As retailers consolidate and shrink the number and sizes of their stores, retail center landlords, especially in weaker markets, are being forced to consider a wider range of prospective tenants that might not fit the conventional retail mold. Among them: houses of worship.


The growth of e-commerce has hit retailers hard. In Elmira, N.Y., the local mall is struggling to find new tenants and attract shoppers. But in weaker markets where vacancies are higher, it is more difficult for landlords to find complementary retailers, and churches are becoming palatable options.


According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of August 2017 data from the Directory of Major Malls that tracks about 8,200 retail centers in the country, at least 111 malls and open-air centers have a church in them. Some have two or more.


Churches usually weren't in the mix. Shopping center owners prefer tenants that draw foot traffic on a daily basis and often consider churches to be second-tier tenants because they aren't typically open all week. What's more, if rents aren't paid, landlords might find it harder to evict a church than another tenant.

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