H&M UMall store opens to eager crowds

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The new H&M store is officially open in South Burlington's University Mall. It's the latest in a series of recent changes at the UMall to boost foot traffic. But will H&M and Target help this mall avoid the trend of malls closing their doors across the country?

"We are staying alive and vibrant," said LuAnn Clark with the University Mall.

Mall officials say they're doing well compared to others across the U.S. It's a hopeful thought as experts predict 20 to 25 percent of malls around the country will close within the next five years.

"The mall's been dead for a really long time," said Dina Alsaffar, who waited in line Thursday morning to be one of the first customers inside H&M. "There haven't been many places to go shopping for clothes, and usually we just go online shopping."

That's another trend experts predict will rise. A 2017 report estimates that as malls close, online sales will grow from 17 percent of retail sales to 35 percent by 2030.

"I like to feel the things and try things on," said Kathy Coolidge. She says she's never been to H&M, but waited in line to see what all the buzz was about. "But I did wear comfortable shoes, so that helps."

Management at the University Mall hope this H&M, and Target's impending opening next week, will bring new energy and customers to the mall. They also say another key project is on the horizon.

"We are starting to address our food court issue now that H&M has taken quite a bit of the food court -- we are addressing that. We have things in the works as to what we are going to do to get new and exciting eating places here," Clark said.

Something else the mall may need to address is that Sears, another anchor store, is possibly filing for bankruptcy as soon as this week.

"I'm kinda sad. I mean, I've known Sears my whole life and it's always been anchor in this mall, so I'm going to be very disappointed if it goes out of business," said Robert Rock, a mall shopper.