Compared with other retailers, malls are late in offering longer shopping hours. Big-box stores, drugstores and supermarkets began changing the shopping landscape years ago, creating a 24-hour retail environment where consumers can run out for a carton of milk at midnight. Wal-Mart has several hundred stores that are open 24 hours. Giant Food and CVS also have stores that are open round-the-clock. Target stores in the area open as early as 8 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. And the Internet and catalogs allow shoppers to buy things at any hour from their homes..
"The competition for customers is fierce," said George Whalen, who runs Retail Management Consultants in California. "The sheer number of stores and retail centers out there continues to increase. Retailers are trying every way they can to draw in more customers."
Bisenius said General Growth wasn't responding to stores such as Wal-Mart and that the company didn't think it was losing customers with shorter hours. She and other industry leaders note that malls should not try to imitate big-box retailers since consumers expect a different shopping experience there. But Bisenius said General Growth was adapting to consumer demand.
"We were finding shopping patterns were changing and wanted to make sure we provided as many shopping opportunities to shoppers in the mall as we could," Bisenius said.
General Growth said it might take some time for customers to get used to the later hours. Already the malls have tinkered with the new times. The original plan was to open at 8 a.m. Saturdays, but few customers showed up, so the company moved it back an hour.
And not all stores will conform to the new hours right away. General Growth said it has to work out an agreement with some stores with older leases.
The management at Today's Pet at The Mall in Columbia said there's good and bad to the new hours. Employees have to come in three hours before opening to clean kennels, which means some now arrive before the sun rises. But it's also more convenient for customers.
"It's hard on the staff, but we do get business," said manager Brandon Clute.
Jen Tollick, a manager at Kokopelli boutique at The Mall in Columbia, said workers have seen an uptick during the evening hours. Many people stroll the mall while waiting for the start of a movie or for dinner reservations at nearby restaurants.
"We've definitely done better during the evening hours," Tollick said.
Some shoppers at the mall said the new hours are more convenient.
"It gives you a little leeway so you're not rushing," said Kevin Louis, 29, a Randallstown car wash manager who was buying pet supplies there. Louis said he likes shopping at night when the crowds are lighter.
Ouida Freeman, who is 43 and works in human resources, is also happy to have the extra time.
"As a working adult I like to come at night, and this is good for me because it gives me more time to shop," she said.
Some shoppers would like to see the mall stay open even longer.
"I wish that it would stay open 24/7," said Nicole Kelley, 18, who was rushing through The Mall in Columbia before it closed one evening last week. "I work late and would like more time to shop."