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"I don't think we're overbuilt, I think we're under-demolished."
December 29, 2012 3:57 PM   Subscribe

The Death of the American Shopping Mall "Online retailers are relentlessly gaining share in many retail categories, and offline players are fighting for progressively smaller pieces of the retail pie. A number of physical retailers have already succumbed to online competition including Circuit City, Borders, CompUSA, Tower Records and Blockbuster, and many others are showing signs of serious economic distress. These mall and shopping center stalwarts are closing stores by the thousands, and there are few large physical chains opening stores to take their place. Yet the quantity of commercial real estate targeting retail continues to grow, albeit slowly. Rapidly declining demand for real estate amid growing supply is a recipe for financial disaster."
posted by bookman117 (129 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Having ever visited a shopping mall, ever, I feel "good riddance" is almost too kind a sentiment.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:02 PM on December 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


(Though the loss of jobs is definitely unfortunate)
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:02 PM on December 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've always enjoyed the joke that goes "Welcome to Utah, set your watch back 50 years" but I never realized how true it was.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:04 PM on December 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Where are the teens going to go?
posted by troika at 4:04 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I recently watched the Charlie Rose interview with Jeff Bezos. The whole interview is interesting, but what Jeff says starting at 28:50 is very pertinent to this post.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:06 PM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Where are the teens going to go?
posted by troika


Your lawn. Get ready.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:08 PM on December 29, 2012 [38 favorites]


Francine: What are they doing? Why do they come here?
Stephen: Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:09 PM on December 29, 2012 [38 favorites]


Twenty years ago they built a shopping mall in my tiny tourist town. At this point the top floor is completely empty (save for a ski sale once a year) the main floor is half empty (good bye Louis Vutton, Benetton, La Senza, ski shop, etc.) and the lowest level lost its main tenant, the CD/DVD/hot girl on a motorcycle poster store. It saddens me to think that it might still be viable with a 30% occupancy rate, I'd much rather see it torn down completely.
posted by furtive at 4:09 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where are the teens going to go?

Ahh, the sunbelt's "Lifestyle Center," a fusion of public space, outdoor mall, faux-bazaar and walking area, all with privately-owned "public spaces" and internal security force.

Yaaaay.

Less cynically, l wonder what will happen to the dead and dying malls, the malls that have shuttered, or the ones anchored by only one big store, a few stores with tchochkes and trinkets (and the requisite Kinkade store). We did a hash through one once - it was a little eerie. They can't keep up the maintenance - will they collapse? The land has to be worth something, but usually they were smaller and located closer to the urban cores, where nobody lives now - the "Towne Centre's" all sprung up in the suburbs.

I grew up in surburban-sprawl Florida, driving distance from four malls. The one that is doing the best really capitalized on the destruction of the urban nightlife that happened in my hometown, with a few bars, some nice restaurants, later hours.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:11 PM on December 29, 2012


My pet paranoid theory is that as the economy gets worse and worse, the empty shopping malls will be converted into mass housing for the increasing number of suburban formerly-middle-class people who will become homeless. The only variable is whether that will happen peacefully or by force (either on the part of the government or on the part of the homeless).
posted by briank at 4:11 PM on December 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Weirdly, I think the teens replaced malls with online at the same time that shoppers did.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:11 PM on December 29, 2012 [20 favorites]


Amazon Prime. Sitting in my underwear. Ordering more underwear. Hard to beat. No pun intended.
posted by phaedon at 4:15 PM on December 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


Circuit City, Borders, CompUSA, Tower Records and Blockbuster

With the possible exception of Tower Records, all stores that I dreaded.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:19 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've started searching direct from China online retailers like dx.com and ebay sellers as well as Amazon before buying anything. All the retail giants like Walmart greatly improved our efficency by outsourcing so much production, but we the consumers must now step forward to outsource the rest of the supply chain. Yes, I'm sure those Chinese companies suck too, but it's nice buying safe in the knowledge that no American company recieved any of your money. Just make sure they offer free shipping.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:19 PM on December 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


Having grown up in Long Island, perhaps the worldwide capital of malls, I say good riddance. It's a shame those particular jobs went away, but the planet will not miss allllllll those concentrated heat islands of acres and acres of asphalt and lost-looking suburbanites.
posted by nevercalm at 4:19 PM on December 29, 2012


Weirdly, I think the teens replaced malls with online at the same time that shoppers did.

