Malls are dying

There's something nice about going into a well-maintained, well-thought-through shop -- indeed, there's a whole genre of fiction about this. But the dark side of retail is the sprawling American megamall, the original killer of the downtown and the mom-and-pop shop, which turned the public square into a private space and brought crushing sameness to the land.

So while we lament the Internet's deleterious effect on the friendly used bookstore, let's not forget to celebrate the its even harsher effect on malls:

A report from Co-Star observes that there are more than 200 malls with over 250,000 square feet that have vacancy rates of 35 percent or higher, a "clear marker for shopping center distress." These malls are becoming ghost towns. They are not viable now and will only get less so as online continues to steal retail sales from brick-and-mortar stores. Continued bankruptcies among historic mall anchors will increase the pressure on these marginal malls, as will store closures from retailers working to optimize their business. Hundreds of malls will soon need to be repurposed or demolished. Strong malls will stay strong for a while, as retailers are willing to pay for traffic and customers from failed malls seek offline alternatives, but even they stand in the path of the shift of retail spending from offline to online.

This in turn creates further opportunity for online commerce. If I were thinking of starting a new retail brand right now, I would unquestionably start it online.

[The Atlantic Cities/Jeff Jordan]

The Death of the American Shopping Mall

(via MeFi)

See also:

(Image: Pheonix Village Mall, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from cwsteeds's photostream)


      1. You really think the mall walkers are going to pay the heat and light bill?  The energy needed to heat and cool a mall is huge.

        1. Sorry. My first though was “Won’t somebody please think about the mall walkers?”

          Relax… My thought was only about the walkers.

          1. I’m imagining herds of mall walkers, standing firm against the wrecking ball – afraid to venture, afraid to walk…on real sidewalks, past real trees, under real clouds.

    1. Perfect for makers; robust power supply, loading docks, plenty of parking / space for testing out flying makes…
      Educational Foundation involvement, Federal tax incentives for the property owners, repurpose remaining stores; win/win/win!
      Open to local school districts, open for the public, always in the best location; So, how to push this to realization???

  1. The depressing image of that abandoned mall (complete with a cracked parking lot) is straight out of a Stephen King novel. 

    I’m thinking “Langoliers”.

    1. Malls have always been THE symbol of narcissistic American over-abundance and self-reflective importance – there no sadness at their demise in these parts.

    1. I despise malls, myself.  I never thought I’d miss them, but given what they’re being replaced by, and the loss of city/county/state sales taxes and jobs, they’ve suddenly become the lesser of two evils.

      1. Even if you hate them – especially if you hate them! – dying malls are great places to visit.

        In the better ones you can peer into the empty storefronts and savor the dishevelment. In the best the Muzak’s still playing.

  2. I wonder if anyone has done a study comparing the fate shopping malls here in the states to the fate of shopping malls in other places, such as the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Emirates especially) or Japan, or China? 

    Also, I read an article not too long ago (last fall?) on the shopping malls and how that impacted the American pension? I can’t find the pdf any longer, but it was by Elizabeth Blackmar, and was called “Of REITS and Rights: Looking at Contemporary Real Estate

    1. Not a formal study, but anecdotal from my experience in global retail and online commerce:
      – the Middle East will (for the next generation at least) will still have malls: online commerce for intl brands is underdeveloped in these markets, and MEners like to go to the mall, if only for the big floral displays and copious amounts of air conditioning.
      – Japan malls are dying in the suburbs but thriving around the train stations.  It’s a contest to see who can get closest to the tracks.  JR (the rail company) actually has a mall _inside_ the wickets now at Shinagawa station in Tokyo.
      – Seoul has a few megamalls, which are unusually dark and cavernous.  Just like the US, it’s a fight between online purchases and the need to “trust” things with your own eyes.  If there are going to be revolutionary cross-channel advances, expect them from Korea.
      – China has an online purchase trust problem: a lot of fake goods and not a lot of easy credit card processing.  It’s also dominated by Taobao, which makes Amazon weep in jealousy as to the lock they have on the market.  Chinese shoppers also like going to the mall, if anything as a leisure activity (think the US a generation ago).

      1. There are famous stories of the South China Mall that is almost empty years after being built, but where I am they keep building bigger and more upmarket malls. You don’t really see a lot of people there, but there seem to be plenty of expensive shops open for those who do come.

      2.  In Canada most of the malls are doing well because of the weather and because Canadians tend to use the Web for finding info on products, then go and get them in physical shops.

  3. If you look at the graphs, it’s clear that this isn’t about the internet, it’s about the subprime crisis and the ongoing economic turmoil since 2008. 

    The crisis for malls is that plenty of them were built in the very suburban areas that were built up then collapsed when the subprime bubble burst. 

    The most annoying thing about internet retailers like Amazon vs. bricks and mortar is that bricks and mortar actually pay their taxes – local, state and federal. 

    Amazon is a giant that barely makes any profit and might not actually be viable (or profitable) if it wasn’t a tax avoider. 

