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Why Wisconsin's Malls Are Pivoting To Entertainment And Dining Amidst The Pandemic

Chuck Quirmbach
The Marcus Corporation's BistroPlex near Southridge Mall. This emphasis on dining and entertainment may be the future for malls all across Wisconsin.

Even before the pandemic, malls were struggling. Although malls have been an iconic part of American life for decades, their popularity has waned in recent years and many are home to vacant store fronts.

As the pandemic makes it dangerous to gather in large groups, malls are experiencing yet another setback and some are struggling to hang on.

Tom Daykin has been reporting on how local malls have been handling the pandemic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He says that department store shopping has been hit particularly hard and that stores like Sears or Macy’s that normally serve as the anchor for a regional mall are continuing to see a drop in their sales.

It can also be attributed to the way malls are set up; they are meant to keep shoppers inside to protect them from a cold Wisconsin winter but now that means increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

While Daykin doesn’t think this is the end of malls, many mall complexes are being turned over to new hands. He expects many of them to make significant changes and shift towards more entertainment and dining instead of shopping. Although, those activities will not be profitable until after the pandemic is under control. 

“I don’t think department store anchors are, by and large, going to do anything but continue to fade away,” says Daykin. “We’re just going to have fewer department stores in this country and thus, we’re going to have fewer regional malls and thus, those properties are going to have to transition to new uses. We’re seeing that at Brookfield Square, we’re seeing that at Southridge.”

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Tom Daykin has been covering commercial development at the Journal Sentinel since 1995.