Well, at least some of 'em. There are still movie theaters and parking lots and ratty strip malls, right? Those were where we ended up.
posted by emjaybee at 4:19 PM on December 29, 2012


The article points to an interesting idea that a friend of mine also had, the showroom. His suggestion was for BestBuy to become the Amazon Showroom. You put in a coffee shop, maybe a bar, charge a cover, and have the latest gadgets for people to come in and try. Maybe you have movie screenings showcasing how awesome a new TV is. Maybe you have workshops on how to beat the next level in a video game, or how to take better pictures with your iPhone. Change the business model from selling things to be offering a service.
posted by ifandonlyif at 4:20 PM on December 29, 2012 [13 favorites]


Circuit City, Borders, CompUSA, Tower Records and Blockbuster

I mean not that they're doing so hot but Blockbuster is still around.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:21 PM on December 29, 2012


Reddit, Youtube, etc. provide enough showroom for online retailers.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:23 PM on December 29, 2012


In New Jersey, we dream of building a mega mall that will take traffic away from our other malls...
posted by armacy at 4:26 PM on December 29, 2012


Malls are a funny thing. On the one hand, they are the epitome of everything that was wrong with late 20th century economic development in the US: the sprawl, the drive-everywhere mentality, the vacuous consumerism. At the heart of the mall experience, however, are things that today's urban planners prize: walkability, a diversity of shopping and entertainment, etc. Put another way, the mall is a kind of simulated urbanism: all the advantages of city living, but without all the "undesirable" elements (read: poverty, racial and other sorts of diversity). But with the resurgence of interest in real urban environments in the last two decades, the fakes are losing their appeal, over and above the hit brick-and-motor retail is taking from the Internet.

To the extent that malls have a future, it will probably be for businesses that can't be easily outscourced, automated, or digitized (e.g., the medical industry). But I have a feeling malls are declining, in part, for the same reason exurban McMansions are, buffeted by the twin forces of rising oil prices and a demographic transition to a population that sees driving as a chore, not a means to freedom.
posted by Cash4Lead at 4:30 PM on December 29, 2012 [33 favorites]


Old enough to remember when the malls were the bad guys, ruining downtown businesses.
posted by DarkForest at 4:31 PM on December 29, 2012 [17 favorites]


I'd wager that outlet malls are far more destructive to regular malls than online shopping is. Why would I pay X*2 for something I can get for X by going for a weekend outing with the family. The number of outlet malls has been swelling at virtually the same rate traditional malls have been collapsing I'd guess.
posted by Keith Talent at 4:32 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


People like to cry that the mall is dead but the 280N to 880N intercharge was useless during the day for a solid two weeks before Christmas thanks to the line of people trying to get into Valley Fair.

There won't be a dying out of the mall by any stretch. IMHO there will be fewer but they will be much bigger. We might even see more supermarkets move into malls to provide more one stop shopping.
posted by Talez at 4:38 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was in a Blockbuster yesterday for the first time in a year, while waiting for a set of snow tires to get installed nearby. It was eerie, and yet so clearly being witness to a zombie business entity. Whatever life support is currently keeping Blockbuster alive won't last much longer. Even if they had an actual selection of decent titles, which they don't, the idea of dealing with their smarmy employees and fuck-you late fees was enough to drive me out of the store in under five minutes.
posted by docpops at 4:38 PM on December 29, 2012


Victor Gruen’s grand plan for Southdale was never realized. There were no parks or schools or apartment buildings—just that big box in a sea of parking. Nor, with a few exceptions, did anyone else plan the shopping mall as the centerpiece of a tidy, dense, multi-use development. Gruen was right about the transformative effect of the mall on retailing. But in thinking that he could reënact the lesson of the Ringstrasse in American suburbia he was wrong, and the reason was that in the mid-nineteen-fifties the economics of mall-building suddenly changed.

From a completely fascinating 2004 New Yorker article on the tax and demographic drivers of shopping mall development.
posted by migurski at 4:39 PM on December 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


Even if they had an actual selection of decent titles, which they don't, the idea of dealing with their smarmy employees and fuck-you late fees was enough to drive me out of the store in under five minutes.

