Holiday shoppers turn out at an open-air 'lifestyle' center in Santa Monica, Calif., near Los Angeles, despite chilly, drizzly weather.
Genaro Molina / MCT Enlarge
LOS ANGELES -- For the better part of a decade, the buzz in retailing has been about online sellers, free-standing stores, and street-level boutiques.
But there's still nothing like the mall.
As retailers begin assessing what is shaping up to be their best holiday season since before the recession, the power of the shopping center has been evident in jammed parking lots and crowds of shoppers.
"A few years ago, I looked at malls as a deteriorating retail concept because consumers were shopping them less and less," said Britt Beemer, chairman of consumer behavior firm America's Research Group.
Now, he added, "I feel more encouraged."
Nearly 52 percent of retail spending takes place at shopping centers, compared with 55 percent in the early 1990s.
The recent resurgence in mall shopping was a major reason several groups, including the National Retail Federation and the International Council of Shopping Centers, raised their holiday season sales forecasts in recent days.
But mall owners acknowledge that success requires a different formula these days.
The malls that have thrived tend to be the outdoor "lifestyle" centers, with as many nonretail offerings as stores.
As costs for land and construction have risen, mall owners are focused on expanding or renovating properties.
Westfield Group, which owns the Franklin Park mall in West Toledo, is expanding some of its properties and is in negotiations at some locations to add grocery stores.