Initially against the idea of renting his shop for three months at the Meriden Mall, Andrew M. Cislo, owner of Fork Plus Band Slinghot, came to recognize “that I wouldn’t have to worry about parking, food, bathrooms and security,” he told the Record-Journal recently.
Cislo’s business is not one that would have typically been associated with malls years ago. Plans for his slingshot shop include a shooting gallery, with eight lanes, each with a theme. The themes include rock ’n’ roll, sports, an enchanted forest and carnival. Cislo told the R-J it’s a family friendly activity, and Meriden resident Evelyn Talavera said “I would definitely check it out.”
Malls across the nation are shifting focus, and Meriden’s mall is no exception. Along with slingshots, mall-related activities can now include pickleball, the game that’s showing phenomenal growth in interest, and a card gaming site. They are all part of what the R-J’s Mary Ellen Godin recently described as a “sea change in today’s malls as they shift from traditional retail to experiential and recreational uses to fill storefronts and draw traffic.”
The alternatives reflect a shifting landscape that has seen the move from the in-person to the virtual shopping experience, a trend reinforced by the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Considering the challenges, it’s not surprising that the transition has not gone completely smoothly. Godin’s reporting noted plans for a dinner theater that have yet to materialize and plans for medical offices and treatment that have been stalled.
Despite these setbacks, a trend is emerging that shows potential. Last spring, Arthur Rodriguez moved his gaming center and card game shop from downtown Southington to the Meriden Mall, to a spot next to where pickleball is expected to set up shop. “They should get away from retail to fill up space,” observed Rodriguez. “We should become a small business parkade, like in Orlando or Miami, where people can walk in and say ‘what does this business have to offer?’”
And it always remains worth pointing out that while Meriden’s public library was undergoing a major transformation on Miller Street, the library remained in the minds of residents by keeping operations going at the mall.
A general observation that can be made at this time is that the shifting landscape of retail does not have to be a death knell for major shopping malls. Amid all the shifting is a recognition that malls can still be places that attract people. The reasons for gathering might be changing, but it’s still the crowds that count.