Four-plus dedicated toy stores, three unique play places, and three-plus schools represent a transformative, evolving experience at the Chapel Hills Mall.

Since its opening in 1982, the structure’s over 1,000,000 gross leasable square feet and more than 5,000 parking spaces have shifted from only classic mall chain stores to a variety of several local businesses doing trade among the larger anchors.

The businesses vary widely, offering more chances for folks to stay and play or learn as well as buy.

A number of storefronts still offer clothing or jewelry wares, but others are more specialized. Hidemasters of Colorado LLC has “unique and personalized leather products,” Avier Home & Gift, a local interior designer, with “high-quality home decor accents, gifts, furniture, accents, art and classes all from local artisans and entrepreneurs.”

Businesses that provide educational services or recreational opportunities have also diversified the mall experience.

Pillar Institute for Lifelong Learning offers a variety of classes for adults, Peak Performing Arts sometimes holds auditions, and Sit Means Sit dog training advertises “Faster. Smarter. Better.” training for your pet. Academy of Life & Leadership Taekwondo and Goal Academy online high school are also within the building.

Excitement-in-motion experiences include the mall train and ride-on plush animals for rent.

On a recent December morning in the mall’s center atrium a long line of children and adults waited for an audience and photo op with Santa. People took turns riding a stuffed tiger, dinosaur and bear on wheels nearby.

The architect for modern malls, an Austrian named Victor Gruen, was quoted in 1978 in Smithsonian magazine as disowning his original concept of climate-controlled shopping malls because his initial desire for a multipurpose gathering place where no cars were needed was supplanted by developments famously encouraging car culture.

Gruen wanted to “provide the needed place and opportunity for participation in modern community life that the ancient Greek Agora, the Medieval Market Place and our own Town Squares provided in the past.”

These days a swing back to more of what he envisioned seems to be taking place.

UGOFresh advertises “healthy juice drinks and Turkish snacks,” and Pedego electric bikes has a storefront near the mall’s food court entrance.

An event performing space at the base of one set of escalators features a raised stage and folding chairs. Also, as a more mixed-use center, the Chapel Hills Mall is slated to host Colorado Springs Comic Con in the former Sears location Aug. 21-23.

Before the advent of internet shopping, people in the past would hit up to 20 stores in one mall shopping trip. Now, “People come to the mall for two or three stores — very surgical shopping missions,” says Ray Hartjen of RetailNext, a company that provides data analytics to retailers.

In order to provide more reasons for people to visit and stay in the changed shopping landscape, malls now offer options like Chapel Hills’ indoor playground, Fun4Kidz, with its ball pit and obstacle course, Gaming To You with its laser tag and ping pong tables, Glow Golf’s mini glow-in-the-dark course, or athletic training at Kinetic Sports Performance.

Chapel Hills shoppers can still hit the bigger stores like Dillard’s, Macy’s and H&M, but they can also get a tattoo, have their jewelry repaired or get a massage.

There’s also a garage door shop and a windshield repair place.

Jenn Foster, who lives nearby, commented she likes some of the Chapel Hills stores which are, “unique in their own way,” like Arabelle’s Toy Palace with its lifesize Han Solo in carbonite exhibited in the front window. Or, two doors down, It’s Your Move, for a selection of puzzles, magic items and toy options for her two young sons.

For a list of stores and other offerings at Chapel Hills Mall, visit chapelhillsmall.com/directory/.

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