USA Today: From Toys R Us to Pilates studios: Malls fill empty stores with latest fitness fads

In the world of retail, it’s increasingly out with the old — traditional department stores or aging fast-food chains — and in with new wellness-oriented gyms and eateries that are in vogue among consumers.

A growing number of Pilates studios, juice shops and other fitness- and health-focused businesses are filling the void as companies such as Sears, J.C. Penney, Toys R Us and Subway shutter locations.

“We are definitely seeing an increase in fitness- and lifestyle-oriented tenants moving into space that was previously occupied by retail tenants,’’ says Stephen Lebovitz, CEO of CBL & Associates, which owns and manages 119 retail properties.

The shift is not only being spurred by retail owners catering to the changing tastes of customers who want to do more than shop when they hit the mall, but wellness businesses that desire the foot traffic and ready-made storefronts left behind when traditional stores and restaurants make an exit.

Gilad says there currently are 50 Vitality Bowls around the country, and several have found a home in storefronts vacated by frozen yogurt and cupcake businesses.

“Typically they have all the plumbing and electrical we need,” she says of such locations, “so (as) a remodel, that can save us thousands of dollars.’’

Shaun Grove, president of the Club Pilates fitness chain,  expects that in roughly the next year, 5% to 10% of their clubs will be located in spaces that once housed retailers.

At outdoor malls, “we find more of these Toys R Us (stores) and the Sears and the Blockbusters that have gone out of business,” Grove says. “What we’re seeing — and we have been seeing over the last several years — is these landlords wanting to break up those centers into four or five pieces and bring in different boutique fitness concepts that are all very complementary to each other.”

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