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The Great Outdoors: Fresh Territory for Retail Centers

By Barry Caylor, Vice President of Business Development, OTL Inc.

(Pictured: The Veranda, Concord, CA (Courtesy of OTL)

COVID introduced some extraordinary challenges to the retail sector. It also presented some exciting new opportunities. One unexpected benefit stemming from the pandemic is the advent of activated outdoor spaces.

Restaurants arranged seating areas in their parking lot or on the sidewalk around their establishment where diners could enjoy a meal out without concern. Retailers brought merchandise outside where customers could browse and pay for their purchases. The great outdoors became an extension of the store and retail center—an innovative solution to an otherwise confounding and problematic situation.

The interesting thing about these trends is that most of them have remained even though the pandemic has ended. Outdoor solutions appear to be here indefinitely because consumers have come to like and depend on them in their daily lives.

Beautifully designed outdoor spaces provide a wealth of value for commercial property stakeholders. They can breathe new life into retail centers and transform them into places people want to visit again and again.

Here, some tips for retail owners and operators to capitalize on outdoor space as part of their operations strategy.

Create central gathering spaces

Retail stakeholders can incorporate these outdoor central gathering spaces in front of or within their centers to draw in a whole new group of potential customers.

The Veranda, a 375,000 square-foot retail, dining and entertainment destination in Concord, CA features a centrally located musical fountain serving as its focal point. The fountain is surrounded by food and beverage tenants, and is an ideal spot for folks to gather with the people they care about and enjoy an afternoon or evening out.

In addition to attractions like this, shaded areas with comfortable seating, fire pits, and plenty of room for people to set down their purchases to rest can make ideal gathering places at retail centers. 

Provide engaging programming

Outdoor entertainment introduces an exciting element into a retail center. Whether it’s a music series, cooking demonstrations, or crafts and activities, this type of programming can rejuvenate a destination’s outdoor spaces and provide new ways to attract customers on a regular basis.

The second phase of Renaissance at Colony Park, an open-air destination retail center in Ridgeland, MS, boasts a spectacular show fountain that provides guests with a unique visual and concert-quality experience. The cutting-edge audio, lighting, and water-feature effects combine to present customized shows that position this central gathering space as an entertainment hub.

Make the space look attractive

An artfully designed shopping center can provide visitors with an unforgettably gorgeous outdoor experience—something they can’t get from online shopping behind a screen. Brilliantly colored landscaping, lighting and a variety of other elements can fit the bill.

Las Vegas’ Downtown Summerlin offers several water features. One is a water wall featuring a constant flow that elegantly follows trails of kiln-formed Wavelet decorative glass. Meanwhile, orchestrated twists of water cascade down three sides of an illuminated 35-foot bronze sculpture, ending in a 100-foot-long, kidney-shaped pond. The feature repeatedly draws visitors in to experience this beauty.

Incorporating attractive elements like these into a retail center encourages people to check out the destination and revisit it.


Though the pandemic crisis has ended, the creative solutions implemented to keep retailers going remain in practice. Taking advantage of outdoor space to attract customers – and generate sales – seems to be here to stay. By creating central gathering spaces, providing engaging programming, and upping the attractiveness factor in their outdoor areas, retail owners and operators can drive foot traffic, sales and ROI for the long term.


Inside The Story

OTL's Barry Caylor

About Amy Wolff Sorter

I love content. I love writing it, visualizing it, and manipulating it to fit into different formats. I have years of experience in working with content, both as creator and editor. The content I create and edit provides assistance with many goals, ranging from lead generation, to developing street cred through well-timed thought-leadership pieces. Content skills include, but aren't limited to, articles and blogs, e-mails, promotional collateral, infographics, e-books and white papers, website copy and more.