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Yoga, art class, then shopping

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Yoga classes. Art instruction. Speaker series.

No, it isn’t a resort vacation. It’s the new outlet mall.

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There’s shopping to be done at the new Assembly Row in Somerville, but visitors are also witnessing a shift in the retail experience that is as much about the warrior pose as it is the spending warrior.

“It completely turns the outlet on its head,” said Russ Joyner, vice president and general manager at Federal Realty, the mall developer.

Stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, Orvis, Brooks Brothers, and J.Crew Factory are already pulling in crowds, and more are slated to open in the coming weeks. But on a summer Saturday, Melissa Crawley was several hundred yards away from the shops, sitting under a tent taking a pastels lesson from Somerville artist Candy Witcher as part of the outlets’ weekly Art in the Park series.

“It was art, outdoors and free — three of my favorite things,” said the Norton mom.

With online shopping so easy and convenient, malls are having to do more to lure shoppers.

Amenities aren’t exclusive to outlet malls. The grass was worn out underneath the newly installed Ping-Pong table at The Street in Chestnut Hill, and Michael McNaughton, senior vice president at WS Development, which operates The Street as well as Legacy Place in Dedham and MarketStreet in Lynnfield, couldn’t be happier.

“We want our centers to be at the center of the community,” said McNaughton. “When people have time and money we want them to choose to spend it with us.”

He acknowledges the cost of such lifestyle extras is “considerable in both labor and capital,” but insists it’s worth it for WS and for his retailers.

Jason Israel, vice president of retail for Clarks, the Newton-based footwear company, agrees. Assembly Row is one of 30 outlets across the US with Clarks kids’ product, he said, and early sales are strong — in part, because of the varied offerings at the mall.

The Somerville model “is what retail has to be,” Israel said. “Having the mixed use and having an entertainment factor — it’s the wave of the future.”

Jill Radsken can be reached at
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