Malls aren’t just for retailers anymore.
For dance lessons, students can go to the Hutchinson mall.
Those looking for a change of career can take classes at Wright Career College in Towne East Square.
And in Newton’s Chisholm Trail Outlet Mall, there’s a sports museum, performing arts center and martial arts studio.
The trend shows what is likely a permanent shift in retail, says Brian Mitchell, co-owner of the Chisholm Trail Shopping Center and Outlet Mall in Newton.
“A lot of malls, be it an outlet mall, malls in Wichita or across the country, for so long, we were on such a building boom – there was so much square footage built it’s hard to fill it all with retail,” Mitchell said.
Now, developers and mall managers look to develop a mix of retail and non-retail in an effort to stay viable, Mitchell said.
“We went in with an open mind,” Mitchell said. “If you’re going to turn around a combo of retail and non-retail, you have to try and get a mix that draws people to the mall for both reasons, hopefully the kind that complement each other.”
One of the major factors is the surge in online retailers that have erased the need for some brick and mortar locations – or at least decreased the size of those actual retail stores.
But another factor is simply the growth in the number of service-oriented businesses.
Non-retail businesses typically can lease vacant space in a mall for less than what it would cost to build new, Mitchell said.
That was the case for optometrist Joseph Kessler. He owns Kessler Eye Care, which has locations at Towne East and Towne West malls in Wichita and in two malls in the Kansas City area.
Kessler said leasing space in a mall had a lot lower overhead than a stand-alone practice.
“It’s easier to start up a business if you have to have less capital on hand,” he said
Kessler’s advertising budget isn’t large, he said, so the increased foot traffic helps bring in business. And because they’re in a mall, they have extended their hours to later in the day.
In Hutchinson, Via Christi operates a rehabilitation therapy center at the mall at 1500 E. 11th Ave.
Rick Jones, a physical therapist who practices there, said Via Christi chose that location about 13 years ago when it decided to expand services to Hutchinson.
The cost per square foot was less than at several other potential locations, Jones said.
“When I come into my office, I forget I’m in the mall,” Jones said.
These days, Jones said he thinks non-retail businesses are necessary to keep some malls viable.
“That’s the type of thing they have to look at now,” he said. “The mall here is starving. There has been speculation for years that it was going to completely close, which has not happened yet, and part of the reason is they’re trying to think outside the box.”