Man I will never understand the hate-on people have for teenagers who make minimum wage at shit jobs.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:42 PM on December 29, 2012 [36 favorites]


The majority of malls in the small towns that I'm familiar with are now mostly occupied (those booths that are occupied) by locally owned stores. It's along the same lines of what you'd find at the local flea market, but moved indoors to the mall. Our "old mall" (the "new mall" is our outdoor mall) also has space for that side of town's police station. It used to have a glow in the dark putt-putt course, but that left. I have seen some towns adding gyms in the mall, or gymnastics classes for children.
posted by bizzyb at 4:43 PM on December 29, 2012


Where are the teens going to go?

From what I can tell most of them like to run up and down the street in front of my house screaming shrilly like they are being sawed in half. Then they vomit and fall down.
posted by elizardbits at 4:45 PM on December 29, 2012 [19 favorites]


Why can't they just go candyflip in a warehouse somewhere in Red Hook?
posted by elizardbits at 4:46 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


No . For You
posted by mannequito at 4:47 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


People like to cry that the mall is dead but the 280N to 880N intercharge was useless during the day for a solid two weeks before Christmas thanks to the line of people trying to get into Valley Fair.

In my experience working retail last year, online shopping has condensed the brick and mortar shopping season, so aside from Black Friday and other large sales, the shopping doesn't really pick up until it starts getting too late to order it online.
posted by drezdn at 4:49 PM on December 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


People like to cry that the mall is dead but the 280N to 880N intercharge was useless during the day for a solid two weeks before Christmas thanks to the line of people trying to get into Valley Fair.

There are also other big shopping centers around there—Town & Country Santana Row, etc. It’s a major shopping hub but I think it used to have its business more spread-out over the year.
posted by migurski at 4:51 PM on December 29, 2012


From what I can tell most of them like to run up and down the street in front of my house screaming shrilly like they are being sawed in half. Then they vomit and fall down.

Are you using your fleet of robot saw-bees for evil again?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:51 PM on December 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


In a lot of human endeavors, there's an ability for others to come upon something and add to it. You can't do that with a mall. A downtown can always have another building put up, independent of their neighbors investment. Building yourself off of the others-can-improve-it grid means you have to do all the improvements yourself. Not all of them are going to be successful, so there's a lot of risk over time. Eventually that can overcome you.
posted by ifandonlyif at 4:51 PM on December 29, 2012


I've always enjoyed the joke that goes "Welcome to Utah, set your watch back 50 years" but I never realized how true it was.

Notable, though, that it's a downtown mall and not a "traditional" mall in a sea of parking.

San Francisco also built a city center mall a few years ago, and it looks like they're going to start building a smaller one a block away.
posted by alexei at 4:54 PM on December 29, 2012


I much much prefer walkable downtowns to malls, but I am afraid the post-mall world won;t have downtowns either. The malls will just rot away like terrible cold sores on the faces of our cities.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:54 PM on December 29, 2012


People like to cry that the mall is dead but the 280N to 880N intercharge was useless during the day for a solid two weeks before Christmas thanks to the line of people trying to get into Valley Fair.

They're re-doing the intersection, and Valley Fair is getting its own exit.

Anyway, Valley Fair is doing great, but Vallco, just down 280 and once the premier mall in the area, is dead dead dead. The same could happen to Valley Fair.
posted by zsazsa at 4:56 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's kind of a self-feeding spiral that some retailers are entering where sales are down because of online purchases, which leads to cutting employee hours, which leads to longer lines and lower customer satisfaction, which leads to more people buying online.
posted by drezdn at 4:57 PM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


One thing that I like about malls versus downtown Philadelphia is the outright absence of cars. That's the worst part about every city I've ever lived in, actually. Hate cars. But a mall right next to an undeveloped patch of woods, so a forest walk is just a couple of minutes away, is a wonderful way to pass an afternoon that's got a few advantages to my sadly nature-less urban lifestyle.

Fond memories of malls. I don't regret that my children will never set foot in one.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:58 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, malls can be fun. Just ask Robin Sparkles.
posted by Cash4Lead at 5:02 PM on December 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Okay, the more I think about this article the dumber is seems. the authors examples of retailers that have disappeared is ridiculous, Circuit City, Borders, CompUSA, Tower Records and Blockbuster have gone away due the format of their wares changing, shifting to digital rather than physical. Blaming online retailing for the demise is like is blaming the internet for plummeting typewriter ribbon sales.

