Change is afoot at Providence-area shopping malls.
Even as the Internet reshapes the retail industry around them, several of the region’s most prominent shopping hubs are experiencing the most significant new investment and store realignments in years.
On Route 2, the Ocean State’s suburban retail spine, a Concord, Mass., developer is planning to resuscitate the shuttered Rhode Island Mall, while around the corner the Warwick Mall is celebrating new anchor stores and Garden City Center in Cranston continues an evolution toward an upscale “lifestyle center.”
At the Providence Place mall, the loss of some higher-end, home-furnishings stores is moving the complex toward a younger, more urban demographic.
All the while across Rhode Island and Massachusetts, traditional strip malls grapple with the continued shrinkage of big-box retailers.
“Each one of these different kinds of retail center is going for [its] own demographic and target market,” said Melanie St. Jean, a professor of marketing in Johnson & Wales University’s College of Business about the new round of local mall repositioning. “I would say the ones that are really trailing behind are the strip shopping centers. The upkeep is hard and appearance-wise they are just not that appealing.”
Since the popularization of the indoor shopping mall in the latter half of the 20th century, the most significant trend in suburban retail has been the advent of the “lifestyle center,” a hybrid of the indoor mall, outdoor strip mall and pre-war Main Street village. Lifestyle centers are outdoors and car-centric, but face inward instead of out at a large roadway and include sidewalks and parking in front of storefronts instead of a single lot.
In Rhode Island, examples include South County Commons in South Kingstown and Garden City Center in Cranston, which was built in 1947, long before the term was coined, but with characteristics that would come back into vogue 50 years later.
Mansfield Crossing in Mansfield has lifestyle-center elements, but a traditional shopping plaza reliance on big boxes such as the defunct Borders, which has not been replaced, and Best Buy.
“Prior to the lifestyle centers coming into fruition, the mall was really the gathering place to eat and shop, but then the demographics shifted and the lifestyle center was a more relaxed setting for a family oriented shopper who didn’t want to go into the city,” St. Jean said. “Stores that serve a more mature client realized in the city they were not faring as well and said we can do the same business in the lifestyle center with a bigger building and lower rent.”