El Paso’s Sunland Park Mall has revitalized its once desolate property with new shops and attractions that emphasize communal activities and local talent.
In recent years, reports have described Sunland Park Mall as “dying,” an idea supplemented by the fact that the owner Washington Prime Group has recently filed for bankruptcy. Despite a change in management and forward progress toward the end of 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic caused stores on the fringe of surviving to shut down.
Sunland’s vacancies provided an opportunity to set up shop at affordable prices for many local small-business owners.
“When I first got here in February, the mall was dead. There was very little foot traffic, but over the months they have really been successful,” said Megan Osland, manager of The Makers Collaborative, a locally owned shop within the mall.
Frank Powers, manager of the retro and alternative clothing store Retro Fit, began his business for his children as a venture they could assist with after graduating high school and eventually take over. Their inventory comes from a variety of places, including New York and online auctions, to accumulate a unique variety of fashion and styles that are otherwise unavailable to the public, Powers said.
“We had debated a couple of other spaces outside of the mall. One of them was the West Town Marketplace, but in other places, you’d have to advertise to bring people to your store,” Powers said, who felt the most viable option was Sunland Park Mall because of its rent prices and visibility. “Now that everything is coming back, they gave us a great deal, so we couldn’t pass it up. The foot traffic is here; people are in the mall shopping.”
As families venture out again in search of activities to do together that may not require large gatherings and more hands-on activities, The Makers Collaborative combines a craft store, a local market and sewing classes seven days a week for both children and adults.
Oslund is passionate about the joy many visitors share while crafting and said she is proud to be such a prominent supporter of local artists and creators.
“We have about 30 artists that sell their work independently here. We are hoping to get to a hundred. Everything we have is completely fair trade, either made here in the United States or in countries that honor fair trade practices,” Oslund said.
Artists that are often present at weekend markets around El Paso sell their creations full-time at the shop and Oslund seeks to operate on purely ethical sourcing, with many of the goods available being organic as well.
“We have seen our foot traffic increase at least 20 times over, minimum. The mall has been doing a lot to ensure we are getting exposure, and they have been doing a lot of marketing for the local stores, which has been great.”
Oslund says that in her experience, Sunland Park Mall is not dying, and she hopes the public will come out to support and enjoy the numerous activities and small businesses that have revitalized the mall.
Along with new stores, the vast empty spaces within the mall proved suitable for more unorthodox installments and upcoming small businesses in need of wide-open areas.
There is an increase in the number of areas that promote community interaction and socialization within Sunland that its size and structure could accommodate. The mall supplemented income by allowing touring acts to perform in the parking lot and they introduced more ambitious indoor activities such as a full-size volleyball court enclosed by a two-story-high net, a children’s activity corner with an oversized chess set, various games and electric animal cruisers were also available. More family-oriented additions include a new Book Nook, a small corner located by the food court that can accommodate small children and adults with a selection of reading material and a small play area.
The food court introduced several new options as well, some with more specialty and niche options available. Some of these eateries include Kyo Kai Boba, which serves the popular bubble drink, Hot Joe’s Meal Prep that offers balanced pre-prepared meals to support healthy workout-intense diets and I Heart Sugar, a confectionary shop with an unordinary selection such as pickle-flavored cotton candy and ranch-dressing soda. Beyond the food court, there are new independent eateries and special interest locations like Wine Attitude, a lounge that hosts live music and serves a variety of wines by the glass or bottle.
What is notable about Sunland Park Mall’s new editions is the attempt to have a diverse and balanced selection of entertainment, practical services and local business support. Arguably among the most intriguing and financially substantial tenants are the variety of gyms and physical fitness options available within the mall. Screaming Eagle Martial Arts teaches kids and adults Taekwondo and Hapkido seven days a week, located directly beside the Academy of Aerial Fitness, which offers alternative fitness options and classes on aerial and circus arts in a supportive environment. Many gyms, such as TruFit Athletic Club, have been taking residence in malls like Sunland across the country and see it as a prime location for its spacious areas, accessibility and public visibility.
While things might have seemed dull for some time, Sunland Park Mall brings a variety of activities and shops for the entire El Paso community to enjoy in hopes of reviving its name.
Julian Herrera can be reached through [email protected] and @jay_at_utep on Instagram