Pickleball is coming to your local mall, replacing shuttered Bed Bath & Beyond, Old Navy, and Saks Off 5th stores. It may seem like a strange strategy, but the match offers benefits to both mall owners and pickleball players. Malls need new tenants to fill vacant spaces and draw customers beyond their traditional department store anchors and clothing stores. Consumers are craving fun, social experiences after years of limited gatherings during the pandemic, and they have shifted their spending from goods to experiences like theaters, arcades and amusement parks. Malls are responding to these trends by turning to a wider range of tenants and activities to draw traffic, real estate investment firm JLL said in a report this week. The new mix at malls also includes skydiving, virtual golf and breweries. Meanwhile, pickleball is America’s fastest growing sport. Backers of the game and developers are desperate to find vacant spaces to build courts. Pickleball, which combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, began in 1965. But it has skyrocketed during the pandemic. The number of people playing pickleball grew by 159% over three years to 8.9 million in 2022, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, a trade group. Courts have been opening at recreation centers, hotels and retirement communities. However, pickleball’s rapid spread has created dilemmas for public parks and recreation departments, which must balance competing interests with often limited space and funds. Retirement communities and country clubs also face challenges building space for people who enjoy the game without antagonizing others. Some tennis players and neighbors are bothered by the pop-pop-pop noise of pickleball and have blocked the development of courts. So pickleball is heading to malls, where players can play and then grab a bite to eat or do some shopping, landlords hope. A group called Pickleball America is taking over an 80,000 square-foot anchor space in Stamford, Connecticut, in a former two-story Saks Off 5th retail store this summer. It’s set to become one of the largest indoor pickleball venues in the United States. The Meadows at Lake Saint Louis, an outdoor mall, plans to fill the space once occupied by Bed Bath & Beyond with a pickleball club. A pickleball facility recently opened in a former Burlington store space at Shore Mall in New Jersey, and a pickleball club took over an Old Navy space at a New Hampshire mall. And the first Camp Pickle, a new chain that pairs pickleball with food and drink options in a 1940s-era camp culture setting, is set to open next year in Huntsville, Alabama. It will also expand to Atlanta, Dallas and Minneapolis.