I think you raise an important distinction, which I hadn't thought of. A certain number of malls have the opportunity to add true casino operations, comparable to what you describe in Bethlehem. I never went to Maryland Live when I lived in DC, but it is proximate to Arundel Mills, which is another Cornish property. I can see a company like Cornish making this work. Obviously they've been spending a lot of time and energy and money developing their "Live" brand and operation; they've added casino to it in Maryland; and now they can do more of that elsewhere.
But it's on a selective basis. Adding casinos to an average mall isn't going to help retailers, although it might help absorb otherwise vacant space.
The problem with the question "can casinos save the mall?" is that it is two questions: One about the mall as a real estate asset. The other about the mall as a place that brings a wide variety of retailers together, who collectively share and attract customers who buy goods and services.
A casino will likely improve a mall as a real estate asset. But with the exception of Las Vegas, which doesn't attract what we might call "itinerant punters" as opposed to multi-day visitors, there aren't many examples of retail and casinos succeeding together.
In short, people who go to play slots are spending money that they otherwise could spend on retail goods and services.
Except that food halls go for independents, I see this working in that setting, provided they execute at the desired level. I remember thinking it was really cool to see Utz potato chip booths in Baltimore. Royal Farms, a regional Baltimore convenience store, is selling their chicken in the Cross Street Market, a public market in Baltimore. I think that creative companies can promote their brand in unique ways in this fashion.
I am now in Salt Lake City. In this market, Harmons is the premier independent grocer, with perimeter departments that are definitely specialty. At their flagship store, they have a burger grill for lunch. The burger is premium meat, the cheese is excellent, the bun is superb, the fixins' bar is not quite Fuddruckers, but far beyond the average burger joint, and the fries are better than any fast food place and better than most "regular restaurants." I'd rather go to Harmons for a burger (especially because my loyalty card will give me a free burger after 10 purchases, without having to deal with punches).
Can Flip'd do that with coffee? With pancakes? With other signature items? So that they are totally awesome and distinctive and destination worthy? That's what they have to do.
I wonder if you missed the point. Breakfast is the thing. And in more and more cities there are few options for breakfast out, other than McDonald's. That being said, I am concerned more about their ability to be strong in other dayparts. (Remember how every ten years some bright recently graduated college student thinks there is a market for QSRs selling just cereal?)
I think it's an interesting concept both as a way to deal with fast casual restaurants as competitors and for expanding the range of locations that they can operate, especially in core urban markets.
That being said, it reminds me a bit of Sears Grand, a good idea marrying Sears and Kmart products, and focusing on non mall locations, that went nowhere, or various Kmart experiments in the 1990s like Builders Square, Designer Depot, etc.
They could have worked but ultimately, under the control of Kmart execs not willing to do new stuff (at least for them), they didn't work. (Maybe if Kresge would have kept the separate department stores it once owned here and there across the country, some of that DNA might have remained, e.g. Dayton Hudson vis a vis Target).
Even McDonald's has occasionally owned other concepts like Chipotle.
So I wonder if they have the management expertise and commitment to change necessary to pull it off. But I think it's interesting that they are trying.
On another note, I saw Popeyes is parodying the Art Basel banana with their new chicken sandwich. They could have gone another way, with the same set up, but saying as a price, only $2.95 (whatever the price is) at any of your local Popeyes restaurants....
This gets at the heart of the matter. I am senior planner for a study on a public market. The vendors, because it's a public market building owned by the city, by definition believe that they are central to the agriculture system and the community, but they aren't ensuring high retail standards, providing good value, or even all that involved in the community (most of the vendor-owners live in the suburbs, although some of the workers do not).
WRT this Casey's initiative, I don't live or work in areas that they serve. But as a "community resident" I would argue that contributing to these kinds of efforts: "Autism, Down Syndrome, Juvenile Diabetes, Breast Cancer" aren't particularly community specific.
Those are important charities, sure.
Community to me means supporting the capital campaign for the local theater, helping litter cleanup campaigns, donating to local schools, etc.
Similarly, some new Shoprites and some Tescos in the UK, provide meeting room space usable by community groups for no charge. That is a community support, etc.
Instead of Reading Terminal Market in Beverly Hills, you have Grand Central Market in LA, which a few years ago Bon Appetit said was "one of the best restaurants in America" and an explosion of food halls across Southern California.
