Traditional malls in the U.S. are struggling. Developer José de Jesús Legaspi is remaking them to meet the tastes of the new American consumer
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Built in 1962, Seminary South was the first mall in Fort Worth and, by all accounts, the archetypal American shopping center. At its peak, it was home to a Sears, a JCPenney and a Dillard’s. There was a bowling alley, a movie theater and a space for the Fort Worth Opera to practice. But like many other malls across the country, the shopping center began a steep decline in the 1990s. Big department stores left or closed. Gang activity became a problem, and shoppers stopped coming. “It’s where I used to buy my jeans as a kid,” recalls the city councilman for the district. “It was a nice little shopping area.”
And now it is again. Seminary South has been reborn as La Gran Plaza, a sprawling hive of commerce and community. Most Sunday mornings, 25,000 to 30,000 shoppers pack into the mall to socialize, eat and shop. To pull off this feat, the mall’s new owner has tapped into the most powerful new demographic in the U.S. economy: Hispanic consumers. Refashioned as a cultural center, it has at its core the mercado, or market, a labyrinthine three-story bazaar packed with small storefronts selling everything from piñatas to PlayStations.