    1. I think it agree it’s not about the internet replacing physical retail spaces, but I disagree about the subprime being the primary cause.  I think this was happening long before the subprime crisis and before the net became ubiquitous in our lives, though neither helped and likely exacerbated the problem. He only has data from the year 2000 or so. You do get a sharp spike post 2008, but I think the subprime crisis just was a case of driving the spike into that old mall vampire maybe? You can see a modest rise in vacancies in the post-911 period, too, for whatever that is worth.

      Now you are getting places like the “Avenues” and as m_a_s pointed out below these “lifestyle centers” are the malls replacement.  I seems like these are more likely to be found inside cities instead of out in the burbs (the example here is Atlantic Station, which was built on the cite of an old Steel Mill and is now a privately owned shopping center north of Downtown, in midtown). In a more recent local example, there was a huge building owned by the city, smack in mid-town, which used to be city hall east. They sold it to a private company a couple of years ago, they are going to make it one of those “lifestyle centers” (LIVE WORK PLAY). Interestingly, this is on a particularly notorious strip of the city, which includes the Clairmont hotel and lounge (see GG Allin) and the “murder” Kroger.

      I think that this is more about a shift back to city centers I think – a long term trend, with middle class  young people wanting to live in a more “authentic” place (probably after reading about or watching documentaries about the rise of punk and hip-hop!). More importantly, I think this remains true when they marry and start families, I think. They no longer move to the burbs to raise their families, but instead remain in cities. Builders (amongst others) are responding to this shift by building the aforementioned lifestyle centers. I think there is pushback to keep out larger retailers, and to support local businesses in downtown areas as well.

      1.  As a middle-class young-ish person who wants to move to a downtown area — it has nothing to do with some idea of “authenticity” gleaned from documentaries about the rise of hip-hop (?). It has everything to do with walkability.

        I realized that in the suburbs, if you don’t have a functioning car or can’t drive, you’re effectively under house arrest. I think a whole lot of people my age who grew up in the suburbs — and therefore experienced living in the suburbs without being able to drive or have a car of our own, as teenagers — have the same sense that walkable city living means more independence.

        Furthermore, watching my grandparents and parents deal with health problems that have temporarily or permanently prevented them from driving — they become instantly, completely dependent on other people when they can’t drive. They hate it. I know I’d hate it, in their situation. As I get older, I want to be able to get around, even if I can’t drive a car.

        Actually, this means I hate the “lifestyle centers” — which (at least around here, in the Southeastern US) are essentially fake city blocks, plopped out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by oceans of parking and eight-lane highways that isolate them from anything else. It’s like a cargo cult version of a downtown. The still-successful malls around here are all built like that, and they just feel weird and creepy to me. Very uncanny-valley.

    2. The most annoying thing about internet retailers like Amazon vs. bricks and mortar is that bricks and mortar actually pay their taxes – local, state and federal.

      Amazon pays their taxes – 

      local – yes
      state – yes
      Federal – yes
      sales tax – if required to collect

      Amazon Purchasers pay their taxes –

      local – most likely
      state – most likely
      Federal – most likely
      sales tax for out of state purchases – in some cases yes, but most cases no

      That is a bit different than your bitch at Internet retailers. And to say Amazon makes a profit because it is “a tax avoider” is out and out bull shit. No company makes profit on sales tax. You collect it and send it to the applicable government entity.

      You just don’t like Amazon. Hint: shop elsewhere.

      1. True, but if I shop a local store, they pay taxes to my community.  If I shop Amazon, they pay taxes in California or wherever.  That’s not gonna help the kids in my town one bit.

          1. The Who would puke on your shoes if they were to learn that you find their music supports abusive corporate practices.

            You want to find a way to incorporate a Victoria Jackson song in a paragraph that apologizes for that sort of thing.

          2. I have never heard of her, but I stopped watching SNL long before she was on. The Who have always seemed OK in my book and their concert tickets in the 70s cost about what everyone else’s did. I used the pix of their song over the pix of the movie of the same name.  I think The Who would forgive me, but I can ask.

          3. This ain’t the 70’s, and their appearance at the Olympics notwithstanding I seriously doubt they would state that they are okay with abusive corporate practices. I give it as much of a chance as I would their taking your call.

          4. Nah, They’d only want to get paid. Townsend has said it is his retirement and he’ll be damned if he is going to let some boomers prevent him from cashing in “just because.” 
            (I paraphrase)

        1. And I pay about $115,000 a year in residential real estate taxes, 52% ($59,800) of which goes to schools. I don’t have, and never have had children, but that has to “help the kids” wouldn’t you say.

          1. @facebook-100001064276315:disqus I live in a nice area where many of my neighbors pay more than I do. My point was about wanting someone else to pay taxes to make the kids alright.

          2. It allows the system that allows for the real estate that allows for the taxes.

             No one gives a damn if you don’t have kids, you -decidedly- benefit from property taxes.

