It’s been a busy month-plus for area malls during what they, no doubt, consider the most wonderful time of the year – with sales expected to grow between 5 percent and 5.6 percent from a year ago, according to Deloitte’s annual holiday retail sales forecast.

But now, it’s time to start focusing on 2019, especially after General Growth Properties, the long-time owner of The Mall in Columbia was sold to Brookfield Property Partners in a $9.25 billion transaction.

Representatives from Brookfield declined to be interviewed for this article. However, said Stephanie Cegielski, vice president of public relations for the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers, said the net number of malls in operation had increased “during the past five years and mall occupancy rates remain high, at about 93 percent.”

To stay relevant, malls are diversifying their tenant base to appeal to their communities. “In areas with Millennials and Gen Z, who want more experiences, there are more food and beverage choices, dine-in movie theaters and escape rooms,” said Cegielski, also mentioning grocey stores and gyms. “Any turnover is quickly being replaced with these types of offerings, as well we formerly
online-only retailers who moving into the physical space.”

Cailey Locklair Tolle, executive director of the Maryland Retailers Association, said mall owners are focusing on creating experiences. “The addition of Dave & Buster’s at [Westfield] Annapolis is one example. It has a new food court, too, because they want to offer a comfortable environment.”

Events like a Christmas tree lighting, musical performance and getting pet pics taken with Santa are also increasingly important. “They make shoppers want to stay longer, like having a train for kids that runs through the malls or even a tram for adults, or offering phone charging stations.”

Still, Locklair Tolle added that she’s “not sure we’ve seen some struggling malls come out of the deep end yet. However, we are seeing is mall owners taking new approaches.”