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The Growth, Decline, and Rebirth of the American Shopping Mall: Part 2

November 13, 2023 Karen Meier

This article is the second installment in a four-part series examining the role and importance of the shopping mall within the US economy and its popularity, decline, and revival. 

Read Part 1

Read Part 3

Welcome to the second chapter of my in-depth four-part series exploring the ever-evolving landscape of the American shopping mall. In this edition, I’ll build on the historical context provided in the first article and shift the focus to individual malls that have undergone incredible transformations, evolving into thriving hubs for community engagement, economic rejuvenation, and adaptive innovation.

In my previous article, I mentioned the shopping malls in my hometown of Richmond, VA, and how they are undergoing redevelopment to remain relevant in the evolving retail landscape. While remarkable shopping mall redevelopment projects are underway across the United States, this article features one of the malls in my local area. My personal connection to this mall and witnessing its recent transformation initially sparked my interest in exploring this topic in more detail.

Regency Square Mall: Peak, Downturn, and RevivalRegency Square Mall

Regency Mall” by MikeKalasnik is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Regency Square Mall, located in Henrico County, VA, opened its doors in 1975. Spanning 850,000 square feet across two levels, this enclosed shopping mall welcomed shoppers with anchor stores like JCPenney, Sears, Miller & Rhoads, and Thalhimer’s (later acquired by Hecht’s in 1990 and then converted to Macy’s in 2006). In 1987, the mall added a food court, and in 2003, a children’s play area.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Regency Square Mall was more than just a shopping destination; it was a social epicenter. Families and friends could spend entire days hanging out, shopping, dining, and enjoying entertainment, and it thrived with over 70 retailers at its peak.

As the retail landscape transformed and online shopping gained ground, Regency Square Mall encountered challenges, echoing a nationwide trend known as the “Death of the American Mall,” including:

  • The opening of nearby outdoor malls in 2003, such as Short Pump Town Center and Stony Point Fashion Park, intensified competition.
  • In spring 2016, Macy’s closed both stores at Regency Square. Then Sears closed in summer 2017 and JCPenney in fall 2020 leaving the mall without its anchor tenants.
  • Signs of wear and tear emerged due to declining foot traffic, fewer stores, and vacant storefronts.

But in 2015, Regency Square Mall’s story took a new turn when Thalhimer Realty Partners and The Rebkee Company acquired it for $13.1 million and embarked on an ambitious $30 million renovation plan.

Today, there is renewed hope for Regency Square Mall with redevelopment projects in progress that aim to breathe new life into the spaces where major retailers once thrived. By repurposing and diversifying the space, Regency Square Mall is striving to redefine its role in the Richmond community. Let’s take a closer look at this transformation and how these spots are discovering new life and purpose.

A Student, Construction Worker, and Nurse Walk Into a Shopping Mall

Adult education center at Regency Square Mall

Every day Camoin Associates’ engagement professionals hear from business executives about their industry’s urgent workforce availability and training needs. It’s a topic that resonates with many businesses seeking diversification and growth. The recent transformation of part of Regency Square Mall into an adult education center in 2023 is directly addressing this vital concern.

Repurposing abandoned shopping mall spaces into adult education centers breathes new life into neglected structures and reinvigorates economies. These once-bustling storefronts, now transformed, will serve as hubs for diverse adult education programs, including vocational training, workforce development, adult literacy classes, and continuing education courses. At Regency Square Mall, these repurposed storefronts are arranged around a common area on the lower level outside of the former JCPenney’s where students can collaborate on projects or socialize. The mall’s strategic location also offers students the convenience of dining and shopping in the same area.

These adult education centers promote inclusivity, encouraging individuals of all backgrounds and ages to continue their learning path and develop marketable, in-demand skills. By adapting empty mall space into adult education centers, communities gain access to a wealth of opportunities for skill enhancement, career progression, and personal enrichment.

Among the career-related Henrico County Public Schools (adult education courses) offered are:

  • Virginia Pharmacy Technician Program
  • Medical Billing and Coding
  • Computer Literacy
  • Woodworking
  • Practical Nursing Program
  • Basic Furniture Reupholstery
  • ServSafe Manager and Food Handler
  • Virginia Principles of Real Estate

Grand Opening of the Adult Education Center at Regency

Entertainment Beyond Shopping and a Movie

Entertainment options inside Regency Square Mall.

Introducing new entertainment options to vacant shopping mall spaces plays a pivotal role in fostering economic growth and revitalization. It transforms neglected structures into vibrant hubs, attracting locals and visitors, generating foot traffic, and luring a wide range of businesses, from retail to dining establishments. This stimulates spending and job creation in the leisure and hospitality sectors. Diversifying the spaces beyond shopping fosters a sense of community, encourages longer stays, and cultivates a dynamic environment.

Several new entertainment options have transformed vacant stores and the spacious upper and lower sections left vacant by Macy’s at Regency Square Mall.

  • Surge, an indoor trampoline park, opened in 2020.
  • Riddle Me This Escape Room, an immersive game of real life adventure, where players will have 60 minutes to find hidden clues and solve puzzles to complete a mission, opened in 2019.
  • NOVA of Virginia Aquatics swimming program opened in 2021.
  • A pickleball venue from Performance Pickleball RVA has plans to open in 2023.

