It used to be that going shopping in New Jersey meant heading to the closest mall — but that trend appears to be changing.

A new report by the real estate research and analytics firm Reis finds neighborhood shopping centers are adding tenants, while regional malls are seeing a decline in those merchants.

The report does not break out results by state or region, but it shows vacancy rates in downtown areas and community centers declined during the second quarter, while vacancies at malls went up during the same period.

According to Barbara Stanton, the owner of Heritage Lighting in Lambertville, this is happening for a reason — and it's not surprising.

“The kind of customer we attract is not interested in looking at masses of goods. They want an edited collection,” she said. “I can’t imagine the type of shop I have being in any type of mall.”

She also said many customers want to be able to enjoy a shopping excursion, not go into a giant store that’s impersonal.

“They want to be able to have lunch. They want a pretty setting. They prefer to deal with an owner or a shop keeper rather than a faceless, corporate façade,” she said.

Jeff Beck, the owner of East Side Mags, a comic book store in Montclair, agrees.

“People enjoy coming to the downtown area for the different shops, restaurants and just to walk around,” he said. “We foster a community environment. You’re outdoors. You’re soaking up sun. You’re walking around. There’s a breeze. It’s just a nice environment.”

Stanton said downtown shops are attracting a cross-section of customers — millennials and boomers, first-time homeowners and those who have been in the same house for decades.

“Customers are increasingly shopping in local stores because they want something more experiential. They don’t want to go into a mall and just pace down the aisles and pick one — they want things that aren’t common,’ she said. “They want handmade goods, they want to know a back-story on something, and we definitely talk to people, give them ideas, and try to help them get what they’re going for.”

Beck said when he was younger, “malls were a big thing."

"That’s where the arcade was. That’s where everybody was hanging out. But now I go to a mall and it just feels very enclosed," Beck said. There’s no sunlight. All the lighting is artificial. There’s no windows and it just feels very closed in, like you’re trapped inside a building.”

He added “it feels more like work, shopping in a mall, than it does just kind of walking around and discovering new things.”

Stanton stressed “people value attention, and there are many sellers who don’t offer any of that in a mall. At a local establishment, that’s what we’re all about.”

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