          3. If you pay $115,000 a year in RE taxes, at the DC city levy of $0.85/$100 of value… that’s… hmmm…

            That’s…like, $13.5M assessed value, or about an $18-20,000,000 market value.  Basically the very top of the DC real estate market.  

            So…either you’re fabulously wealthy, or you own and pay taxes on an entire condo/co-op building, or there’s something I don’t know about DC real estate taxation…or, you’re bullshitting.Also: Jesus, DC’s property tax levy is low.  Mine is $2.15/$100.  

      2. What it means is, because in many states, Amazon doesn’t have to bill the sales taxes, they have a price advantage over in-state retailers, unless the buyer voluntarily reports the purchase on their state’s income tax return, and pays the use tax.

        1. That is exactly what it means. They also have economies of scale, lower overhead, etc. Local stores need to find a model that keeps the doors open. But blaming on-line retailers is pissing in the wind.

          1. Using ‘contractors’ really shouldn’t be called abusive labor practices. I think of child labor, prisoner (like China) more to that. It isn’t “too bad I can’t find anything better because this is what all employers are doing (worst case)”.

      3. Er, what?  The only “local taxes” relevant to this situation are sales taxes, which are not being paid.  Amazon pays state sales taxes only when forced to (and that appears to be less than a dozen states at this point), so state taxes aren’t being paid for the most part, either.  The tax revenue that benefits cities/counties is lost completely.

          1. The OP was talking about sales taxes.  Your bit about Amazon and its customers paying their local taxes doesn’t make any sense.  (The property taxes are irrelevant to this discussion.)

          2. I have no idea what the OP was talking about, and I dare say neither did he. He listed a bunch of taxes, hinted at sales tax, but he doesn’t understand how sales taxes work. He says Amazon “avoids” them which is ridiculous. He listed each of the three taxes I used in my comment, “The most annoying thing about internet retailers like Amazon vs. bricks and mortar is that bricks and mortar actually pay their taxes – local, state and federal.” I responded to each of the three taxes, showing he doesn’t understand what they are.

      4. There are many ways to avoid taxes/social contractual obligations that a large business would have in the past paid to the government, whether it was   a tax owed specifically by the company itself is not a very important question when social & economic systems flounder as a result. 

        For instance, Amazon has about 30 warehouses in the US, some have more, some have less, but let’s call the number of workers at about 2000 per facility.

        That’s 60,000 US jobs, not including call centers and other supporting infrastructure.

        How many of these workers do you think are employees? Of Amazon? Almost none. They are not employees and they are not employed by Amazon.

        They are most often “contracted” by employment firms and farmed out to Amazon and others at around $12 an hour, no benefits whatsoever. The working poor.

        By calling them (fake) contractors the “employment” firms reduce sizable HR overhead by acting as little more than a middle-man, taking a cut from both sides. This tremendous benefit, among others comes with a small cost. Whenever a “contracted” employee seeks any benefit like EI or disability based on their “employment” at “Amazon” the firm must fight the claim and cause the person to be denied any unemployment or disability claim.

        How does the government lose/Amazon’s employment firm win? No source deductions firstly, even though most of these workers are kept “part-time” and “temporary” throughout their time at “Amazon” and would eventually owe no tax, part of government revenue i collecting and having that money before it is refunded. Let alone the amount that would be deducted and kept by the govt if these firms Amazon employs had or provided full-time employees. 

        That’s millions and millions, by way of a system that keeps the working poor the working poor, helps make criminals of them when they fail to file returns and denies them any of the benefits of the government infrastructure that Amazon & company benefit from, but do not pay into.

        That is money that is not going to the government or the worker, so where does it go? Duh. The bottom line, abuses that are represented on paper as profits.

        Anyone who says Amazon is not a tax avoider is casting bollocks. Anyone who says that Amazon does not profit by being a tax avoider is also extreme mistaken.

        That’s one example, but that company and others like it have many systems that allow them to call misappropriation and abuse the profits they claim wrongly to create jobs with.

        -cue the corporate apologists that blame the workers for not living up to their obligations as fake contractors, and the shareholders for demanding profit.

        1. The blame also falls on the local governments who offer tax advantages to firms to develop in their area. I don’t blame Amazon for hiring “contractors” any more than I do Microsoft. The best wages go to those prepared to earn them. I won’t sit here and say any of these firms are blameless, but I also won’t relieve local companies for their failure to read the writing on the wall. 

          1. Short term local government tax incentives don’t hold a candle to tens of thousands of source deductions being avoided federally ad infinitum.

            I’m glad that you don’t blame an abusive practice on the practitioner as long as you can look around and see other people being abusive. That’s takes real character.

            “The best wages go to those prepared to earn them” is the opposite of a justification for low wage earner abuse.

            You can’t sit here and say these firms are blameless, the writing is on the wall, what you are doing is stating that it is a-okay with you.

            Local companies can probably adapt to compete even given their competitors advantages of economies of scale and make use of the advantage of touch/feel the product to combat online sales competition, it has been demonstrated. But unfair employment tactics do not scale down when the employees are local and the customer or related to the customer.

