When Cirque du Soleil announced plans this week for a “family entertainment” concept inside a Toronto mall, it said a lot about the future of shopping centers.
The 24,000 sq.ft. space, called “Creactive”, will be a circus-inspired playground with a range of activities from juggling to high-wire – allowing fans to “peek behind the curtain and imagine themselves stepping into our artists’ shoes”, according to Marie Josée Lamy, producer of Creactive. “Hanging at the mall” will take on an entirely new connotation as shoppers take to the flying trapeze. And that’s the point.
No longer is it good enough for malls to be passive places to buy stuff – they have to be engaging places to do stuff. Otherwise, this particular retail format will be relegated to relic status – “a historical anachronism, a 60-year or so aberration that no longer meets the public’s, the consumer’s or the retailer’s needs”, as developer Rick Caruso mused.
With that point in mind, I draw your attention to Exhibit A: Randall Park Mall in Ohio. When it opened in 1976, Randall Park Mall was briefly the world’s biggest shopping center. It quickly lost relevance however, and by 2000, Randall Park Mall’s vacancy rate was 92%. Fast forward to 2017 when it was revealed that Amazon was constructing a 855,000 shipping center on the same site. Online triumphs over offline, or “software eats retail” as Netscape founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen memorably put it. But it doesn’t have to be that way.