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Two popular Kendall malls are making big changes. What they’re doing to lure customers

What is it about The Falls and Kendall’s Palms at Town & Country that captures our hearts — and wallets?

Maybe we grew up hanging out at these malls. Perhaps we had a first date at the AMC Kendall Town & Country 10. Or frozen strawberry daiquiris and rounds of free chips and salsa at The Falls’ El Torito restaurant. Or trailed our parents on a Christmas shopping run.

For decades, these two outdoor landmarks have managed to survive the turmoil in retail — as well as the steamy South Florida weather. El Torito at The Falls and the movie theaters at Town & Country? Well, they didn’t survive the malls’ upgrades and were torn down decades ago.

Now, both malls are at a crossroads, looking to the future with a hipper roster of stores, the opening of mega fitness centers, the addition of restaurants led by celebrity chefs, proposed expansions.

At the same time, portions of both malls are both showing their age. The three-story Macy’s, erected with such fanfare at the west end of The Falls in 1996, now seems to lure as many pigeons to its parking lot doorways as customers.

Some of the strip mall-type discount retailers like Marshall’s or smaller salons on the west side of Palms at Town & Country seem a world removed from the flashier newcomers on the east side with its Instagram-worthy lake and fountain.

Here is a look at both malls — where they have been, where they are and where they are going:

File photo shows work crews carrying a letter to help repair the former Bloomingdale’s sign at The Falls outdoor shopping mall after Hurricane Andrew damaged the South Miami-Dade attraction and surrounding neighborhoods in August 1992. In August 2023, a Life Time Fitness resort-style gym center replaced the Bloomingdale’s, which had been closed since March 2020. Miami Herald file

A tale of two malls

The southeast side of The Falls, which had Bloomingdale’s as its main anchor and a nearby The Fresh Market and B.J.s Restaurant, has seen a rejuvenation in the recent year or two with the addition of a Life Time country club-type fitness spa, as well as restaurants like Naked Taco and True Food Kitchen. Weekends are quite busy. Here, several customers file out and in near closing time on a Wednesday night, Nov. 1, 2023. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com

The Falls, a 55-acre mall owned by Simon Property Group, which also owns Dadeland, Sawgrass Mills, and Miami International Mall, and Palms at Town & Country, owned by Kimco Realty, share some similarities.

Both malls have seen renewed attention as retail emerged from the pandemic. There’s new construction, new tenants and a dedicated fan base that seems willing to forego air conditioning along the paths while darting from store to gym to restaurant.

Celebrity chefs like Michelle Bernstein, Adrianne Calvo and Ralph Pagano have been paying attention.

After a 13-year-run, Calvo moved her West Kendall, 40-seat strip mall restaurant in 2020 to a space three times the size at Palms at Town & Country. The new space, on Sherri Lane, has an outdoor patio and 45-foot bar. Pagano opened his Naked Taco Mexican restaurant at The Falls in January. And Bernstein is bringing a new La Cañita restaurant to Town & Country in 2024.

The malls’ management teams are aware of the potential for growth and promise more upgrades.

“We are constantly evaluating how to elevate the shopper experience by enhancing the look and feel of the center. One way we are doing that is by freshening up the center with new paint, upgraded lighting and new handrails starting with this year’s holiday season through next year,” Jose Llorca, area director of marketing and business development for The Falls and the Florida Keys Outlet Marketplace, said in an email to the Miami Herald.

In August, The Real Deal reported that Kimco Realty, which owns and manages Palms at Town & Country, plans to redevelop a portion of the sprawling complex by building a pair of 12-story apartment buildings on the site of a Kohl’s building on the property at 11800 Mills Dr.

The vision is a total of 630 apartments in the two towers, which would also include a combined 35,000 square feet of retail. South Florida has seen a trend of such live-and-shop plazas, including across the street from the Dadeland Mall in nearby Kendall and throughout Coral Gables.

“The plans referenced outline a long-term vision for the site,” said Christa Kremer, Kimco’s director of marketing for the Southern region. “We are currently in the earliest planning stages, and over the course of 2024 will be engaging with key stakeholders while also monitoring the residential market and overall economic conditions to determine timing and next steps.”

