Local mayors worry about empty mall space, rethink retail
Major retail stores are closing across the country and right here in the northwest metro. That has some cities looking for new ways to draw customers to local malls and shops.

The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes opened in 2003. Since that time, many stores have come and gone: Banana Republic, J Crew and Anthropologie all closed up shop in recent years.

"We're going  to have to make some accommodations or we're going to see a lot of vacant empty mall space," said Maple Grove Mayor Mark Steffenson at a recent council meeting.

Currently, 87 percent of the Shoppes are leased out. Mall management wants to increase that number by adding more destination restaurants.

"Replacing department stores with restaurants, this, that, God bless them, you've got to try everything," said Professor George John with the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. "But that's not going to turn the ship around until the basics turn around."

Professor John says people's spending habits have changed with more people shopping online, and for some, cash flow is a problem. 

"You can think of it sort of folks near retirement, and folks starting out their careers, and these folks don't have the money, and these folks are done buying their stuff," said John.

John also says unless there is more growth in the economy, retail will continue to struggle. On the flip side, he says outlet malls and Walmart stores are doing relatively well.

In need of innovative thinking

Meanwhile, cities like Brooklyn Park are looking to the future of retail, trying to avoid empty shops with innovating thinking.

Brooklyn Park wants to attract more retail to the Highway 610 corridor, which recently gained a Hy-Vee grocery store. However, according to Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde, the city is literally thinking out of the box.

"The future is going to be more mobile, more agile where companies will put something up and they'll move it. and they'll move it wherever traffic goes," explained Mayor Jeff Lunde.

There's plenty of space to build and move things around in Brooklyn Park with vacant lot signs up all along Zane and 610.

"It will be more service orientated, where you may pick up orders there that you've ordered online, and they may be about servicing people than about having this huge selection," said Lunde.

In Brooklyn Park where the sidewalk ends, new opportunity begins.

"We've got three hotels coming in, we know that restaurants, retail will always follow those because where you have hotels, you have people," said Lunde.

Sonya Goins reporting



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