BOZEMAN, Mont. - While U.S. shopping malls are struggling, some Montana malls are changing strategy, growing business by reaching regional customers. According to an article we found in Time Magazine online, the last new U.S. indoor shopping mall opened in 2006.
In Montana, the Butte Plaza Mall recently lost one of its retail anchor stores. J.C. Penney shut down 33 stores nationwide, including the one in Butte.
It seems to be a different story in Bozeman. Gallatin Valley Mall officials tell us they have a 92 percent occupancy rate inside the mall, with only a few spots left for retailers.
On Wednesday we talked to Cassie Michael, the marketing director for the Gallatin Valley Mall. She tells us they are reaching out to shoppers beyond Bozeman city limits. She also contributes the consistency of occupied storefronts to the growth happening outside the shopping center's walls. Michael welcomes the competition.
"Honestly, especially this side of 19th and Main, it does attract more people to come here," said Michael.
One example of that growth is right across the street from the mall. A new 25,000-square-foot building is being built off Huffine in front of the Kohl's store. It will soon be filled with retail shops and restaurants.
"It makes Bozeman, itself, a little bit more of a regional hub rather than just a county hub or a city hub," said Michael.
We reached out to President of the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce, Daryl Schliem. He says the mall in Bozeman is doing well.
"The mall itself has come back, I think we're back in a cycle that you are seeing the necessity and the need for the indoor mall," said Schliem.
Schliem says the mall is helped by Bozeman's growth as a regional hub, and he cited school tournaments held in Bozeman.
"We know the smaller class schools will come here and they make this kind of a mini vacation. The hotel with the swimming pool, and the mall is the No. 1 driver, not only the food court but they do a lot of their shopping here in Bozeman at the mall," said Schliem.
Michael hopes to see growth continue in the future, and transform Bozeman into more of a shopping hub, mirroring cities like Missoula and Billings.
We checked into occupancy rates at malls in Butte. Right now, the Butte Plaza Mall is at an 83-percent occupancy rate. That number still includes J.C. Penney because that store continues to pay rent until its lease is up.
Officials did not say when J.C. Penney's lease will officially end.