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Pickleball at the Mall: The Country’s Fastest Growing Sport Finds a New Frontier

Strategy & Technique Frank Cerabino 02-06-2023

With demand for pickleball courts at an all-time high and brick-and-mortar retail stores feeling the pinch of online shopping, it’s not surprising to see a new phenomenon:

Pickleball at the mall.

Whether it’s establishing courts in largely vacant mall concourses or filling the void left behind by empty stores, pickleball is making its move.

In Concord, New Hampshire, what used to be an Old Navy store in the Steeplegate Mall, became the six-court All-Stars Pickleball Club in December.

The 25,000-foot indoor pickleball facility is the vision of Peter Nickologianis, 42, an avid pickleball player who grew tired of playing outdoors during the frigid New England winters and took the matter into his own hands.

Pickleball at the Mall: The Country’s Fastest Growing Sport Finds a New Frontier | Pickler Pickleball

“I was shoveling off the courts to play,” he said. “I love pickleball. I love the sport. I love the drilling. I love the sense of community it will bring.”

Nicklogogianis said he was part of a small group of 4.5 to 5.0 players who were constantly on the hunt for places to play.

He got a good enough deal on a lease to set up in a struggling mall and give his passion a try. And he and his friends did the conversion on their own, even painting the courts on the cement floor themselves.

“It plays like an outdoor court, except there’s a ceiling height of 18 feet,” he said.

And you don’t have to wear three layers of clothing to keep warm.

Pickleball at the Mall: The Country’s Fastest Growing Sport Finds a New Frontier | Pickler Pickleball

Players started flocking in, many of them beginners looking to learn the game and eager to sign up for clinics.

Pickleballers playing at the facility register for clinics, ladders, tournaments or play times on the TeamReach mobile app. Nickologianis has added ping pong, cornhole and giant Jenga, to keep his 8-year-old son happy.

And he has four instructors who are helping him meet the demand.

He’s got his fingers crossed it will work out.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty because I don’t know what’s going to happen in the summer when the weather gets nice again,” Nickologianis said. “But I’m going to remain optimistic and hope that we can stay busy and I can pay for it.”

Nickologianis is hoping for a wet, windy summer. His transition from outdoor pickleball player to indoor pickleball facility operator has changed his whole outlook on the weather.

“I used to dread bad weather, but now I’m praying for it,” he said.

About 1,600 miles away in a mall in Wichita, Kansas, pickleball has also taken up residence.

Like in New Hampshire, it springs from the passion of one person.

In this case, Heather Harrison, 58, a retired physical education teacher who used to introduce pickleball to elementary school students, noted how the wide, empty concourses of the Towne West Mall in Wichita would be perfect for pickleball courts.

Pickleball at the Mall: The Country’s Fastest Growing Sport Finds a New Frontier | Pickler Pickleball

Harrison, who already leased a spot in the mall for her tutoring business, got permission to create a pickleball court in the concourse near the Dick’s Sporting Goods store.

“The weather outside was icky, so I asked for a spot so my girlfriends and I could play pickleball inside the mall,” she said.

They used a portable net, and an Onix indoor ball on the eight-inch square ceramic tile surface. She outlined the court with two-inch wide painter’s tape in order to avoid a gluey residue.

That has now grown into three indoor pickleball courts in the mall concourse and 2 ½ hour open play sessions (at $5 per person) that are available for others in the community.

Mall patrons frequently gather to watch the games being played, and new players keep joining, leading her to expand her pickleball operation to include clinics, leagues and private lessons there.

She’s even thinking of renting out another space in the mall to have pickleball parties and gatherings before, during and after playing sessions.

“Open play was so popular last Saturday, we had to switch to four-on, four-off games to 9,” she said.  

There are no nets or barriers to contain balls flying off the court, so players must corral their own balls rolling down the concourse. But it’s all part of the game there.

Pickleball at the Mall: The Country’s Fastest Growing Sport Finds a New Frontier | Pickler Pickleball

“The mall is letting me explore new things,” she said. “They’ve been nothing but cool about everything.”

The courts have moved into the natural habitat for older people who walk the mall concourse for their daily exercise.

“We are living symbiotically with the mall walkers,” Harrison said. “They know when there’s a point going on, so they wait before crossing.”

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