Successful overhaul of a suburban mall

It seems like almost weekly one can pick up a newspaper and read about another languishing mall slipping down the path to irrelevance and ultimately insolvency. Many a suburban community has pinned its hopes on these retail megastructures only to see them suffer a slow deterioration until they stand mostly vacant, a stark reminder of better days gone by.

With the rise of e-commerce, retailers are no longer competing with the shop down the street; they are competing with shops all over the world. There is a saying in the retail development community about what it takes to draw shoppers these days: “There has to be a ‘there’, there”. You have to be able to offer shoppers an experience, something other than just a place for them to find the goods that they covet. That can be done from one’s living room.

To some extent, suburban malls have fallen victim to their own success. There was so much demand that developers could build these malls on an enormous scale. The more diversity in the shops you could offer, the more people you could draw in. Unfortunately, this model makes for a fairly inflexible development product. The sheer size makes them expensive to renovate and demolish and the limits adaptive reuse possibilities.

There have been some phenomenal examples of mall conversions around the country. Some changed their use entirely, while some simply tweaked their offerings to focus on a specific clientele. The Global Mall, at the corner of Jimmy Carter Boulevard and I-85, is an example of the latter. Once a mall focusing on health and fitness, the 220,000- square-foot center had become almost completely vacant.

In 2001, the mall was converted to the nation’s first indoor South Asian mall. The goal was not only to build a place where South Asian goods are sold, but to offer a cultural experience. For some it offers the tastes, sights and smells of a place they once called home. For some, it is a glimpse into a part of the world they’ve never seen.

The Global Mall is a destination mall which draws customers from around the metro Atlanta region and even out of state. The mall boasts more than 60 specialty stores with $47.77 million in annual sales. The unique stores range from jewelry, clothing and furniture to banking, restaurants, tutoring and salons. The mall also includes a banquet hall, grocery store and indoor temple. There is something for every one of the 6,000 to 8,000 customers who pass through its doors each week and it’s something they are unlikely to find anywhere else.

Last October, Global Mall celebrated the 10th anniversary of its signature event — the eagerly-awaited Global Mela, which attracted more than 15,000 people from the community.

Global Mall has been successful not because it can offer something that everyone wants, which I believe was the goal of previous iterations of suburban malls. It offers a specific experience that can only be found there. It’s part mall and part community center and that is what keeps people coming back — they feel like they are part of a community when they are here. For suburban malls to survive, they can’t just be in the retail business anymore.