Kaid Benfield Archive


R.I.P. The American Suburban Shopping Mall

Kaid Benfield

Posted December 9, 2008 at 2:01PM

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Cloverleaf Mall, virtually empty in Chesterfield County, VA (by: barxtux, creative commons license)

Writing on Newsweek's web site, Tony Dokoupil suggests that the end may be near for enclosed regional shopping malls as we have known them:

"But what makes Xanadu [a huge mall under construction in the New Jersey Meadowlands] extraordinary is the fact that it is emerging just as the American mall-that most quintessential of American institutions-is in its dying throes, if not already dead. Moribund malls have not gone unnoticed amongst industry analysts and Web sites like Deadmalls.com that feature photos of hundreds of now-abandoned sites.

"But what were once just worrying signs appear to have finally flat-lined. Last year was the first in half a century that a new indoor mall didn't open somewhere in the country-a precipitous decline since the mid-1990s when they rose at a rate of 140 a year, according to Georgia Tech professor Ellen Dunham-Jones, coauthor of the forthcoming book 'Retrofitting Suburbia,' which focuses on the decline of malls and other commercial strips. Today, nearly a fifth of the country's largest 2,000 regional malls are failing, she says, and according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, and a record 150,000 retail outlets, including such mall mainstays as the Gap and Foot Locker, will close this year. Xanadu, whose officials declined NEWSWEEK's requests for comment, has named just nine tenants for its 200 spaces.

"So what's the cause of this malaise? After all, malls have been part of the national landscape for more than 50 years, spawning their own indigenous culture (mall rats), native cuisine (Cinnabon) and home-bred pop sensations from Tiffany to Timberlake. Topanga Plaza in California (by: Cathy Cole, creative commons license)Prior diagnoses have pinned the mall's decline on retail cannibalization, the repopulation of cities and suburban gang problems. The current economic skid certainly isn't helping to fill shops and attract vendors . . ."

This doesn't mean, however, that new, of-a-piece shopping developments, as a broader genre, are dying:

"Developers [are] trying to win back reluctant shoppers with 'life-style centers,' retail hubs that boast residential apartments, parks and promenades-the better to blend shopping seamlessly into everyday living. Such structures are going up faster than ever, with 37 new lifestyle centers-almost 40 percent of the form's total square footage built in the last decade-going up last year, according to Portfolio and Property Research, a Boston-based retail consultancy . . ."  

That's progress of a sort, I guess.  Me, I sort of like real towns and cities.  But outdoors and mixed use is a step in the right direction.  Go here for the full article.