Goats stretched their necks above their fences to steal treats as prairie dogs perched and lemurs sprung from their swings inside the mall’s Sustainable Safari.
But, the rest of the mall wasn’t nearly as lively.
Malls across the United States have scrambled to attract shoppers after the coronavirus pandemic and state restrictions shut down stores earlier this year with shopping centers, such as the Mall of America, falling behind on their mortgages and risking foreclosure. Now the country’s first indoor mall , Southdale Center, could also be in trouble.
However, as the holiday shopping season approaches, new stores have begun to open and Twin Cities malls and their tenants have gotten creative on everything from product pickups to photos with Santa Claus as they work to stir up sales and regain the business they lost.
“We have been trying different things to get people back in,” said David Harvey, president and chief executive of Sustainable Safari.
Sustainable Safari (formerly called Cock-a-Doodle Zoo) just finished a Renaissance Festival-inspired medieval fair complete with costume contests and live musicians. The indoor petting zoo plans to host a trick-or-treat event, and the owners also have an idea for a photo holiday display likely to incorporate the zoo’s furry friends.
Traffic has seen a slow-but-steady uptick since Maple-wood Mall reopened at the end of May after abruptly closing in March along with many other retail outlets as state officials issued a stay-at-home order to try to ebb the spread of COVID-19.
Sustainable Safari co-owner Bob Pilz , who goes by the name “Safari Bob,” had originally gotten the idea to open the space one day when he was walking through the Mall of America.
He and his wife, Mishelle , had hosted mobile petting zoos, but the Minnesota cold limited the seasons and anchoring in a mall gave the business a chance to expose a larger audience to exotic animals.
“It’s just going to really bring people to the mall,” Pilz said, as ring-tailed lemurs pilfered marshmallows from his fingers. “We are really hoping that it really brings the mall to life.”
This year’s holiday shopping season is difficult to predict with some experts saying spending will likely be more subdued because of virus concerns and economic worries, but online shopping is expected to continue to boom.