Power Square Mall in Mesa reinvented itself during a time when malls across America were dying.
In the wake of the pandemic-driven lockdowns, malls are struggling. Last year, Coresight Research said a quarter of all malls in the country could close in the next three to five years.
Power Square Mall management is determined not to be one of them.
The mall, at Power and Baseline roads, itself makes money by leasing space, but to remain profitable, the way that space has been leased has changed drastically over the years.
Property Manager Susan Hawley said the building that houses the mall was originally constructed as a warehouse for Via Factory Outlet.
Over time, the warehouse turned into an outlet mall and then into retail space.
During the pandemic, Via Factory Outlet closed many of its stores in the west, including its location within the Power Square Mall.
Via Factory Outlet had been the biggest tenant and the closure left a 80,000-square-foot hole in the mall, Hawley said. Of the 80,000 square feet, 50,000 consisted of store space and the rest was for storage.
When a large store like Via Factory Outlet leaves, it creates problems, Hawley said.
“Closed and vacant stores discourage shoppers from coming unless there is a particular store that they really like,” she said, adding she is still trying to fill the space.
Rachel Prelog, a principal planner for the City of Mesa, noted, “The southern half of the building has been converted into a storage space.” The other half comprises retail.
There is currently an application being reviewed to turn the outlet space into a private elementary school run by Lumos Private Academy, Prelog said.
According to Hawley, the school would fill the 50,000 square foot hole in the front.
Hawley also rented space to locally-owned, unique businesses in order to attract more customers.
Much of the space that used to house outlet stores is now filled by antique shops that sublease to small businesses.
“It works kind of like a fair,” Hawley said. The space is leased out to businesses that sublease to other businesses that in turn sell their own product for a period of time.
Because so much of the mall is filled with small businesses and antique shops, it is hard to advertise the mall.
“Many of these shop owners are small, local businesses that cannot afford to pay for advertising,” Hawley said.
About 10 years ago, Hawley said she spent $5,000 a month on advertising and while it did bring in more business, she felt it was not her responsibility to advertise.
“It is the responsibility of each individual store owner to advertise for themselves,” Hawley said.
Hawley said that over time, the mall has reduced its retail presence and moved more online.
Hawley believes that in order to remain in business, malls need to repurpose and be open to new concepts.
“Retail is changing, especially since COVID,” Hawley said. “The way that people shop has changed.”
The pandemic prompted even more people to go online, she added.
Hawley believes that ultimately people will be dissatisfied with online shopping and seek out in-person shopping once more.
“A brick-and-mortar location helps businesses concentrate on the customer,” Hawley said. “It keeps the focus on the people.”
She predicted that people won’t be satisfied without the interaction with a salesperson or store owner.
A previous attempt that was made to bring business to the mall included the addition of an express branch of the Mesa Library.
Library Director Heather Wolf said that the mall housed an express branch with a smaller collection of new books, audiobooks, CDs and DVDs.
An express branch is about convenience and allows people who may not have access to a larger location the option of reserving and picking up books and other materials, Wolf said.
The library remained in the mall from 2011 until 2019, when a storm poured water through the roof when it was under repair and forced the branch to close.
“It wiped out the collection, resources, and most of the furniture,” Wolf said.
Mesa Public Library has not had an express branch since, Wolf said.
However, on May 13, the city held a public meeting to discuss a putting a new express library in Monterey Park, a subdivision that is home to many families.
Wolf said the express branch would offer programs catering to children in the area, Wolf said.
The city is currently entertaining the idea of converting a shipping container into library space and doing these programs as outdoor seasonal activities, Wolf said.