  4. Malls aren’t dying.  They are being replaced with “lifestyle centers”.  Big, sprawling, outdoor malls.
    Where I live these are rapidly replacing the old-fashioned, non-“Main Street” looking affairs.

    1. I observe this happening in the malls around my city too.

      The malls in the developing urban sprawl neighborhoods do the best.  In established neighborhoods, the newly built malls and the existing malls both sit empty.

      There were a few older cities that were able to keep locally owned “main streets” going through the mega-store years, and now they are seeing great growth with the customers that prefer local over the national chain shopping/dining. 

    2. Since I live in a semi-rural area, I’ve avoided seeing such things.  The closest I’ve seen was in Branson, where they’ve got this annoying area called Branson Landing.  I mean, it’s nice, but it’s clear they tried to make it look like a resort town all by itself.  It’s all hotel space, condos, and generic shops, all planned out, a place I’m sure they intended that some people would just stay for their vacation.  Ugh.  Yeah, if you want to spend your week at a mall, sure, but if you’re going to Branson, you need to try to catch the remaining parts of old Branson, the mom-and-pop shops full of touristy junk, and the campy family-run shows.  Skip out on the outdoor shopping mall and the Nashville cats’ big theaters, and check out the town.

    3. These have been popping up all over Dallas the past several years.  Some of them are fairly nice.  I’m just surprised to see the ones devoted heavily to shopping doing so well considering the heat here. 

      There are a still of the traditional indoor malls doing well in Dallas, all tend to be aimed toward higher end customers, a few of them even have valet parking and stores like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom’s as anchors. 

        1. Rest assured, there are a few dead malls scattered around the Dallas area.  As well as a number of strip malls that are wasting away.  

  5. The transition will be (is) ugly, but I’m actually leaning in favor of shouting “hooray!” at the death of the (strip) mall.  The world doesn’t need a Staples every 10 square miles.  It is an inefficient use of resources and creator of only marginal value low end service jobs.  While the total number of jobs will surely decrease initially as efficiencies are realized through moving more and more commerce on-line the decrease in retail lease rates will only serve to allow more mom-and-pop stores to come back.

    The “tax problem” is one which can be (and likely will be soon) addressed.

  6. Malls are doing just fine (outside city cores) in Canada. In other words, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

    1. Just a matter of time.  I live in Toronto and we’re seeing more and more of these “lifestyle centers” style plazas popping up around the area (SmartCentres is the big one).  Some malls are pretty nice, and Bayview Mall and Yorkdale Mall (I live near both) have both renevated recently and seem to be doing fine, but malls will be killed by two things: sprawling suburbanite big box plazas and online retail.

      1. SmartCentres aren’t really lifestyle centre malls, but a conglomeration of discount outlets and mid-range stores strategically located just outside of urban centres where tax rates are lower. a better example of a lifestyle centre near Toronto would be Vaughan Mills which offers – among other things – bus tours and hotel stay packages. either way, the mall isn’t dead yet in Canada. as long as there is winter, there will be malls here. so I give them 50 years. 

  7. um, what’s really killing (indoor) malls is big-box stores and big-box strip malls. Here is one classification of stores. Yes online shopping may play a role but it is not the major cause.

    1. small stores –  located on a street with with on-street parking or with each their own parking lot.

    2.  strip malls – small stores located in a row with a shared parking lot. May include some biggish anchor stores. One can often park and then walk between stores.

    3. indoor malls – mostly small stores with a few large anchor stores  enclosed in a big building with shared parking, promoting indoor walking between stores and such features as food courts and kiosks for really small businesses.

    4. Big Box stores – enormous stores with enormous product range and low prices with a large parking lot.. Once a Home Depot appears in a community it generally drives out of business all local smaller more specialized stores.

    5. Big Box strip malls. A strip mall containing lots of big box stores that may also contain segments of small stores. Distances between stores are large – visiting several stores usually involves driving between them in the shared parking lot.

    Constructing a big box strip mall is an order of magnitude cheaper than building the same retail space as an indoor mall. To make a big box indoor mall and still have it walkable all the big stores would have to have many stories.

    The only place the indoor mall is still thriving is in the captive market of airport terminals. There are only small establishments with traveler oriented services and no need for anchor or big box stores.

    1. This is exactly what happened to a mall fairly close to where I live. It went from being a strip mall with a food court (including a merry-go-round, a bow to the fact that it was built on the site of a former amusement park) to being what you call a “big box strip mall”.

      It remains to be seen whether the “big box” concept will succeed, but suffice to say that Target (a national retail chain) just moved out of a smaller store that had an indoor mall entrance, and replaced it with a freestanding “big box” store. The old “indoor mall” looks like it is in the process of being completely torn down.

      Two advantages that physical stores have over online stores are that 1) you can touch, see, and look at what you want to buy before you buy it (buying clothes and shoes over the Internet can be a problem, because you don’t always know that they fit); and 2) you can take home what you’re buying today, instead of waiting for it to be shipped.

