For an elder millennial like me, the slow, sad decline of the shopping mall has been tough to watch. Spaces that once served as our community gathering spots have slowly winked out, one by one, due to “The Retail Apocalypse.”
The large brick and mortar shopping centers that remain often feel deserted, for the most part, with pop tunes echoing eerily down empty corridors. But there might be hope. As malls decline, they’re meeting another trend on its way up: pickleball!
The once-obscure sport — it’s like mini-tennis or giant table tennis — is skyrocketing. A January report from the Association of Pickleball Professionals found that 36.5 million played the sport during a one-year period from August 2021-2022—compared to the just 5 million players that earlier data had indicated. That’s about 14% of the U.S. population.
With so many folks getting interested in the sport, investors are looking for more space to play. After all, the fast growth of pickleball has led to drawbacks: Tennis players get annoyed with pickleball people appropriating their courts; neighbors complain about the constant “pop” of the balls being struck. These are issues that could be solved if more courts are available to the public.
Why not use the vast, unoccupied spaces you can find in an old shopping mall? As it turns out, malls that need tenants are diversifying their offerings. And as more established pickleball companies target malls for expansion, new chains (like Chicken N Pickle) are emerging as well.
Setting up in an already-existing location is a smart move, assuming the space is properly set up for the sport (requirements include well-spaced columns and social spaces). Since building a pickleball facility from scratch is expensive, spaces that once belonged to big-box stores like Bed Bath and Beyond can be large enough to house a number of courts.
Indeed, pickleball clubs have already taken over former mall staples. For example, a Saks Off 5th in Stamford, Connecticut, (an 80,000-square-feet space) was turned into a pickleball facility, and a massive At Home store in Tempe, Arizona, is soon to be dubbed Picklemall.
Picklemall CEO West Shaw noted that indoor pickleball can be safer in hot climates, in addition to repurposing unused space into something that’s in high demand right now.
“Right now if you go to a public court during prime hours you’ll probably have to wait to play,” Shaw told the Phoenix Business Journal. “And that’s what we’re trying to combat is that waiting time and having to play at noon in Tempe, Arizona, in the middle of July. That could potentially be dangerous.”
In April, big-box chain Bed Bath and Beyond filed for bankruptcy protection, and will likely close most or all of its 360 stores. Those stores are huge! Imagine the pickleball possibilities.
One pickleball entrepreneur already has — Paddle Up Pickleball Club is planning to open in a former Bed Bath and Beyond in Lake St. Louis, Missouri, next month. Perhaps we’ll see more in future months!