Retail Spaces & Pickleball: A Perfect Match

Posted on July 24, 2023

Farmington Hills, MI – (July 24, 2023) It wasn’t all that long ago that if you needed to buy something, your first stop might be the local mall or a big box retailer to find what you needed. But between the general growth of online shopping and the economic effects of events like the 2008 recession and the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers have had to make some hard decisions about the ways they do business. Many stores that were once mall mainstays, such as The Gap, The Limited, and GameStop, have shifted to online-only sales, gone through bankruptcies, or closed many (if not all) of their brick-and-mortar store locations. Even major department stores that had been in business for over a century, such as JCPenney, Sears, and Macy’s, have been hit hard. 

Since stores like JCPenney and Sears were typically mall anchor stores, those closures in particular have left malls with a lot of vacant space. Closures of other big box stores like Best Buy and Bed, Bath, and Beyond are leaving many other large commercial properties ready for new life. So what can property owners do to reinvent these spaces? One trend that we’ve been seeing is converting them into pickleball courts.

Badminton and pickleball courts inside the Chesterfield Mall in Missouri.

Badminton and pickleball courts inside the Chesterfield Mall in Missouri. Image: Pranav Sriraman / Marquette Messenger. 

Why Pickleball?

Pickleball itself has been around since the 1960s, but over the past few years, it’s seen a major surge in popularity. According to CNBC, over 36.5 million people played pickleball between August 2021 and August 2022, reaching participation rates comparable to traditional sports like golf, basketball, and tennis. Professional pickleball teams are  getting attention from some major sponsors, too.

Not only is pickleball fun, it’s also a very accessible game. Its scoring system is easy to understand, it requires less running than many other sports, and it’s gentle on joints and muscles, making it very easy for people of all ages to join in.

Empty pickleball courts inside a converted Staples store location.

Pickleball court located in a former Staples location. Image: The Picklr.

Why Retail Spaces?

Converting former retail spaces into pickleball courts has a lot of benefits to offer for both property owners and pickleball enthusiasts. As popular as pickleball has become, fans have run into many challenges in finding places to play. Trying to build courts in public parks often results in bureaucratic roadblocks and spaces like fitness centers, country clubs, and retirement communities have limited space to work with and can have a hard time finding areas where pickleball courts can exist without interfering with other games.

While pickleball has some similarities to tennis, creating space for pickleball isn’t as simple as repurposing a tennis court. A standard pickleball court is much smaller than a tennis court, measuring 44 feet long by 20 feet wide. On the other hand, standard tennis courts are 78 feet long by either 27 or 36 feet wide, depending on if the court is designed for singles or doubles matches. Pickleball also uses a lower net than tennis. A pickleball net is only 34 inches high at the center and 36 inches high at the posts while a tennis net is 36 inches at the center and 42 inches at the posts.

The small size of pickleball courts means that several courts can easily fit into spaces that might be too large for many retailers.  For property owners, there’s the fact that not only has pickleball become immensely popular, it’s an activity that can’t be replaced by an online alternative. Since pickleball fans need to physically come out to a location to participate, pickleball courts can help increase foot traffic to other nearby businesses, even on days when people might otherwise want to stay home because of the weather.

In many places, it’s not possible to play sports outside all year long. But indoor pickleball courts can consistently draw a crowd throughout the year, which gives property owners a reliable boost in foot traffic while players can benefit at the same time. Indoor courts give pickleball fans a chance to get some exercise, have fun, and socialize, even when it’s snowing, raining, windy, or hot outside. Even if the weather is nice, many people simply find playing indoors more comfortable than playing on an outdoor court.

People playing pickleball on a court in a former Burlington store location.

Indoor pickleball court inside a former Burlington store. Image: Andrew Pessano / Marketwatch

Converting the Space

While former retail spaces are an excellent fit for pickleball courts, it does take some work to get them ready for game time. For example, lighting typically needs to be replaced since retail stores commonly have bright fluorescent lighting that would make it difficult for players to see the ball. A lot of spaces also have drop ceilings that need to be removed and sprinkler systems that need to be moved up to create a taller environment. In addition to laying down courts and painting the stripes, floors will likely need to be ground down and evened out first. Since many shuttered retail locations were occupied by businesses that had been there for a long time, there are often features that are out of date and need to be modernized. Despite these challenges, they can easily be overcome by partnering with an experienced renovation firm.

Are you interested in converting a retail space into something completely new, like indoor pickleball courts? Contact Premier Construction and Design. We have experience working on a wide range of commercial spaces in Metro Detroit and would love to learn more about your project!