My fascination with malls continues even as the times get tougher for them. Department stores and larger retail chains are tanking in the market, leaving gaping holes where anchor stores used to thrive. But while the situation worsens — mall vacancies are at their highest point for a decade, one of the nation’s largest mall owners, General Growth Properties, is laden with more than $25 billion of debt and is trying to avoid filing for bankruptcy protection — some creative entrepreneurs are shining through, as this New York Times story attests.
Downscale chains that landlords once kept out of shopping centers are suddenly being shown the welcome mat. Temporary stores are popping up. Once-small retailers are being invited to take over big spaces, while the strongest national chains are seizing the moment to move into new cities at low rents … Greg Maloney, president and chief executive of the retail group at Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate brokerage firm, said that to fill empty anchor spaces, landlords were getting creative and were considering bringing in grocery stores, medical facilities, dance studios and even community or technical colleges.
While mall owners may be batting around plenty of unusual ideas, the Flowrider — a 10-feet-tall wave machine that sends 35,000 gallons of water gushing over a slope at more than 30 miles an hour — is among the most unusual. The device is the centerpiece of a cult sport that got its start in water parks and on cruise ships. Lately, a retail chain called Adrenalina, which sells gear for extreme sports like skydiving and kite-surfing, transferred the concept to retail stores. Because the machines can draw enthusiastic crowds, Adrenalina is getting sweet deals from landlords. Adrenalina executives said some mall owners were paying to install the Flowrider, upwards of $2 million, just to get the extra traffic.
The creative will always survive! As the first Depression gave us roller derbies and dance marathons, perhaps our Depression will give us indoor surfing.