An architect’s take on building experiences
Store closings are commonplace. Online shopping options grow. From time immemorial, stores were built with brick-and-mortar. Better materials for today would be innovation and experiences.
We in the field of store design are seeing some promising signs that an evolution is underway.
While the majority of these innovative steps are taking place in town centers and other hybrid and mixed-use developments, enclosed malls stand to benefit from these strategies as well. If the underlying demographics are still strong for struggling retail spaces, there are a number of techniques mall owners and operators can employ to step up their games.
A shopping center’s surrounding community is invaluable. The cure for a center owner’s woes could lie somewhere within a five-mile radius. Large common areas can be created or transformed to host farmers’ markets or pop-up shops for local crafters, designers, or musicians. Millennials are charged about giving back to the community and being involved. In the retail environment, they are eager to support local producers, causes, artisans, and growers.
Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio, has a store called Celebrate Local that features the products of area artists and vendors. It’s something of a brick-and-mortar Etsy, and it capitalizes on a growing national trend of people eager to celebrate and display local civic pride. The Northstar Café, an eclectic organic eatery at Easton Town Center, is locally owned and offers a menu made from locally sourced ingredients. Northstar has fared so well that it now operates five locations.
Think about turning empty stores into assets by offering them ups as gallery and studio spaces for local artists and craftsmen. This can infuse a tired center with a spark of creative energy. Shoppers get a rewarding experience from the peek behind the curtain, while center owners add popular artisans to their paying tenant rosters. To see how effective this can be, look to the Short North Arts District in Columbus, a popular arts-based community destination with a wide range of studios, galleries, and retail and dining options.
Empty anchor spaces are often ideal locations for a health and fitness-based concepts like yoga studios, rock climbing retailers, spin classes, and martial arts. New activity-based entertainment concepts are proliferating, with creative golf and bowling concepts, rock climbing, and indoor skydiving. Opportunities to be social and get active are increasingly popular. Brands like lululemon host yoga sessions. Bass Pro Shops and REI offer classes, gear tutorials, and special events.
Consider helping to create a tech lab for startups and entrepreneurs. Not only does this provide a community space for people to develop ideas and build businesses, but the mall or surrounding retail area offers a great benefit to the entrepreneurs: people to test their products! A mall in San Francisco opened a similar concept, Bespoke, over a year ago and has seen a significant increase in shoppers with the help of this space. Adding interactive technology — from wayfinding to kids’ play areas — is another way to encourage shoppers and guests to engage with the space and elevate a passive experience into an active one.
Millennials, and even many Boomers, are increasingly looking for walkable communities and residential options that deliver a true live, work, and play experience. Arcade Providence in Providence, Rhode Island, (one of America’s oldest malls) transformed a deserted mall space into micro apartments, giving residents direct access to shopping and entertainment. These micro apartments, mostly one-bedroom units that are approximately the size of a hotel room, are an ideal addition to the Arcade. The former indoor shopping mall is now two stories of micro lofts — 48 units — over first floor retail. Situated adjacent to downtown Providence, Arcade Providence offers residents the convenience of living in a walkable downtown environment at an affordable price — a win for the developer as well, as the previously vacant space is well occupied.
Struggling malls in still-vibrant residential areas need to re-think and re-market their square footage. Ultimately, they need to give people a compelling reason to get off the couch and visit — and these days it takes more than a food court pretzel or a generic sweater to make that happen.
Jessica Neal is a project manager at M+A Architects, a Columbus, Ohio-based architecture firm. You can reach her at [email protected].
It’s hot in Texas: Another new project for North Dallas
One of the fastest-growing regions in the nation–in both jobs and population — will be home to another retail-heavy mixed-use project.
RPS development and High Street Residential, a Trammel Crow unit, will be building 342,000 sq. ft. of retail and restaurant space encompassing 23 buildings in Allen, Texas, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Cornerstone Village @ Allen will also contain 638 apartments on a 60-acre site on State Highway 121 and Custer Road, north of Dallas. Also about to begin construction in Allen is a $91 million convention center and hotel Complex from Altera Development.
Specific plans for the retail component of Cornerstone Village were not revealed, but RPS VP Ben Roodhouse told the Allen city council that it will be “a first-class shopping center.”
Four of the 10 fastest-growing counties in the nation are found in Texas, according to the U.S. Census bureau, and North Dallas is a hotbed for corporate headquarters. Toyota announced it will hire more than 1,000 employees for its new headquarters in Plano.
French children’s clothing brand in U.S. debut
Orchestra is entering the United States, both online and off.
The 23-year-old French children’s and maternity fashion brand has launched its first English language website. The retailer will make its U.S. brick-and-mortar debut, opening newborn/children's clothing store at King of Prussia Mall, King of Prussia, Pa.
In late December, Orchestra parent Orchestra-Premaman SA entered into an agreement to acquire Destination Maternity Corp. after a year-long takeover battle.
"We are thrilled to finally introduce our unique and fashionable brand of children's clothes and footwear to U.S. customers," said Agathe Boidin, director and vice chairman, Orchestra, which operates more than 700 stores in over 40 countries. "Orchestra has experienced enormous success around the globe and we are looking forward to launching the brand in the United States."
Boidin, who previously served as CEO of Orchestra, is overseeing the company’s development in North America.