For much of the past 50 years, malls have been almost synonymous with teenagers, and since it opened in 1983, the Charleston Town Center has been a big part of Charleston — for shopping, dining, events and getting together.
But in the past several months, we’ve been seeing a lot of stores shutting up there, and, let’s face it — Amazon is our all-powerful overlord, and malls and local shopping have taken the brunt of its attack. Most likely, online shopping isn’t going anywhere anytime soon — so, maybe it’s time to look at some alternative ideas for things to do in the mall.
There was an article in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on Sept. 4 about several college students from Tennessee who were in Charleston looking at the mall, trying to find some ideas for ways to keep it in business. But I thought that it might be good to get some younger voices in on the action, so I took an unscientific poll with a dozen boys and girls from sixth to 12th grade on their opinions and ideas on what they like about the mall now, and what they think could be improved. And, as they say, the results are in.
I polled six high school and six middle school students, three boys and three girls from each. Out of the 12, eight students said that they enjoyed going to the mall, and their favorite pastimes there included eating at the food court and at the sit-down restaurants, and shopping, mainly for clothes and electronics/video games.
I also asked some questions about online shopping, since this is one of the mall’s fiercest competitors. The poll said that out of the 12 students, seven prefer to shop in person more than online. The things that they prefer to buy in person are mainly food and clothing, as well as books, furniture and art supplies. Taking stock of this data, we might have some insight into how we might keep the mall in business — but there are other ideas that have nothing to do with stores.
The last question on this poll was something that these students would like to see added into the mall. Most of these answers were in favor of better dining options, usually a specific restaurant that the student enjoyed. The general opinion seems be that the Town Center could update its selection of fast food and sit-down restaurants.
But a few other suggestions were what really caught my eye. These are things that are neither restaurants nor shops — things like a video arcade, a lounge/cafe area (sort of like what is Starbucks now, but a little more in the direction of Taylor Books) and more events. These were also teens’ suggestions for activities at the mall — more things for younger kids to do, like the PlayPatch, or the big inflatable section from several years ago where the shoe store is now.
The mall could not only just be a place for teens to shop — it could be a place for them to go to all-ages concerts and other events, a place to eat out that’s even better than what they have now, a destination for out-of-town families and birthday central for the locals. Teens I surveyed suggested things like an arcade, a section of inflatables or trampolines, mini-golf, a Rainforest Cafe, a gym or sports center — you name it.
I also called Lisa McCracken, the Director of Marketing at the mall, to see what she thought about the suggestions I got, and to find out about any upcoming changes at the mall.
The idea of the mall being a place to do things besides shop and eat seems to be a popular one. For the last several months, they have been trying to find a way to add in a new inflatables section, and an arcade into the mall, she said.
They also have decided to put in “a bungee jump experience” near JCPenney, and as for restaurants, they are constantly thinking about new restaurants, chain and local, that they might add to the Town Center, she said.
But McCracken seemed quite enthusiastic about the ideas that the students I talked to came up with, so I guess we’ll wait and see.
I think that people, like the team from Tennessee, could really improve the mall, but we should consider the views of the younger side of the spectrum. If we follow suggestions like those of these teens, we could open those closed spaces up, and try to make the mall something new. The way to keep it safe from competition is to make it something that you can’t get from Amazon. And by making it into something new, we might be able to save some of what it was.