“Why No One Likes Indoor Malls Any More.”
That was a recent headline in The Washington Post.
I would like to invite the author of the accompanying story to visit Oak Park Mall at 95th Street and Quivira Road in Overland Park, near the interchange of Interstate 435 and Quivira and Interstate 35 and 95th Street.
The mall defies the very crux of the article.
Consider this quote: “The mall that’s dying is, in fact, a specific kind of mall. It’s enclosed with an anonymous, windowless exterior, wrapped in yards of parking, located off a highway interchange. It’s the kind of place where you easily lose track of time and all connection to the outside world.”
That could have been an accurate story of Metcalf South Shopping Center at 95th and Metcalf, soon to be razed and replaced by an open-air, high-end mixed use development. Other malls in the area have followed suit, shutting off the lights and sitting empty or being torn down.
Nationwide, since 2010, 24 enclosed malls have closed, and 60 more are on the brink of closing.
Oak Park Mall, which was opened in 1974, is clearly an exception. Whereas many enclosed malls are failing throughout the country, Oak Park is thriving.
The super-regional mall, at 1.5 million square feet, is the largest in the metropolitan area and the largest in Kansas.
But size doesn’t tell the whole story, because it could be a huge mall with lots of empty storefronts.
Quite the contrary. With a popular mix of 180 stores, the mall is almost always fully occupied. Many stores are exclusive to Oak Park Mall in the Kansas City market, including Nordstrom.
According to officials at the mall, their recent sales numbers have increased steadily year after year. And despite the Internet and “open-air” shopping districts popping up — supposedly the death-knell of enclosed retail malls — Oak Park is attracting more shoppers than ever, according to Oak Park officials.
There are several keys to its success.
One is location. Oak Park is well-situated to cater to the more affluent customers, who have thrived in this economy, while the middle-class has suffered.
Oak Park can also boast of five major anchor stores: Dillard’s North, Dillard’s South, JCPenney, Macy’s and Nordstrom.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal took a different tack. Its headline read: “High-End Malls Get Boost From High Tech.”
The article stated: “Landlords say a big driver of malls’ recent resurgence has been a new generation of technology-focused tenants”
Oak Park Mall now includes Microsoft. According to the story, high-tech stores like Microsoft do “very high volumes.” A mall’s sales are “really boosted by these high-tech tenants.” That is true at Oak Park Mall, where Oak Park officials say Microsoft is attracting large crowds.
Oak Park Mall, like the giant Mall of America in Minnesota, is more than a mall. It is also an entertainment center.
A double-decker carousel is a magnet for kids, as are the Zonkers Arcade, a soft-sculpture play area and several entertainment retailers, such as the Disney Store and Build-A-Bear.
Oak Park Mall is not just lucky.
The owners, who are a real estate investment company and a financial services company, must be doing something right.
The Washington Post may have fallen in love with open-air shopping malls, like Park Place in Leawood, but Oak Park is proving there is room for both, and both can be very successful.
| Special to The Star