Farther west than Denver, Colorado, and closer to San Diego than Houston, El Paso is an attractive sun belt city and international gateway with a growing population. The city itself has about 600,000 residents; however, El Paso is only part of a larger bi-national metropolitan area with a population of 3 million, when you add in nearby Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and Las Cruces, New Mexico. Currently, El Paso is the 68th largest metropolitan area in the United States; however, if Juarez were included, it would leap up to 18th, between San Diego and St. Louis.
El Paso is also a destinational retail city, with a far-reaching pull from southern New Mexico, much of north-central Mexico, and all of west Texas. However, according to ICSC, El Paso’s retail-per-capita is low for a metropolitan area of its size. This may be, in part, due to the relatively low purchasing power of the region. The average median household income in El Paso is $10,000 below the national average, and the incomes in Juarez are most likely significantly lower than that.
There are other reasons, too, for a lack of a retail development boom in El Paso. Because well over half of the residents of the bi-national metropolitan area live in Juarez, simply crossing the border is an issue. Often, wait times at the border crossings are over an hour; and, due to hot issues like illegal immigration, terrorism and drug transport, everyone crossing into the United States is subject to intense scrutiny. As a result, what could be a 10 minute trip to one of El Paso’s malls becomes far less convenient. In addition, although the retail offerings in El Paso offer Mexican shoppers items and brands they can’t get at home, Juarez has similar chains and modern, spacious malls of similar size. Also, Las Cruces, New Mexico has its own mall too, which probably prevents shoppers there from making the 50-mile trek into El Paso often. Nonetheless, judging by the license plates on the cars at El Paso’s retail establishments, many do make the trek from Mexico and New Mexico.
El Paso currently has 3 major malls, with a fourth – a lifestyle center – possibly on the way. The two major super-regional malls are Cielo Vista Mall, on the east side, and Sunland Park Mall, on the west side. The third mall in town is the much smaller Bassett Place, which is very close to Cielo Vista and essentially serves as its ancillary.
Between the two major players in town, Sunland Park Mall is both newer and slightly smaller than Cielo Vista. Built in 1988, Sunland Park Mall was named after the nearby Sunland Park Racetrack in nearby Sunland Park, New Mexico, a couple miles away.
Sunland Park Mall is a large, two-level, ‘L’-shaped mall, with five anchors and almost 1 million square feet of retail space. The mall itself is anchor to a larger retail district serving El Paso’s west side, located mostly along TX 20 stretching from downtown to the northwest. Sunland Park is fairly well-tenanted with popular national chains, despite its lone, inaccurate Yelp review indicating otherwise. However, Cielo Vista across town probably has a slightly better mix of stores.
I’m going to need a little help filling in some of the holes in the history of the anchor stores here. I know that one of the anchors was El Paso-based The Popular (Dry Goods Company). It closed in November 1995 and was immediately replaced by Sears. I also know that Macy’s was Foley’s from 2004-2006, but what was it before that? And Mervyn’s, which closed in 2008, was replaced by a full-size Forever 21 in 2009. Also, Dillard’s has two full-size locations here, so one of those was probably something else at some point too. Let us know!
I visited Sunland Park Mall in November 2009 and took the pictures featured here. Leave us a message or two and tell us about your own experiences with – or impressions of – the mall.