Over the past few decades, the American mall has been dying a slow, painful death. Gone are the days of teenagers loitering near Nordstrom, eating Auntie Anne’s pretzels, and stealing CDs from FYE. An up-and-coming pop star today would never go on a national mall tour a la Britney Spears or Tiffany, either. If Olivia Rodrigo were at your local Westfield, people would fear she owed money to the mob or something. But there’s one thing about the mall that hasn’t changed in 2023, and it’s seemingly the one big thing keeping malls afloat.
I visited my hometown’s mall last year. Although a handful of stores were vacant, most of the mall stalwarts like H&M and Macy’s were right where I’d left them. There were a few newer concepts, like CBD shops and a “selfie museum.” Most importantly, though, the chain restaurants were all still standing: Yard House, TGI Fridays, and The Cheesecake Factory.
Apparently, the presence of The Cheesecake Factory could be a big part of the mall’s continued success. A report from Moody’s Analytics titled “‘Get In Loser! We’re Going Shopping!’: Checking in on US Malls”—published on October 3 in honor of Mean Girls Day—found that malls with a Cheesecake Factory location are more likely to be on time with their loan payments than those without. The difference was staggering: 93% of malls with a Cheesecake Factory were current on their payments compared to 72% of malls without one.
The Cheesecake Factory, much like the Apple store, is a destination. As one Moody’s analyst told Axios, “People go to the mall to go to Apple. They don’t go to a mall and end up at Apple.” My hometown’s mall has an Apple store in addition to a Cheesecake Factory, and it was by far the busiest store during my last visit. Perhaps it’s these two single destinations that are keeping the institution of the mall alive. People go to the mall for dinner and a new phone, and end up patronizing the other stores as they digest their 1,000-calorie slice of cheesecake.
The report also found that more successful malls typically also had “non-traditional tenants” like movie theaters, bowling alleys, and amusement parks, as those are more attractive to consumers in the age of convenient ecommerce. The American Dream mall in New Jersey, for example, is more amusement park than mall. It has Nickelodeon Universe, the country’s largest indoor theme park (take that, Mall of America), and DreamWorks Water Park, the continent’s largest indoor water park. There are also flashy snack destinations like an Oreo cafe, MrBeast Burger, and candy department store.
Not to be outdone, the mall in my hometown transformed one of its long vacant anchor spaces into a big arcade/bowling alley combo, or, as I like to call it, a knockoff Dave & Buster’s. Many suburban malls will continue to collapse if they fail to adapt to changing consumer habits, but it looks like the mall I knew and loved will stay standing for at least a little bit longer—thanks in no small part to The Cheesecake Factory.