State of the malls: Future of marketplaces as online sales grow

What is the future of shopping malls? With national chains closing almost by the week, can malls survive the onslaught of online shopping?

Kelan Bilal has owned the Excalibur Barber Grooming Lounge in the Southern Park Mall for five years. He thinks malls need to appeal to younger people, perhaps including things like iPad stations.

“I went to an airport and…everybody had an iPad like, at a bar and it was real cool,” he said.

“We’re staying. We’re not going anywhere,” said Tom Gober, who owns Gracylane, a boutique with locations in the Southern Park and Eastwood malls.

He’s found a way to compete with online shoppers.

“We always try and have something different,” Gober said. “People don’t even know to look for that product online yet.”

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“Of all retail sales in America, it was closer to 9 percent came from online sales,” said Joe Bell, spokesperson for the Cafaro Company, which owns the Eastwood Mall.

Bell said malls are already changing. The days of seven shoe stores and three records stores are gone.

“You’ll find a lot of other kinds of attractions, entertainment attractions,” he said.

“Experiential tenants, that’s what we’re looking for,” said Southern Park Mall Manager Brian Gabbert. “Stuff that you can’t get online.”

Gabbert described the mall of the future as “a shopping experience.”

“This is a place for fun, food — we want to bring all of that here. Entertainment,” he said.

“You never know who’s going to come inside of the mall,” Shalayah Sanders said.

When Sanders decided to open a shoe store, she put up her “One Step Foward” sign at the Southern Park Mall.

“It’s more secure in the mall and just for like, traffic reasons, especially when you’re first opening and starting a business,” she said.

“The future of retail is — in our opinion, you have to engage all avenues,” said Jeff Lyda, who’s owned Everything Buckeyes in the Eastwood Mall for 13 years.

He said having the Cafaro headquarters on-site helps Eastwood, where you’ll also find a Mercy Health branch with a fitness center.

“Adding other non-retail, the close vicinity, it helps because it just brings people to an area.”

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“Since the dawn of civilization, there has always been a marketplace,” Bell said.

He likes to quote a Cafaro family member who says marketplaces will always be around because there’s a social component to shopping.

“I think that we’re going to see that, as long as we make sure that shopping centers like this have what people need,” Bell said.

When discussing the future of the Shenango Valley Mall in Hermitage, the situation is more urgent. It just lost two more tenants. However, the mall’s new local owner is trying to turn things around.

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