The New Tenant Replacing Vanishing Department Stores in Malls Might Surprise You

The last decade has seen many of America’s biggest department-store chains trim down their door counts and others go out of business entirely, leaving mall owners scrambling to fill the vacant space. At the same time, the fitness industry has flourished, and gyms have begun to move in, taking advantage not only of the empty square footage, but of the convenient locations and ample parking most shopping centers offer.

According to data from commercial real estate research firm CoStar, the amount of space leased by fitness centers and gyms in malls and lifestyle centers has increased about 70 percent since 2013. It also found that the tenant leasing the most new square footage in malls since the start of 2017 was Planet Fitness, the fastest-growing gym chain in the U.S.

This September alone, the budget gym has announced plans to open new locations in malls in towns including Brockton, Massachusetts; Chubbuck, Idaho (taking a space once occupied by Herberger’s, a department store owned by bankrupt Bon-Ton); and Rock Springs, Wyoming (into a former Sports Authority, another bankruptcy victim).

While Americans may be increasingly shopping online, and dedicating their in-store dollars to a more select group of retailers, they are leaving the house to work out (or at the very least to join a gym in hopes of working out.)

Nearly one in five Americans belong to at least one health club, according to a 2017 survey by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, which also found that membership has grown by 26.3 percent since 2009.

What’s left to see is whether this trend will continue: a recent study by Coresight Research estimated that between 1,100 and 1,200 U.S. department stores will close by 2023, or around one in five of the country’s total. Fitness may be on the rise, but it will take far more than a few weight rooms and cycling studios to fill the space left over when the dust settles.

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