For several weeks this spring, drivers on I-29 in south Fargo likely noticed two adjacent buildings with Best Buy’s signature yellow ticket logo on them. The electronics retailer recently completed its transition into West Acres mall in a newly renovated version of what was previously the mall’s Sears wing. West Acres now looks to repurpose the existing Best Buy structure just south of the mall. It’s a large and visible change for the shopping center, and it’s one that West Acres Senior Vice President of Property Management Chris Heaton is looking forward to.
“It’s positive for both parties,” Heaton says. “The traffic we can bring to Best Buy and the traffic they can bring to us will be good for both of us.”
While the Best Buy transition may be the most visible at West Acres presently, things have remained busy with a score of other recent changes, not the least of which include the introduction of Chick-fil-A and the closing of Herberger’s.
The steady shuttering of nationwide big-box retailers in recent years has many foreseeing doom and gloom for the traditional retail industry. Such a premonition would seem to spell trouble for a shopping center like West Acres, but Heaton’s outlook is purely optimistic.
“With our location and the economy here in Fargo, you can’t look at it as anything but opportunity,” Heaton says.
Indeed, opportunity is the theme running throughout the business outlook for West Acres, which first opened its doors in 1972 in what had previously been a wheat field a mile outside of Fargo proper. Today, the mall resides in the heart of the Fargo-Moorhead metro and is a regional attraction. Rather than feeling dismayed by the so-called “retail apocalypse,” Heaton says a changing environment has instead simply called for a redefinition of the mall.
“The way people shop has changed,” he says. “When malls were first being built in the 1970s, big-box anchor stores were the draw. An anchor store would bring people into the mall and they’d patronize your other smaller shops. That’s not the way it is anymore. Experience is the draw now.”
In the last year, unoccupied spaces have been creatively repurposed as lounge areas and even a work area for a local artist-in-residence to create and interact with the public. A new space called Make Room now offers creative classes for kids and adults.
And not all retailers are struggling, either. Halberstadt’s and Evereve – two stores renowned for providing a topnotch customer experience – completed expansions within the mall, and tenants like Dry Goods, lululemon and Legacy Toys were introduced to West Acres, in part, due to popular demand. Heaton says the changes are all about enhancing the experience West Acres offers to visitors and reimagining what a mall can be.
“We don’t look at it as a mall so much as a community gathering space,” Heaton says.
A high-quality and forward-thinking experience even extends into the parking lot, where, in 2016, West Acres partnered with Cass County Electric Cooperative (CCEC) to install one of the metro’s first public electric vehicle charging stations. It’s an amenity that both Heaton and CCEC expect to grow in popularity in the coming years. While charging their ride, owners of electric vehicles can enjoy the mall’s variety of offerings before getting back on the road.
When it comes to bringing new businesses to the mall, Heaton says it’s not just about filling an empty space as fast as possible, but about finding the right tenant that can offer a memorable visit on its own and contribute to the overall West Acres experience. If recent events are any indication, the excitement level at West Acres will remain high throughout the near future.
Peter Koepp is the communications coordinator for Cass County Electric Cooperative.