    2. um, what’s really killing (indoor) malls is big-box stores and big-box strip malls.

      We had an indoor mall which died last year after about eight years of slowly failing. The Office Max that was in the mall, as well as the Staples in the business district, have both closed in favor of opening in the fringe-of-town parking lot that’s anchored by Lowe’s and Home Depot. It’s particularly odd here, where it gets into the 120°s, since the indoor mall had AC and the parking lot doesn’t.

      1. On the opposite climate situation, going home to Wisconsin for the holidays, I discovered big box strip malls to have taken over there as well. Which makes no sense for about a third of the year. Or maybe half, as summers in Wisconsin can be pretty awful too.

  8. The last time I set foot in a megamall was when I was buying some shoes for my nursing home-bound mom, and she insisted on my using her mall-based department-store credit card to do it..

    I truly cannot remember the last time I bought anything for myself at a mall – Unless you include the ethnic restaurants that set themselves up in stripmalls. Which, I guess, is as much an example of how far afield my tastes have grown from anything that the mall experience can provide. I buy my music and movies at a local indie store or online (and directly from the artists themselves, whenever possible), I buy my food at co-ops and street markets, I go to a locally-owned bike shop when I need a tune-up or a new flasher assembly.  I will run into a Kohl’s or a Target to grab a bottle of dish soap or a bag of underwear, but probably 90% of what I purchase, I get at mom & pop-style businesses or online.And I’m 55 years old, and have been doing it this way for thirty years. Despite what big business wants, there IS another way.

    1.  I’m not sure it entirely fits in the genre Cory was talking about, but some of JG Ballard’s work deals with different aspects of the modern consumer society… I think that Kingdom Come is an interesting book, set in part in a shopping center:

      I don’t think that’s what you mean though….  I guess Ballard was his own genre.

    2. The 2004 J-horror film Cursed (「超」怖い話A 闇の鴉) is set primarily in a convenience store in a small, seedy strip mall in suburban Tokyo.

      It’s a fairly derivative film (lots of Mario Bava references), but that quality appeals to certain kind of horror film consumer (e.g., me). While it’s not necessarily a good film, for me it captures some of the existential dread of strip-mall/discount-shopping culture.

      1. It’s doing fairly well, shop turnover isn’t too bad, but its anchors are suffering I’m told. 

        But that is in the heart of the city, next to city hall/myriad other cool stuff and is connected to PATH and subway and the only comparative competition, the PATH shops, don’t really compare. 

        Look at Dufferin Mall. Ugh. Or over on Gerrard in the East, double Ugh. 

        But still, that’s pretty damn silly to sport a Canadian mall tat isn’t failing as an example for an article on failing US malls.

        1. Aside from Sears, I’m not even sure what their anchors are (and I live within walking distance). I know Sears is talking about closing their Eaton Centre store, though.However, I think that’s more of an issue with Sears than it is with Eaton Centre. 

  9. I could actually see some uses for repurposing malls, though, rather than demolishing them.

    Make them into somewhat self-contained communities of sorts. Convert one or two of the anchors into a general store and/or grocery store. Convert another anchor into a fitness center or gym or something. Convert most of the smaller stores into apartments. Convert some of the parking lot to farmland.

    Another possibility is, convert them to office parks, or even (in older malls, before they were really designed as a maze, so you’d get lost and stop at another store and buy stuff) factories if there’s some domestic manufacturing that gets started.

    1. It’s way more profitable to just tear the place down and build individual houses. Put a gate around it and you’ve got yourself millions in profit within a few years.

  10. There’s a large mall in Hoffman Estates IL that was converted into office space for AT&T. Also, since malls have the same basic layout as prisons, they could be retrofitted to become low-security prisons, now that the end times are approaching. 

  11. Eventually, the Chinese should bypass Amazon so that we can mail order our crap direct off the dock in Shanghai.

      1. I glanced at a few things on and my LinkedIn account immediately got browsed by several people on the Chinese mainland.   
        It seems like the Chinese are doing some pretty massive data mining on US consumers.  They managed to connect my name (which I did not give), my internet address, and my LinkedIn account.

  12. One mall here in the capital of Florida was bought / leased by state government and houses a huge data center…   maybe they can be turned into some sort of arcology similar to those in ‘Count Zero”?

  13. The mall closest to my house (El Con) was dying for the last 10 years. I got to walk through it two years ago, at which time there was one anchor and one other shop open!

    The thing has been surrounded by a ring of Target, Home Depot, movie theater, a few restaurants on the periphery, etc.

    Th old indoor mall area was recently demolished to make way for a couple more big-box stores. One of the old anchor department stores was demolished a few months ago to make way for a Wal-Mart. That’s gonna be fun!

