The stores at Eden Prairie Center are propelling focus toward entertainment as retail patterns continue to change.

On the southwest end of the mall, the new Scheels is taking shape, and although several stores have closed, other retailers have renovations scheduled this year.

“There’s a lot of positive activity and construction right now,” said Senior General Manager Nancy Litwin.

Scheels construction is centered on a 248,000-square-foot sporting goods and lifestyle department store. An array of entertainment is promised — from a 65-foot, 16-car indoor Ferris wheel to a 16,000-gallon saltwater aquarium with staff divers and 700 fish. A candy and a coffee shop are also expected. The store is planned to open August 2020.

The Scheels opening comes as malls countrywide grapple with receding anchor and retail stores. Retail trends that fed the growth of malls back when Eden Prairie Center opened in 1975 are rapidly taking on a new form.

A 2018 Real Estate Market Study from Credit Suisse said of all forms of retail, malls are suffering the most. In the year prior, 9,000 stores closed in United States malls and 50 retail chains declared bankruptcy. The future of malls, the study said, is in becoming urban entertainment centers.

Litwin says Eden Prairie Center is delivering on the entertainment, and retail brands will adapt to fill the rest.

“Consumers expect brick and mortar retailing, and digital retailing, to be intertwined,” Litwin said. “Brands must deliver on that expectation.”

LIGHT RAIL

The arrival of Scheels, as well as the light rail, will lend itself to a growth in a customer base, said President Pat MulQueeny, with the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce. An expanded Southwest Light Rail Transit line will connect Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis and is anticipated to open in 2023.

Other retailers at the mall have invested more in their entertainment experiences.

AMC Theatre completed a top-to-bottom renovation in 2016, with reclining seats and reserved seating. Wildfire updated its three-season patio in 2018. Both Panera Bread and Potbelly Sandwich Shop have remodeling scheduled to happen this year.

In addition, Litwin said plans from Target and Barnes & Noble Booksellers have been shared for upcoming store improvements.

Community events are among the entertainment mix, she said. Dance recitals, music, pop-up art galleries and science, technology and math exhibits frequent the mall.

This doesn’t mean the center hasn’t felt the effects of changing retail. Yankee Candle recently shuttered. Payless ShoeSource and Charlotte Russe will soon close. Back in fall of 2016, anchor store Sears shut its doors.

The center has declined to comment on current lease occupancy compared to years past.

Closures are historically more typical during the first quarter of the fiscal year, Litwin said, as that’s when companies assess performance. She added that the closures say more about larger organizational changes than shopping centers themselves.

MulQueeny said while retail trends have also been a topic of concern among chamber members, those worries haven’t extended to the mall.

“I really think the Eden Prairie Center has done a good job overall in terms of filling vacancies,” he said. “From the perspective of managing a mall, there are always going to be some stores coming and going.”

STRONG RETENTION

The Eden Prairie Center is strong in its store retention, Litwin said, as more than 20 retailers renewed their leases in the last year.

Deloitte Insights is a company that publishes reports for businesses, the public and nonprofits. It published a 2018 study of consumer habits, which said retail changes are tied to the slimming of the middle class — 80 percent of consumers have seen their financial situation deteriorate, and therefore second-guess purchases.

On the other end, the study found that consumers in high-income brackets are 52 percent more likely to shop online.

Eden Prairie Center pays Esri Demographics to assess its consumer trade strength. Compared to other regional Twin Cities malls, Esri said the five-mile radius surrounding the Eden Prairie Center doled out at least 18 percent more of annual household spending on apparel and services, technology, dining out and groceries.

“Research data available today is much more sophisticated and readily available to understand the makeup of our consumer trade area,” Litwin said, “and how to meet their needs.”

Lara is a regional reporter for Southwest News Media.

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