people don’t use,” he said. “There’s a difference between fun and joy. Fun is something I do. Joy is something I do with other people. You can’t have joy by yourself.”

Munsters and his staff hope to create a sense of community and shared experiences for the young and the young at heart. “We want them to feel like they’ve had a connection. It takes people being willing to let their guard down and have fun.”

With its entertainment options and prominent positioning as an anchor of Meridian Mall, High Caliber Karting is poised to draw plenty of traffic – to itself and other businesses in the mall. “We want to be a part of the solution for the revitalization of the mall,” Munsters said. “If we can draw a crowd over here, it’ll help the other businesses.” Munsters said he and his partners made a point of introducing themselves to every business in the mall to form relationships with other tenants. “They’re great people. They need attention brought in their direction.”

As for other available retail spaces inside Meridian Mall, CBL Properties’ Director of Public Relations and Corporate Communications Stacey Keating said they are evaluating a number of alternative uses, noting that the retail landscape is constantly changing and evolving as consumer behavior changes.

“We are seeing developers move away from the traditional retail-focused properties of the past and more toward mixed-use developments that incorporate retail, entertainment, restaurants, offices, hotels and even multi-family,” Keating said. CBL is in the early stages of transitioning its properties to include these features. “We’ve seen quite a bit of demand for these types of entertainment users at our properties,” Keating said. “We are receiving positive feedback from our customers, which is translating into an increase in traffic and productivity.”

This shift toward mixed-use businesses can be seen across town as well at the Lansing Mall, which also celebrated its golden anniversary in 2019. Overdrive, a new bar and entertainment venue, has taken over the space previously occupied by Tequila Cowboy Bar & Grill, which closed its doors in April. The 20,000-square-foot mall space is home to Hit and Run Karaoke Bar & Grill and features two separate music venues for live performances from country, rock and blues bands. As of this writing, it was scheduled to open in November. The Regal Lansing Mall Stadium 12 and Impact Community Church, which opened in 2014 and 2018, respectively, also illustrate a move toward alternative uses for space at the Lansing Mall.

While Meridian Mall and Lansing Mall serve as crosstown gateways to the Greater Lansing area, an increase in mixed-use development projects planned for the downtowns in between also has the area poised to attract new talent.

“We will have multiple options for downtown living with walkable communities offering dining, shopping and entertainment,” Richter-Perkins said. “It is attractive not only to young professionals, but also to active seniors, empty nesters and everyone in between.” She pointed to the new campus Target store in East Lansing and the upcoming urban Meijer concept on Michigan Avenue in Lansing as clear indications of this shift.

Richter-Perkins also noted that with the likelihood of continued retail closures in the future, mall owners will need to continue to evolve.

“Not only are owners adding entertainment uses, they are adding grocery anchors, gyms, health care facilities, restaurants, bars, and even residential and senior living in some markets,” she said. “I think the best way malls will achieve success in the future is to look at how they can best serve the local community and work with local municipalities and business leaders to meet these needs.”

Richter-Perkins said it’s clear by the collaboration and vision of leaders in the Greater Lansing area that a new era is on the horizon.

“Local leaders and business owners recognized the need to attract and retain young talent in our market, and a key factor is creating a vibrant downtown,” she said. “The great vision for redeveloping the Michigan Avenue corridor and partnerships between the city of Lansing, the city of East Lansing, MSU, LEAP, and the Lansing chamber as well as local developers … and other business leaders in the community, is going to shape the business and retail landscape of Lansing in the future.”

 

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