Malls get creative to draw more shoppers in tough economy

•Stores as entertainment. The line between retail and entertainment blurs further among such stores as Adrenalina and Bass Pro Shops. About 30% of each of Bass Pro Shops' 50 stores are dedicated to a theme associated with its location, bringing in elements of a natural-history museum, an art gallery and an aquarium.

Each store is singular, from the Florida shop that features the hull of a sunken ship to a 30-foot-long blue whale displayed in Massachusetts. And each receives more than 3 million visitors a year, the company says.

Bass Pro Shop stores have assumed the status of a tourist destination, the company says, and some people are spending vacations driving from store to store.

Malls, or even whole cities, will often help pay for construction, investing in the store to help attract customers as well as other retailers. Bass Pro Shops typically pays the money back over time through rent. "A lot of malls come to us to be the anchor for them, like a Sears or a Penney's used to be," says Larry Whiteley, manager of communications for Bass.

Adrenalina, an action-sports retailer, has also negotiated favorable rent and defrayed construction costs. Its two existing Florida stores each house a FlowRider wave machine, which lets customers test surfing equipment on a simulated wave.

Of five stores under construction, at least two will have their full construction costs covered by landlord allowances. The retailer expects to announce more store openings soon.

"We're getting swamped every week by many landlords," says President Jeffrey Geller.

•One-time events. Musical tours such as Simon dTour Live and the Zumiez Couch Tour continue to bring in kids and teens to mingle with stars such as the All-American Rejects and Alkaline Trio.

It's also becoming more popular for malls, especially those with an open-air forum, to hold summer concert series, says Erin Hershkowitz of the shopping centers council.

Politics is seen as a draw, too. General Growth Properties will delve into the presidential election this year with its UR Votes Count event in 150 malls over a six-week period.

UR Votes Count is designed to get teen shoppers informed and involved in this year's presidential election. Teens will be able to learn about the issues and vote in a mock election, which automatically registers them for a variety of prizes.

In a survey, the company found that nearly 49% of teens were interested in both the election and in UR Votes Count. Of the teens who said they would attend the event, 96% said they'd make a special trip to the mall to do so.

Perhaps more to the point, teens spend an average of $101 per trip to the mall, General Growth Properties says.

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