The future of WNY shopping malls: Grocery stores, video arenas and more

Nov 27, 2020

Already reeling from a shift in shopping trends, Western New York's shopping malls have been hearing the death knell for quite a while before COVID-19 changed, well, everything.  Shuttered anchor stores litter the landscape. 

"But there should be a new dawn for retail in Western New York' says Burt Flickinger, retail consultant with The Strategic Resource Group consulting firm in New York City.

Inside The Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga
Credit WBFO Photo/Ryan Zunner

Flickinger - a proud Buffalo native- envisions a day not too far off when malls attract more people with grocery stores than traditional anchor tenants, and where video game arenas host collegiate tournments with the help of UB,  Canisus and Daemen colleges,  working in tandem with theatre chains like Regal Cinemas and AMC.

"What we're seeing ...  is there can be a real renaissance led by letting food retailers come into the malls and what we're seeing is record breaking sales on food, home related goods, and then there are also opportunities to add video gaming centers," he says.

His forecast is based in part on success that some chains have seen elsewhere, but also on the basic math of staying at home, eating in, and yet still venturing out to shop for food.

"In western New York pre-COVID, an average family would eat 10 to 12 meals a week at home. Now in Western New York, during this Thanksgiving, Western New York families are eating 19 to 21 meals a week at home. And by eating at home,  they're saving three to $5,000 a year and those savings will go to the Walden Galleria and the other reinvented malls,' he says. 

A few trends he shared in a recent interview:

BJs and Costco are replacing closed Macy's, Sears and JC Penney locations worldwide.   "They're replacing  stores that might have a few thousand customers a week with a Casco or BJs that could have up to 10 to 50,000 customers a week. So yes, the death of the 20th century Roman Empires of department store and mall based retailing. But there should be a new dawn for retail in western New York, especially when the borders open between Niagara Falls and the U.S....  Prices are so high in the Canadian provinces, that when the border crossings reopen, there'll be a real Renaissance for retail Western New York"

Video arenas where schools can host online gaming competitions. "We see a lot of their future success being video gaming tournaments, viewing and we expect the entertainment to be visual to be athletic."

Fewer Black Friday doorbusters at "big box" stores, boosting smaller local business. "Because of COVID it's actually better to have more balanced  shopping, where 50% of the shopping will be on Thanksgiving Day and that will be online. ...  We'll have solid sales on Black Friday and you'll have people buying for need not loading five big screen color TVs in one shopping cart.  It's a win for the Western New York economy and it gives small business a chance to make money on throughout the weekend have success and viability.