Prien Lake Mall beating the odds

Buxton credits expansion in area as drawing card for national retailers

By GINGER BROOMES
news@americanpress.com

<p class="indent">With online shopping at an all-time high, it seems more and more malls — once the fixture of the suburban landscape — are closing.</p><p class="indent">Analysts predict that 25 percent of malls will be closed within the next five years.</p><p class="indent">But at the same time, as of 2017, malls that have remained open have an average occupancy rate of 95 percent, according to National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries. Malls that are already “weakened” by closures of anchor stores such as Sears and JC Penney seem to be the source of the dying breed narrative.</p><p class="indent">But according to Green Street Advisors, higher-end or stronger malls that don’t rely solely on these anchor stores and diversify, are thriving with less competition from other malls and focusing on the customer experience.</p><p class="indent">One just has to look at Prien Lake Mall, for example. Not only are they staying afloat with e-commerce competition, but they are growing.</p><p class="indent">“From a mall perspective, this has been a team effort,” said Nikki Buxton, director of marketing and business development at Prien Lake Mall. “We are the only mall in Lake Charles. There is a lot of expansion going on in town, so we look good to national retailers.”</p><p class="indent">She estimates that the 30,000 employee influx from plant expansions in the area makes the mall attractive to tenants. In fact, Prien Lake Mall was chosen as one of the very few sample centers for TJ Maxx and Homegoods, the newest stores in the mall. Primarily, these store brands are not located within malls but in shopping centers throughout the country.</p><p class="indent">“We were their test site, so they have exceeded their expectations here. That is another form of the community supporting these retailers. It helps the mall. It makes the mall look better. When people tour the mall, they see the expansions and it’s getting updated here,” Buxton said.</p><p class="indent">Although she couldn’t speak about other retailers looking at the mall due to privacy concerns, she said the occupancy rate for the mall remains very low. The few empty spaces within the mall are already slated for something else, and nationally, Simon Properties, the mall owner, has a 95 percent occupancy rate at all of their malls.</p><p class="indent">What’s the secret? Both Buxton and a representative from Simon Properties said the main focus is family entertainment in the mall. With one sit-down restaurant in the mall, their goal for 2019-2020 is to get more restaurants for families. And with the outside shops, it’s helped drive businesses to the tenants on the inside.</p><p class="indent">“Retailers actually like that. It looks a little more upscale, it’s more convenient and visible from the outside, and people who haven’t been inside the mall see the storefronts and decide to come inside to check it out,” Buxton said.</p><p class="indent">“We’re getting a whole new shopper here, so instead of going to Lafayette or Beaumont or Houston, they’re staying here and they’re shopping local.”</p><p class="indent">She said Prien Lake Mall has the ability and desire to bring families into the mall. Events throughout the year include “Kid’s Events” — a family festival inside the mall — and the upcoming “Girl’s Night Out,” a catered wine event scheduled in October.</p><p class="indent">“Amazon doesn’t give that ability to being able to touch the merchandise or see that fashion show and be able to immediately go to that store and try it on. And then walk out with that merchandise right then.”</p><p class="indent">Held within the mall, these events allow shoppers to come and go, and the retailers themselves are heavily involved in these events in order to showcase their merchandise, Buxton said.</p><p class="indent">When the Sears location went out of business, it left citizens concerned. But although she couldn’t divulge the possible interested tenants, Buxton said they have received a lot of calls about the location, and they are excited about adding something new.</p><p class="indent">“The sky is the limit for that space. Interested parties are coming to Lake Charles and have taken a lot of interest.“</p><p class="indent">In some of their other mall locations, Simon Properties have utilized their empty Sears spaces for everything from fitness centers to family entertainment venues.</p><p class="indent">A corporate spokesperson for Simon Properties sees the frenzied reporting on mall closures as a false narrative.</p><p class="indent">“You cannot overstate the opportunities of these (in mall) events, that’s our calling card. They’re great for the community and reinforce the fact that the mall is a community landmark and asset and is invested in the community. It’s consistent whether in strong economic times or not so strong.”</p>””<p><span>With a focus on customer experience, the Prien Lake Mall in Lake Charles is thriving amid e-commerce competition.</span></p>Special to the American Press

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