Central WA Mall challenges the ‘dying malls’ narrative

Changing trends

In recent years, there have been many reports declaring the mall dead.

And for good reason: National retailers that occupied malls closed stores or went out of business altogether, leaving many vacancies.

And malls unable to fill those vacancies fast enough have become ghost towns. Malls such as Northgate Mall in Seattle and Lloyd Center in Portland come to mind in the Pacific Northwest.

The Valley Mall has not escaped these trends. Over the past 15 years, retailers such as Mervyn’s, Borders, Gymboree and more recently Bed Bath and Beyond have closed many stores or gone bankrupt due to bankruptcy, leaving significant vacancies in the mall .

But the Valley Mall managed to find new tenants to replace them fairly quickly. Pier 1 Imports closed all of its stores, including one at the Valley Mall, in 2020. But a year later, a Guitar Center opened in its place.

DiLembo, Valley Mall’s manager, said her mall has benefited from a trend by national retailers to take another look at smaller urban and rural markets.

Most retailers’ strategy is to locate in populated urban areas first and then move into smaller metropolitan areas, such as the Yakima Valley, she said.

As a result, it was not unusual for early 2000s Yakima shoppers to travel to malls in Seattle or Portland to visit retailers not available at home.

Now, with these large urban markets saturated — and shrinking — retailers still looking to expand saw an opportunity to open new locations in smaller regions, DiLembo said.

The Valley Mall was able to fill vacancies with new national brands, such as Guitar Center.

But Valley Mall management has also leaned towards becoming more of a community gathering place.

“Good malls have always been like that, and those that have survived have always been [gathering places]“said DiLembo.

This strategy included housing tenants that were not typically at the mall, such as an Anytime Fitness, and recruiting more local and regional businesses.