Home > Misc. > The mall done changed some, ain’t it?

The mall done changed some, ain’t it?

September 19, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

A few years back, I worked for a company that had locations in three different malls. One shop was my primary base of operations, but time was spent at the other two locations as well. I was always curious about how the mall’s business model worked, so I asked my boss. The way he explained it, each store had their own contract with the mall itself, and you could negotiate for different things; it can be assumed that if you wanted preferential treatment, you would see this reflected in your rent total. At my shop, the rent was $5000/mo in a location that was near a lower-level entrance and a parking structure, but it was also far from the mall’s main drag (which started at $12,000/mo for a location there), so foot traffic would vary wildly depending on the day; the sales would thrive or suffer as a result. But he also explained that if a location closed in the mall, that location’s base rent would be divided up among the remaining stores in the form of a rent increase, until a new occupant came for the space. As such, you’d only care to have a business in a mall that is busy and thriving, or else you couldn’t make the math work out positively. [note: apparently, anchor stores (JCPenney, Macy’s, etc) were exempt from this, as their presence was enough to bring in traffic regardless.]

Since learning this, any time I find myself in a mall, I’ll take a lap of the upper and lower levels and count empty locations, just to wonder what the rent situation is like. Past trips through malls have had as many as 31 empty spaces. Sometimes it’s a matter of a company relocating, so their current place will be closed and the new one isn’t ready yet, other times it’s just like, “this idea of a store for nothing but high-end stuffed animals was not well-planned.” It’s also interesting to see which stores continue to thrive, because sometimes it’s specialty stores that manage to make it, other times it’s nothing but giant chains. In recent years, the rise of online shopping has definitely taken its toll on some chains (looking at you, Sam Goody/Music Plus/Suncoast/Borders/Kay-Bee), so I’m always curious to see how these malls are adapting to survive in current times. Just what is it that they do in order to guarantee people visit more than once?

So with that in mind, I recently found myself in a mall about 20 minutes from home. I ordered some work pants from JCPenney and had them shipped to the store, as some bastard is in the habit of stealing mail from my porch and risking it seemed unwise. They arrived and an email was sent saying as much, so it was time to take a trip through. This mall sits on land that used to house a professional racetrack, but they decided to demolish it in the name of progress, or so they said. At one time, it was a popular spot with many big-name stores and it would even be busy on weekdays, but that was probably a decade ago at the absolute latest.

Upon arriving, the mall wasn’t open for business, but was open for people doing their morning walking routines. I always like that this is a concept; it’s a safe place to walk and so you can meet some cool older people who are health-minded and will make you give a second thought to that bag of fast food you’re carrying at 8:30 am. During a slow lap of the top and bottom, I didn’t see many people, but did see enough other things to make the mind race. Mind you, this is all looking through storefront windows and closed gates, since nothing was open yet. First, let’s start here – I happened upon a store window and saw this:

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This store (unsure of the name) carries costume weaponry, decorative masks, and then they also carried regular knives and who knows what else. A specialty store, to be sure, but one that could become a popular spot for folks doing cosplay, especially if it’s one of the only destinations for this kind of stuff in the area. It’s cool that a store like this can exist. However:

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This particular place is the size of two regular locations, with a wall removed. I forget what used to be in these two spots, but now it’s just all one store. So, does the store pay rent on both spots? Or does it maybe get a bulk discount so it’s 1.5x rent instead of 2x? Also, how lucrative is the pretend Keyblade business to support even one location, let alone a dual storefront? The puzzling journey continued.

Downstairs on the other side of the mall, there lives a Forever 21. Many malls have a Forever 21 nowadays, but the location of this one is a head-scratcher:

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This F21 is located on the corner of the mall’s main pathway, and a leg that goes to other locations. But if you were looking at a photo of this same space from five years ago, there would be maybe four to six locations upstairs, and another three or four downstairs, all now occupied by this one store. Granted, Forever 21 is popular and I’m sure they do good business. But enough to support somewhere in the neighborhood of rent for ten locations, many of which would be at the premium for being on the main strip? Then, off to the right:

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The Auntie Anne’s is backed up against the F21 to its left, but the large red sections of the walls are what used to be the entrance to Harris/Gottschalk’s, which was an anchor store. In some other malls near here, F21 is an anchor store. So somehow, rehabbing multiple store locations and installing an escalator is still cheaper than renting out the already-ready anchor store space? I’m totally lost here. I continued on and saw this, which sent me further into confusion:

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The idea of this town’s library being located in the mall is actually kind of cool, because it’s currently way on the other side of town and nowhere near the freeway, while this mall is right off the freeway. But who’s paying for this? Do they get a pass strictly because it’s a city-level thing, or maybe the mall gets some kind of tax break for sacrificing space for something other than a store there? This is the first time I’ve seen a city-owned thing like a library taking up residence there. Maybe the mall asked for it, because they’re having trouble getting folks to base their businesses out of the mall? In any case, since the library is a free public place, it can be assumed that this will soon become a popular place for parents to drop their kids off. Free day care while you shop, if you will.