  14. Where I live, we have three malls. One, the largest, is the most profitable mall in the USA, and is not only expanding by leaps and bounds, but also becoming more upscale. Occupancy rate – 100% with a long waiting list. Another mall, 7 miles away, is virtually dead. A few nail salons, a payday loan joint, a liquor store, and not much else – about 15% occupancy. The third mall, on a busy highway right at the state line with a state that charges sales tax (we don’t is doing OK, but not great … about 70% occupancy. It baffles me, as these malls are within a fifteen minute drive of each other. The only difference I can conclude is superior management.

  15. In cold climates the indoor mall will have a certain advantage – places like Edmonton and Ottawa will always support a certain number of indoor malls because it is effing cold outside for half the year.

    At least a portion of the dying malls were just bad business decisions.  There was a while when a shopping mall was considered a smart investment (80s into the 90s) and a lot were built, just like real estate.  Likely many of those were plain stupid investments – certainly some of the malls I have been to were poorly considered examples of ‘not thinking things through.’

    Retail is losing ground to online sales over time and that will affect small businesses and malls to a degree.  However, that is just the reality of the market as idealized by our overlords.

    1. There was a while when a shopping mall was considered a smart investment (80s into the 90s) and a lot were built, just like real estate.

      My friends inherited a mall about five years ago, along with a house that was worth three million and had a ten million dollar mortgage. Took about two years of shelling out $30k per month before they lost it all to the banks. Not because of their mismanagement, but because his father had make a bunch of investments at the height of the boom and then died and left them with a bunch of huge mortgages.

  16. Malls are semi-public spaces, like gated communities or access-restricted parks are. The downtown was a public space, and you had civil rights. You could get kicked out of a store, but it was legally much harder or even impossible to kick you out of the whole district. The mall, on the other hand, is privately owned, and all who want to enter are subjects to the owners rules, and if the owner decides he doesn’t like your attire, your handing out of leaflets, or your lack of cash, he can legally exclude you. Bad luck for you if you e.g. look poor but want to buy food, or rally against bad treatment by our employer. The mall may be convenient to the majority, but it is essentally an anti-democratic instituation. So if it really was dying, I would applaude that. However, my perception from Germany is rather that semi-public spaces are rapidly expanding.

  17. Good. Can’t happen soon enough. I hate malls. In fact, I hate all shops. If I could live my life and never go into any store of any kind ever again I’d be delighted.

    We had to go to Costco yesterday and before we’d even made it from the car park into the building I was ready to get punchy with the self-absorbed, selfish arseholes that pass for customers there. Sod road-rage, I get shop-rage.

    Internet shopping is the greatest invention ever.

    1. Wow, and I thought shopping made me grumpy. Look at the bright side: I don’t think I’ve ever met an unpleasant Costco employee; they go out of their way to give you good customer service; they have good prices; and (last but not least) it’s interesting to sit in the cafe and watch the huge variety of humanity streaming by.

  18. Is the obvious error in

    …have vacancy rates of 35 percent or higher, a “clear marker for shopping center distress.

    the use of vacancy instead of occupancy, or the word higher instead of lower?

  19. When I was a kid and young adult the air here in Los Angeles (I actually lived in Orange County then, but It’s the same thing) was truly unpleasant in the hot days. Your eyes would sting and your lungs would feel worn out by mid-day. We took it for granted. The air has gotten better (in some ways) since cars were regulated at the beginning of the 70s. People want to be outside again. The malls are considered unhealthy, even. The new malls are open air and have loads of features which make them less about buying and more about entertainment and eating, lifestyle centers, as those above have said. 

    Here in California another factor has been at work on the urban landscape and that is proposition 13 which made it difficult for cities to raise money through new or increased taxes. This placed a heavier emphasis on sales tax and so cities began competing for shoppers. The resulting highway side shopping zones emphasized discount pricing which lead to the big box architecture and sprawling multi-block shopping districts that others have mentioned. This trend is still reverberating and cities continue to compete for shopping and entertainment dollars with grander visions and more complex tax arrangements for developers and retailers. 

    To say, in this complicated situation, that the internet is to blame for the decline of the indoor mall seems a little narrow. To say Amazon gets unusual tax advantages seems a little narrow. I remember that early on we agreed as a society (through legislation or lack of same) to forgo sales tax online to give the online developers some parity with brick and mortar developer’s tax deals. Mom and Pop were already taking a hit, but then they received some of the benefit of prop 13. The time has come to take some of that tax advantage away and that is happening some places. No one saw how huge the internet would become or how much it would remake how we do everything. It is an enormous engine of wealth precisely because it offers new efficiencies and those who saw that earliest are getting the benefits of their vision, as they should.

  20. Online sales are still only a small fraction of retail sales so to blame online sales is just wrong. The real killer of malls is Walmart, and other big box, one stop shop stores. There was a documentary on netflix on this very subject. Everywhere a Walmart opens there are ghost town mall, mini malls, and mom and pop stores.

