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Editorial: How entertaining

In another reminder that the future of big box retail is bleak, department store giant Macy’s announced last week that they would be closing 125 stores across the country. At around the same time, the shuttered Gander Outdoors store in Chesterfield Valley was purchased by Allegiant. Yes, Allegiant – the airline that flies out of MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois – bought a building that flanks an outlet mall in Chesterfield.  The company will use the building to launch a concept it calls Allegiant Nonstop, an entertainment facility that features go-karts, arcade games, escape rooms, climbing walls and other so-called “leisure” activities. Think Dave & Buster’s, but with wings on the logo.

Welcome to the future of repurposed retail – and what an entertaining future it will be.

Consider the significant developments and redevelopments in our region over the last five or so years and a common thread will appear. 

Streets of St. Charles – a mixed use development with a heavy lean toward dining and entertainment – has been a resounding success. 

Michael Staenberg is turning the failed Taubman Prestige Outlets, the other outlet mall in Chesterfield Valley, into The District, a multi-tenant entertainment destination. One of the anchor tenants for The District will be Main Event, a family entertainment facility that features – you guessed it – arcade games, climbing walls, laser tag and bowling. Think Dave & Buster’s, but with bowling pins.

In downtown St. Louis, Lawrence Group is in the process of developing City Foundry, a massive public food hall and entertainment district. City Foundry will be anchored by Alamo Drafthouse, a boutique chain that is reimagining the movie theater experience. It is located not far from Ballpark Village which is, you know, an entertainment destination. In turn it located just a few blocks away from the region’s brand new aquarium and giant Ferris wheel at Union Station, which has been reimagined as a – sigh – entertainment destination.

All of this is being added to a region that already features a half dozen casinos, two existing major sports franchises, and is super excited to finally have a professional soccer team on the way. Boy, we better save some money by not shopping at Macy’s because we need every last cent to pay for all this entertainment!

The thinking, we suppose, goes something like this: You might be able to buy things on the internet, but experiences still need to happen in person. It’s not a bad thought actually, but there is still a saturation point. We can only be so entertained.

The other buzzword in development these days is “mixed-use.” Nearly all of these projects are some degree of mixed-use, meaning they might feature a blend of entertainment, office space, dining and even some living space. This might be an improvement on the single focus business models of the past, or it might just be a necessary way to use the millions of square feet left abandoned by our failed cathedrals to commerce.

Repurposing structures like this is, by and large, a good thing. Progress is a good thing. Job creation is a good thing. The fear lies in how thin our entertainment dollar can be stretched. At what point do all these entertainment destinations, born of the burst bubble of big box retail, become another bubble themselves?

We hope not too soon. We hope they can all thrive. If nothing else, it should be an entertaining ride.

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