Retailers that have managed to hold on to their IP, or sell goods not third party branded are doing very well. Think Forever 21 or Zara, those that trade in fungible goods, goods that are identical regardless of the retailer (think Levi's jeans) will suffer due more efficient methods of distribution.

The mall is changing from a place where retailers compete to offer price service on the same range of goods to one where retailers build a brand where they control the distribution.

A&F
Hollister
H&M
Zara
Forever 21
Banana Republic
et al

Retailers that don't develop their own brands will be left in the cold.
posted by Keith Talent at 5:07 PM on December 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


I live in mall central -- within an hour's drive of where I'm typing there are ten "classic" big-ass-parking-lot one-building anchor-department-store-and-lots-of-filler-and-a-food-court shopping malls, one of which is the largest fucking mall you will ever want to see, and all are still alive and kicking, albeit some coughing up blood.

A few things are going on here:

* The death of the traditional department store. Part of it is that they're simply becoming less profitable, part that they're being run on a shoestring -- try going into a Sears and finding more than one cash register with someone at it -- and part of it is that generations are growing up getting used to buying their stuff elsewhere.

* Where the anchors fail, the stores in between them in the mall suffer, which leads to mass vacancies and a rats-fleeing-a-sinking-ship process.

* Over-commonality and overgrowth among malls. For example, one of my local malls used to be where you'd go for Strawbridge & Clothier, and the other for Sears, JCPenneys and (Gimbels / Stern's / Hecht's / Boscov's / tenant of the month). Then the first one added everything the second one had and now there's little reason for the second to exist. Same deal with the interior stores -- when they all have the same tenants, what makes one mall more attractive than others?

* The rise of the 'big block' center -- even bigger lots that cut out the small stores and eschew the one-building approach, instead going with multiple large stores like Target/Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Kohl's, etc. that are less likely to move out or break a lease than an average mall store.

* The online alternative.

What's killing Sears is what killed Circuit City and what's killing Best Buy, BTW -- shitty service and know-nothing employees give you zero reason NOT to use the online alternative.
posted by delfin at 5:09 PM on December 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


I don't regret that my children will never set foot in one.

They'll probably have to go to the Smithsonian Interactive Mall Museum exhibition and buy a giant pretzel.
posted by elizardbits at 5:21 PM on December 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


Apple has an online store AND a thriving retail presence. I think the key is selling a product that negates the showroom effect that is killing best buy (people go there to shop and then order online). I don't think on-line is ever going to put a significant dent in clothes shopping, either, for the same reason.

Aside from that, it's really all about service and quality.

On the topic of malls -- the new trendy thing is mixed development, where you have a few blocks of apartments built directly on top of outdoor shopping centers or within walking distance, and all of it within walking distance of mass transit. I absolutely love that retail model. It's like having a little slice of downtown in the suburbs, and it cuts down on gas consumption for everyone that lives there.
posted by empath at 5:24 PM on December 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Where are the teens going to go?
posted by troika

Your lawn. Get ready.


In truth, on their phones. If they aren't texting while driving, they're texting while walking around, crossing the street.

On topic, there was an article I read this weekend which said that, with ongoing rolling demise of bookstores, public libraries are starting to serve coffee and provide comfortable furniture, in an attempt tp provide one of those third places in the public square sense.

Of course, there was another article I read recently on how the Seattle Public Library treats its returned books* when they come back with bedbugs in them. That is the potential downside of the public library as third place. Or, malls for that matter.

( *They freeze them for an hour, as I recall. I think about that all the time -- bedbugs, that is. I go to the library and I ride the bus. My solution is cedar oil. I go out and come back, smelling like a lumberyard. )
posted by y2karl at 5:28 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I don't regret that my children will never set foot in one."

You say that now, but wait until it's been pouring rain for six days in the middle of winter and you want to go somewhere climate controlled that you can take a stroller just to walk.

Gyms are super-weird about taking your stroller on the treadmill.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:29 PM on December 29, 2012 [21 favorites]


After asking Robin Sparkles, ask Menudo!
posted by smrtsch at 5:29 PM on December 29, 2012


A number of physical retailers have already succumbed to online competition including Circuit City, Borders, CompUSA, Tower Records and Blockbuster

Boo. Fucking. Hoo.

