What are the traditional malls like Beachwood Place, South, Great Northern doing to keep customers?

BEACHWOOD, Ohio — With the holiday shopping season underway, the few remaining indoor malls in Cuyahoga County like many across the country are fighting to bring in customers as online shopping grows.

Are the storefronts 87% full or 13% empty? That depends on one’s viewpoint. But as the holiday season starts, a recent walk-through of the three major indoor shopping malls left in Cuyahoga County found 44 vacancies and 284 filled storefronts.

This included about eight vacancies at Beachwood Place, 16 at Great Northern in North Olmsted, and 20 at South Park in Strongsville, cleveland.com found. (Some vacant stores did have signs announcing stores coming soon.)

But it’s hardly doomsday.

The malls are being inventive in trying to keep the foot traffic up, from special events to offering things that you can’t do online (a kick boxing class at South Park in Strongsville, for example). And even some businesses that started online are starting to open physical stores in malls, such as fitness brand Peloton, mattress giant Casper, the Warby Parker eyewear brand, among others.

“Things come in and outta style, there’s always new trends. there’s always new kind of hot categories. And so I think the big thing is just you gotta keep your finger on the pulse of what does your customers want, what the community asking for,” said Britton Burridge, vice president of leasing for Brookfield Properties, owner of Beachwood Place Mall

“That’s sort of what we’re always focused on. What is that next thing? Who is that next tenant that we know will do well here?”

Yet with consumers increasingly relying on online shopping and the effects of the pandemic, statistics show that by the end of 2021, national mall vacancy rates reached 8.3%, the highest in the retail sector. Many malls have found it harder to keep tenants within the changing landscape.

There are signs of a stabilizing, or at least the losses leveling off.

Foot traffic at shopping malls has made more of a recovery from ahead of the pandemic than restaurants, according to a report covering the third quarter covering July through September from Placier.ai, a location analytics company that analyzes mobile device data.

“Visits to indoor malls and open-air lifestyle centers are still lagging slightly behind their Q3 2019 levels, but foot traffic is only 1.6% lower than in Q3 2021, showcasing the resilience of the sector in times of economic stress,” Placier.ai said in it’s third-quarter report.

Burridge said that many people would find it surprising that the last two years had been the best the company had ever seen.

“The productivity of the vast majority of our malls right now are an all-time high. And Beachwood actually is a center that falls in that category too,” Burridge said. “You do see centers that sort of fall from relevance, but I think that the reality is that for good malls in great communities, those centers are getting stronger and continuing to thrive.

Heidi Yanok, senior general manager at Beachwood Place, said she believed quarantine may have had a positive contribution as it made people eager to get out of the house to have that physical experience.

“We came back to stores opening at a rate that we didn’t expect and sales at a rate we didn’t expect, but the community really came together. So it was really, really great,” Yanok said.

But this optimism comes amid what has been down times for shopping centers in general.

After years of trying to stay afloat, many malls around the country have made innovative efforts to bring in foot-traffic. From partnering with healthcare providers and opening gyms to temporary leases and offering shopping entertainment, malls have started to reinvent themselves as a place of community.

At South Park, people can take that boxing class, or play with pups, paint pottery and even take advantage of a selfie studio. Great Northern shoppers can take acting classes with a local acting studio or partake in occasional family and pet friendly events. Beachwood Place maintains a large array of food options, life-sized games near inviting sitting areas and has even opened the co-working space, Co-Hatch.

Dan Cantrall, the marketing and business development manager for Great Northern, said that the mall continues to “adapt to the changing needs of consumers.”

“We have added more than a dozen new businesses so far this year, with more on the way,” Cantrall said. Those new stores included luxury furniture store Zebranos and 1st Team Actors Studio.

“We also prioritize those special touches that make visits even more enjoyable,” he continued. “For example, this year we commissioned the talents of local artists to create more than 20 new pieces of public art that are displayed throughout the property. We look forward to building on this momentum and finishing off the year with a strong holiday season.”

North Olmsted Mayor Nicole Dailey Jones said she is encouraged heading into the holiday shopping season, saying she believes Great Northern has developed a mix of stores that will be attractive for gift buyers.

“And one thing that we’ve been working on here in City Hall is making sure that our residents and beyond know that, that the mall is here for the holidays and that our small businesses, whether they’re located in the mall or around North Olmsted, are here with many options for people to do their shopping,” she said.

Beachwood Place’s Yanok said one advantage malls still have over online shopping is the in-person experience of a shopping trip during the holidays.

“It’s a memory and it’s just those traditions and people just wan to keep having those,” Yanok said.

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