The Capital Region’s malls are surviving—and thriving!
By Natalie Moore
Photograph by Francesco D’Amico
Wherever it is you might live in America, the doom and gloom surrounding the once-glamorous shopping mall is almost unavoidable. While malls were all the rage after World War II, when many Americans were moving from cities to the suburbs—and reached an apex in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s—several decades later, they appear to be on their way out.
But the national trend doesn’t seem to apply to us here in the Capital Region. Exhibit A: Albany’s Crossgates Mall, which has been in reinvention mode in recent years. “The concept of ‘mall’ is actually undergoing a healthy natural selection where only the strongest, fittest and most diversified survive,” says Crossgates’ Marketing Director Jennifer Smith. “That’s why Crossgates has continued to be so strong and successful as a thriving shopping, dining and entertainment travel and tourism destination.” Indeed, over the past few years the Capital City mall has opened a string of new attractions—including live music venue Skyloft, the FunnyBone Comedy Club and the world-renowned Spa Mirbeau—rather than closing them.
Another area mall that’s bucking the trend? The 2020 Bestie-winning Colonie Center. It’s doing so by creating lasting relationships with its shoppers, says Marketing and Business Development Manager Marissa McCarren. “Colonie Center isn’t just a place to come and shop,” she says. “It’s a place where you create memories with your friends and family members.” Here are five area malls—including the two listed above—that are finding creative ways to thrive in the era of online shopping.
Conveniently located right off of the Northway (it even has its own exit!), Crossgates Mall has certainly increased its offerings to include stores, restaurants and attractions found nowhere else in the Capital Region (see: the Apple Store).
What’s Hot: All In Adventures Escape Room, Dave & Busters, Spa Mirbeau, Lego, Yogibo, Texas De Brazil, Skyloft, Apex Entertainment, FunnyBone Comedy Club
Big things are happening at Colonie Center, the Capital Region’s first enclosed shopping mall (it opened in 1966) and winner of the 2020 Bestie Award for best mall or shopping center. It recently welcomed the arcade Pac-Man Zone and has announced plans to open an REI, which would be Upstate New York’s first.
What’s Hot: L.L. Bean, Heroes Hideout, Cheesecake Factory
When typical mall attractions just weren’t cutting it, VIA|Port Rotterdam changed things up, introducing VIA Aquarium, the Capital Region’s lone aquarium, offering 37 exhibits, including immersive tunnel tanks. Now, the mall is a destination for school field trips and families from all over Upstate New York.
What’s Hot: Via Entertainment, Tribes Hill Heritage Center, Schenectady Theatre
Clifton Park Center
A 2019 article in Curbed NY argued that “[the malls]that are thriving are…[offering]a hybrid retail experience, now centered on food rather than fashion.” A local example is Clifton Park Center, which has expanded outward to offer door-to-door shopping and has opened a wide variety of restaurant options.
What’s Hot: Sky Zone Trampoline Park, Buffalo Wild Wings
When you think of mall food, you think of greasy food court pizza, Chinese food and huge pretzels. While the Wilton Mall does boast an Auntie Anne’s, it’s also home to greener fare: Healthy Living is a year-round hotspot, while the Saratoga Farmers’ Market makes its winter home there.
What’s Hot: Healthy Living, Bow Tie Cinemas, BJs Wholesale Club, Planet Fitness