Permanent Sleepover in the Shopping MallThe Rise at Regency apartments

The closure of Sears in 2017 dealt another major blow to Regency Square Mall. Developers were initially uncertain about what to do with the space but have since demolished it and replaced it with a 320-unit apartment complex, The Rise at Regency.

Converting vacant mall spaces into housing is a powerful tool for driving economic growth, revitalizing communities, and creating thriving, mixed-use environments. These renovations breathe new life into otherwise underutilized areas, boost property values, increase property tax revenue, and generate local economic activity.

By creating residential spaces within or near commercial districts, the local economy gains a steady influx of residents who not only contribute to the vitality of the area but also support nearby businesses, restaurants, and services.

A Broader Perspective: Shopping Mall Development Across the Nation

While Regency Square Mall’s transformation is inspiring, it’s not an isolated success story. Similar mall redevelopment projects are happening across the United States, each with its own unique vision. The list below highlights a few of the many malls that are now reemerging as vital community hubs.

Education Center Redevelopments

Iowa: Des Moines Area Community College opened a 65,000-square-foot Center for Career and Professional Development where JCPenney once operated.

Texas: Austin Community College has transformed the former Highland Mall in Austin into an open-plan learning lab where students can access classes and academic help in the same space, helping them to succeed and persist in their studies.

Michigan: Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) has transformed a former JCPenney store in The Shops at Westshore Mall into a new 52,000-square-foot Lakeshore Campus in Holland, consolidating classes, resources, and programs that were previously offered at four different locations over the past two decades.

New York State: A group of teens are participating in a program that provides job training and hands-on internships with stores at the Palisades Center Mall in West Nyack. The program, called Promoting the Acquisition of Lifelong Skills (PALS), helps students develop “soft skills,” such as communication and critical thinking, while giving them the opportunity to explore potential career interests through internships.

“Mall to Medicine” Redevelopments

Tennessee: Vanderbilt University Medical Center has leased more than half of Nashville’s 100 Oaks Mall to expand its facilities, adding approximately 440,000 square feet for outpatient clinics, offices, a fitness center, and a childcare center, providing convenient access to medical services and easing congestion at their main campus.

New York State: UR Medicine plans to build a $240 million, 330,000-square-foot orthopedic center in the former Sears space at The Marketplace Mall in Henrietta featuring exam rooms, operating rooms, and therapy, sports training, and wellness services.

Georgia: Emory Healthcare is set to lease 224,000 square feet of space at the struggling Northlake Mall in Atlanta making it part of the mall’s transformation that includes new retail outlets and restaurants.

Texas: The former Sears location at Red Bird Mall in Dallas will be transformed into a 154,000-square-foot UT Southwestern Medical Center outpatient facility, offering nationally ranked cardiology, cancer, neurology care, and other health services to the local community.

Entertainment Venue Redevelopments

New Jersey: Dave & Buster’s has transformed part of the Sears space at the Willowbrook shopping center in Wayne into a bar, restaurant, and game arcade, drawing millennials and offering entertainment for both adults and kids.

Pennsylvania: Park City Center in Lancaster will fill the entire 77,380 square feet of a former Sears’ main floor with an entertainment venue called Round1, featuring bowling, arcade games, billiards, karaoke, ping pong, darts, and more.

Ohio: Scene75 is set to open its largest location at the Mall at Tuttle Crossing in Dublin offering a 225,000-square-foot indoor entertainment center with a wide range of attractions, including an indoor roller coaster, go-karts, laser tag, arcade games, and more, along with a themed restaurant and bars.

Michigan: High Caliber Karting and Entertainment has transformed an 80,000-square-foot space within the Meridian Mall in Okemos into an indoor entertainment center, offering go-kart racing, ax throwing, an arcade, pocket soccer, and a bistro and bar, with a focus on creating a clean adult entertainment venue while appealing to kids as well.

Multi-Family Residential Housing Redevelopments

Rhode Island: The Arcade Providence, the nation’s oldest indoor shopping mall built 188 years ago in Providence has transformed its shops into 48 micro-apartments catering to the growing number of single people living in cities.

Washington: A former shopping mall in Lynnwood, north of Seattle is being transformed into the Avalon Alderwood Place, a 300-unit apartment complex, reflecting the shift in focus from traditional retail to housing.

Illinois: Westfield Old Orchard Mall in Skokie has revealed plans for a major redevelopment that will include modern residences, additional retail spaces, health and wellness amenities, and a public park for local events. The project is expected to begin in 2024, with opening phases scheduled for 2026.

Pennsylvania: Construction is set to commence on approximately 600 luxury apartments at the former Boscov’s location near the Oxford Valley Mall in Langhorne. The development project is expected to attract young professionals and older adults to the business-oriented area, with four-story buildings planned for construction.


Next month, in the third article in this series, I will take a closer look at the redevelopment of another Richmond-area mall that is also being repurposed. I will also share examples from similar projects across the nation, continuing to show how malls are changing and helping communities and economies.

Additional Reading/Viewing About Regency Square Mall:

“Reimagining Regency Square: Find Out What This Mall Has in Store!”

“Remember This? 17 Archive Photos of Regency Mall” (The Franklin News-Post | August 23, 2023)