Just in time for Most Misplaced Concern of the Year award.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:38 PM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I grew up surrounded by malls in suburban D.C., and to this day it's a form of built landscape I find pleasant and stimulating. I'll be sorry if they go. I brought my 2-year-old daughter to the mall the other weekend and for a day afterwards all she could talk about was "I want to go to the mall again!"

Here in Madison, some of the shopping centers are mostly vacant and decaying, but the malls, like Hilldale and West Towne, are packed every time I go, with no visible vacant space. If you want to go to the Apple Store, you're going to the mall. If you want go to the farmer's market on Saturday morning -- well, there are a lot of farmer's markets, this being Wisconsin, but one of them is in the parking lot of the mall. A nationally known chef has a restaurant in the mall. The malls are part of the city.
posted by escabeche at 5:42 PM on December 29, 2012


Oh god, department stores. With their illogical and time-wasting grouping by designer instead of type/size, their shitty wages breeding shitty employees, the constant hawking of predatory credit cards, their consistent tendency to be at least two years behind the trends...gah.

I do like to buy clothes in person, because I want to check fit and feel, but the department store is always the place I go when I can't find what I want anywhere else. And even then I'm often disappointed.
posted by emjaybee at 5:43 PM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Interestingly, the mall pictured in "The Death of the American Shopping Mall" is the Eaton Centre, in Toronto Canada. And I can't think of the last time I've been there - it's been over a year.
posted by peagood at 6:01 PM on December 29, 2012


The mall is a place to walk a stroller during summer heat or winter cold; buying *anything* is akin to tipping at a fast food place; or paying 20% - 50% more than teh net price would be .
posted by buzzman at 6:01 PM on December 29, 2012


If this thread had a sountrack, it should be this or this.
posted by Ber at 6:13 PM on December 29, 2012


I can't remember the last time I was in a mall, maybe four years ago. I haven't actively avoided them, I just haven't had a good reason to go to one.
posted by octothorpe at 6:15 PM on December 29, 2012


So nice to have these things called "squares" in Boston. Most are not actual squares. Just corners where major streets meet. They have stores. I go to them. It's nice.

The squares with ice cream places are where the teens go, it seems.
posted by ocschwar at 6:23 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


They'll probably have to go to the Smithsonian Interactive Mall Museum exhibition and buy a giant pretzel.

There's no way it will be as authentically shitty as the giant pretzel you'd get at a real mall.
posted by brennen at 6:27 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


All those stores face much less online competition because people still fear measuring themselves, Keith Talent, but that'll change.

We're moving towards online clothing sales fast, empath, witness all the online sellers listed in the article. I'd expect almost half my currently in-use wardrobe was bought online from stores like amazon.com, ebay.com, etsy.com, cyberoptix.com, sasshoes.com, and welovecolors.com, with only etsy causing much hassle and buyer's regret.

Zara's jeans aren't afaik any better than Walmart's jeans, well how does one improve upon jeans? Walmart otoh lets you select both the waist and inseam, while Zara only lets you select the waist size.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:29 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I still occasionally buy CDs at my local mall HMV store. Their floor space dedicated to music continues to shrink rapidly. It won't be long before it's nothing but 12 copies of the latest Susan Boyle and some Pink Floyd remasters.
posted by davebush at 6:30 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was a mallrat in my teens (Mallrats, the movie, was close to a documentary of how I preferred to spend my time), so I still retain some affection for them. But having just gotten back from one during the "Let's go someplace indoor and climate controlled because it's too cold to go outside and we need to tire out the relatives" phase of a relative visit, here are the problems with them:

1. They don't stock sizes people wear, or the people I know, anyway. I am both big and tall. My relatives run the gamut from petite female to also big and tall male. We went in a couple of the anchor stores and somehow managed, between several of us, to not find a single thing that any of us would want to wear that was also in any of our sizes.

2. Likewise, the whole seasonal shopping model is ridiculous. I was in need of a shirt a few months back and went to one of the big anchor stores at our local mall. It was stocked with heavy winter parkas and thick sweaters and such. I live down south and it was literally 85 degrees outside at the time.

