Struggling Staten Island Outlet Mall Faces an Uncertain Future

Posters and decals cover sections of Staten Island’s Empire Outlets while many empty storefronts are covered up.

Article and photos by Shayna Hanig

Finding success through finding yourself are words Hala Maroc lives by. It is the slogan for her business, Badass Bootcamp. The wellness and lifestyle brand grew from an idea to a booth to a shop at Staten Island’s Empire Outlets. Yet now, Maroc’s business is one of only a handful of stores left in New York City’s first outlet mall.  

The Empire Outlets, in the St. George neighborhood, went into foreclosure in 2022 and the process continued into this year. On Sept. 21, Goldman Sachs bought the outlet mall from BFC Partners for $10 million.

The shopping complex cost $350 million to build and opened in May 2019, according to the state’s Empire State Development agency. It attracted minimal tourists and locals despite its location near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and its accessibility from the Staten Island railroad, and the Staten Island University Hospital Community Park.  

Maroc said she believes the developers mistakenly marketed the mall as a destination for tourists, who would be one-time visitors, instead of making it attractive to local residents who would keep coming back and support businesses like hers. 

“It’s like it’s almost been done on purpose to keep people away from here,” said Maroc. She is doubtful about the management’s ability to operate successfully. They don’t have “the right experience or connections to make it happen.” 

Hala Maroc hosts special events at her lifestyle and fitness store, Badass Bootcamp, in the Empire Outlets as a way to boost business.

The mall has space for about 70 stores, yet only 37 are open. Clinton Hall, the mall’s beer garden, never opened. In its place sits abandoned furniture and loose wiring. The food court’s doors are locked with signs on the doors that read “closed for renovations.” Entire areas of the mall sit vacant.  

 Despite the mall’s struggles, Maroc is confident about Badass Bootcamp’s connection to its shoppers. The store regularly hosts events such as storytelling and classes in yoga, meditation and candle making, she said.

It is unclear if Goldman Sachs will make changes to the current operations. The St. George Civic Association, which advocates for change in the St. George neighborhood, appointed Daniel Flamhaft as its liaison with the Empire Outlets in October 2023. The group has not heard from Goldman Sachs.  

“The reasoning was sound to build this here,” said Flamhaft. He says there were people who counted how many people were coming off the ferry. Many of those people do not shop, however. Flamhaft realized this when speaking to a friend who said he doesn’t “really walk through,” and when he is coming home on the ferry, he just walks “right out the ramp.”

The area surrounding the outlet mall has a reputation among locals of being unsafe, a perception that has been difficult to overcome. 

 “A lot of people don’t feel safe because they know bad stuff happens down there,” said Nancy Mejia. The 21-year-old Staten Islander prefers to shop at the Staten Island Mall, which is located inland about nine miles from the ferry terminal due to safety concerns. 

Sofronio Lorenzo worked at the Nike outlet and watched over the years as the plans for the mall deteriorated. He says that he has seen robberies, seen the food court charge in the double digits for a shot of tequila, and seen many stores come and go. 

“Once you’re off of that ferry, obviously there’s two ways to go. The normal way towards the bus, you see H&M, you see Nike, and that does bring people in. But then once you go further into the mall, it’s just like a whole bunch of run-down places,” said Lorenzo.

A large floral arrangement outside the Empire Outlets mall attracts people who take selfies with the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop.

The North Shore Action Plan by the New York City Economic Development Corporation hopes to change this initial sentiment. The plan aims to redevelop the entire waterfront, from St. George to Stapleton. The plan says that “the city is investing $50 million to create four acres of public open space” and that NYCEDC will “help Empire Outlets reach its full potential.” 

Outlets malls are usually a successful business. The Tanger Outlets have multiple profitable outlet malls across the East Coast of the United States. Simon Property Group has also found profit across the country. They both reported an increase in sales last year and have an occupancy rate above 95 percent.  

Flamhaft said the “next step” is to get a meeting with someone from Goldman Sachs and the businesses that operate at the Empire Outlets. Like many others, he just has one question: “What’s the vision going forward?”