Now playing at the mall parking lot: movies, drag shows

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Polk Imaging 2020

This photo provided by Polk Imaging shows Drive 'N Drag at Westfield Garden State Plaza, in Paramus, N.J. After being closed for months due to the pandemic, malls are bringing all types of drive-in entertainment to their massive parking lots, hoping to lure people back to their properties. (Dave Kotinsky/Polk Imaging for Westfield via AP)

NEW YORK – Angel Dougherty went to the mall last month — not to shop, but to watch a drive-in drag show in the parking lot.

“This year has been so anxiety filled and chaotic, I figured this experience would be something to lighten the mood,” says Dougherty, who paid to see the stars of TV's “RuPaul’s Drag Race” dance in front of hundreds of parked cars at a shopping center in Paramus, New Jersey.

After being closed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic, malls are bringing all types of drive-in entertainment to their massive parking lots, hoping to lure people back to their properties.

A mall in upstate New York, for example, is hosting a drive-in wrestling match. Others around the country are bringing movies or magic shows that can be watched from a car.

It's a way to reintroduce people to the mall and eventually get them inside to shop, says retail consultant Kate Newlin. But that’s still a hard sell for anxious shoppers, especially with coronavirus cases spiking around the country.

“Nobody wants to go there,” Newlin says about malls. “Nobody wanted to go there before COVID.”

Malls have struggled to attract shoppers for years as more people shop online. But the pandemic has hit malls especially hard. Stores that they depend on, such as J.C. Penney, have filed for bankruptcy and are permanently closing several locations. Other mall tenants, such as the Gap, stopped paying rent while their stores were temporarily closed.

Retail consultant Jan Rogers Kniffen believes that up to half of the 1,000 malls in the U.S. will either close or be unrecognizable in the next two years. Before the pandemic, he expected only 300 to close over the next decade.