Aimlessly wandering the mall once seemed the exclusive pastime of the American teenager. So closely intertwined were adolescents with their local shopping centers, a subculture soon emerged, eventually gaining mainstream society’s attention with movies like the 1995 comedy “Mallrats.”
But nowadays, it appears mallsquatting teens have a new species of consumers challenging their dominion — parents and their children.
The number of shopping centers in the Valley luring families with live music, festivals, food and other events not directly related to shopping is growing.
Industry experts say the formula is simple: Longer and more frequent visits by residents equate to greater sales and higher profit margins for retailers and developers.
“The whole idea is to keep people hanging around,” said Bob Kammrath, a Scottsdale-based retail and real estate analyst.
And it’s working, say many retailers, property managers and analysts.
“It’s exploding,” said Nancy Walters, who heads a 21-year-old San Diego-based company, Very Special Event, that coordinates major events for malls and large shopping centers around the United States.
Walters said among her best customers are owners of large regional shopping centers known in the industry as “lifestyle centers.” Those are major open-air malls, including Gilbert’s SanTan Village and Kierland Commons on the Scottsdale-Phoenix border.
Centers like those now account for about 25 percent of her business, and Walters said she expects demand from that sector to continue increasing.
Those malls are quickly replacing traditional downtown retail centers as areas for community members to mingle and enjoy each other’s company, said Erin Hershkowitz, an International Council of Shopping Centers spokeswoman.
“They’re becoming the places to meet,” she said.
Shopping centers like Desert Ridge Marketplace, The Borgata of Scottsdale and Tempe Marketplace are a few notable local examples that seem to be leading the charge to draw more customers with nonshopping stimulation.
A smattering of examples at Valley malls shows visitors can choose from a wide variety of entertainment events, including concerts, art and car shows, charitable fundraisers or farmers markets — all without leaving the confines of the center.
“Families are clamoring for entertainment that they can enjoy together,” said Drew M. Rashbaum, vice president of sales and Marketing for Radio Disney, which hosted a concert at Tempe Marketplace at McClintock Drive and Loop 202 Sunday night.
The center’s staging area was packed with screaming tweens. Rashbaum estimated that about 500 people were attending, an impressive turnout for a chilly Sunday evening, he said.
“Remember, all these kids have school tomorrow,” he said.
Ross and Aimee Morgan were there with their two daughters, 4-year-old Twyla, and 8-year-old Hanna.
Ross said he and his family enjoy these kinds of events.
“It’s another (venue) where you can go as a family and not spend a lot of money,” he said.
While most retail trendwatchers note shopping centers fronting as sort of nouveaux public parks is not a new concept, they say public spectacles intended to lure and dazzle patrons are constantly evolving and becoming more elaborate.
“It really becomes a 24/7 destination,” says David Larcher about his company’s shopping plazas.
Larcher is the executive vice president of Phoenixbased Vestar Development Co., which owns Desert Ridge Marketplace at Loop 101 and Tatum Boulevard in Phoenix and Tempe Marketplace.
When Desert Ridge opened in late 2001, it was one of the first shopping centers in the nation to offer such an extensive lineup of entertainment, Larcher said.
“We really wanted to create something (where) there was something there for the entire family,” he said.
Part of the reason was because people in that area had no quality public commons serving up family-friendly entertainment.
“The community up there really didn’t have any central gathering spots,” he said.
The mall entertainment programs proved such a hit with shoppers, Vestar decided to not only export the concept to other centers, but continued improving on it by offering a wider variety of events.
Today, the company maintains a waiting list for performers and organizations seeking to host events on the company’s properties.
For example, shoppers at Tempe Marketplace nowadays can buy art from local artists, take pottery classes and watch movies in the center’s small amphitheater, among other things.
But whether or not the local mall will eventually become a viable alternative to public gathering places — more traditional venues like parks, town centers or churches — is questionable, some experts say.
“I think a lot of this is experimentation,” said Kammrath.
Some retailers say the injection of nonshopping events can produce mixed results.
Events such as concerts, for example, often attract loud and rowdy crowds that don’t blend well into a mall’s orderly business environment.
“It was 10 million 15-yearolds,” said Karli Jacobson about a recent concert sponsored by the alternative rock station KEDJ (103.9 FM).
Jacobson owns Urban Angels Boutique, a clothing store at Tempe Marketplace that caters to 18- to 55-year-old patrons.
“You can’t hear your customers try to ask you questions,” she said.
But Jacobson was quick to praise the mall management’s efforts to create a unique destination, saying that it’s a work in progress.
“I’m sure it’s a learning process,” she said. “It’s just going to take a while to figure it out.”
Upcoming mall events
DESERT RIDGE MARKETPLACE
Who: Scott and John of Hello Swindon, guitar and percussion music
When: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday
Where: AMC Fountain Stage
Who: Whitney Steele, original and cover music
When: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: AMC Fountain Stage
Who: Ghandi’s Garage, blend of rock, folk and jazz music
When: 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday
Where: The District Stage