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What does the future hold for shopping, retailers at Rochester malls?

With fewer shoppers and more empty storefronts, some malls in the Rochester area are starting to falter. (WHAM photo)

(WHAM) - Taking a closer look at a staple of American retail, the big box store, some new numbers are putting the changing landscape of retail into perspective.

Consider Macy's stock price Monday: A little more than $23. Five years ago, it was more than $30. On the retail front, those numbers are very important.

Big stores are struggling like never before, and what you can buy is rapidly changing.

Many shoppers, like Amanda Catalfamo, have turned to online shopping. With her own business and two kids, there is only so much time available.

"It's like Christmas every day," she told 13WHAM, "when I get the mail and a new package comes."

Catalfamo is part of a small but growing number of shoppers who would rather do it at home.

"It's easier to look up one item and find prices on them from different places," said shopper Tom O'Hara.

These are customers Dennis Wilmot is trying to win back. Malls are his job. Wilmorite, his family-owned business, operates all three of the area's malls. They have a lot at stake. Every time a "Deb" or a "Limited" or a "Macy's" closes in a Rochester mall, it's his job to bring in something bigger and better. It's not easy.

"Each mall has to has to take on its own identity," said Wilmot. "They need to offer something different, and that's the direction we've tried to take."

As stores like Macy's and Sears struggle to survive, so too are malls. What's happening is being seen all over the country. In Rhode Island, an old mall was converted into 48 micro apartments and small shops. In Philadelphia, the King of Prussia Town Center now features luxury town homes surrounded by stores and restaurants.

"Everybody talks about doing things under one roof, and I think there's a lot of truth and convenience to that," said Wilmot.

"You might go into a mall and get your teeth cleaned," said Professor John Striebich of Monroe Community College. "You might have a dental clinic in there, then you might go out for lunch, then after that you might go do some shopping. Then you might see a movie. I just don't think you're going to see the mall of today."

Marketplace Mall is now transforming into an outlet center this fall. Eight stores have already transitioned.

"We wouldn't have pursued this strategy if we didn't think it was going to work," said Wilmot.

But will it? Striebich says we saw with the now-vacant Medley Centre that less is more.

"Is three malls too many for our area? It sure seems like it," he said. "We've got these massive stores, but how do you divide these massive stores up?"

"it's a bigger canvas," argued Wilmot, "but that means it can be a bigger painting."

Wilmorite said three new stores were recently added to Eastview Mall, six to The Mall at Greece Ridge and one outlet opened at Marketplace Mall over the weekend. Another is scheduled to open next month.

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