3. I don't buy electronics at big box stores anymore because last time I tried to buy a TV in person, Best Buy was happy to sell it to me and schedule delivery, only for them to reschedule and reschedule until they were going to deliver it two weeks into the future. I found the exact same TV on Amazon and got it cheaper and faster. There was no difference. It came in the same box I'd have gotten it in at the store, only the truck stopped at my front door rather than the store.

4. The video game stores don't stock PC games and we usually play kind of obscure console games they also don't stock. Likewise, we barely buy DVDs and I haven't bought a CD player in years.

5. Shoes? Again, we hit the size thing, I'm a wide width and those are seldom stocked so I just order off Zappos.

6. Books? The ones without a Barnes and Noble are pretty much airport quality bookstores. Maybe there's something good in there, but I'd rather save that digging for airports.

So I dunno, kinda not sure what I'd actually BUY at said malls.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:32 PM on December 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


You say that now, but wait until it's been pouring rain for six days in the middle of winter and you want to go somewhere climate controlled that you can take a stroller just to walk.

This times a million.
I mean, thriving downtowns are great and everything, but when it gets dark at 4:30, it's 36 degrees with a nice cold misty rain, that mall play area is a godsend.
posted by madajb at 6:39 PM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm quite used to this. 20 years ago, my area had 3 malls. Regency Mall went through a death spiral in the 90s, prompting one of its owners to observe "Malls are like bananas - You get some at one price and get rid of them at another. Some of them go bad. Those you throw out."

Another local mall, Aiken Mall also has a listing on deadmalls.com despite still having 4 active anchor stores. I suspect its zombie shuffle into death is the new pattern of mall failure. Used to be, anchor stores would pull out first, leaving the smaller stores to flounder on for a few years. Now competition is killing off the smaller stores first, letting malls rot from the inside out.

The third mall, Augusta Mall seems to still be doing ok for itself, having kept itself fresh with a series of renovations and with bringing in new storefronts when previous tenants shutter up, but I figure it's only a matter of time for that one as well.
posted by radwolf76 at 6:39 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


This isn't exactly a new phenomenon. Deadmalls.com has been up and running for a decade now.

Why does this happen? Sometimes people build malls in places that don't really need or simply can't support a mall. Sometimes people build malls in places that already have malls. In which case the older malls probably die off, as the newer ones are invariably "nicer," or at least trendier. Sometimes there are structural changes in the economy that play havoc with retailers' business models and profit margins. Who knows?

What happens to these places? One of three things.

- They stand vacant. This is probably the most common result, but it's hardly ideal.

- They get torn down. At least that way they aren't a danger to anyone. Buildings tend to deteriorate pretty quickly once you stop maintaining them, especially in regions with harsh winters. Leave what amounts to a crappily-built warehouse empty for a few years and you don't want to go inside. Malls aren't terrible polluters, so the site can eventually be used to build something else, but in the meantime it's not an eyesore or public health hazard.

- They get repurposed. Here's a Walmart that got turned into a library. Churches buy them. My first job after college was at an insurance company that had taken over the top floor of a long-defunct department store. This is probably the best outcome, but it can be hard to make happen. You need a buyer willing to pony up the however many million it takes to buy and refit the place, and said buyer can't want to do anything terribly high-impact with the building. Hard to run a factory out of a mall. Just not built for it.
posted by valkyryn at 6:47 PM on December 29, 2012


well, so long, farewell, goodbye.
posted by brevator at 6:50 PM on December 29, 2012


There are very few thriving physical retailers these days outside of the daily consumables markets.

I don't know, maybe I just missed the memo on buying online, but I seriously just don't understand how people do it.
How do you buy shoes online? Do you just imagine how they will look on your feet?
Same with clothes, do you just buy the same thing over and over because you know it'll fit?

How do you buy electronics without poking the buttons and checking out the functions? Do you just rely on shill review sites? Gamble blindly?

This article is right, and there probably are too many malls scattered around the interstate exits of this country, but so long as there are people like me (and middle-aged couples who need an afternoon out), there will still be malls.

