Currently, the Mall of Georgia has 225 stores occupying 1.8 million square feet of retail space. More tenants — including Haagen-Dazs, Tilly’s and, in The Village, Marlow’s Tavern — are coming soon. (Special Photo)
Despite a long and deep recession that has negatively impacted businesses nationwide, the Mall of Georgia in Buford is still going strong as it celebrates 15 years of operation.
“We were fortunate here at the Mall of Georgia. Our market is really coming into its own, it’s still growing,” said Joe Piccolo, Mall of Georgia General Manager.
While sales dropped slightly during the recession, the Mall of Georgia — billed as the largest mall in the Southeast — did not experience the decline other comparable centers did according to Piccolo.
Instead, he said, the mall has experienced a constant, steady growth with a “very, very healthy” occupancy rate. Currently, the Mall of Georgia has 225 stores occupying 1.8 million square feet of retail space. More tenants — including Haagen-Dazs, Tilly’s and, in The Village, Marlow’s Tavern — are coming soon to the mall, which celebrated 15 years of business on Aug. 13.
“What we’re looking at is just sustained growth — sustained growth in the sense of bringing in the newest, the most unique stores to the market, one-of-a-kind, and we continue to do that,” Piccolo said.
Though stores have come and gone during the past few years, much of the turnover has been “prefabricated” in order to create new shopping options.
An example, Piccolo said, is Forever 21 which is currently under construction.
“They’re in the process of building an 18,000-square-foot junior department store with escalators and elevators,” he said. “In order to do that, we have to move people around, get space back. So, it’s to our advantage to do that.”
Any vacancies, he added, allow mall management to react to opportunities to attract new retailers and restaurants. That ability has allowed the mall to remain a popular shopping destination with area residents and with shoppers from across the region.
“Strangely enough, we have a large percentage of tourism,” Piccolo said.
Of the 14 million shoppers visiting the mall each year, approximately 17 percent are tourists.
“It is definitely a destination,” he added.
The mall’s prominence as a shopping destination is not only important to mall management, but to Gwinnett County as well.
“The opening of the Mall of Georgia is definitely on the list of important Gwinnett milestones,” said Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash. “The choice of a site in Gwinnett for the mall acknowledged the importance of Gwinnett in the entire state. Since its opening, the mall has served as a powerful economic engine as well as a source of community amenities. On behalf of Gwinnett County, I congratulate the Mall of Georgia on 15 years of success.”
Nick Masino, Senior Vice President of Gwinnett Chamber Economic Development, also emphasized the importance of the mall to Gwinnett and the surrounding area.
“Not only does the Mall of Georgia hold the distinction of being the largest mall in the Southeast, its positive impact on Gwinnett, Metro Atlanta and Georgia has been immeasurable,” Masino said. “As malls across the U.S. face significant challenges, the Mall of Georgia is thriving, with leading edge shopping and entertainment options. In respect to SPLOST collection alone, the Mall of Georgia is a strong asset.”
The mall is also a strong asset in terms of the local job market. More than 2,500 people are employed by mall retailers, Piccolo said, and that number is even higher during the Christmas holiday season.
Despite its position as an economic engine and a job creator, Piccolo said management’s primary focus is to fulfill the mall’s original vision as a family-oriented entertainment and shopping destination.
“Many years ago we decided on a vision for the shopping center as to how we would grow and what our core ideas and businesses would be,” he said. “We’ve stuck to it and it’s paid off for us.”
Mall reaches milestone, continues to thrive
The Mall of Georgia, billed as the largest mall in the southeast, opened 15 years ago this month in Buford.