Wednesday, December 7, 2022
Dec. 7, 2022

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Vancouver Mall thriving in spite of pandemic

‘We’re more than back to normal,’ general manager says; two new tenants join facility

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A shopper strolls past BoxLunch, one of two new tenants at Vancouver Mall. The mall is "more than back to normal" following the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, mall managers say.
A shopper strolls past BoxLunch, one of two new tenants at Vancouver Mall. The mall is "more than back to normal" following the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, mall managers say. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Malls across the country have struggled the last few years. The Lloyd Center in Portland was already in trouble even before the pandemic and at one point was rumored to be headed for demolition. It now has new owners and is undergoing an extensive renovation, and its future looks better.

But Vancouver Mall, which is adding new tenants and looking at numbers of shoppers even higher than pre-pandemic levels, is booming, said general manager Tracy Peters.

“We’re more than back to normal,” she said. “We’re up double digits over 2019. Vancouver Mall is thriving, way beyond pandemic numbers.”

The mall recently added two new tenants: BoxLunch, with a grand opening on June 25, and The Good Feet Store, which will open in late summer or early fall, Peters said.

BoxLunch carries pop-culture apparel and accessories featuring images from brands like Disney as well as superheroes, gaming, TV, anime and cartoons. The Good Feet Store, which will be on the parking lot pad near Chick-fil-A and Five Guys restaurant, will offer free, personalized fittings and walking tests to find the best shoe and arch support.

The new stores are part of a wide variety of tenants that appeal to customers and is part of the mall’s success, Peters said.

“People come in and say all the time, how are we doing it — that they go to other malls and they’re empty,” she said. “But we have a very good tenant mix, something for everybody.”

In just the past year, the mall brought in Windsor Fashions, Sephora cosmetics, Tilly’s, Round One entertainment center, Chick-fil-A and Five Guys.

Another factor for the mall’s success was likely a major remodel of the mall in 2020 at the height of the pandemic when people were staying home. It was good timing, but had been planned the year before.

“We did a complete interior remodel that really refreshed and vitalized the mall and brought in so many more new tenants in the idle of the pandemic,” Peters said. “Other malls were seeing closure, but we were having openings.”

Peters said her company, Centennial, owns or manages 16 properties across the country, including two malls in California.

“I don’t speak for other malls, but as far as Vancouver, it is performing far better than any other property we have,” she said. “We have a lot of population growth and have brought in a lot of retailers, and that attracts other retailers, as well.”

Peters said the mall is also enticing new tenants by offering a wide variety of spaces, including “pop-up” sites where vendors can market test their wares. Recently, she said, a pop-up featuring vintage tennis shoes was so successful that the owner just signed a 14-month lease with the mall.

“We’re looking at more stores in the future, and we’re always looking to add local, regional and national tenants,” she said. “Vancouver is thriving so well, I wouldn’t be surprised if national tenants that have left the mall might be coming back.”

The mall is also enticing customers with new services that include curbside pickup and shopping online.

“It allows them to see the inventory of all our retailers and lets them know what inventory is available,” she said. “So if you want to pre-plan shopping for, say, red shoes, it might show five retailers that carry them, and you can order online. There are different ways to shop now that we didn’t have prior to the pandemic.”

The International Council of Shopping Centers report on the state of the industry, released in May, states that visits to indoor malls dropped by 97 percent in April 2020 but have rebounded to a 7 percent drop from April 2019 and that retailers “are putting themselves on more stable footing with landlords” as the 30-plus-day delinquency rate in March 2022 came in at 7.5 percent, less than half the 18 percent rate during the peak pandemic shutdown in June 2020.

Store categories that have fared the best are entertainment, apparel and beauty industries, according to the ICSC, and appears to be the same for Vancouver Mall, Peters said.

“I don’t have specifics, but those categories are thriving and performing here as well and I think that’s why we see the additions of Round One and Sephora.”

Peters said that so far, she’s felt no ill effects from inflation and said the mall is getting plenty of foot traffic.

“I know inflation does affect people, but I’m not that worried about it,” she said, adding that the mall is more than just a bunch of stores; it’s a community hub.

“It’s really been great, especially since the mask mandate lifted, to see people come out in droves,” she said. “I’m sometimes shocked at how well we’re doing.”