Rise Of Online Shopping Pushing Malls To Evolve To Stay Competitive

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Since the 1970s, shopping malls have been blamed for killing off Main Street; but now, many malls are facing extinction themselves.

Once lively retail centers have become dead malls, empty eyesores and hollowed-out shells. Others, like Century III and Pittsburgh Mills are just trying to keep the wolf from the door.

At the Beaver Valley Mall in Monaca, the giant Sears store closed its doors in July 2016, and now, Macy’s is going out of the business. Both have been hit hard nationally by Amazon and other online retailers, and are leaving Beaver Valley minus two of its main anchor stores.

“Oftentimes, it’s a perception. People look at it as a vacant anchor becomes a ‘dying mall.’ The vibrancy of the center becomes in question,” said Beaver Valley Mall Manager Tim Mascari.

The loss of an anchor has a cascading effect as smaller shops begin closing their doors for lack of shoppers.

At Beaver Valley, they’ve tried to fill those spaces with senior centers and county agencies, but that only goes so far. The mall recently changed hands, giving the new owners the challenge of making it vital again.

“It is a challenge, but one thing that excites me in the morning when I get up is it’s a challenge, but with a challenge comes opportunity,” said Mascari.

To stay competitive, malls must be ever evolving and at their creative best or risk becoming one another empty husk along the highway.

One shining example is Ross Park Mall.

“You have to continue to move forward every day,” said Ross Park Mall Manager Lisa Earl. “If you’re not moving the mall forward every day, you’re stagnating.”

Ross Park has not just an anchor, but a regional draw. Nordstrom has been a magnet for attracting high-end retailers.

“The likes of Tiffany and Co., Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Kate Spade,” Earl said.

Still, Ross Park isn’t just about high-end stores, but a mix of high, medium and low-cost retailers that’s been able to attract unique, to-the-market brands that make it a destination. Stores like Lululemon, Lush, Hanna Andersson and the newly-opened Vineyard Vines.

But more importantly, Ross Park offers shoppers a total experience, like more food and dining options, kiosks that offer daily rewards like gift cards and soft chair lounge areas with smartphone charging stations. Things online shopping can’t provide to customers.

Earl: “Simple, the interaction and the one-on-one and the customer service is the key.”

KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “People are always going to want that.”

Earl: “Always.”

While some malls may just die from a bad location and a shrinking customer base, Beaver Valley has a good shot at revitalization with the shell cracker plant going up less than a mile away.

“We also have to figure out how to capture that. How do we get not only the construction workers in here, but the people that will be working at that plant once it becomes operational,” said Mascari.

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