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Foss: ViaPort well-positioned to survive loss of Kmart

Foss: ViaPort well-positioned to survive loss of Kmart

ViaPort's steady transformation has turned me into a believer, Foss writes
Foss: ViaPort well-positioned to survive loss of Kmart
Patrons of Via Aquarium at ViaPort Rotterdam mall takes photos of exotic saltwater fish on Nov. 12, 2016.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

The announcement that the Kmart discount department store at ViaPort Rotterdam will close at the end of the year isn't good news. 

But it's not the death knell it might once have been, either. 

ViaPort Rotterdam has shown surprising resilience since being acquired by the Turkish-based Via Properties in 2015. 

I'll admit: I thought the aging mall was doomed, and that Via Properties' plans for an aquarium to draw patrons to the property was a pie-in-the-sky dream. 

Underpinning my cynicism was the fact that hundreds of American malls have shuttered over the past two decades, with many more projected to close during the next decade. 

But ViaPort's steady transformation has turned me into a believer. 

Just a few years ago, I believed that most U.S. malls would eventually wither and die, a consequence of the growing number of people who shop online. 

But my beliefs have since evolved. I now believe that malls that reinvent themselves as entertainment destinations will survive, and that's exactly what ViaPort has done. 

The loss of its remaining anchor store will hurt, at least in the short term, but the mall is now operating from a position of strength. 

It has proven that it can move beyond brick and mortar retail by bringing in a variety of new tenants that include a call center for the state Department of Taxation and Finance, a SEFCU credit union, a coffee shop, a barbecue restaurant and, yes, an aquarium. 

There are also a number of entertainment options geared toward children and families, such as Tru-Escape Mystery and Escape Rooms, which specializes in live-action adventure games, and an upgraded fountain with racing lanes for radio-controlled boats. 

I'll be honest: I'd be unlikely to ever visit ViaPort Rotterdam if the only draws were big-box anchor stores such as Macy's and Kmart and smaller stores that I can find closer to home.  

The revitalized mall is a much different story. 

I'm already looking forward to taking my son to the aquarium, and I suspect our outing will include a few other activities, such as eating at one of the mall's restaurants and visiting the play area Funtown Bounce. 

In truth, I can envision doing any number of things at ViaPort Rotterdam, but shopping isn't one of them. 

Does this make me the customer of the future? 

I have no idea. 

Lots of people still do the vast majority of their shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, but malls have always had a larger purpose, serving as a kind of public square and place for fun.

In the past, that fun derived more from shopping and hanging out; today it derives more from indoor activities and experiences. Crossgates, in Guiderland, hosts an eclectic mix of concerts and comedians.

I'm always looking for interesting things to do -- for activities and experiences, rather than merchandise -- and I'm much more likely to visit the reinvented mall than the old mall. 

Which doesn't mean that the impending closure of Kmart isn't a loss -- that it won't have an impact or that longtime shoppers won't miss it. 

But what matters is the future, and it's one that's rich with possibilities. 

I, for one, am eager to see ViaPort Rotterdam continue to reinvent itself. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.     

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