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This is somewhat unrelated, but 951 is the area code here, and I didn’t go over to look through the grate, but am curious about what kind of merchandise an area code-specific store carries. “I came to the 951 and all I got was this t-shirt” shirts? Truck nuts with a Metal Mulisha logo stamped on them? The pink slip to a sun-faded Astrovan? One day I’ll have to go back and confirm it for myself. Again, cool that someone can have an idea and make it come to life, but without seeing it first-hand, I still wonder who this is for.

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Slightly-related: this mall used to have an exceptionally good Sanrio Surprises. They had the applicances years before the cheaper/lower-quality versions turned up at Target stores. It has been gone for several years, but there are now several places with Hello Kitty merchandise, all of which also seem to carry the dreaded Funko Pop! figures – multiple comic/pop culture-style stores exist here and seem to be very well-stocked. Not a bad thing, just something I noticed. Also noticed this:

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The entirety of the top level in this photo, and then some to the left and right outside of the shot, is a Round 1 arcade/amusement center. It has arcade games, bowling, pool, karaoke, and a bunch of photo club and UFO catcher machines. Guessing, it might be ten locations across? It’s easily the coolest thing about this mall, and is open well after the mall is closed, until 1 or 2 am. It’s the only thing like it in this area, and seems to have expanded since my last visit, so that’s pretty neat. Next best thing to the standalone arcades of the early 80s, for sure. Further down the list is this:

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Now, I have zero problem with people who want to adopt. I don’t personally ever want kids myself, but hats off to someone that is willing to take on the responsibility and obligation of a whole other human. But this is an agency, and knowing nothing about the process of adoption: are there fees involved? Do you pay to adopt, and if you do, isn’t that like buying a person? That’s kind of illegal, is it not? I’m being facetious, but it’s another instance of seeing something in a mall that I haven’t encountered elsewhere. The closest thing is a storefront for career college recruiters, which also exists here.

Taking a mental inventory after the laps, the count was eighteen empty spots, with a couple of additional spots that were in transition. Not sure if it’s worth noting, but the only big-name food places: Auntie Anne’s, Sbarro, Hot Dog on a Stick, and Cinnabon. The good old Mrs Fields is long gone, and places like McDonald’s and Burger King seem to have also bailed out. This just gives a mom and pop place a chance to do well, so it doesn’t seem like a huge deal, it’s just probably notable for people who regularly eat in mall food courts. Which, if that’s you – stop it.

The only conclusion I could come up with, is that the rent situation must be wildly different than the one outlined by my old boss. It’s still a point of curiosity to me, but who would you ask in order to find out? Unless you were seriously inquiring about setting up in a location there, it doesn’t seem like the kind of information that would be given out freely. But the mind positively burns: how many Michonne swords equate into keeping the lights on and people fed? Does Round 1 get an anchor store sweetheart deal, despite being such a huge hog of square footage? How do they manage, otherwise? How has Cinnabon stayed alive in the exact same spot for twenty-five years when it’s a foul abomination of foodstuffs? If the hippie incense store can survive for closer to twenty years, what does that say about the mall, the people, and the area in general?

I sat down on a bench and was texting two of my close friends about this place and how it was boggling my mind, and then it came to me: this place is its own closed ecosystem. A young parent comes to the mall with their children in tow. They buy a sword at the sword store, or perhaps a combat knife or a Keyblade. At one of the comic shops, an argument arises between customers over who was first in possession of some limited edition Funko Pop!, which is then settled with a duel out in the main pathway of the mall. One of the parents is rendered dead by a Keyblade strike to their vital organs, effectively turning their children into orphans, who are then sent to live at the foster care place. They are then adopted by single parents, who make it to the other side of the mall and go, “man, having kids is way more work than I expected, forget this” and so they leave the kid at the library while they go eat mom-and-pop hamburgers or something. The kids grow up, have kids of their own, and the cycle repeats itself. It’s like Little Lamplight and Big Town all in one location.

Of course, none of this is true. But in a state of near-unconsciousness while waiting for the stores to open after working all night the night before, I was getting stares from passersby while laughing aloud at the concept of this. Then, just upon noticing that the Jamaica-themed specialty store is still there (and has been for probably 15 years, but again, it is the only one of its kind anywhere near there), Bob Marley came on the mall’s speaker system and I completely lost it. Like, what the heck is this place? It’s kind of absurd, but it’s also kind of incredible.

It might not be the thriving retail centerpiece of the town any more, but it sure is interesting to see it changing and evolving with the times. Hopefully it continues on, because even if it’s a weird mishmash of stores I have no interest in going to, it’s neat that it exists.

Categories: Misc.
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