Could Pickleball Revive a Distressed Mall Near You?

Pickles at the food court, pickleball at the pickleball court

Could pickleball courts replace mall food courts?
Ben Hershey/Unsplash

Pickleball is the country’s fastest-growing sport. A host of onetime retail giants have fallen on hard times. What happens when a sport that needs space to expand converges with commercial real estate spaces that could use some new tenants? In one of 2023’s stranger (yet oddly inevitable) trend stories thus far, pickleball is coming to recently-vacated retail spaces across the country — and it might just revitalize the troubled American mall.

Well, maybe.

As CNN recently reported, the rise in pickleball in the nation’s malls is the result of two distinct phenomena. One is the way that mall owners are looking to make creative use of space, which means looking into tenants beyond retailers. The other is the tendency of pickleball games to be, shall we say, noisy. CNN’s article points to pickleball facilities taking over spaces previously occupied by the likes of Old Navy and Saks 5th Avenue.

The addition of athletic facilities in traditionally retail-focused spaces also has echoes of the “metroburb” concept, which has cropped up in New Jersey and Illinois, and turned office space into something with a wider array of uses. Going to the mall may not have the same allure it did in past decades, but meeting friends for a game, food and a movie sounds appealing.

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It’s too soon to say if this trend will accelerate, but it sounds like a promising development — or at the very least, a reason to be a little more optimistic about the state of the nation’s shopping malls.

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