Christmas trees are already in place at some Rosedale Center stores, and by mid-week the mall was busy and shopping was quick.
Roger and Lori Stippel drove up from Star Prairie, Wisconsin, and searched the Rose & Loon housewares store for a deli board meant to be a holiday gift for their daughter. They said they were at the store because there were some cool items and they liked to buy things in person.
“We’re still old school that way,” Roger Stippel said.
Increased foot traffic and optimistic holiday spending estimates have local retailers and mall operators hoping they will see plenty of people like the Stippels over the next two months – something they have been waiting for. the start of the pandemic.
“I think people are just eager to shop,” said Heidi Mueller, founder of Excelsior Candle Co., which operates a store in the Southdale Center in Edina. “We haven’t really had a vacation [season] Last year.”
The early signs are good for local small businesses, and they may have been helped by news that backups at ports and trucker shortages are making it difficult for retailers to get goods from overseas. LL Bean’s website said last week, “We want to be realistic with you: we face some unique challenges this year.”
But malls and physical retailers of all kinds were under pressure long before the coronavirus forced many of them to temporarily close in the spring of 2020. Many malls had lost mainstays and were seeing vacancies increase because they were forced to contend with e-commerce, long before they had to deal with state-imposed closings and tenants who could no longer pay their rent.
During the pandemic, consumers’ digital switchover became more pronounced as they logged on to purchase everything from groceries to clothing, a shift that retail experts say will have long-term effects. . In the first three months of 2021, the vacancy rate for regional shopping centers in the United States hit a record 11.4%, according to Moody’s Analytics, a market research study.
Some local malls, like the Mall of America, fell months behind on their mortgages and were forced to restructure those arrangements. Burnsville Center was sold in a foreclosure auction. The owner of Maplewood Mall and Northtown Mall in Blaine has filed for bankruptcy.
But now, the resumption of all this begins to be significant, even if it is too early to know if it will last. Some malls in the Twin Cities area are welcoming more shoppers than two years ago at the same time.
According to analytics firm Placer.ai, which tracks anonymized location data from mobile devices, foot traffic at the Southdale Center in Edina was better this summer for two months than the same time in 2019, peaking to a more than 17% increase in weekly visits reported in early August. At the end of August, the Mall of America peaked with almost 20% more visits than in 2019.
Those increases took a hit as virus case rates increased with the delta variant this fall. But the most recent data shows buyers are coming back.
Declining reported cases of COVID-19, pent-up demand for more ‘normal’ vacations and some continued travel limitations are reasons local store managers might feel ‘very optimistic about the potential for outperforming the sale. retail brick and mortar this holiday season, “said Ethan Chernofsky, vice president of marketing at Placer.ai.
According to local data from professional services firm Deloitte, residents of Twin Cities are expected to shop earlier and spend about 6% more this holiday season than last year.
Shawnte Williams opened her Daughter of Ra store at Maplewood Mall in March this year after showcasing her products at the mall’s pop-up market, Bread, last holiday season. She asked the mall management for a temporary lease so she could test her concept, selling candles, teas, crystals and other mystical aids, at the mall for a year before deciding if she would stay.
It only took Williams half the time she originally thought to let the mall know that she wanted to keep her store long-term. “The spring was really, really strong when we first launched,” she said.
Williams believes that many people make it a point during the holiday season to visit small businesses like hers that are owned by minorities and women. She has dubbed the phenomenon “the rise of the outsider” and hopes to see it happen in the coming weeks.
Normally, Mueller of Excelsior Candle Co. wouldn’t start selling popular holiday candles such as “Christmas Hearth” and “Santa’s Hot Tub” until November. But this year, she released them in September and they are already finding takers.
“Something people missed last year was being able to put on jewelry or touch clothes… so this year I think they’re really going to make up for it,” she said.
Mueller, who also co-owns a collective local manufacturers store called Founders Co. in Southdale Center and a similar manufacturers market at Ridgedale Center called Minnesota Strong, said on the last vacation that the malls were uncrowded. She has noticed that malls have been busier in recent months and believes the trend will continue over the holidays.
“I think it will be busier,” she said. “I think it will be even better like 2019, I think people will be so excited to go shopping.”
Logan McKee, owner of Games by James, said sales were up 20% from 2019 at some of its stores, as people continue to visit its mall stores to purchase board games, puzzles and other novelties.
“I think we’re all set to have maybe our best holiday season and the only thing that would keep us from being even more successful is if we run out of stock,” McKee said, which has stores in many shopping centers, including Rosedale. , Southdale, Ridgedale and the Mall of America.
Jill Renslow, executive vice president of business development and marketing at Mall of America, said she was optimistic about the holiday season. Over the past month, the mall reported a slew of new tenants and announced plans for an 18,000-square-foot esports venue that will open early next year.
“There’s a lot going on, and it’s just great to see people come back and shop in person,” Renslow said.
Some tenants have already started their vacation sales, and the mall’s vacation marketing and decorations will start to increase this week after Halloween, she said. The mall has also started to make an appointment with Santa Claus.
During the start of the school year, the Mall of America experimented with an online marketplace that showed a searchable inventory of 15 stores. By Black Friday, the mall plans to expand this market to 50 stores. It also plans to provide deliveries during the holidays within a limited radius of the mall, Renslow said.
Rosedale will be hosting in-person events with Santa, including a new “cocktails with Santa” experience for adults who don’t want to miss out, said Lisa Crain, senior general manager of the mall.
Some shoppers will be returning to malls this holiday because they are less concerned about COVID-19 and may be feeling homesick, said Joe Redden, professor of marketing at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.
“Everyone has their traditions and I think shopping at the mall is one that a lot of people have,” he said.