BROCKTON – When the flagship Macy’s store closed last year, it left a 140,000-squarefoot hole in Westgate Mall.
Macy’s was in that location for 18 years, operating for 12 years before that in another area of the Brockton mall. The Macy’s store at Westgate Mall joined more than 100 others that have closed since 2015, as online shopping through services such as Amazon and one-stop shops such as Walmart have become increasingly popular.
But instead of viewing the Macy’s closing as an insurmountable loss or the beginning of the end for the Westgate Mall, New England development Vice President Luciano Villani said his company saw it as a chance to re-imagine the future of the Brockton shopping center. Since then, it has filled 44 percent of that empty Macy’s space with an off-price retailer, Burlington, and a Planet Fitness, both of which opened within the past month. In the past couple years, the mall added other service-oriented stores, including Xfinity and Verizon Wireless, along with new restaurants, Starbucks and Chipotle.
“We just saw it as a great opportunity to really diversify our offerings to everybody who is coming to the mall,” said Villani, whose company purchased the Westgate Mall property in 1999. “We’re excited to really be able to do some different things with the building, and the property, and really continue to evolve as a shopping center. Shopping centers aren’t just apparel stores anymore. I think they are really a combination of services. I think they are a little bit of everything.”
During an interview in the lobby of the new 19,000-square-foot Planet Fitness, which features a wall of 55-inch plasma TVs in front of rows and rows of exercise equipment, Villani said the Westgate Mall has seen increased foot traffic to its retail stores since the arrival of the gym.
“We definitely have seen an uptick in our food eateries, in regard to Planet Fitness being here,” Villani said. “It’s done really well for Chipotle, which is one of our newer tenants. And at the same time, Planet Fitness being here is great for some of our apparel stores. I know Victoria’s Secret had an uptick in their sales, and so has Bath and Body Works. Planet Fitness has definitely been great synergy for the center itself. I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”
The regional manager for the new Planet Fitness at the Westgate Mall agreed.
“It gives our members the opportunity to run errands after they are done with working out, with the affordability of doing so,” said Victor Wahome, regional manager for Planet Fitness. “You have the retail spaces in the mall, and there are eateries, too. My favorite is Chipotle, especially after a long workout.”
Off-price retail and fitness centers have been in a rush to fill vacant department store space during the past year, According to a 2018 report by the national investment management firm JLL.
Many Sears and Macy’s locations are being replaced by Planet Fitness, Lifetime Fitness, Home Sense, Whole Foods and Burlington.
Many malls across the country are seeking to fill vacant retail space with “experiential, service-driven” entities, the JLL report says. That is also evident at Silver City Galleria in Taunton, where Bristol Community College opened a satellite campus in a former Old Navy store two years ago, with windows inside the state-funded school providing views of Forever 21 and other retail outlets. The Taunton mall also added a barber shop this year, and an emergency medical training center opened there in 2015.
The new Burlington at the Westgate Mall fills about 43,000 square feet of the former Macy’s, boasting “style for less,” with clothing at prices reaching up to 65 percent lower than other retailers.
“I think Burlington just kind of fits with the demographics of the area,” said Ellen Kuppens, Burlington’s regional vice president, who was once part of a team that helped open up the former Macy’s store at the Westgate Mall.
As it continues to fill out the rest of the empty Macy’s space “with interesting new tenants,” Villani said the Westgate Mall is embracing the concept of providing shopper experiences and a sense of community, not only through stores that generate large crowds (such as the Market Basket grocery store that opened in 2012), but through events that bring people together. That includes the annual free photos with Santa, an IHOP-sponsored pancake breakfast at the mall, a trick-or-treating event held for Halloween and new events like the Brews and Bites food truck festival this weekend.
“It’s a great place to come together,” Villani said.