(Plus, how are you going to tell Santa what you want for Christmas? A Skype call?)
posted by madajb at 6:51 PM on December 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've noticed malls go from places with a range of stores selling interesting things, to become a range of clothing stores selling clothes. I guess this is why. Clothes are the hardest thing to buy sight unseen. Unfortunately, without the interesting stuff in malls, I'm less likely to go to one. A vicious cycle :-/
posted by anonymisc at 7:00 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the only successful malls are going to be the ones whose cities have limited the development to a single mall, and kept it that way; some cities seemed to have the idea that they needed a mall for every quadrant (c.f. Charlotte, NC), and now have a variety of dead or dying places. Charlotte does have a rich person mall that still seems to thrive, though I can't imagine how people afford it.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:04 PM on December 29, 2012


How do you buy shoes online? Do you just imagine how they will look on your feet?
Same with clothes, do you just buy the same thing over and over because you know it'll fit?


I already know what size I am, I just order that size. If it doesn't fit it gets sent back.
posted by octothorpe at 7:07 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


For shoes, Zappos has a pretty amazing return policy. And I've never had a problem returning things to Amazon. If there's a brand I know I like, I order direct from the manufacturer.

For clothes, Amazon, again, and most of the places I use outside of Amazon have free return shipping and no hassle returns.

But like I said in my first post, I'm big/tall so never really had the option of shopping in actual stores, unless they deigned to have a small corner of dusty, ugly polyester things hidden away in the Shame Section, so it's a skill I developed pretty early on.

For electronics, if I need to see it in person for some reason, I'll go to an electronics store then probably order it online from my phone since it'd more than likely be cheaper.

Santa gets a link to my Amazon wish list, so if he wants to buy clothes or shoes or something, he can get exactly my size and color preferences or books he knows I want or things he knows I don't have.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:11 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shoes are an interesting case. In terms of dress shoes, you pretty much find a brand that you like and buy the same size forever; conservatism rules the day in quality dress shoes, and changing fit is likely to lose a lot of customers. In running shoes, you want to be fitted at least once at a store, because you can try out a half dozen models on the treadmill or running around the store; after that, well, you can do your routine replacements without visiting the store. It's only in cheap/casual shoes where you find the problems of inconsistency and changing design that make shopping online a crapshoot.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:16 PM on December 29, 2012



There won't be a dying out of the mall by any stretch. IMHO there will be fewer but they will be much bigger. We might even see more supermarkets move into malls to provide more one stop shopping.


Such is how it is in Dubai... though ecommerce is about nil and it's about 700,000 degrees in the summer......
posted by ambient2 at 7:18 PM on December 29, 2012


Oh, another thing about malls -- they're thriving in Central America, especially in the capital cities. I went to one in Santa Ana, El Salvador which is an old colonial style town with dirt roads and an old school market, and razor wire on most of the buildings. On the one nicely paved street in town, they have a brand new mall that would look perfectly normal in any small town in the US -- including an arcade, designer clothes shops, department stores, cafes, and a food court. The only thing that's really different are the no handgun signs. The ones in the capitals are even bigger and more glamorous, with fancy restaurants and nightclubs. Malls are succeeding there because they're safe. In cities where you can't even get on a public bus without being at serious risk of armed robbery, the malls are an oasis of calm and 'normality'.
posted by empath at 7:26 PM on December 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Without malls, we wouldn't have gems like the man freaking out at the Eaton Centre in Toronto.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:46 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


So. I only skimmed the latter bit of the article after the graph showing "Stock Performance of the Largest Holders of Real Estate". And I thought I would like to know who these people are, these Simon Property Group people, before they assign me to a work camp or implant a bio-electronic doodad in my head.
posted by Glinn at 7:48 PM on December 29, 2012


(Plus, how are you going to tell Santa what you want for Christmas? A Skype call?)
posted by madajb at 6:51 PM on December 29


Meanwhile, in Toronto...
posted by spoobnooble II: electric bugaboo at 7:55 PM on December 29, 2012


I think the only successful malls are going to be the ones whose cities have limited the development to a single mall, and kept it that way; some cities seemed to have the idea that they needed a mall for every quadrant

You seem to think that there's some sort of single entity that could make such a decision. My city has malls in every direction but they're all in different municipalities and they each want their own source of tax revenues.
posted by octothorpe at 8:01 PM on December 29, 2012


