Monday, December 4, 2023

What are North Jersey malls doing for the holidays to get shoppers in the door?

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Holiday shoppers may not be spending as much this season, thanks to the cost of living, higher interest rates and student loan payments. And turmoil in the Middle East hasn’t helped anything. 

According to a recent WalletHub survey, more than one in three Americans said they’ll forgo gifts this year because of inflation. The Federal Reserve reported last week that Americans owed a record $1.08 trillion on their credit cards in the latest quarter. Target’s CEO said earlier this fall consumers are pulling back.

Yet crowds at the American Dream complex in East Rutherford have been robust this fall, and Garden State Plaza kicked off the Christmas season with fanfare last weekend.

Consumer prices meanwhile eased more than expected in October, according to data compiled by the federal government.

It all adds up to an uncertain picture for local malls starting on Black Friday. Yet North Jersey outlets are pulling out all the stops, dressing up and adding activities and attractions to entice customers despite the high cost of living.

Commercial real estate services firm JLL predicts that the average American holiday budget will be $958 this year, compared to $868 in 2022. There’s the nuance of that: $218 of that will be on related experiences and spending, and another $210 will be on “holiday goods” like food and decorations. So what exactly are the malls doing to get people in their doors? 

Most are doing the classics: Santa Claus meet-and-greets, photo opportunities with the kids or pets, gift wrappings and Menorah lightings.

Does it work? Mall analysts think so.

Emily Arft, an analyst with the retail research team at real estate analytics firm Green Street, said these activities increase mall traffic.

“And there’s likely a bit of cross-shopping before and after the photo session too,” she continued.

Charles Cristella, executive vice president of retail with JLL, called Santa the mall’s “strongest silver bullet” for the main reason that “you can’t sit on Santa’s lap online.”

And he agreed that these activities have the added benefit of keeping patrons in the mall and doing other activities: lunch, dinner, the movies, shopping.

“It’s a time-honored tradition that allows for a longer experience” at the mall, Cristella said.

Here’s what our local malls are doing for the holidays.

American Dream, East Rutherford

Santa: “Santa’s Big Arrival” will be at 11 a.m. Dec. 2 at the Dream Stage in Court A, Level one, featuring a performance, followed by a parade to Santa’s home for the holidays. Visit Santa 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Dec. 1-24 at the mall’s Holiday Dreamland, Court C, Level 1. Santa Paw Pets photos: 4-7 p.m. Sundays. Reservations available online.

Giveaways and prizes: The 25 Days of Giving runs Nov. 24 through Dec. 20. Mall guests can scan QR codes to win shopping sprees, TVs, jewelry and gift cards.

Festive decor and entertainment: Through Dec. 31, the Garden Court at Level 1 will be transformed for the holidays into a wintery landscape. Through Jan. 2 above the ice rink is the Winter Lantern Festival, inspired by Chinese myths, legends and the zodiac, featuring over 1,000 lanterns hand made by artisans and featuring magical creatures from folklore. Menorah lightings daily in Court A between Dec. 7 and Dec. 15.

Bergen Town Center, Paramus

The age of “doorbusters,” where people come out to the malls the moment Thanksgiving ends, isn’t quite what it used to be, thanks to the prevalence of online shopping, said Scott Auster, executive vice president, head of leasing at Urban Edge Properties, which owns Bergen Town Center. Still, he said, people want to come to the mall. 

Santa: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5:30-8 p.m. Nov. 17 through Dec. 23.

Giveaways and prizes: A prize wheel for a chance to win a $500 gift card 7 a.m.-noon Nov. 24 and 25. Bring a non-perishable food item to guest services to get a ticket.

Festive decor and entertainment: Teaching artist Sam Colon from the Englewood-based Bergen Performing Arts Center will lead a holiday musical on 11 a.m. Dec. 9. Interactive participation includes dance, sing-along, with guitar and ukulele, instrument play, scarf movement, drums, parachute, and fun craft. Menorah lighting 6 p.m. Dec. 12 next to the Whole Foods.

Garden State Plaza, Paramus

“Everybody loves a good dose of retail therapy, and everyone celebrates their own type of holidays during the holiday season,” said Wesley Rebisz, the mall’s senior general manager. “And it’s just a time to enjoy our friends and family.” 

Santa: Runs through Dec. 23, Level 1 near Pandora. Hours, pricing and hours are available online. Photos with pets are 4-7 p.m. Mondays, Nov. 20 to Dec. 11. Reservations online. On Wednesdays between Nov. 22 and Dec. 22, take your baby to see Santa. Thursdays between Nov. 30 and Dec. 21 is ugly sweater party photos with Santa. Tuesdays between Nov. 21 and Dec. 19 is pajama party photo with Santa.

Festive decor and entertainment: Through Dec. 23, the mall is transforming Level 1, at the Neiman Marcus courtyard, in front of Everything But Water, and between Sunglass Hut and Kids Foot Locker for the holiday season. Menorah lighting 6:30-8 p.m. Dec. 7 near Neiman Marcus Court level 1.

Rockaway Townsquare, Rockaway

Santa: Photos with Santa through Dec. 24. Reservations online. Bring your pet on Dec. 10 to the Santa set. First 50 dog owners will receive a treat from P.F. Chang’s.

Festive decor and entertainment: Holiday Wish Wall runs through Dec. 24. Mall patrons are invited to pick up an envelope at the Holiday Wish Wall near the Santa Set and bring the envelope to the management office to complete their gift and “make a child’s wish come true.” Menorah lighting 7 p.m. Dec. 9 with the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey.

Paramus Park, Paramus

Santa: Daily through Dec. 24, bookings available online. Santa Pet Pictures 4-7 p.m. Nov. 20 through Dec. 5. Sensory-friendly visit and photos 10:30-11:30 a.m. Dec. 3.

Holiday gift wrapping: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Dec. 2 to 23 in North Court, sponsored by the Center for Hope & Safety, a domestic violence victim advocacy organization serving Bergen County.

The Mall at Short Hills, Short Hills

Santa: Santa’s Flight Academy runs through Dec. 24. Kids of all ages will be able to meet Santa before stepping in his 22-foot-tall sleigh for a photo op. Reservations are recommended and can be made online

Festive lights and entertainment: Enjoy performances from Modern Carolers, Elf Carolers, Cobblestone Carolers and March of the Wooden Soldiers. Performances are from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 24, and every Saturday and Sunday, plus an additional performance on Dec. 22.

The Shops at Riverside, Hackensack

Santa: Regular photos run through Dec. 23. Reservations can be made online. Through Dec. 15, reservations can be made online for 15-minute extended visits, feature story time and photo package.

Willowbrook Mall, Wayne

Santa: Reservations for pictures can be made online.  Pet nights with Santa on Nov. 20 and 21, Nov. 27 and 28, and Dec. 4 and 5, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sensory-friendly visit on Dec. 3 from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., where music will be paused and lights will be dimmed.

Thanksgiving Food & Fund Drive: Runs through Nov. 22 in support of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. Donations of canned food, boxed meals, diapers and feminine hygiene products can be dropped off at the management office during regular hours Monday through Friday, or after hours at the public safety office. Glass, cellophane, bottled water, soda and baby food will not be accepted.

Giving: Through Dec. 8, choose a star off the giving tree at the Santa set and purchase a foster child’s most wanted gift.

Entertaininment: Salvation Army Music outside Bloomingdale’s next to Uniqlo, between Nov. 24 and Dec. 24 Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Daniel Munoz covers business, consumer affairs, labor and the economy for and The Record. 

Email:; Twitter:@danielmunoz100

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