"Why would you get in your car and drive to a mall when you can just reach in your pocket?" asked Strassmann.
"That's the point," Lewis replied.
- Plunging mall traffic is killing some restaurants and stores (CBS Moneywatch)
But on the outskirts of Atlanta, we found one formerly dying mall that's thriving. Where some saw financial ruin, Jose Legaspi saw opportunity.
In 2005 he took over a struggling, generic mall and transformed it into Plaza Fiesta, designed specifically to meet the needs of an exploding Hispanic population.
"We follow demographics," Legaspi told Strassmann. "Because it's nothing more than numbers game, I will tell you. You've got to have enough number of consumers to be able to support something like this, or any kind of mall."
Legaspi had turned dead space into successful Hispanic malls in several cities with large immigrant communities. Looking to expand, he discovered the Hispanic population of Atlanta had nearly tripled between 1990 and 2000.
But one thing was missing.
"The extended family concept is very, very key" to the culture of the Hispanic community, Legaspi said. "There was not a place where the families could gather. And shopping doesn't just mean shoes and clothing or eating at a restaurant; it's also a place where they can listen to music, sit down, relax, and spend some time with the family."
Plaza Fiesta has 280 stores, but there's also a doctor's office, and a dentist. There are hairdressers, money-wiring services -- everything you might find in a Mexican village. There's even a bus station to bring customers in; the mall had more than 4 million visitors last year.
And in another nod to the sense of community he's trying to foster, Legaspi has gone back to the future: "Every Sunday -- just remember 1950s America, people would come to the town square and they would listen to the band on the bandstand, right?" he told Strassmann. "Well, what we do every Sunday is we have music, and people can just come and sit down and relax and listen to the music."
"It's more than one-stop shopping, it's a one-stop experience?" Strassmann said.
"It's a one-stop experience, absolutely."
Robin Lewis says the lessons here can be learned by other malls, in other places: pay attention to a changing America, and give your customers something they can't get sitting at their computer.
So, if some dying malls are going to have a second life, Strassmann asked Lewis, what are the keys?
"Experience," he replied. "Entertainment. If we're going to drag them away from their smartphone and shopping on the Internet, you've got to give them a reason to spend the time to go and make the effort to go there. And the only way they're gonna do that is if there's a fun thing going on."
And an experience you can't get online.
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