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Comparing the shopping crowds at Sunland Park and Cielo Vista malls

Shoppers

Retailers are gearing up for back-to-school shoppers this weekend. Texas is holding its annual tax-free weekend for school supplies as well as clothing, shoes and some electronics.

At Cielo Vista Mall, stores are also offering their own discounts. The mall’s general manager says this is one of their busiest weekends of the year.

“Families want to take advantage of the tax break and most of our retailers have become savvy and extended it by enhancing the offers,” Shawna Thomson said.

The boost in business isn’t only happening in Cielo Vista, but nationwide.

“The National Retail Federationexpects a 10 percent increase in back-to-school shopping this year,” Thomson said.

But on the other side of town, Sunland Park Mall was practically empty Friday night.

Idalia Aguilera, the assistant manager of JCPenney, has an idea why that might be.

“I truly believe it's mainly the location. I mean this mall is very central for the east, far east and Horizon and even for the west side as well,” Aguilera said. “I think the variety of having different retailers in this mall, I think that's what makes the difference when you compare Cielo Vista to Sunland Park.”

JCPenney in particular has boosted its back-to-school deals. Along with $7 backpacks and discounts on clothes and shoes, the store is also offering $10 haircuts for kids and $39 eye checkups.

Despite the expected boost in business this weekend, across the country, malls are not as profitable as before. Analysts expect one out of every four malls to close down by 2022 as people change their tastes and switch to online shopping.

This year alone, more than 5,300 retail stores have already closed their doors, including big names like Macy’s, Sears and Kmart.

But University of Texas at El Paso economist Tom Fullerton says the outlook isn’t as bad as it seems.

“In general the malls are doing a lot better than the headlines would have you to believe,” Fullerton said. “The rate of construction of new malls has gone down substantially. But even now in 2017, there are still new malls being built around the country.”

Fullerton says good retail and property managers can make the difference between a mall succeeding and failing. He said the management needs to be able to identify what works and doesn’t and adapt accordingly.

As for El Paso, Fullerton says the issue of Sunland Park is more complex than any one issue.

“The location of Sunland Park is not as advantageous as the location of Cielo Vista Mall. Cielo Vista has a number of competing yet complementary shopping centers located all around it,” Fullerton said.

However, the problems with the Sunland Park Mall are not new, according to Fullerton.

“The same company is managing Sunland Park as is managing Cielo Vista but Sunland Park has always been a challenge and it's something that it's hard to anticipate what's going to happen in these regards,” Fullerton said. “A lot of these things seem to defy explanation.”

But, overall, Fullerton says malls are here to stay.

“In general, the death of the great American mall has been greatly exaggerated,” Fullerton said.

As for Thomson, she believes it’s all about the experience families can have at the mall that still makes these places a beloved American pastime.

“People still love the shopping experience. You can't duplicate that on the Internet. They love coming to a shopping mall that is climate-controlled and comfortable and experiential,” Thomson said.

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