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Shoppers are choosing simulated 'downtown,' outdoor shopping to enclosed malls

Posted at 8:47 AM, Dec 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-20 09:38:40-05

CLEVELAND — While more shoppers turn to websites every year to get holiday shopping done and buy essentials, brick and mortar retail is focusing more on making the shopping experience one that consumers want to return to.

When David Simon needed to get out of the house, he came to Van Aken District in Shaker Heights to get some work done just like the dozens of other people doing the same thing.

"It creates a little bit of a small-town vibe," said Simon.

"We wanted it to be a place where people could get together and spend a lot of time together," said Van Aken District Marketing and Events Manager Megan O'Donnell.

Designs like Van Aken's are also popping up at places like Crocker Park, Legacy Village, Pinecrest, and at Shoppes at Parma.

The new Shoppes at Parma owner, Allied Development, tells News 5 it wouldn't have been interested in the old Parmatown Mall but that the nearly $100 million spend to create the Shoppes at Parma outdoor has created more business.

"You go into the parking lot you can see, every day, its full," said Allied Development Vice President David Mott. "Walmart, the Marc's. The way that the mall was, I don't think it would bring the traffic that it is."

Mott says new additions, like a fast-food restaurant or a hotel that could go on Day Drive, would only increase traffic and revenue even more.

It's all part of the latest retail shift in a series of changes that started decades ago.

"In the 1970s, actually there was the rise of all these malls, which drained a lot of retail energy out of downtown areas," said Kent State University's Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative Director Terry Schwarz.

For a while, malls provided convenient, one-stop shopping so they thrived.

Today, Amazon delivers much of what shoppers need to their doorsteps, but people seem to miss window-shopping along Main Street, so developers are adapting.

"50 to 60 years later, it's these almost simulated downtowns that are now draining the business and vitality out of the malls," said Schwarz.

While the facade looks like individual storefronts, the reality is that the whole property is really owned by a single company, Schwarz says, essentially making it a mall without a roof.

"They're kind of curating a collection of businesses, shops, and restaurants to give you a particular experience," said Schwarz. "It's almost like you're entering into a performance of shopping and it's fun for people."

"Sure, it's fabricated," said Simon. "It's completely built in this little bubble, but I think it's really attractive."