Sunday, March 22, 2015 | 2 a.m.
At Boulevard mall, traditional retailers J.C. Penney Co. and Macy’s share space with less familiar tenants: a Mexican candy shop, a salsa studio and a museum dedicated to Nevada’s Hispanic community.
The 1.2 million-square-foot shopping center used to be a hot spot but was pummelled by competition and the recession. For many years, the mall at Maryland Parkway and Twain Avenue was dismissed as dated and run down.
But a local developer is rejuvenating Las Vegas’ “Latino mall,” capitalizing on its connections to the city’s largest minority group.
Henderson developer Roland Sansone bought the mall for $54.5 million last year, a relative bargain, and is aiming to return it to its heyday with renovations, scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, and a slate of new tenants that cater to the valley’s Hispanic community.
“They have really niched themselves,” said Maggie Arias-Petrel, chairwoman of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce. “This is Las Vegas’ longest-standing mall, and to keep that piece of history and rebrand it is great.”
Boulevard mall’s tenants include Mexico Vivo Dance Company, MundoFox, La Taqueria, Applebee’s, Zumiez, Lids and many other retailers and restaurants. New tenants will include a movie theater, bowling alley, miniature golf course and Hispanic and Filipino supermarkets.
On weekends, the mall becomes more of a community gathering place, with fashion shows, children’s Spanish-language magic shows, educational fairs and workshops to help people fill out government paperwork.
“Ten years ago, it was basically just packed with people all the time, and we had a lot more national tenants,” General Manager Timo Kuusela said. “It made money with no effort. Today, we really have to work to meet the needs of the demographic we serve.”
The $25 million overhaul falls in line with a national trend: the death and rebirth of American malls, which have been forced to adapt to shifting shopping trends and a weak economy. Many are being converted outright into, say, churches or hockey rinks. Boulevard mall will remain a shopping mall but one that plays double duty as a community center.
On a recent weekday, pop music bellowed from crackling speakers in a sparse portion of the center. Children played inside a carpet-lined jungle gym.
Artist Eduardo Ramirez Marin propped a display of his watercolor paintings at Hispanic Museum of Nevada, waiting for customers to arrive. The museum moved into Boulevard mall in 2012 after being lured by cheap rent.
“Once they open that side over there, it’s going to get busier,” Ramirez said, pointing to a hallway blocked by construction signs. “There are going to be restaurants and different things over there. It’s going to bring a lot more people to this mall.”
Christy Delcid welcomes the change. The candy shop owner, a Guatemala native who started selling Mexican candy at a Las Vegas swap meet seven years ago, found a more lucrative opportunity inside the mall. Her shop’s revenue has nearly doubled at Boulevard, thanks to weekend events that lure passersby into her store.
“Timo supports us, and he knows that he needs to have a good relationship with us,” Delcid said in Spanish. “I couldn’t do this at Fashion Show (mall).”
Regular shopper Nayeli Susarrey, a Mexico City native who publishes a local Spanish-language magazine for Hispanic moms, said her family enjoys Boulevard’s trendy and affordable clothing stores. But the real reason they visit the mall at least once a week is to participate in its cultural events.
“Las Vegas’ Hispanic community lacks awareness about Mexico’s rich culture,” Susarrey said in Spanish. “This is a good place for us to talk about that with our children and adolescents, and rescue their Hispanic roots.”