Tuesday

January 16th, 2018

Insight

Shopping Malls Going Bye-Bye

Greg Crosby

By Greg Crosby

Published Dec. 15, 2017

Shopping Malls Going Bye-Bye

A news report this week has stated that America's shopping malls are, for the most part, on life-support and the long-term prognosis isn't good. That's because as the big department stores close down it starts a chain-reaction for other smaller stores to break their leases or negotiate much cheaper rent. One big store closes and it can have a domino effect on the remaining stores, who will suffer because of the lack of foot traffic.

Sears, which had operated nearly 3,800 stores as recently as a decade ago is now down to 1,104 stores. Macy's closed 68 stores this year, and JCPenney was set to shutter 128. Experts predict that around 300 malls out of 1,100 that currently exist will soon close.

Some believe the reason for all the closures is that malls were "over-built" in many parts of the country. Maybe, but there's no denying that on-line shopping sites such as Amazon have been killing retail brick and mortar stores, big time. The world has gone back to mail order shoping.

In the mid-1990s, malls were still being constructed at a rate of 140 a year. But in 2001, a PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that underperforming and vacant malls, known as "greyfield" and "dead mall" estates, were an emerging problem. In 2007, no new malls were built in America, for the first time in 50 years. The shopping mall, as we know it will be joining the blacksmith shop and millenary store in the dust heap of retail store history.

Everything has an expiration date, nothing lasts forever, no matter what it is, and if you've been out and about this holiday season you've seen for yourself that America's shopping malls are dying. The big department stores, what were called anchor stores, have been closing in malls across the country and the smaller stores just can't pay the freight all alone.

I'm saddened to see department stores go; they have been a mainstay for American shoppers in downtown cities for well over a hundred years. I have wonderful memories of going to the great old department stores when I was a kid. The toy departments were magical. Those grand four, five and six-floored stores are all mostly gone now, and it's too bad.


But as far as shopping malls go, well, I have mixed feelings about them. I hate that the suburban malls killed off our main street shopping areas, turning downtowns into deserted ghost towns. Go to any downtown today and it is a depressing experience. What once were quaint independent shops and amazing department stores are either torn down entirely or have been turned into Goodwill stores, thrift shops, and tattoo parlors.

Even when so-called "gentrification" occurs in some downtown areas, the only stores that populate them are primarily fast food and chain restaurants, hipster coffee houses, and novelty tourist shops. The "real" stores (independent book shops, corner drug stores, shoe and clothing stores, jewelry, gifts, bakeries, toy stores and the like) never come back.

At first shopping malls were kind of exciting, with different stores in different cities, but before long the chain stores took over and soon every shopping mall had the same shops. It became a bore. Part of the fun of traveling to a new city was finding stores (and merchandise selection) that were different from the ones you had at home. Chain stores destroyed that.

In one sense I'm not too broken up over the decline and slow death of the malls, they had it coming. On the other hand, the shopping malls were all we had left of the good old-fashioned retail shopping experience. Whatever else you want to say about them, the mall at least gave you a place to walk around, browse a bit and shop. Getting stuff on-line may be quick and easy, but it isn't engaging.

But the big question is, what do you do with a mall without stores? Mall owners are making drastic moves in an attempt to convert struggling malls.

This includes converting malls into apartments, offices and industrial space. Other owners have taken the approach to turning large chunks of malls into parks and playgrounds. In Texas, one mall was even converted into a community college.

This year, Credit Suisse, a company that forecasts trends in e-commerce, estimated that up to 25% of all shopping malls in the United States would close within the next five years. So unless you're ready to go total mail order, you'd better hurry if you want to get any shopping done in a real store.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. He's been a JWR contributor since 1999.

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