Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Rise and Fall of the Shopping Mall

Can the holidays save them? As populations shift and tastes change, many malls have become empty and obsolete. I was never a fan of malls; I always preferred shopping in a place where there were windows and natural light and access to fresh air. According to the Wall Street Journal:
In a pattern repeated at urban malls across the country, Metrocenter deteriorated as wealthier families moved to outer suburbs and upscale shopping palaces cropped up there to cater to them. Big-box stores lured away Metrocenter's increasingly blue-collar customers and gang incidents damaged its reputation. Then came the housing crisis.

"It's scary in there," says 19-year-old Kayla Polifko, who works at a nearby PetSmart yet rarely ventures inside.

The challenge of aging malls is made harder in places such as parts of Nevada and Michigan where unemployment tops the national average, or here in Arizona, where the housing market has been ravaged.


The North Coast said...

I don't believe that shopping malls as such are dying. There have just been way too many of them built, mostly on the local taxpayers' dime.

The simple fact is that we have a glut of retail, thanks to the debt bubble in commercial real estate and the eagerness of local municipalities to hand massive subsidies to mall developers via TIF districts, tax abatements and other "gimmes", in order to foster "economic development". It is a race to the bottom among municipalities desperate to attract business activity. The result is that malls and power centers are built three miles down the road from other such developments that are only a few years old, and the old facility ends up shuttered.

In the 1960s, we had an average of 4 sq ft of retail space per consumer, but now we have 38 sq ft per consumer- an incredible glut fueled by manic lending and municipal subsidies. So there has to be some triage as the easy money disappears and broke municipalities are no longer able to hand big box stores and mall developers $50M gifts just to get them to build- politicians are beginning to realize that they don't get this money back in jobs and tax revenues.

elena maria vidal said...

Great analysis, thanks NC! I really like some of the new "town centers" with outdoor cafes, all kinds of shops and restaurants. I love shopping in a REAL downtown area but the parking can often be a pain.

tubbs said...

I for one, am not in mourning over the Mall. NC's post is an excellent analysis.

The North Coast said...

I love the new "town centers", too, Maria.

That's why I live on Chicago's north lakefront, because of the dense, urban development with lots of walkable neighborhoods with dense concentrations of beautiful old buildings and small-scaled retail, often very quirky and eccentric, with many outdoor restaurants and cafes, and lively street life. Withing walking distance of my apt. in a beautiful old courtyard building, I have a film theater, live theater, a charming old bookstore, numerous restaurants, a Radio Shack, and about 8 places from major supermarkets to local operations to buy food, plus a couple of library branches. You need high population density to support these old-fashioned retail cores, and good public transportation.

Trouble is, Chicago has, like so many other cities, embraced TIF districts and other corporate welfare gimmicks to dress up decaying areas at the taxpayers' expense, and the result is always some gigantic suburban-style strip mall that takes out 4 square blocks of old housing that is usually rather beautiful and could be easily rahabbed- for ugly, overscaled, urban-inappropriate development that fails financially half the time. We've driven the city to the brink of insolvency with this stuff, and it murders small retail districts because small local retail outlets cannot compete- but they have to subsidize it with their taxes.

We're finally beginning to twig that there's a connection between the proliferation of subsidized big-box retail, city financial problems, cut backs in essential services, and death-duty property taxes. Let's hope all our cities and towns catch on to how they're committing suicide by subsidizing this stuff on the backs of their local small business people.

Julygirl said...

The 'Town Center" concept is nice.

One of the other problems with Malls is that they have become the preferred hangout of mobs of teenagers. One can barely get by them because they block the walking area. That is happening in the Town Center where I used to go. The noise and rough-housing has ruined the ambiance that used to be part of Town Center shopping.