Mid Rivers Mall offering cheap leases to promote small businesses

ST. PETERS, Mo. - Mid Rivers Mall in St. Peters has begun a new concept to attract customers and retailers. The mall is offering a cheap lease to the entrepreneurs. It's a plan that could save troubled mall across the country.

For $300 plus a possible percentage of sales, people can get a one-week lease on an empty spot in the mall. It includes fixtures, utilities, and signage. It's a fraction of what regular retailers have spent in the past.

Ashlee Potter creates hand-made leather products. Bailey Smith designs and makes clothing. The two women are the first entrepreneurs to open a pop-up shop at Mid Rivers Mall.

"To get a different demographic that would normally find yourself, I think that's a very good deal," Potter said.

Smith added, "We care about what we make. We make quality things; it's not fast fashion, where it's made with horrible materials, where people are hardly being paid any wages."

Mid Rivers could use more shops. At present, at least 20 spaces sit empty. In recent years, St. Louis has lost at least three malls, including Crestwood, which was bulldozed and removed completely.

Experts have said Amazon is a big reason for the closures since buying online can be so much more convenient than going to a shopping center.

"The old enclosed mall that might be positioned close to an interstate may not be the blockbuster concept it once was," said Dr. James Fisher, a marketing professor at Saint Louis University.

Amazon has forced big names companies like Macy's, Sears, and JC Penney to close hundreds of stores, including anchor stores, which have been a magnet attracting lots of shoppers to the malls.

"Those smaller retail outlets struggled trying to get attention, trying to get some patronage," Fisher said.

Leasing agents are now hoping the entrepreneurs become the next magnet for big crowds.

"We're hoping the pop-up shots stimulate more mall traffic, mall sales, and increase occupancy within the center," said Justine Robinson, leasing manager at Mid Rivers Mall.

The company that owns Mid Rivers has already tried this pop-up shop for entrepreneurs at a half dozen of its other malls across the country before bringing the concept here.