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SHOPPING–Galleria Targets Moneyed Teens With ‘Hangout’ Spot

It seems like trying to get teen-agers to hang out at malls is a little like trying to make weeds grow: It happens without any effort at all, so why bother?

But Glendale Galleria is spending $1 million to do just that.

In July, the center will open “The Zone,” a 15,000-square-foot shopping center-cum-clubhouse with stores, eateries, a lounge for hanging out and entertainment geared specifically to Generation-Y.

As the kids themselves might ask, “Whussup with that?”

In a nutshell, teens are big business. Little more than a blip on the bottom line for several decades, the current generation of teen-agers now comprises one of the largest consumer groups, spending a whopping $153 billion last year.

Malls have long used stores like The Gap and Pacific Sunwear to tap the market, but today’s teens want something more. “They want to feel like they’re getting something fresh and new and just for them,” said Gerald Celente, author of “Trends 2000” and the director of Trends Research Institute, a consultancy in New York. “(Glendale Galleria) is on the cutting edge here. They’re doing a very smart thing.”

The generation born between 1978 and 1995 now totals 72 million people, outnumbering baby boomers at the height of that generation. And unlike its predecessors, the members of Gen-Y are flush.

The Galleria estimates the teen crowd spent an average of $3,000 each at the mall last year. With that kind of spending power, teens have gone from mall rats to royalty in the eyes of retailers.

“We can remember when properties were trying to discourage teens from visiting the mall,” said Michael Wood, vice president at Teenage Research Unlimited, an Illinois-based market research firm specializing in teens. “They were a nuisance. They didn’t spend any money and they just hung around. Now the tide has turned, and people are recognizing the importance of this market.”

The Glendale Galleria, operated by Donahue Schriber, began work on The Zone several years ago following its annual consumer research survey.

“We realized this Gen-Y consumer was visiting the mall at least two to three times as often and they were one of our top spending groups,” said Annette Bethers, marketing director for the Glendale Galleria. “So we realized there was a lot of potential to better serve this customer.”

The shopping center gathered 146 kids in public and private middle and high schools around the area and asked them to design their ideal mall. With those ideas in tow, the Galleria went to work.

The Zone, a self-contained area on the second level of the mall with its own distinct design, will feature six retail shops, two eateries, at least three computer stations with Internet access (limited to prevent users from accessing adult sites), a lounge area, and a bulletin board where kids can leave messages for each other.

Video monitors will broadcast customized programs including sports events, music videos, movie trailers and news from local schools, hosted by a teen anchor; and there will be an entertainment center with a tie-in to a local radio station for special events, appearances and concepts. Bethers said the company is in the final stage of negotiations with KIIS-FM 102.7 as a radio partner.

The Zone will also have its own Internet site where kids can access information about events at the mall, get discount coupons for stores, or view the goings-on to be broadcast from an onsite videocam.

The six new retailers housed directly in The Zone are Hot Topic, an apparel and giftware store with music-themed merchandise; women’s apparel retailers Cat Walk and Premium; sports-equipment and apparel retailers Boarders and Vans; and a new store concept from Miller’s Outpost, Juxtapose. Another as-yet-undetermined retailer will also be included in the mix.

Muscle Beach Lemonade and Great Khan Barbecue will be located at either end of the area, and several other teen-oriented retailers will be located in adjacent portions of the mall.

“We want it to be an experience. We want it to be fun. We want it to be an area where they can come and connect together,” Bethers said.

Retailers say they like the concept because it groups their stores with others that teens like and that helps promote sales.

“With this concept, we’re clustered with other teen retailers and we think it’s going to be a place where teens and young adults will congregate,” said Jay Johnson, chief financial office for Hot Topic Inc.

But creating a teen hangout isn’t easy.

For one thing, the Galleria will have to pay special attention to security, Bethers said. And trends, notoriously short-lived among teens, are changing even more rapidly in today’s world.

Today’s kids are also harder to entertain. Staying home was anathema to past generations of teens, and they flocked to the mall for something to do. But today’s kids can surf the Net, play video games or watch movies without ever having to walk out the front door. That makes hanging at the mall far less enticing.

“It’s not enough to offer the traditional retail environment,” Wood said. “You also have to pump up the volume.”

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