CAMP HILL, Pa. (WHTM) — Like malls all across America, Capital City Mall lost its Sears. But unlike some others, it still has its Macy’s — and plenty else.
“We have about 85 stores here, and only five or six are vacancies,” the vice president of leasing for Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) Vince Vizza said, which owns the mall.
The mall’s Macy’s is now that chain’s only store between Altoona to the west and the Philadelphia suburb of Exton to the east.
Capital City Mall isn’t new — it opened in 1974. It isn’t some completely converted or unrecognizable property from what it used to be — still an indoor mall with anchor stores, smaller stores, kiosks in the middle and a food court.
So why is it — like a minority of half-century-old enclosed malls and unlike so many others — rather healthy?
Not because Capital City Mall hasn’t had some of the same setbacks others have had. Sears, for example, shrank down to a smaller store selling mattresses and appliances before closing altogether.
“When the department stores started going out, we were very proactive in backfilling here,” Vizza said, using an industry term for filling the empty space. “But with the space, “We were able to quickly pivot and add Dick’s Sporting Goods.”
At the other end of the mall is Dave & Busters, a national chain with a restaurant and a large arcade.
The presence of an entertainment venue like that at a mall that’s doing rather well is no coincidence, chief economist for The Consello Group Sarah Quinlan said.
“Starting around 2016, the consumer became an experiential consumer, and she was spending more on experiences than on goods,” Quinlan said. (And yes, her use of “she” is no accident: Women still do 75 percent of the shopping, she said.)
Still, in 2023, “Everyone talked about, ‘This is the summer of travel,’ but everybody bought new clothes for that travel,” Quinlan said.
America still needs malls, Quinlan said — just not as many as it had or even still has. “We are over-retailed in America,” she said.
She said online shopping will plateau at about 30 percent of all shopping. That’s a lot but still means 70 percent of shopping won’t be online, meaning plenty of business to go around for malls that can navigate the new environment. The challenge?
“How do they take that 1980s, 1990s dinner-and-a-movie and walking around shopping and convert it now to what people are looking for?” Cushman & Wakefield’s president of Americas retail services, agency leasing and alliances Barrie Scardina said.
So what are they looking for?
Among other things, “we have to know the experience is going to be entertaining, and it’s going to be safe,” Scardina said.
And then there’s what people don’t need malls for — at least, not as much as they once did.
“With the rise of e-commerce over the last 20 years, and certainly the intensity that happened over the last three years, we don’t need to go to the mall anymore to get a black sweater,” Scardina said.
Scardina and Quinlan both said the presence of Macy’s is no small detail. Malls that remain relatively healthy tend to have Macy’s, both said. So which is it: Does Macy’s make a mall healthy? Or do healthy malls get to keep their Macy’s even after the giant department store chain’s rounds of closures?
“It’s more that the mall is successful” so Macy’s stays, Quinlan said.
She said among traditional indoor malls, upscale ones have fared better than discount ones, largely because of the success of retailers like Target and Walmart, which — more than ever — attract shoppers from all income ranges, including wealthy shoppers.
Vizza said Capital City Mall benefits from its relatively affluent Cumberland County surroundings but also from its highway access, which, in turn, enables it to draw shoppers from a larger catchment area now that other malls, like the East Shore’s Colonial Park Mall, are in decline.
That makes surviving malls more regional. But on the other hand?
“Each mall is going to need to look at their community and what the needs are and make those calls to make sure that they’re being community-centric,” Scardina said.
Sure enough, even as Capital City Mall attracted the Australian jewelry and accessory chain Lovisa, Vizza said PREIT has “incubated” local businesses like Fuzzy Wall, a clothing store, by offering them short-term leases to test their concepts and then — if they’re successful, as he said Fuzzy Wall has been — converting them to longer-term leases.