The rise of e-commerce has driven some big box stores out of business. What is happening with the space left behind? In many cases, it is being capitalized on to host the next big growth sector: pickleball.
MarketWatch has been keeping an eye on the trend, calling it the savior of America’s malls. The article profiled a New Jersey entrepreneur named Andrew Pessano who, together with his partners, wanted to open a pickleball club but became discouraged about the high start-up and construction costs.
They had their a-ha moment when they realized that everything they wanted (a big space with high ceilings, lighting, HVAC, restrooms, accessibility, parking and more) already existed, in the form of a vacant Burlington store. They transformed it into Proshot Pickleball, a membership facility that offered players a choice of eight cushioned courts, viewing decks, a pro shop and a players lounge.
And it worked. Pessano said that since opening in mid-February, he has already signed up more than 300 paid members.
“The first couple of months we’re busy, busy,” he adds.
The article notes that the trend is spreading nationally. A recent retail-outlook report from JLL, a company that tracks the commercial real-estate market, points to pickleball facilities in locations ranging from a former Saks Off Fifth store in Connecticut, to a shuttered Belk department-store location in Georgia.
Pickleball “court owners are targeting malls for expansion,” says the report.
It is a sound concept since such facilities will never be subject to rainouts, nor to windy conditions that blow the ball into adjacent courts (the bane of every player, at every level).
National chain stores that have closed, or that are in the process of liquidation, include Bed Bath & Beyond, Old Navy and Saks Off 5th stores; some regional big box stores have also fallen prey to bad economic headwinds. And while the misfortune of others is never a cause for celebration, the adaptive reuse of former retail spaces is far preferable to having them remain empty or fall into disrepair and become targets for burglary and vandalism.
“No one would probably know that it was a Macy's when we're all done, except for all the people that grew up going there shopping,” Virginia’s Jon Laaser, co-owner and chief operating officer of the new pickleball venue, Performance Pickleball RVA, told Insider.
Performance Pickleball RVA is expected to have 12 courts and will host lessons and large tournaments by the end of the year.
In fact, with multiple weatherproof courts and amenities like restaurants and even nearby hotels and retail, such facilities could be the tournament hosts of the future.
And make no mistake: Expansion is afoot. Axios reports that Arizona Mills will become what is termed the “picklemall” model when one of its vacant big-box stores transforms into 24 championship-style pickleball courts this July. In fact, billionaire Major League Pickleball founder Steve Kuhn is funding the conversion of 50 vacant department stores and strip malls into top-tier pickleball facilities across the country over the next two years.
Technology will be key to growth. Players will use an app to reserve their courts, and can have their play recorded, allowing them to "watch, analyze and learn from their game footage in real time," according to a press release.
"Our goal is to not only make pickleball accessible to more people, but to actually help them improve their game with the help of experts," Picklemall CEO West Shaw said in a statement.
A few other examples of places where this is happening:
- Pickleball America has leased more than 80,000 sq. ft. in a former Saks Off 5th at Stamford Town Center, Connecticut.
- All-Stars Pickleball Club took over an Old Navy space at Steeplegate Mall in New Hampshire.
- A former Belk store will be the home of a 32-court indoor pickleball facility, as part of a larger redevelopment of Macon Mall, in Macon, Georgia.
And in a way, it’s fitting. Back when they were teens, today’s pickleball players roamed the malls in packs, socializing and shopping, with stops in the food court or nearby restaurants to refuel. And while those malls may no longer be filled with stores like Radio Shack, Sam Goody and Jessica McClintock, the advent of the picklemall will allow for socializing – and maybe some celebratory food and drinks afterward.
Oh, and you haven't seen the last of retail venues hosting sports; the Mall of America will be the center of live action show wrestling.