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Local malls evolve, open 'the future of work spaces' coworking space

Many shopping malls were already hurting before the pandemic hit and now some are taking on new ways to stay relevant.

ORANGE PARK, Fla. — Coworking, masks and creative opportunities: If you're heading to the mall for Labor Day sales, there are some new things you'll want to look for.

Many shopping malls were already hurting before the coronavirus pandemic hit, and now some are taking on new ways to stay relevant. Malls across America are evolving and moving away from big department stores to fill their spaces with more offices or entertainment.

During the lock down, the parking lot at Orange Park Mall became an arena, hosting food drives, drive-in movies, drive-in church, fitness classes and even events to give legal advice.

"It was heartwarming, it was incredible and I hope that we continue to do that," said Orange Park Mall Marketing Director Chelsea Commodari.

The mall partnered with a local church to feed more than 5,000 families in need.

"Pre-COVID I think we had an idea of what life was like, and then COVID kind of gave us an opportunity to connect in different ways," Commodari said.

Labor Day sales are happening and when you go to the mall now you're encouraged to wear a mask. Some stores require them.

Orange Park Mall's general manager says they gained seven new retailers during the pandemic. One new spot is a coworking space, something many believe could be the future of work spaces post-pandemic.

Mall workers are also using the space to better understand how the mall should evolve.

"Just going out and sitting there and doing our day-to-day activities, customers will sit down and talk with you," said Randy Bowman, general manager. "You're able to ask them questions on what they like about the mall. How can we do things differently?"

The coworking space is called The Hub by The Nest Coworking. It's set up in the middle of a hallway and is where Antoinette Neal gets work done with her company We Insure.

"A lot of businesses are closing down right now so we're out here trying to do some marketing to keep our doors open," she said.

Marketing for her insurance company is harder nowadays since networking events are scarce. That's part of why she uses The Hub.

"I'm hoping that it will help," Neal said. "Getting the word out that small businesses are still out here trying to do business in the community."

Real estate company JLL reports coworking spaces were the fastest-growing type of office space. They predict coworking spaces will make up 30 percent of the market in ten years.

"Sometimes when I come to the space and I just have conversations with the members we end up creating marketing plans or different cool ideas for the business," said Patricia Orange, co-owner of The Nest Coworking. "The great thing about that space is it's what we want to make it to be."

The Nest Coworking is inside the Old Navy entrance at Orange Park Mall.

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