FWIW, in the mid 1970s, an early food hall concept was called Tally Hall, at a shopping center in Farmington Hills, Oakland County, Michigan, People flocked to it for awhile, but then it failed eventually because artificial shopping environments need to be constantly refreshed. (The same thing happened with Greektown as a destination in Detroit at that time. Eventually "everybody" who wanted to go went and they didn't feel a pressing need to return.)
The success of food halls "in the suburbs" is dependent on the particular location's level of "urban-ness" which wasn't possessed by Tally Hall. Suburban business districts and town centers can support food halls, but any old location where a real estate developer is more focused on "activation" without the necessary preconditions won't.
I haven't seen the new Kroger store, but the physical design reminds me of Harmon's City Creek store in Salt Lake. It is a two floor store with different ground entrances for each floor at different levels because of the grade of the site. The upper floor is not quite food hall but it's where Harmon's has a cafe/deli/grab and go operation, plus their demonstration kitchen, post office space, etc.
Not sure that the location could support a full blown food hall, but grocers have the opportunity to be creative with such sites and in urban locations, as more companies are demonstrating with these kind of one off stores (many other examples end up being featured as "store of the month" in the Progressive Grocer trade magazine.
Kroger is a reasonably intelligent company, even if in my writings I argue they have a lot of what I call "stranded" best practice across the company, great things that are done here and there across the banners, but not codified in one master set of SOP best practices that are introduced and effectuated in a systematic way across the banners.
That being said, they are smart enough to figure out whether they could ever make money with this store, and they figured not. It's cheaper for them to give away an asset that they valued at $500,000 (and clearly it's worth less if they couldn't sell it as part of a viable business plan for another business), than to continue to lose more money.
Plus they get lots of publicity etc. (Although they will now have to field more such requests going forward).
What is equally interesting, not mentioned by anyone is how in the past it was pretty typical for supermarkets to close stores but put restrictive covenants on the use of these spaces with the property owner, often continuing to pay the rent, to prevent other supermarkets from turning around and opening a store in that location.
Both DC and Chicago have passed laws making such a practice illegal.
Likely in current business conditions, paying to maintain restrictive covenants is not something even the nation's largest grocery company can afford.
Many years ago there was an article in the NYT Business section about "what should McDonald's do wrt significant drop in sales?" Since then, they've gone discount, but one of the respondents said they should double down on burgers, but make them totally awesome. I've felt the same about KFC. It should be totally awesome chicken.
Anyway, irrespective of the anti-gay stuff, I've never understood the appeal of Chick-fil-A. The food is average at best, just like most fast food, which is acceptable in a pinch. Except for me, Chick-fil-A isn't acceptable in a pinch.
So there is plenty of opportunity in the chicken segment of the fast food industry to offer great food, since most of the operators don't.
All the social media in the world wouldn't have mattered if Popeyes didn't commit to creating a superior product.
The National Hardware Retailing Association has an extensive online training program and other training resources that can be made available to the staff of member stores. It's a good model for what could be done.
But the stores have to incentivize employees and care about them for this to work. E.g., a few weeks ago I shopped at two different (high end as opposed to their "normal" stores) Harmon's Supermarkets in Salt Lake City (City Creek, and Emigration Market stores) and I was struck with how engaged the employees were, how friendly, how the bread person offered me samples while I was waiting for the bread to be packaged, etc.
This is not the kind of experience I am accustomed to at traditional supermarkets (Safeway, Giant, Harris-Teeter), although now, when you ask someone where something is, they usually will escort you to the location.
WRT some of the "negative" comments ... the fact is, many of the leaders in the supermarket business got their start as bag boys, etc., so they can build credibility for the training program by finding and promoting those kinds of stories.
Buy 9/10 get 1 free can be part of a premium or tiered loyalty program. I have read about Dorothy Lane Markets, which promotes loyalty not through price discounts but by rewarding "greater spend," such as providing a cheese board for free based on how much cheese you buy etc. Harmon's Supermarket in Salt Lake (and actually now Safeway) rewards people with free items depending on how much they spend in a given period, in addition to the various buy 10 get 1 free aspects for coffee, sandwiches, bread, etc., built into their loyalty card program. They are set up to provide more reward based on how much you buy, which is different from typical price based specials, which they do too.