Shopping centers are incorporating more leisure elements to engage their audiences
William Shakespeare once famously wrote that “All the world’s a stage.” While the accuracy of that memorable line can be debated, there is no doubt that in recent years, some of the best developers and retailers have taken a page from the theater and have focused on engaging their “audience” by incorporating more leisure-time elements and more entertainment options — more experiences — into their projects and stores.
Recognizing the degree to which innovative and high-quality entertainment options can become an animating force for a new development, developers and retailers are responding by turning to increasingly large, luxurious and engaging movie theaters, restaurants, sports venues and other creative entertainment options. What was once an afterthought is oftentimes now the literal and figurative main attraction.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based entertainment firm IPic Entertainment, for example, is raising eyebrows and expectations across the country with its innovative new luxury movie theater concept. They have created a notably more luxurious and refined cinematic and dining experience; the moviegoing equivalent of what the firm characterizes as “flying first class.” An IPic Cinema enables customers to pre-select their seats online, enjoy complimentary valet parking and spend time enjoying a pre-movie drink or appetizer in the theater’s lounge area. The intimate screening room-style theaters feature individual recliner seating and call-button service to request everything from a blanket to a pillow. In a clear step up from the popcorn and soda-themed fare at a typical Cineplex, IPic cinemas serve a seat-side selection of gourmet dining options that includes a regionally inspired menu prepared in-house by a professional chef. The latest IPic Theater location opened in December as part of the new 28-acre $270 million Scottsdale Quarter mixed-use development in Scottsdale, Arizona.
As expanded and inspired entertainment options proliferate and the percentage of leasable space devoted to entertainment components continues to rise, new uses are springing up: comedy clubs, theme parks, aquariums and a broad range of musical and performance venues have all made a noteworthy appearance in the mixed-use arena in recent years.
Sports and games have also come on strong. Across the nation, sports- and stadium-anchored mixed-use projects are becoming more popular, as evidenced by noteworthy examples like the spectacular LA Live entertainment complex in Los Angeles, and the award-winning Westgate City Center in Glendale, Arizona.
Developers are also becoming more sophisticated with their holistic development strategies: not just building it; but embracing it, promoting it, and integrating it into the fabric of the development. By expanding beyond retail, the best mixed-use projects become much more than just a shopping venue; they evolve into iconic social and cultural live-work-play hubs that can be an important part of local and regional identity.
At the same time that developers are rediscovering the notion that a sense of place can be founded on a sense of play, retailers are undergoing a similar renaissance. A trend that a few familiar names — The Disney Store, Build-A-Bear Workshop, and the Apple Store — have already successfully embraced is becoming more widespread. This is not a new revelation for retailers, but the pace of innovation has accelerated in recent years. RIDEMAKERZ, a popular retail concept and Build-A-Bear offshoot, follows the popular teddy bear design formula and invites guests to personally design and customize their own model cars and trucks. Another example is the new Microsoft retail store, which offers hands-on accessibility, gaming kiosks, on-site technical consulting and game-printing technology that allows guests to select and “print” a hard copy of their choice from a massive software library of available titles.
The notion that the experiential landscape can be as important to long-term popular and commercial success as the architectural landscape has inspired creative new experiential and entertainment elements in sometimes unexpected retail environments.
Potomac, Maryland-based Total Wine & More is one notable retailer that has integrated experiential elements into a formula for retail success. Total Wine currently has almost 70 stores in 10 states, and while its big box warehouse-style model and uniquely diverse inventory of wines, beers and spirits helps set this fast-growing chain apart from its competitors, the degree to which Total Wine has embraced the retail experience is what truly helps the chain distinguish itself from more traditional venues.
Total Wine stores include dedicated wine-tasting areas, as well as an adjacent wine bar-seating area where guests can relax, enjoy drinks and snacks and taste their selections. An in-house classroom space hosts regularly scheduled wine and beer education classes and tastings, as well as wine maker-attended “Meet the Maker” sessions and expert-led “Meet-the-Expert” events featuring wine, spirits and beer professionals. The result is a venue that is successfully blurring the line between retail and dining by making experience a more integral part of wine buying.
Today, the value of play in both individual retail venues and in larger mixed-use and commercial spaces is relatively well understood. Quality dining and entertainment options give visitors both the means and the reason to stay longer, do more, and, ultimately spend more; effectively extending the active hours of the store/center and enhancing restaurant and retail revenue.
Thoughtful leasing, a strong entertainment component and a vital and appealing mix of uses provide fuel that powers the mixed-use economic engine. Whether it is a single store or a large development, more and more developers and retailers appreciate the fact that they are making what amounts to a true investment in the quality of their space; an investment that can drive traffic, generate excitement and elevate retail and mixed-use environments into memorable and compelling destinations.