Malls’ mega fitness centers

Tina and Alan Miller head back to their car after working out in the new EOS Fitness center at The Palms Town and Country Mall on a Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 1, 2023. The couple live nearby in a Kendall neighborhood and find the strip mall convenient. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com
Tina and Alan Miller head back to their car after working out in the new EOS Fitness center at The Palms Town and Country Mall on a Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 1, 2023. The couple live nearby in a Kendall neighborhood and find the strip mall convenient. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com

Customers notice the changes at both malls.

“I like the idea that this is right here,” said Tina Miller, 65, as she and her husband, Alan, strolled to their car after a workout at Palms at Town & Country’s recently-opened mega gym, EōS Fitness. She likes the friendly employees in the stores and the fancy fitness center. “The people are very nice here.”

Both chuckle when Alan, 75, interjects, “We’re from New York. So we’re not used to the hospitality.”

A hundred yards or so east from where they are standing in the parking lot, a shuttered and gutted Corner Market, vacant for at least five years, sits behind fencing strewn with nondescript green tarps. There are no “Coming Soon” signs on the fence to tell customers what may open here. That high-traffic area adjacent to a Total Wine & More and Dick’s Sporting Goods is a centerpiece of the modern side of the mall.

Kimco Realty, which also manages Coral Way Plaza, Tamiami Trail Shops and Kendale Lakes Plaza, is finally ready to reveal what’s coming to that space. La Boulangerie Boul’Mich, a French bakery with other locations across South Florida, will open in 2024..

The 80-acre Palms at Town & Country, which has seen several major renovations since 2010, has over 664,000 square feet devoted to retail space, making it Kendall’s second largest shopping center behind 71-acre Dadeland Mall. Dadeland opened in 1962, originally with 535,000 square feet of retail space in an open-air setting. Dadeland more than doubled in size over the years to its 1.4 million square feet of enclosed retail floor space.

After three years of planning and construction, The Falls’ southeast side saw the replacement of the shuttered 35-year-old Bloomingdale’s, a department store anchor from the mid-1980s, with the opening of Life Time, a three-story resort-like spa. Members pay up to $280 a month to swim laps in a saltwater pool, play pickleball, get skin and nail pampering, hang out at a beach club and nosh at the cafe.

Adult members who plunk down almost $280 a month can swim laps in a saltwater pool, play pickleball, get a skin or nail treatment, hang at the beach club and eat breakfast or lunch at the cafe — and much more. Above: Pilates and Barre studios inside Life Time at The Falls just before its opening in August 2023. Jose A. Iglesias/jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

The two sides of The Falls

File photo from a rainy Oct. 2, 2013, at The Falls shopping center in the Kendall area, shows The Falls’ distinct tower sign on the southwestern corner of South Dixie Highway and Southwest 136th Street (Howard Drive). Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com
File photo from a rainy Oct. 2, 2013, at The Falls shopping center in the Kendall area, shows The Falls’ distinct tower sign on the southwestern corner of South Dixie Highway and Southwest 136th Street (Howard Drive). Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com

The Falls, with its distinct tower sign on the southwest corner of South Dixie Highway and Southwest 136th Street (Howard Drive), has beckoned visitors near Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay since President Jimmy Carter was in his last year in office in 1980. The mall’s endurance and name transformed the surrounding unincorporated Howard, Briar Bay and Colonial Palms neighborhoods to the point that residents often say they live in “The Falls area.”

Recently added chains at The Falls include:

A towering 8,000-square-foot Naked Taco restaurant developed by Chef Ralph Pagano near Life Time and The Fresh Market.

The indoor-outdoor True Food Kitchen, in the old Coasters and TGI Friday’s space, across from an Apple store, opened in the fall of 2022.

Arcade Time Entertainment, a play area with arcade games, virtual reality and motion simulation rides, had a soft opening in November where upscale doll store American Girl once thrived until the toy retailer closed in January.

