Bay Area Malls Are Using a Strange Perk to Lure Young Families

Bay Area malls have a new way to lure young families. Many parts of the Bay Area aren’t exactly family-friendly. 

When I visit restaurants or wineries with my three kids, we often encounter fellow diners who are either unexcited about dining beside a family, or outright hostile about it. The cost of living in the Bay Area can make things tricky for young families, too.

In the face of all this, Bay Area malls have created something new to lure in young families. They’re turning themselves into oases for families with kids who often find the Bay Area a challenging place to go out with kids.

How are they doing it?

The Luxury Baby Changing Suite

Changing suite at Santana Row
Changing suite at Santana Row

Many Bay Area malls are adding something unique: luxury baby changing suites.

That might sound strange, but it’s a definite trend and one that seems to matter a lot to young families.

At the upscale Santana Row mall in San Jose, California, a new Family Foyer area looks a bit like a small luxury apartment. There’s a giant TV playing the Disney channel, comfy seats for kids, and tasteful wallpaper.

There are also four (yes, four!) luxurious private baby changing rooms complete with lighted mirrors, sinks, diaper pails, and more.

Changing suite at Santana Row
Changing suite at Santana Row

Several of the suites also include comfy seating for nursing or pumping, providing a quite and private space for the newest parents.

The Family Foyer is massive–it feels about as big as my first apartment! Santana Row keeps it well air conditioned, making it an even more appealing space to hang out on hot South Bay days.

The facilities are so nice that I saw several people without kids sheepishly sneaking in to use the restrooms in the Family Foyer. It’s a rare instance where the facilities for families are actually better than those for everyone else!

Television at Family Foyer
Television at Family Foyer

Lego Walls and Shopping Malls

City Center Bishop Ranch, an upscale mall in San Ramon, California, also has a luxury family suite. They unpoetically call it the “Family Restroom,” but it’s a lot more than that.

Kids' play area at City Center Bishop Ranch
Kids’ play area at City Center Bishop Ranch

The suite includes two nursing rooms with sliding (and locking doors), a big play space complete with a Lego wall, a chalkboard, a display of tasteful books, and bean bag chairs.

Of course, there are also two fancy chancing stations with tons of light, sinks for hand washing, and more.

Maybe they chose the boring name to deter non-families from sneaking in. But for those with kids, it’s a wonderful place to drop by before heading to one of City Center’s restaurants.

Get Them in the Door

Why the emphasis on luxury changing stations, nursing pods, and more? Bay Area malls appear to be trying their hardest to lure in young families.

Again, taking kids to many places in the Bay Area can be a nightmare. Some whole regions (Napa Valley, looking at you) are basically kid-hostile.

Providing luxury perks for families is a way to get them out of their houses and into a shopping mall. In a world where it’s often easier to order things online, providing a touch of luxury and ease to brick-and-mortar stores is an easy way to attract more shoppers.

Moreover, I can tell you that young families buy a lot of stuff! We’re good customers. Malls should work hard to lure us in.

If you don’t have kids, you’re probably rolling your eyes at the idea of a luxury changing station. If you do have them, you’re probably asking yourself “When’s the next time we can go to Santana Row?”

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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