    1. With any luck, what this could presage is the revival of downtowns. Don’t know about anywhere else but here in Austin, downtown has been reinvented. Sure, mostly by bars and clubs on 6th St. And the Warehouse district. And Red River. And….But retail seems to be also making a comeback. Not to mention the insane amount of trailer food (you want world class crepes? We have it in a trailer). It is rather heartening. But then, this is a city with explosive growth.

  21. I suspect these are the early cracks in the coming failure of our current flavor of consumer-driven capitalism.

     It is generally ignored, but it should be noted that it is not possible for the majority of the world population (or apparently, even our nation) to support an economic system built on mono-directional consumption… there simply aren’t enough resources to make this sustainable economically. The U.S. is the economic engine of the world, but it can only run if you dump an enormous amount of “fuel” into it, and now we are starting to see that engine sputter as various pressures limit the amount of consumption possible. 

    Perhaps Malls should be seen as apex predators, only able to survive if they have and enormous base of primary consumers to feed from….

  22. I’ve watched two formerly-thriving malls die in my time, both in neighborhoods I knew well, both of them somewhat famous architectural works in the St. Louis area in their day, River Roads Mall and Northwest Plaza. Both died well before Internet shopping came along, and both died of the same causes. Both were weakened by heavily subsidized white flight, which cost them a lot of their customer base; both were killed off when coincidental back-to-back crimes made the news, making their former neighbors unwilling to return to their old neighborhoods to shop, no matter how much they loved the mall.

    Because it happened so long ago to River Roads, I can tell you first-hand what happens after a mall dies. The first decade or more is hell.

    There’s a term I learned from Joel Garreau’s brilliant book on suburban and exurban real estate development (don’t look at me like that, it really is readable and fascinating), /Edge City./ The term for things like this is “hardscape.” It refers to steel or steel-reinforced concrete multi-story structures that were built to be nearly indestructible.

    Malls were built to last for decades and require almost no structural maintenance. Unfortunately, that means that the land is worth way, way less than the demolition cost. They were also built with very, very specific interior designs that make them essentially impossible to repurpose.

    So the building just sits there and decays until some combination of federal, state, and/or county subsidies cover the demolition and cleanup costs. Once that’s done, it gets treated like any other suddenly-available large chunk of land, it gets ordinary mixed-use smaller scale buildings built on top of it.

    But until then, it just sits there, contributing nothing to the employment base or tax base of the municipality, a slowly decaying empty eyesore surrounded by acres and acres of crumbling, weedy pavement, in a city whose police department, fire department, road department, and schools were all built around the assumption that the mall would always be there, would always be hiring, and would always be paying property and sales taxes.

  23. We have two malls in our small state capital. The oldest died and has tried to be reborn as “tourist shops”. The newest is still dying. It holds two stores we visit, and we visit via outdoor entrances, never by walking through the mall. They might as well be free-standing. (One is Sears, home of the everyday. Sears for some reason loves malls. The other is a formerly free-standing western wear store: I guess the rent was cheaper at the mall.) “Food courts” and their odors and populace always discouraged us from frequenting malls.

  24. Another thought:  I wonder if the principles in Stewart Brand’s book “How Buildings Learn”  will also apply to something like a mall which is closer to a “colony” of 3-4 buildings with covered connecting routes

  25. I wouldn’t mind in the slightest. I find walking around in a mall to be intensely aggravating, and there’s very little in them I can’t get elsewhere for less.

  26. I’ve seen a trend of returning to “shopping centers” so that the whole cost issue with heating and cooling is abandoned. But instead of looking like bland mid-century strip malls, they’re simply open air Gallerias: take the roof off the mall. There’s one not far from me that is rather nice, incorporating fountains kids play in during the summer and public spaces. And online isn’t quite the death of brick and mortar. Many people still don’t trust the lack of security involved with Internet transactions. Others prefer to browse in person without having to guess about a product (try shoe shopping online–it don’t work unless you’ve already tried on the pairs in a store). Moreover, I can go to my mall in 15 minutes instead of waiting at least a day to receive an order online. And as online transactions continually become taxed, you begin paying more because of tax, shipping & handling, and prices that (IMHO) aren’t as spectacular as Internet myth would have you believe. 

    1. try shoe shopping online–it don’t work unless you’ve already tried on the pairs in a store

      Er, what? There’s an amazing invention called the “shoe size”. For example, I’m a 10.5 normal width and have never found a shoe of that size to not fit me.

      1. For example, I’m a 10.5 normal width and have never found a shoe of that size to not fit me.

        Either you have no nerve endings below the knee and are extremely myopic, or you always buy the same brand of shoes. A nominal shoe size can vary by almost an inch.