Regal Cinemas at The Falls on a Saturday night just after 9 p.m. on Nov. 25, 2023, the night after Black Friday. The Falls has had a movie multiplex here since the mall opened in 1980 and it has been remodeled over the years. The aging theater could be refurbished in 2024, according to a staffer. Mall owners have not confirmed those plans. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com

These newcomers contrast with aging tenants tucked on the opposite side of the mall. There’s Macy’s, a tenant since 1996, and what a Yelp reviewer called “B level stores and empty stores” on that side.

The Regal Cinemas, around since The Falls’ inception nearly 44 years ago, still screen the latest Hollywood hit films. The old-timer at the mall has a high-profile location near comfort-food restaurants and their outdoor dining tables that draw families and teens to the mall’s center.

Johnny Rockets once served burgers, milkshakes and oldies jukebox music behind the boarded-up shop attached to the Regal Cinemas movie theaters at The Falls mall. On a Saturday night on Nov. 25, 2023, it was a considerably quieter scene. Howard Cohen/Miami Herald
Johnny Rockets once served burgers, milkshakes and oldies jukebox music behind the boarded-up shop attached to the Regal Cinemas movie theaters at The Falls mall. On a Saturday night on Nov. 25, 2023, it was a considerably quieter scene. Howard Cohen/Miami Herald

“Life Time has been a great addition to The Falls and is attracting new shoppers to the center,” Llorca said. “It’s the first of its kind in Miami and further defines The Falls as a place to play, shop and dine.”

Llorca declined to discuss sales or customer figures at The Falls since Life Time opened in August.

Life Time Kids, located inside the Life Time center at The Falls, offers a range of activities for little ones, including a basketball court and climbing wall, pictured above just before opening day in August 2023. Jose A. Iglesias/jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com
Life Time Kids, located inside the Life Time center at The Falls, offers a range of activities for little ones, including a basketball court and climbing wall, pictured above just before opening day in August 2023. Jose A. Iglesias/jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

A night after Black Friday, a movie theater employee said that the Regal might finally see a refurbishing in 2024. Earlier this year, signs on the boarded-up Johnny Rockets adjacent to the Regal and near a tiny Starbucks outlet suggested as much, hinting at expansion. That sign was gone as post-Thanksgiving customers milled about at closing time on a recent Saturday night.

A security guard patrolling near the theaters and kiosks that include a Churro Mania and a watch repair booth, as well as a small play area, said he heard a bowling alley might open behind the theater soon, too.

Llorca and Carol Cox, area general manager for The Falls, declined to answer questions about theater-area upgrades.

“Any additions to the center will be announced next year,” Cox said.

READ MORE: Holiday shopping at South Florida malls. Hours, events, deals

Families overlook the new Life Time resort-style gym and holiday decorations from a bridge at The Falls mall on a Saturday night, Nov. 25, 2023. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com
Families overlook the new Life Time resort-style gym and holiday decorations from a bridge at The Falls mall on a Saturday night, Nov. 25, 2023. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com

The two sides of Palms at Town & Country

Chef Adrianne Calvo of Chef Adrianne’s Vineyard Restaurant & Bar in Kendall at the Palms at Town & Country Mall in a 2020 file photo was the winner of the Miami Herald Chef Showdown poll. Miami Herald file
Chef Adrianne Calvo of Chef Adrianne’s Vineyard Restaurant & Bar in Kendall at the Palms at Town & Country Mall in a 2020 file photo was the winner of the Miami Herald Chef Showdown poll. Miami Herald file

Palms at Town & Country also has its mix of hipster and outdated.

Adrianne Calvo of Chef Adrianne’s Vineyard Restaurant & Bar hangs here. Earlier this year, Calvo won the Miami Herald Chef Showdown when readers voted Calvo their favorite Miami chef.

Tap 42 on the lake and a Bolay with its salad bowls, near an old Burger King and Men’s Wearhouse, as well as a Kendall Regional Medical Center branch, opened here, too, on the Kendall Drive side.

Fuegos del Sur Argentine Steakhouse is another new addition this season.

