In response to seeing customers more stretched for time than ever, General Growth Properties is opting to extend mall hours during the weekends at all its U.S. properties. Normally this maneuver is limited to the holiday shopping season, but the Chicago-based regional mall owner is hoping the move will help drum up sales for its tenants.

The company made the move on December 29. Doors at its properties located in 44 states, including Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Galleria Dallas and Water Tower Place now open on Saturdays at 8 a.m., two hours earlier, and close as much as an hour later at 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

For now, the additional hours will extend to only Fridays and Saturdays. With Americans' working longer hours and more people working flex-hour and non 9-to-5 schedules, the extended weekend mall hours might make sense all the time. General Growth says it would consider expanding the extended hours program if there is enough of a demand.

“We thought we would start with weekends and monitor the response,” says David Keating, director of corporate communications for General Growth Properties. “Every time we conduct polls we find that our customers want extended hours.”

The move comes after GGP extended its mall hours again during the 2006 Christmas holiday season. Beginning with the Friday after Thanksgiving, its malls opened at 6 a.m. and throughout the holiday shopping season opened between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.

GGP initiated the program after a survey of its customers last summer found 65 percent wanted extended mall hours on weekends throughout the year. It also noted that 83 percent of consumers said they wanted mall hours extended weekdays during the holiday shopping season.

The in-mall and online survey polled approximately 4,000 GGP shopping center customers nationwide.

But not everyone is sure the strategy will pay off.

“It makes sense in some places and it doesn't in others,” says Paco Underhill, author of Call of the Mall.

He explains, it would make more sense to first assess the traffic at each location to determine its feasibility.

General Growth Properties' Keating declined to discuss whether anticipated sales increases from having expanded hours will cover the additional expenses.

Retail sales for this past holiday season are estimated to have increased less than three percent compared with Christmas 2005. Extended mall hours then provided little salve, even with some retailers including Macy's in a New York City suburb, staying open 24 hours in the days leading into Christmas Eve. Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, has doubts that any additional sales achieved in the extra hours would cover the greater costs of keeping a property open longer.

“In most places, if you extend the hours, you are going to lose more than you get,'' says Davidowitz.

He noted Federated Department Store's decision to keep its Macy's store in Queens Center Mall open for 83 hours straight this Christmas did end up paying off, but only because the center itself is located in a densely populated area and draws extremely high traffic counts.

“It is one of the greatest malls in the country in terms of sales per square foot,” Davidowitz says. “If you take it someplace with such tremendous traffic, you' re going to have a winner.”

After Hours at the Mall

Macy's East, after a successful pilot project at its flagship store in New York City's Herald Square, has extended its contract with BluePoint Energy Inc. to install cogeneration units at its stores in White Plains and Garden City, N.Y. Most power generators give off heat, but that heat is usually simply pumped out. Cogeneration units capture this heat and recycle it as part of buildings' HVAC systems. The BluePoint EnviroGen Energy Modules combine cooling, heating and power modules and reduce the amount of energy Macy's needs to pull off city power grids.

Macy's Tries More Cogeneration

Vestar Development Co. is now providing free wireless access at its Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix, Ariz. The Wi-Fi service is available throughout the center's “The District” area — an open-air plaza in the heart of the project. Vestar plans to use the wireless access to promote special events at Desert Ridge that will be featured on a home page that loads up when customers sign on to the service. Shoppers can also access the center's tenant directory and see advertised specials.

Desert Ridge Adds Wi-Fi Access

Google has applied for a patent on a system of “advertisements in a network of electronic display devices.” And shopping malls are mentioned in the application as one of the potential sites the technology could be used. According to the patent, advertisers would upload messages to a server with one or more keywords associated with each message. The system then would generate advertising campaigns and send messages to displays associated with those keywords. According to the application, “One example of this are kiosk-type billboards typically located in retail outlets, such as shopping malls, airports, hotel lobbies, etc. In their simplest form these devices loop through a series of poster-type advertisements.” But Google is looking to make the process better, similar to the way it generates text ads on browsers by trying to match up ads with terms users are searching for. Stay tuned.

Google Billboards?

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. opened its first “high-efficiency” store in Kansas City, Mo. The store will use 20 percent less energy than Wal-Mart's typical supercenters. The stores will use heat pumps and cooling towers to cut costs in its heating, cooling and refrigeration systems. It's also designed to recapture 100 percent of the heat given off by the refrigeration system to be used as part of the HVAC system. The store will also use LEDs and a daylight harvesting system, which uses skylights to refract daylight throughout the store and light sensors to monitor the amount of natural light available. Wal-Mart is planning another high-efficiency store in Rockton, Ill.