San Francisco's Emporium Centre rebrand may not fix troubled mall's problems

San Francisco's downtown mall has undergone a name change. Once called the Westfield Centre, it is now the Emporium Centre San Francisco.

The mall is looking to its past to find its way into the future. While the new name pays homage to the historic shopping center that occupied the site for over a century, the challenges ahead are evident.

Customers have noticed shuttered retail stores in the mall, locked doors, and reminders of more prosperous times.


San Francisco's former Westfield Centre is getting a new name

The San Francisco Centre shopping mall on Market Street, formerly known as the Westfield Centre, is getting a new name. The renaming was announced Thursday to help revive the flailing retail space, but also to celebrate the site's storied history of commerce. 

"There's a lot of closed stores," said Adam Dworak. "A lot of retail has left the city because of the issues associated with shoplifting."

James Zarsadiaz, a history professor at the University of San Francisco specializing in urban and suburban development, said that the mall's glory days as a shopping hub are in the past.

"Malls in general across urban America, the big city malls to downtown thoroughfares, even beyond San Francisco, have a similar challenge right now," said Zarsadiaz "How do you bring people back to the city?"

SEE ALSO: San Francisco's Westfield Centre owner ending operation of the mall

Zarsadiaz said that the new owners must prepare for the future. Rather than just focusing on retail, he suggested the mall should be prepared to adapt to the evolving needs of the city. This could entail incorporating event spaces, housing, dining, or educational facilities into the space.

"These malls have to basically adapt to the times and become more multipurpose and multifunctional beyond just retail shops and a food court or some eateries," said Zarsadiaz. "It also has to include other reasons to visit these buildings."


A tale of two Westfield malls: San Jose flourishes, San Francisco struggles

As San Francisco's Westfield Mall struggles, another Bay Area mall is thriving.

Shoppers familiar with the mall shared their thoughts on potential solutions for revitalization or repurposing.

"I think to improve it, they should put housing here," said Free Banks. "Maybe a university, free college for the kids. Try to stimulate the economy that way."

Other shoppers agreed that the space requires reimagining.

"I think we could have some experiential stuff going, there's definitely not a lot of creative and advertising ventures in the mall," said Dworak. "It's mostly retail and fast fashion. If those things could improve, I think it'd be a little bit more booked."

The mall's new owners have said they will work with existing tenants as a foundation for future success.