The lake-side central portion of the mall, with its namesake palm trees and The Love Lock Bridge, where the romantically inclined write messages on padlocks and attach them to a fence on a bridge, is particularly bright and alive. Pop, rock and Latin music pounds out of Tap 42 and rumbles across the lake at Happy Hour. You won’t hear that volume at the more polite Coral Gables Tap 42 location on Giralda Avenue.

That now lively lakeside Palms pavilion area was once an enclosed mall addition in the early-’90s that held a small Sears and the long-gone rock club, Mars Bar.

On a discussion post earlier this year on Reddit Miami, images reveal the former enclosed portion that looked patterned after the sterile Bakery Center circa 1986 in South Miami (turned The Shops at Sunset Place). The remodeled open-air pavilion space is still a contrast to the series of older and newer, smaller and larger, shops and eateries ringing the strip of the mall.

The Palms at Town & Country Mall’s directory near a Bolay salad restaurant on Nov. 1, 2023. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com
The Palms at Town & Country Mall’s directory near a Bolay salad restaurant on Nov. 1, 2023. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com

Here, a neighborhood Publix supermarket, dating back to when these Kendall grounds off 117th Avenue were a strawberry field, anchors a post office and UPS Store, a Marshalls/HomeGoods, beauty salons, a Petland, doctors’ offices, and pizzeria and sandwich cafes. A few empty tenant spaces create gaps like the smile of a tooth-losing child.

The gym-going Miller couple like it here.

The pair cite the convenience of getting in and out of the outdoor mall’s mix of new and old retailers — acknowledging, too, that entering from and exiting onto busy Kendall Drive near Florida’s Turnpike extension from the parking lot can be a pain.

“It’s close to my home. The supermarket, the post office, UPS. Yes, we go to Kohl’s. Oh, HomeGoods. Love HomeGoods,” Tina Miller said about why she patronizes these shops.

“We like Nordstroms,” Alan Miller added, citing the mall’s outlet store. And, yes, both will drive to the venerable indoor Dadeland Mall, too. “Macy’s is up there,” Tina said.

The appeal, according to Kimco’s Kremer?

“Open-air lifestyle centers have gained in popularity in recent years as the customer searches for more ways to accomplish their daily and leisure shopping more efficiently. And traditional mall brands are following this demand, as well. This shift in consumer preference makes particular sense in Florida, where people enjoy the warm weather all year,” she said.

“The community has been shopping this Publix for more than 40 years. In recent years we’ve seen a shift toward more retail and dining offerings as many traditional mall brands open new locations in open-air shopping centers like the Palms. People enjoy the convenience of being able to park and walk right up to their favorite store. Additionally, there is a strong interest among the community for chef-driven culinary experiences in the neighborhood that is easily accessible without needing to sit in traffic and pay for expensive parking,” Kremer said.

Town & Country was built in 1985. There are 80 stores and the mall gets 5.8 million visitors a year — about 16,000 people a day, Kremer said, citing analytic site Placer.ai.

Nationwide January through August, foot traffic to indoor and outlet malls stayed on par with 2022 levels but visits increased for open-air lifestyle centers — outdoor malls with gyms and restaurants like The Falls and Palms — according to a Placer report released in September. Visits were up by more than 14% in January and spiked again in June by nearly 3%, outpacing indoor and outlet malls.

Median household income varied among the mall types but was highest among the open-air malls, followed by indoor and then outlet malls in Placer’s report.

“A nice open concept strip mall that’s been around a long time,” a Yelp user noted. “Town & Country Mall definitely holds many memories for me and I’m sure many Kendall natives.”

What’s new at Palms at Town & Country

Tina and Alan Miller head back to their car after working out in the new EOS Fitness center at The Palms Town and Country Mall on a Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 1, 2023. The couple live nearby in a Kendall neighborhood and find the strip mall convenient. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com
Tina and Alan Miller head back to their car after working out in the new EOS Fitness center at The Palms Town and Country Mall on a Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 1, 2023. The couple live nearby in a Kendall neighborhood and find the strip mall convenient. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com

The five most recent openings at Palms at Town & Country include:

EōS Fitness in the former 24 Hour Fitness space that closed in 2020 during the COVID pandemic. The new EōS Fitness is open 24 hours daily and offers a roster of group and personal fitness classes, indoor lap pool, saunas, cardio rooms, free weights.

