Everybody knows that American shoppers have cut back their spending, driving some retailers—and even some malls—out of business. But commerce hasn't ground to a complete halt, and Americans are still spending on some things. Somewhere.
Using data from Green Street Advisors, an investment research firm in Newport Beach, Calif., that specializes in publicly owned real estate companies, U.S. News identified malls in which the retail economy is relatively healthy. While bargain shopping is obviously popular, the nation's most profitable shopping centers generally don't rely on discounters. Instead, they tend to feature chains with a strong brand identity, like Nordstrom, Abercrombie & Fitch, Apple, and Anthropologie. Since it's all about real estate, location is vital: The best malls tend to be in densely populated areas or tourist hotspots. And it sure helps if local residents are affluent.
The data we analyzed includes sales, occupancy rates, and quality grades for about 650 of America's biggest shopping centers. All of these properties post average sales of about $420 per square foot, and the average occupancy rate is 92 percent. That earns an A- grade. The 10 malls at the top of the list perform much better, with sales well above $600 per square foot and occupancy rates of 94 percent or higher. And each earns an A+ from Green Street for its performance and the quality of its tenants. Here's where shoppers are still spending money:
Ala Moana, Honolulu, Hawaii. (Occupancy rate: 95 percent*; sales per square foot: $1,125). This upscale shopping mecca near Waikiki is a gold mine, with annual sales of more than $1 billion. While other malls are struggling to hang onto tenants, Ala Moana recently added a new wing with 30 additional retailers.
Fashion Valley Mall, San Diego, Calif. (99 percent; $810*). A-list retailers like Nordstrom, Coach, Tiffany, and Cheesecake Factory help distinguish open-air Fashion Valley from other nearby shopping centers. A prime location and easy access to two highways drive well-heeled shoppers to San Diego's most upscale mall.
Forum Shops at Caesars, Las Vegas, Nevada. (100 percent; $1,400*). This faux-Roman complex on the Vegas strip is an attraction in and of itself, with a spiral escalator, lavish reflecting pool, and other monuments to, well, America's retailing geniuses. It also seems to be where lucky gamblers come to spend their winnings: With sales per square foot of $1,400, Forum Shops may be the most profitable shopping center in the United States.
Westfield Garden State Plaza, Paramus, N.J. (95 percent; $702). A choice location in the suburbs about 15 miles west of New York City puts this mall—New Jersey's biggest—within easy driving distance of more than 1 million prosperous consumers. A recent renovation and a slate of top-tier merchants helps keep the cash registers ringing.
Mall at Millenia, Orlando, Fla. (94 percent*; $1,000). Business from tourists helps offset a soft local economy at this luxury mall that's just 15 minutes from Disney World. Huge video displays highlight fashion trends from New York, Paris, and Milan, while strong retailers include the only Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus stores in the region. A nearby Ikea isn't part of the mall, but it helps draw shoppers.
The Mall at Short Hills, Short Hills, N.J. (94 percent*; $1,000*). Wealthy shoppers who don't feel like trekking to Manhattan, 20 miles away, appreciate this blend of upscale stores closer to home. Short Hills includes 42 retailers found nowhere else in New Jersey, and it's one of only two malls that host Saks, Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus under one roof. No wonder shoppers spend so much money here.
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Queens Center, Elmhurst, N.Y. (98 percent; $876). There's no Saks or Neiman's, but this suburban-style mall located smack in the middle of Queens has something many other malls don't: a subway stop. Lots of buses, too. Mass transportation and a location just off the Long Island Expressway help bring the masses to this shopper's retreat.
Roosevelt Field, Garden City, N.Y. (96 percent; $810*). There are 30 shoe sellers, 20 restaurants, and four department stores at this mega mall, the biggest in New York. It's packed with shoppers, too, thanks to its location in the densely populated Long Island suburbs close to New York City.
Westfield San Francisco Centre, San Francisco, Calif. (95 percent; $675). The parking stinks, but this high-end complex located two blocks from Union Square—the biggest urban shopping center in the western United States—enjoys a great location and strong merchants like Nordstrom and Bloomingdales. A recent renovation makes it a pleasant stop in one of America's top destination cities.
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Scottsdale Fashion Square, Scottsdale, Ariz. (95 percent; $618). When it's too hot to go outside—which is often—Arizonans shop, and Fashion Square has a number of stores, like Neiman-Marcus, Burberry, and Jimmy Choo, that are found nowhere else in the state. The housing bust has hammered Arizona, but Scottsdale is still one of the nation's fastest-growing cities, with high incomes to match. Barney's New York, coming to Scottsdale in the fall, will mark another first for Arizona.
* Where noted with an asterisk, figures are Green Street estimates.