Perhaps against expectation, a lot of retail activity is happening at the Battlefield Mall.
Despite an ongoing consumer shift from in-person to online shopping, and economic unsettlement – including a temporary mall closure – from the coronavirus pandemic, indications are that the Battlefield Mall is experiencing a kind of spring, just in time for the fall and winter holiday shopping season.
An Aug. 31 news release from the Battlefield Mall announced five retailers that were newly opened or relocated, plus four more that are coming soon. Eight of the nine retailers are local businesses.
Michael Martin is general manager of the Battlefield Mall, which is a property of real estate investment trust Simon Property Group Inc.
According to Martin, the local mall seems to be bucking some dark national trends.
“We’re very fortunate here – we always have interest and activity on the leasing front,” he said. “If there’s a challenge, it’s very short term. We’re always bringing in new things, new concepts, new uses, new brands.”
For most U.S. malls, the opposite is the case. A study released in August 2020 from retail information firm Coresight Research estimated 25% of America’s malls would close within five years, a trend that was underway before the coronavirus pandemic accelerated it.
Analysis from the Yale School of Management shows that prior to the pandemic, in 2018, store closures at all locations occurred at record levels, despite high domestic consumer confidence, low unemployment and positive growth forecasts for the U.S. economy.
Even so, Martin said Battlefield Mall currently has only about seven vacancies. Some other spaces are in the process of construction or preparation for it.
At press time, there were 114 retailers open for business at the mall, but Martin said that will change by the end of the month with the opening of two or three more stores.
In its most recent announcement, the mall welcomed Collectomaniacs, a comic book and collectible store that features comic books, action figures and game cards. It also announced the relocation of Tacos El Champu within the food court. And The Collective is a locally owned boutique that features over 15 pop-up small businesses.
One of the new openings is N.C. Co., an offshoot of the Nixa Clothing Co., located in the Attic, a Nixa flea market.
Holly Hartmann’s name is on the lease, but she credits her daughter, Hayle, as the proprietor of the store. Hayle, 20, has Down syndrome.
“We enjoy it,” said Holly of their mall store. “She likes to help with all the different parts. We talk about where to put things and she helps tag things. If it’s a cashless transaction, she even rings people up.”
But Hayle’s favorite part is merchandising.
“I pick out the clothes,” she said.
Holly said the store has a larger purpose than retailing.
“Our biggest mission is, one, to not only let Hayle know but show her that she can do anything,” she said.
It’s not the typical mall offering, a local store that exists in part to promote awareness of the abilities of people with Down syndrome. When asked why she sought out a mall retail location, Holly said the mall contacted her about opening. She and Hayle decided to try out a temporary lease.
“We’re doing OK business there,” Holly said. “My hope is for the Christmas season.”
Sno Bubble Tea is another business highlighted in the mall announcement. It is a full bubble tea bar that offers a variety of toppings and boba – pearls made from tapioca starch. The business also offers milkshakes, coffee, Korean snow ice and pastries.
Alice Oh, owner of Sno Bubble Tea, is quick to note that hers is not a new business.
“Actually, we’ve been there for almost four years,” she said.
Oh said she was located outside of Sears, and the closure of that anchor department store spelled trouble for her corner of the mall. Shortly after Sears closed, the entertainment outlets Tilt arcade and Glowgolf indoor mini-golf had closed, and then Auntie Anne’s pretzel store shuttered, too.
“I contacted Simon mall properties and said, ‘Hey, look, we’re struggling,’” she said.
And that’s when COVID-19 hit, leading to a three-month closure of mall stores.
Oh said Simon came through for her, providing a permanent spot in the food court as of Aug. 24.
“We’re busy, busy,” she said.
Oh credits the mall’s director of leasing, Justin Nauert, with what she sees as a rebound for the mall.
“He has turned that mall around completely,” Oh said. “There’s some good stores and restaurants coming in, and probably by the end of the year, if not next year, it’s going to be full.”
Added Oh, “There’s a positive atmosphere and it’s busy all the time. The food court is especially busy every day.”
Oh said Battlefield Mall today is different than the mall she knew 30 years ago. It’s more diverse.
“They’ve expanded their thinking outside the box,” Oh said. “It’s not just about clothing stores and food. The trend right now is health, local, organic, with environment and nature. They’re doing the right thing.”
Shopping habits changing
There are roughly 1,000 malls in the United States, and most are feeling the pinch of online shopping, according to marketing and sales research firm McKinsey & Co. Since the onset of COVID-19, McKinsey reports 75% of consumers have tried a new shopping behavior, and 73% of these intend to continue with that method. For most, this means a foray into online shopping, curbside pickup and the use of delivery apps.
McKinsey also reports in its August 2020 research that 40% of U.S. consumers have reduced their spending in general and expect to continue to cut back on nonessentials.
Martin said both Simon and the Battlefield Mall team are keen on encouraging local businesses to locate at the mall.
“For the last several years we’ve ramped up, wanting to do more local businesses coming to the mall, whether that’s retail, restaurants, entertainment,” he said. “Local interest is white-hot.”
The mall’s announcement also included businesses that are coming soon, and among those is a second location of Nixa-based Garden Adventures Nursery, a full-service nursery that is going in at the main mall entrance, next to Chico’s.
Dawn & Birch, a local women’s clothing boutique, is also in the works, as is Yan’s Sushi & Grill, a new local sushi restaurant going into the dining pavilion.
“That’s what sets us apart,” Martin said. “Most malls in Anywhere, USA., you see a lot of the same stores and brands.”
But many of Battlefield’s offerings won’t be found in any other mall.
“That’s what makes it unique and fun,” Martin said.
The announcement also noted one national offering: F.Y.E., described as the number-one store for all things pop culture, including K-pop music and merchandise, gadgets, candy and vinyl records.
The mall also welcomed a large international fashion retailer, Sweden-based H&M, with an announcement in January 2020 – an inauspicious time for a store opening, amid a pandemic.
“We worked on that one for a long time,” Martin said. “We combined four to six different spaces to create a junior anchor for us.”
He added that H&M has changed its wing of the mall for the better. And opening soon is another national brand: Lululemon.
“That’s an awesome get for us and for Springfield,” he said. “We’re very excited about that one.”
Lululemon had a test run as a pop-up in the Brentwood Shopping Center on Glenstone Avenue across from the mall. The store features high-end yoga gear and athletic wear and accessories.
A project that is now hitting its stride on the west side of Bolivar includes a retail strip and storage units.