San Jose mall reinvents itself with open-air shopping concept

With indoor malls closed due to the pandemic, the Bay Area’s largest mall Westfield Valley Fair in San Jose is reinventing itself with a new "open air" shopping concept.

Launched this past weekend, pop-up tents sit in front of the mall. So far, 18 retailers are participating including Levi’s, Coach, Pottery Barn and Ann Taylor.

New elements will be added this weekend on Friday, Saturday and Sunday including alfresco dining on the mall’s back side. The popular Din Tai Fung dumpling place, which typically has long lines, is among the restaurants. There will also be cabanas for half a dozen high-end stores.

“Clients can actually book appointments to visit our luxury retailers upstairs in private cabana spaces on our outdoor terrace,” said Diefenderfer.

The mall, like all others in the Bay Area, had to shut its doors. It briefly opened back in June and then closed again.

The timing of this pandemic is horrible. The mall has evolved adding more parking garages, a three-story Bloomingdales and a movie theater. Improvements to the mall cost $1.1 billion.

“Nobody can use the $1.1 billion worth of stuff they built,” said Robert Wood, San Jose State’s Strategic Management Professor.

Malls were hurting before the pandemic, devastated by online retailing. Valley Fair had the highest-sales volume in the state. This new concept is a way to survive. Even with the market, less than 10 percent of its 270 retailers are open.

“They are trying to obtain some fraction of the income they normally would have obtained,” said Wood. “They will have to cut back on a lot of expenses and hopefully just squeak through.”

At nearby Santana Row, shoppers miss the mall’s ambience and are intrigued.

‘I think the pop-up thing is nice because it adds a bit of variety, flair and culture,” said Shopper Margaret Lum. “I would just hope each of those different vendors in the pop-ups ensure safe practices.”

At the market, face masks will be required, markings on the ground for social distancing and capacity monitored.

“It’s definitely something innovative and fun we are doing here at Valley Fair,” said Diefenderfer. “We really hope the community is receptive.”

Other Westfield malls throughout the country are launching similar programs. The market will remain depending on county mandates. Other stores that are not participating in the market are offering curbside pick-up.