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Midland Mall spurs comeback with future improvements

Courtesy Photo
Midland Mall
Hallway inside the Midland Mall.

Hitting the mall with your friends was the highlight of the weekend for many who grew up in the 80s and 90s.

But that was before online shopping and the pandemic turned traditional brick and mortar retail upside down.

WCMU's Tina Sawyer recently visited the Midland Mall to ask shoppers what keeps them coming back.


Competition from online shopping

I think we have a diversity of tenants that aren't as easily competed with online. For example, a lot of the service businesses here. We have batting cages, there's even a tenant that does firearm training. There's enough diversity here that online is not as competitive.
Jordan Dice, owner, Midland Mall

The future of malls in Michigan

I think you'll continue to see malls contract, but I think what will happen is certain malls like this mall will become more relevant to a larger area. So I think as the other malls go away…you'll see certain malls hang on.

Jordan Dice, owner, Midland Mall

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Tina Sawyer: In the 1980s, more than half of US retail sales occurred in malls. Today, only 700 malls remain across the country. That's the recent number from the President of retail advisory firm site Works, a firm that tracks all US mall performance. But despite the recent decline of American malls, entrepreneurs like Jordan Dice, who recently bought the Midland Mall for just over 5 million dollars, is betting the mall is here to stay.


Jordan Dice: I think this is the leading mall of the tri-cities and I think there's still a lot of opportunity here. There's a lot of long term leases here with larger stores.


TS  Recent data from the National Retail Federation shows the role of brick and mortar stores evolving in recent years, according to the NRF. Shopping in store remains the primary point of purchase for consumers, accounting for approximately 80% of total retail sales. But malls are no longer just about things. By adding events and entertainment draws to the mall, these venues are gaining popularity.

Such as in early March, the Midland Mall hosted the Midland Comic Con. Thousands of people attended the conference dressed as their favorite superhero or in their favorite cosplay outfit. They participated in contests and visited with their favorite characters. Even nonprofit organizations benefit from events like this to support their causes by bringing people from all walks of life together. Ghostbuster Dave from the Cherryland Ghostbusters from Traverse City, a nonprofit that helps children throughout Michigan, says the mall hosting the Comic Con brings the community together.

Ghostbuster Dave:  It brings awareness to people that didn't have a voice at one time, you know, I mean, a lot. A lot of times the cons for years were a place to hide, you know, and now it's not. You can have your personality and your sleeve. And it's OK. There's no judgment. You can be yourself. You can be a kid!


TS: Vendors were also given an opportunity to put their e-commerce business in front of new customers. Kat, from Kat Art Company, was almost sold out of her handmade, crocheted ghosts at her table.


Kat: I've had such a hard time trying to build just online, but being able to come to a show and it be the local community, it's helped a lot.


TS: We asked mall owner Jordan Dice about those online shoppers. Can it hurt the members of mall goers like they have in the past?


JD: It can, but I that's another key difference here. I think we have a diversity of tenants that aren't as easily competed with online. You know, for example, like Hobby Lobby, you're not as prone to want to go shop for those types of things online because they're very specific and certainly a lot of the service businesses here we have batting cages. You know, there's even a tenant that does firearm training and such. So I mean those are things where obviously you got to go somewhere to do it and that's here. So I think there's enough diversity here that online is not as competitive as it might be to other stores that are easily replaceable with online.


TS: Then who's shopping at the mall? Is it baby boomers or is it the Gen. Z generation? We ran into Gen. Z’er Dante, who happens to be one of the employees of one of the stores in the mall. He thinks it's a good possibility.

Dante: So a lot of the younger crowd are starting to come back to the mall, which is honestly a really good thing for business overall.

TS: Why do you think that is?

Dante: Well, I honestly just think it's because some of the new stores, it kind of vibes a lot and matches a lot with some of the younger demo.

TS: Along with new and innovative ideas for retail, one end of the mall features offices for my Michigan Health, Dice says he doesn't plan to add any more office space, but to focus on the shopping for the rest of the mall and to bring more entertainment and make improvements elsewhere, such as to their children's play area.

JD: We plan to put in something a lot larger, a lot more elaborate than what we have there today, something multi-story. So we'll start with that. But certainly thinking about other entertainment we could bring here because I don't think people want to come to a mall anymore just for shopping, getting the food court back to 100%, which we're on track to do as well.

TS: What does the future look like for this mall and for other malls throughout the United States, in your mind, in your words?

JD: I think you'll continue to see malls contract, but I think what will happen is certain malls like this mall will become more relevant to a larger area. So I think as the other malls go away…you'll see certain malls hang on.

TS: Dice says with downtown Midland already established with businesses as well as other areas throughout the town, he sees the Midland Mall as a viable place for people to shop indoors…for years to come.  I'm Tina Sawyer, WCMU news.


Tina Sawyer is the local host of Morning Edition on WCMU. She joined WCMU in November, 2022.
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