  27. Dead malls can be revitalized. For example, here in San Antonio one of our long term dead malls, Winsor Park, was purchased by Rackspace to serve as their corporate headquarters. Winsor Park was also used as an emergency shelter for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

  28. A – Why is Amazon constantly treated as a good thing, when they’re as bad or worse than WalMart for both their employees and local biz? And online shoe and clothes shopping are crazy making – and looking at the return rate, not very friendly environmentally, either.
    B – Malls aren’t all bad. The new Lifestyle centers have fresh air, maybe, but other than that, they push folks to drive more, not less. The whole point of the outside facing entrances is to let folks drive to each store, then run away. At least in the classic 80’s mall experience you drove, got out, walked around most of the day and then went home. More opportunity to see unexpected things, and yes, buy unplanned items. And on a rainy/crappy day, I like not being soggy. Malls have a lot of issues, yes, but I’d much rather see a thriving one than an empty wasteland – no one, other than the demolition company, profits from a mall shutting down.

    1. Do you just mean “indoor” mall? Unless you live in a high density area such as NYC where most customers don’t drive then you probably visit “strip malls” all the time.

      Often a city consumer business area, while it may look like just a bunch of stores lining a street, is actually a strip mall in disguise. Rather than having the shared parking lot in front of the stores it is behind them.

  29. DC, Baltimore, and the space in between has plenty of abandoned or failing shopping malls.  There is one that still seems to be doing quite well, and still has the power to give me sensory overload migraines — Arundel Mills, near BWI airport.  Less than fifteen years ago, it was all undeveloped forestland. The mall itself is a covered outlet-store mall, surrounded by detached big-box stores (including but not limited to Walmart and Costco). Across the street are a series of strip malls, and in between loads of smaller detached restaurants and retail spots. And now, if that wasn’t enough to get you to never shop again, it’s got an on-site casino! Until recently it was slots-only, but this year in Maryland elections brought not only marriage equality but table games (e.g., roulette, card games) as well.

  30. I think the decline of malls has a lot of factors contributing to it, and online shopping is only one part of that. The gentrification and re-emergence of downtowns, for example. Changes in youth culture (and where they hang out). The construction of new shopping centers in the expanded suburban periphery. The changing socio-economic status of the neighborhoods surrounding aging malls, etc. Like most trends, pointing to one cause is a bit simplistic to actually account for the change. 

    I was recently in Crossroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska, while visiting my parents. It’s nearly a ghost town now except for a Target anchoring it on one side, some restaurants, and companies using former store fronts as offices. It’s a huge contrast to the bustling hub I remember as a kid. It’s going the same way as Center Mall, Omaha’s first shopping mall, which had already become office space even during the height of mall culture. 
    However, just down Dodge Street is Westroads Mall, which seems as busy as ever, and a new outdoor mall downtown seems to be thriving despite the snow.

    There’s no doubt that it’s harder to make profits in brick-and-mortar stores now than it was in the ’80s and ’90s. But what I think we’re seeing isn’t necessarily the death of real-world retail so much as changing urban landscapes. The neighborhoods and locations relevant to those with disposable incomes today vs. 20-30 years ago are quite different. 

    1.  You said what I was going to say – and about the same malls! Crossroads’ fall was (relatively) sudden. It had a food court as late as 2002. Then Younkers left, and Dillards left…. It’s strange, because the other three corners of the intersection are thriving as always.

      And Westroads is doing fine. As are Village Point and Shadow Lake, which are both outdoor malls built within the last 15 years. Keep in mind, this is in an area of the country where summer and winter are not pleasant seasons to be outside: the enclosed mall has an advantage. I would lay some blame on the rampant wasted space in mall design, all those massive courtyards and atriums (atria?) contributing to overhead.

      There are rumors of turning Crossroads into a mixed-use complex, with apartments, shopping, and business all together. My opinion is that it would be the best solution: turning old malls into new mini-downtowns.

  31. The problem is that just a few companies (like Simon) took over ALL the malls and turned them all into the same boring places.  You can go into any mall in the US now and it’s all the same exact stores, often in the same layout.  BORING.

  32. I know it’s hip to hate malls and I agree they are butt ugly. However, I am sad they are dying. First of all, they are not being replaced with businesses that are good for taxes or workers. Second of all, malls were always very disability friendly places to go. There was something for everyone, they were nicely temperature controlled, and was an affordable place to go when you had the day off. Not many places like that for disabled folks. With fuel costs going up, I wonder if there might not be a renaissance for brick and mortar stores? People can’t exactly swing the Disney vacation or All American Cross Country Family Trip anymore. “Staycations” are in. Driving down to your local yarn shops, little antique stores and restaurants are all fun, and rent is cheap right now. One can dream, right?

  33. I wrote a poem about the mall years ago…

    Stucco Thicket

    Small birds are somehow always in the mall.

    The stately, doméd food-court is their hall and tiny sky.

    Tad, the tall, bald man is flustered by their dives,

    Perturbed, trying to wind down with fries and coke.

    “Incoming!” his mind cries. They’ve flown by before he jolts,

    Curses, blushes, feels shame for such a chicken flinch.

    Just thrushes, sparrows. A kind of finch? Who knows,

    Who cares what make or model of bird lives there

    In the eves above the columned gates of Sears.

    Birds of the food-court.

    Birds of the mall.

    Tiny, spiraling tears of grey and brown.

    Tad wishes for a mop or broom

    To swat them down.

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