Are malls coming back? Cross Creek Mall data says yes ::

— Does everyone want to hang out at the mall again? Recent data shows that more people are returning to in-person shopping as pandemic worries ease across the U.S.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, consumers were already signaling that they preferred online shopping. When the pandemic changed shopping behaviors, many people stopped shopping at malls all together.

But there are signs that Cross Creek Mall in Fayetteville is rebounding from the pandemic. According to the mall’s property manager CBL, nearly every space at the mall is taken up by a business.

Foot traffic has increased by 6% this year across all properties the real estate group CBL manages when compared to April of last year.

“One of the things the pandemic taught us was how much we value in-person experiences and socialization,” said Stacey Keating, spokesperson for CBL properties. “Online shopping certainly increased during the pandemic. But we’ve even seen that sort of level off. In-store shopping has sort of eclipsed that and will continue to grow.”

Keating said that many people in the retail industry see the pandemic as a net positive. Retailers that were under-performing shuttered during the pandemic, making space in the mall for mom and pop shops who were thriving.

For example, Sears went out of business and has moved out of Cross Creek Mall. In its place is now a Rooms to Go.

During the pandemic, many people quit their jobs and decided to pursue entrepreneurship. Keating said that Cross Creek Mall has benefited from this surge in independent local business owners.

“We’ve seen a lot of small, local, regional businesses opening up across our portfolio as people pursue their passion projects full-time during the pandemic,” Keating said. “We’ve seen a huge increase in our local leasing, in terms of bringing in local and regional businesses to our properties.”

Fort Bragg’s impact

Keating said that Fort Bragg has a huge impact on the local economy in the area and influences the businesses selected to be at the mall.

Many retailers offer military discounts to try and draw in soldiers and families of soldiers from Fort Bragg.

Cross Creek Mall is off the All-American Expressway, so many soldiers from the Fort Bragg area can access the mall easily.

‘Mall experience’ can’t be replaced

Customers who spoke to WRAL News at Cross Creek Mall on Thursday said there are some items that can’t be purchased online, like candles. They agree that in-person shopping still serves an important purpose in their life.

“Apparel when purchased online is the number one item returned,” Keating said.

For many customers, the mall is more than a shopping experience. It’s an entertainment and dining experience as well.

Industry and trend forecasters say that as our social lives become less restricted from the pandemic, the mall will become a social hub for young adults and families again.

Keating expects the mall to be busy this weekend and in the weeks to come.

“We expect it to be a strong weekend for back-to-school shopping and a strong season for back-to-school shopping,” she added.