TWIN FALLS — Three high school boys played a game of Jenga on a neon green game table. Across the room, three young girls were enjoying a game of pingpong. Facing the back wall, an Elko, Nev., man watched a football game while he waited for his wife to get done with her haircut appointment.
The Magic Valley Mall was a hopping place Oct. 26 as customers explored some of the mall’s newest features: three separate indoor “parks,” brand-new seating and the recently opened Hobby Lobby. As the mall was finishing off a nearly $3 million interior remodel, Woodbury Corp. Regional Manager Brent White was ecstatic.
“We didn’t have control over when Macy’s and Sears would leave,” White said. “But we’re actually thrilled.”
That might seem like an unusual response to the mall losing two of its key retail tenants earlier this year. But it presented the shopping center with an opportunity to reinvent itself and prepare for a new era: The Magic Valley Mall will no longer be 80 percent shopping, White said. Instead, it’ll have a more even mix of retail, entertainment and dining.
“Our goal when we renovated the mall was to create a very classic and modern look,” he said. “There’s been a lot of very rapid change.”
Hobby Lobby is already getting four times the traffic Macy’s did, White said. And people are starting to use the mall in a new way.
Malls of the past were designed to make people uncomfortable, White said, so they would be on their feet and shopping constantly. But the newer design features soft seats and benches throughout the building, as well as options for people to enjoy themselves at no cost.
The play park
At the indoor entrance to Shopko, children ran and climbed around a new playground. Mothers and grandmothers sat and watched their youngsters glide down three slides onto a padded floor.
“I think it’s great,” said Shayna Schroeder as she supervised her 4-year-old grandson, Landon, from a bench. “It’s the best thing they’ve done.”
Schroeder heard about the park from a friend who works at the mall, and when she saw on Facebook that it had opened, she was thrilled. On Oct. 26, she came to the Magic Valley Mall specifically to let her grandson play — though she also popped in for some goodies at Hickory Farms.
“Twin just doesn’t have anything,” she said. “They are very lacking in things for small children.”
She sometimes drives all the way to Pocatello for indoor recreation for her grandson. The fact that the mall park was free was also a big draw.
The play area is designed for children ages 2 to 10 years old; parents are responsible for their own children, White said.
The play park opened Oct. 22. So far, the response from parents has been positive, he said.
The game park
After Zales and Kay Jewelers merged, the mall had a vacant space. On Oct. 26, the room was filled with a pingpong table, a giant chess set, tabletop games and a photo booth with props. Couches faced several television screens lining the walls.
The three Kimberly High School students at the game table were enjoying their afternoon off from school. Axel Guevara said he and his friends usually hang out and walk around the mall on Fridays — but the game park is a new addition.
“It’s something to do at the mall,” Guevara said.
White said the game park helps the mall be a more contemporary and fun place for people.
“It’s not all about the stores,” he said.
The food park
The old food court isn’t what it used to be. With the recent departure of Garibaldi’s, the dining options are more limited. White said the Magic Valley Mall is hoping the new layout, which they’re calling a “food park,” will appeal to a more modern, healthy-lifestyle type of vendor.
The dining area now features some wooden tables and chairs, with decorative felt-leafed trees encircled by benches. Softer chairs surround a low coffee table and fake grasses give the room a garden-type feel.
And speaking of gardens: With the detached Olive Garden potentially opening by Black Friday — and a movie theater expansion coming up — the Magic Valley Mall is well on its way to having more dining and entertainment options. And it’s those kinds of shopping centers, White said, that will outlast the ones that continue to focus mostly on retail.
Spirit Halloween has temporarily taken over part of the former Sears location, but Woodbury Corp. is completing negotiations with a more permanent tenant. White could not disclose what would go into that space but said the tenant was his No. 1 choice, hinting that it was something people have requested for years. The announcement is expected to come in a few weeks.
“It’s been a long road,” he said, “but we’re really excited.”