Come For The Workout, Stay For The Shopping: As Retailers Struggle, Malls Look To Gyms To Fill Space

By Lauren Zumbach
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The amount of space leased by fitness centers and gyms in malls and upscale open-air shopping centers grew about 69 percent nationwide over the past five years, according to data firm CoStar Group, and the number of leases has nearly doubled.

LOMBARD, Ill.

While mall walkers strolled Yorktown Center’s quiet corridors before most shops opened Monday morning, a handful of visitors in search of a tougher workout strode straight from their cars to the fitness studios along the Lombard mall’s western side.

Shopping centers used to shun gyms and workout studios, believing clients would clog parking lots without patronizing shops post-workout.

But consumers’ changing shopping habits left some mall-based chains foundering, from department stores like Carson’s, which is in the process of shutting down all its stores, to smaller shops like Gymboree and Rue 21, which announced hundreds of closures last year. That’s pushed mall operators to turn the empty stores they’ve left into places for customers to do more than just shop.

Increasingly, that can mean sweating through a workout. Consumers are growing more health-conscious, so “it’s the perfect storm,” said Jason Press, vice president at real estate firm JLL.

The trend isn’t new, Chicago-based mall operator GGP says it has been working with fitness tenants for more than a decade, but it is growing.

The amount of space leased by fitness centers and gyms in malls and upscale open-air shopping centers grew about 69 percent nationwide over the past five years, according to data firm CoStar Group, and the number of leases has nearly doubled.

In Chicago, roughly a dozen gyms have leased space in malls and multitenant shopping centers in each of the last five years.

Fitness tenants have picked up more than 1 million square feet of shopping center space since 2013, according to CoStar.

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