Fuegos del Sur Argentine steakhouse.

The Spot Barbershop.

Vasconcello Pediatrics.

Florida Discount Nutrition.

There’s also the new Market on the Lawn at Palms at Town and Country that launched in November as a twice-monthly event on the second weekend of each month on Thursday and Saturday. The marketplace pop-up is held on the grassy area between Dick’s Sporting Goods and Kohl’s on the north side of the property. The next Market on the Lawn runs 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, and 1 to-8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9.

What’s coming to Palms at Town & Country

La Boulangerie Boul’Mich, a French artisanal bakery with a Latin twist, will be joining The Palms at Town and Country Mall in the location between Outback Steakhouse and Dick’s Sporting Goods in the summer of 2024. That site has been vacant since a Corner Market closed more than five years ago. This portion of the mall was once enclosed in the late 1980s, early 1990s. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com

The big reveal behind the fencing and the green tarps where The Corner Market once stood and sat vacant even before the pandemic? La Boulangerie Boul’Mich, “a French artisanal bakery with a Latin twist,” said Kimco’s Kremer.

La Boulangerie Boul’Mich, nicknamed for a Latin Quarter area of Paris, has had a presence in Miami for 20 years. There are locations in Key Biscayne, Aventura, Pinecrest, Coral Way, Doral and a couple in Boca Raton in Palm Beach County.

La Boulangerie Boul’Mich, is to open between Outback Steakhouse and Dick’s Sporting Goods in the summer of 2024, Kremer said.

La Cañita finally fills in the vacated Sweet Tomatoes buffet chain to the left that went out of business in 2020 during the pandemic. The restaurant from celebrity Chef Michelle Bernstein, as well as a A Say Tea & Smile next door, are set to open around summer 2024. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com
La Cañita finally fills in the vacated Sweet Tomatoes buffet chain to the left that went out of business in 2020 during the pandemic. The restaurant from celebrity Chef Michelle Bernstein, as well as a A Say Tea & Smile next door, are set to open around summer 2024. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com

La Cañita finally fills in the vacated Sweet Tomatoes buffet chain that went out of business in 2020 during the pandemic. The Caribbean/Cuban fusion concept created by James Beard award-winning celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein at Bayside Marketplace in downtown Miami in 2021, opens its Kendall location in summer 2024.

A mix of national, regional, and local businesses will also be joining the center line-up in the coming year. Among them: Starbucks, J. Crew Factory, Calle 23, Sushimas and Say Tea & Smile. Updates at thepalms.shopkimco.com as the openings approach.

What’s new at The Falls

The five most recent openings at The Falls include:

Life Time fitness resort.

Naked Taco opened in January. The restaurant joins Pagano’s flagship branch in South Beach and locations in Boca Raton and Coconut Creek. Mall owner Simon’s website describes Naked Taco as “an escape into a rock ‘n’ Roll, Día de la Muertos, hip-hop inspired killer Mexican joint.”

Naked Taco signage at The Falls, seen here on Nov. 1, 2023, promotes one of the newer restaurant attractions on the south side of the nearly 44-year-old mall in the Kendall area of South Florida. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com
Naked Taco signage at The Falls, seen here on Nov. 1, 2023, promotes one of the newer restaurant attractions on the south side of the nearly 44-year-old mall in the Kendall area of South Florida. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com

LaserAway.

Eye Center Boutique.

Arcade Time Entertainment’s official grand opening at The Falls was Dec. 1. Another Arcade Time will open in Fort Lauderdale in the spring of 2024, according to its website.

Arcade Time Entertainment, seen here just after closing time on Nov. 1, 2023, opened in The Falls shopping center in Kendall. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com
Arcade Time Entertainment, seen here just after closing time on Nov. 1, 2023, opened in The Falls shopping center in Kendall. Howard Cohen/hcohen@miamiherald.com