Virtual reality ‘Star Wars’ experiences move into malls as clothing stores go dark

Virtual reality ‘Star Wars’ experiences move into malls as clothing stores go dark

Let’s face it. People don’t go to the local mall just to walk around with friends, buy a pretzel and maybe see a movie, like they used to.

Mall owners realize they need to bring in a new wave of entertainment venues to keep luring people in. So now escape rooms, places where you can pay to throw an axe at a wall and virtual reality experiences that make you feel like you’re on the set of a “Star Wars” movie are popping up at malls across the country.

Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, which owns 32 properties in the U.S. including the Westfield World Trade Center in New York and Westfield Century City in Los Angeles, announced Thursday a deal with Utah-based virtual reality experience The Void. It said the two plan to work together to bring more than 25 VR spaces to URW’s malls in the U.S. and Europe.

The Void pop-ups are first set to open at four URW properties in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego as early as next month. Permanent locations will be rolled out in the U.S. and then Paris, London and Stockholm in the coming months, with all locations expected to be completed by 2022. URW is the biggest commercial landlord in Europe.

The deal represents yet another way America’s malls are adapting as a record wave of store closures has forced the make-up of a traditional shopping center to change.

“Entertainment is a really strong component of the destination malls,” said Jean-Marie Tritant, URW’s U.S. president.

About five years ago, the proportion of leases URW was signing devoted to fashion-based stores was more than 50% of deals, he said. Today it’s shrunk to about 35%. Entertainment options are moving in, instead.

Overall, the square footage in U.S. malls devoted to apparel has dropped roughly 15% since 2010, according to an analysis by CoStar Group. Entertainment uses, however, have scaled about 13% since then. And so-called nontraditional uses, which are defined by CoStar to include coworking spaces, schools, private offices and event space, take up nearly 20% more square feet in malls today, the firm found. Read more

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