What may seem to be a relatively small change at the Mall at Fox Run is actually symbolic of its future as the long time kids play area reopens in a new location Saturday.
The mall in Newington, open since 1983, has withstood the elimination of a major customer base when the former Pease Air Force Base was closed, shifts in consumer shopping habits which led to the closure of several anchor stores and the pandemic that kept shoppers home.
The reopening of the children’s play area in front of FYE Saturday at 4 p.m. in the center court area from its original location at the Macy’s end of the mall is part of a re-envisioning of the mall as “neighborhoods” according to mall General Manager Eric Brasier.
“We have FYE, we put Santa and the Easter Bunny and there’s a lot of kid friendly things up in the center court area of the mall so it just made sense to us to relocate the play area,” Brasier told Seacoast Current.
Brasier said the play area was broken down, deep cleaned and put back together with a new rug. Only a giant clam from the original set up could not be moved.
“That had become damaged over time. We pulled that one out and we’re looking at having it resurfaced or maybe buying a replacement. Until we do that we spread the fixtures out that we have in a different layout,” Brasier said.
The mall had a coloring contest for kids to color a black-and-white image of the new area for the chance to cut the ribbon and be the first one to play in the new area. They also get a $250 gift card to FYE.
Play Area Controversy
Taking the play area out was not without controversy and generated a large amount of feedback from shoppers who played in the original area and wanted to bring their own kids.
“We didn’t know how important it was until we took it away. It was one of the strongest feedbacks we have got. We were constantly getting questions about when the play area would be open,” Brasier said. “There was a lot of nostalgia and love for the play area that we didn’t know existed.”
The original site of the play area will get a wi-fi lounge with televisions, “fun lighting,” music and other things still being planned aimed at adults.
“The Macy’s customer and the Seacoast Cars and Coffee customer that are right in that area, sort of like they live in the same neighborhood. We want to have an adult use area for that which is where we’re going with the wi-fi lounge,” Brasier said.
The mall is re-imaging itself from the inside out, according to Brasier, with a focus on “shop local” and creating neighborhoods within the mall that make it a unique destination.
“You go to Portsmouth or Newburyport, Portland, Burlington, Vermont. There’s a distinct feel and vibe to each one of those towns. You don’t get that if you go to another town. That’s the way we want to make Mall at Fox Run,” Brasier said.
It’s already underway with the addition of local retailers and restaurants like Chubb’s Subs and Bakery, the Pink Hippo coffee shop and the Cowboy Cafe.
The mall also went dog friendly in May allowing pets into the mall. Individual stores have the option to allow dogs inside.
Supply Chain and Hiring Challenges
Brasier believes mall retailers are ahead of the supply chain issues because they experienced it last year. Because online retailers will be unable to fulfill some orders analysts expect shoppers to head back to malls during the holiday season.
“I think they were aware and smart enough that they got out in front of that. I think that we have the things customers want,” Brasier said.
The biggest challenge the mall faces is the ongoing hiring shortage faced by retailers across the country.
“Certainly Rockingham County in general and the Portsmouth area in particular are sort of a magnified version of that. We’re doing okay, we have the hours filled that we need but we would certainly embrace additional help,” Brasier said.
The mall is not hosting a job fair as it’s too close to the holiday season. It’s up to individual stores to do their own hiring.
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