Mall weathers change

Natasha Shelton

Photo by Kevin Fuller

Natasha Shelton, general manager of Chico Mall, got her first job when she was 15 handing out samples for a restaurant in the mall back in 1994. She’s come full circle, returning to the Chico area last year to oversee the mall’s operations. Despite setbacks, such as the closing of Sears this fall, Shelton is optimistic about the the center’s future. She said the mall is an economic force in Chico, contributing large amounts of sales taxes. It’s also among the county’s largest employers. Shelton sat down with the CN&R to discuss the changing face of the Chico Mall.

How are malls changing?

Malls are hugely changing across the U.S. Now, department stores are kind of backing out. You’re seeing tons of closures. What’s changing, specifically, is no longer are people going to department stores and buying their linens, and buying their clothes all at the same time. They are going to specialty stores. They’re being more specific about their purchases, and they’re more cognizant of their price points.

Is the mall concept in trouble?

You do hear about the apocalypse of malls. One of the great things about Chico is we are an insulated community. You’ve got Yuba City, which is 45 minutes south; you’ve got Redding, that is an hour north. So, Chico is sort of in that unique position that we don’t have any fears of the mall closing. When we all knew Sears was going to close, we got together and said, “You know, we’ll be successful in Chico no matter what, but what can we do to make it better?”

How do malls compete with online retailers?

Online has really changed everything. That’s why malls—and specifically Chico—are focusing on lifestyle and experience. We want a reason for someone to come to the mall. We are very well aware that the millennials are really driving the bus on where retail is going. They’re really more focused on experiences. We are really focusing on getting some awesome restaurants. If we could go local, we’d love to do that. [The mall owners, Centennial Real Estate] already decided that they’re likely going to scrap the Sears building, start all over, create an outdoor area. We’ve talked about theater uses, family entertainment uses, organic grocery stores. We have a ton of interest.

How do you convince locally owned businesses to set up shop at the mall?

Probably 40 percent of our tenants are mom-and-pop shops from Chico. We partner with downtown. We don’t take the approach that we’re better than them. What we do highlight is that we have a full marketing program and we have a lot of community events. We also have 24/7 security. People feel safe here. A lot of people don’t know we have this specialty leasing program—you can come here for super cheap, for month-to-month, or a 14-month deal, or just come in for the holidays.