Repurposing Vacant Retail
Updated: Nov 6
Empty stores are like a virus that spreads. They kill the life and vibrancy of retail strips. It's far better to activate a shopfront than to leave it vacant.
Just the signage showing multiple spaces are up for lease can be contagious and a sure sign (excuse the pun) that an area is in decline. It's simply bad for business. All spaces should be productive spaces. You need only look at the informal economy where ever nook, cranny and shelter is reimagined. It is time to repurpose vacant retail.
Start seeing spaces for what they are - not what they were meant to be.
Repurposing Department Stores:
Malls without walls. One way that department stores have been reimagined is to treat them as mini open-plan malls, as with David Jones in Sydney, Australia's CBD, where each concession has its own counter, staff, and cash register. It feels like a mall without walls.
Creative partnerships. Saks, in partnership with Convene, created exquisite co-working space in space previously occupied by their department stores.
Complete repurposing. Uses that benefit from large open-plan floorplans with internal, private vertical circulation include schools, distribution centers (also benefiting where there are dedicated loading docks and significant back-of-house facilities), and libraries.
Activation by Temporary Use:
Gaming! Add some sofas, add beanbags, add a TV, vending machine and console. I’m yet to see a free gaming station without a few teens attached to it. It'll be a space where teens come to congregate.
Community activities. There are plenty of community initiatives that would benefit from having a space to run what they're doing. It can also tick some ’S’ boxes for ESG.
Study spaces. There are many cafes that are filled with people on their laptops working in a 'third space’ that is not their home. Why not add some Wi-Fi (you may already have district Wi-Fi), bring in a barista or ice cream cart, add some comfy tables and chairs, and promote this as an amenity.
Complete Repurposing of Malls:
eSports Specialty Centers. Putuo District in China created eSports centers such as ESP eSports Experience Centre where 350+ games are played there every year. As a niche specialty center, they attract tenants working in eSports and affiliated industries such as gaming, apparel, and design. The centers attract a clear target demographic. The eSports industry is growing rapidly at an estimate 16.7% CAGR, and presents great opportunity as a specialist center.
Wellness Specialty Center. Taikoo Li in China is a wellness-focused center where there are running tracks, gyms, fitness apparel, spas, etc. It becomes a destination where the target shoppers and tenants are clearly defined.
Distribution Centers. Using its location advantages to be used as distribution centers which benefit from being next to the main road and having loading docks and adequate traffic circulation. In this circumstance, it's always good to think about the impact on the community, as you do not want to create a complete dead space. Bringing in other activities to activate the space is great. You do not want to be turning this into a semi-industrial area, as it will impact the value of the surrounding real estate and adversely impact the community, which is not good for anyone.
The biggest conversion in retail is the change that the industry is undergoing for quite some time. As the retail landscape evolves, what malls provide need to evolve alongside to stay relevant.