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Shopping centers cater to needs of the community

Shoppers in Western New York love to debate which mall is the region’s best. Walden Galleria and the Fashion Outlets have their fans, while others are fiercely loyal to the Boulevard, Eastern Hills and McKinley malls.

It’s true that all malls were not created equal, but not everyone knows that almost all of our malls fit into different classifications – making any comparison a case of apples versus oranges.

Here’s what we have in the Buffalo Niagara region.

Regional Mall. Usually anchored by traditional department stores like Macy’s and JC Penney, regional malls tend to have a mix of food options, general services such as hair salons and nail studios, and specialty and general merchandise stores. They tend to draw customers from a radius of about 5 to 15 miles.

In Buffalo Niagara, our best example of a regional shopping center is Boulevard Mall in Amherst. But Boulevard deviates from the standard definition slightly.. The typical regional mall tends to have from 400,000 to 800,000 square feet of leasable space; Boulevard Mall has 912,000. It also has 100 stores, more than the average.

Super-Regional Mall. Our local super-regional mall is Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga.

Super-regional malls tend to be larger than 800,000 square feet – Walden Galleria is a whopping 1.6 million square feet – and draw from a wider radius. Because of the unique circumstances that come with being situated near an international border, shoppers visit the Galleria from more than 100 miles away – from as far as Toronto and beyond. That’s beyond the typical 25-mile reach.

“We strive to be creative and unique in our marketing efforts, maximizing every opportunity we have to appeal to customers both near and far,” said Matthew Bader, Walden Galleria’s general manager.

Super-regionals also tend to have multiples stories – Galleria has two – and three or more anchor stores. Galleria is anchored by Dick’s Sporting Goods, JC Penney, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s and Sears. It also has more variety in its tenant mix.

Community Center. With 9,610 of them across the nation, community centers are the most common type of mall. There are seven times more of them than all of the regional and super-regional malls combined.

A community center has a smaller radius from which it draws shoppers – usually from 3 to 6 miles.

But, as is the case at our Eastern Hills and McKinley malls, the neighborhood regulars love them, citing the easy parking, convenience and less-crowded atmosphere. The malls also tend to have a wide variety of tenants – general merchandise, soft goods, apparel and convenience-oriented stores, as well as a mix of local and national retailers.

“Typically, community malls did not start out as community malls, but transformed into them to survive the super-regionals,” said Russell Fulton, general manager at Eastern Hills Mall.

Community centers truly cater to their surrounding communities, offering community-geared services not available at other types of shopping centers.

Eastern Hills Mall, for example, has a Department of Motor Vehicles office, an SPCA Serving Erie County branch and a Unyts blood draw location. There’s Ascension Martial Arts studio, WBBZ TV station, and the Piano and Organ Center, which offers music lessons.

At McKinley Mall, there’s Red Dragon School of martial arts and Tabby Town pet adoption center.

Factory Outlet. These malls, such as our Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls, are filled with retailers that sell brand-name goods at prices lower than their traditional stores. That specialty draw tends to bring customers from much farther away. The ICSC estimates the average factory outlet regularly draws customers from 25 to 75 miles away. Fashion Outlets, a favorite among Canadian shoppers, attracts shoppers from farther than 100 miles away, and has a special entrance just for the bus loads of tourists who arrive as often as daily.

Factory outlets are one of the hottest mall categories, and one of the only type that is still being built. Montreal-based company Ivanhoe Cambridge recently invested in the $162 million Outlet Collection in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Fashion Outlets just expanded its mall by 175,000 square feet.