I see that Deadmalls was mentioned and linked above. I also recommend a look at Labelscar, a blog focusing on dying retailers and dead malls.
posted by rzklkng at 8:08 PM on December 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hmm, yes, what I'm saying is that cities who have annexed their suburbs, wrangled a high-level of city-county or regional planning cooperation, or simply have strong-arm influence over their locale and have made the decision to limit mall-style development have healthier malls than the ones who went whole-hog. Charlotte has the former, but did not make the latter decision. It has several dead malls. Greensboro, NC has two malls, both relatively healthy; Winston-Salem, NC has one relatively strong mall. The Greenville-Spartanburg region in South Carolina is a veritable wasteland of dead malls, and poor regional coordination, and suburban fragmentation.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:08 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


All you people dancing and spitting on the grave of malls, you're coming from a completely different cultural place from me. I loved going to the mall. I loved window shopping, hanging out in the bookstore, buying something to eat in the food court, going to see a movie. I enjoyed those things immensely. The death of the malls close to where I live has taken a sizable chunk of simple pleasure out of my life, to be honest. You mall haters, what do you do, where do you go? I'd really like to know.
posted by KHAAAN! at 8:10 PM on December 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


some cities seemed to have the idea that they needed a mall for every quadrant (c.f. Charlotte, NC), and now have a variety of dead or dying places.

There are some dead or dying places in Charlotte, but the big malls are packed to the gills with people buying stuff. I was at Southpark today and it was a madhouse. Drove by Carolina Place on the way there, and the parking lot was jammed. I'm sure Concord Mills was also doing a land-office business. And that's just the enclosed malls - Blakeney, Stonecrest, Arboretum, and Phillips Place are also perpetually busy. Whatever Charlotte's issues are, a lack of shoppers isn't one.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:10 PM on December 29, 2012


...they have a brand new mall that would look perfectly normal in any small town in the US....The only thing that's really different are the no handgun signs.

Those are totally normal in my corner of the US.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 8:10 PM on December 29, 2012


Daily Alice: You didn't mention Northlake (which is actually pretty new, but already kind of sad-seeming), Freedom (Charlotte's original mall, I think), or Eastland (dead). I'm not saying that there aren't successful malls there, especially since SouthPark is probably the most upscale mall in NC, but the story is mixed, whereas in Winston-Salem there's one mall and it's strong.

I omit Concord Mills because it's an outlet mall, ostensibly.

As a note, also, I'm not trying to insult Charlotte -- it's my hometown, I like the city, and I think it's done a better job in terms of planning than a lot of other cities I've visited. I just think that malls/abandoned strip development are its biggest weaknesses, even as the city tries to fix the problems. GSP is a perfect example of the way it could have gone.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:18 PM on December 29, 2012


I live in a (relatively) small town which is getting its THIRD super-Walmart (about a mile away from me). It is driving out nearly everything else in town - the mall is dying a slow, painful death and the smaller grocery stores are being driven out. I can no longer get simple things like the underwear I've bought at JC Penney's for years and years. So now I'm forced to either shop at Walmart (horrible, crowded, smelly shopping experience where everything is low quality and nothing fits right) or go online and hope I can find something decent so I won't have to spend all my time ordering and shipping things back. I hate this trend.
posted by jenh526 at 8:29 PM on December 29, 2012


You mall haters, what do you do, where do you go?

For me personally? I shop online or go to mixed development places or the city if I have to shop in person. I've only been to the mall once this year, and there are two of the most successful malls in America five minutes away from my apartment. I just hate going there.
posted by empath at 8:38 PM on December 29, 2012


Man I will never understand the hate-on people have for teenagers who make minimum wage at shit jobs.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:42 PM on December 29 [15 favorites +] [!]


That's a pretty asinine conclusion to draw from a comment that's clearly directed at a corporate ethos and not the people that work there. If you're really sincere in your love of disingenuous corporate enterprises I assume you buy all your electronics at Best Buy?
posted by docpops at 8:51 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Over the past few years I have gotten to understand how advertisers segment the population. It is largely what I do. Some of them I'm looking to drive to stores, some I'm looking to drive online, others to pick up the phone. Regardless of the method of purchase, there are certain macro characteristics which produce sales. Those characteristics change over time, but not as fast as they used to. This is one of the reasons that marketing seems to turn itself on its head every few years - because one needs a different spin and focus in order to attract new or to entice existing customers to go back to shopping with you.

Slap in the financial crisis (and really it began in early 2007 - long before Lehman Brother's collapsed) and malls stopped expanding - why expand retail presence when banks won't underwrite the loans for your mega malls, when retailers are equally pressed for capital to put in a store in said non-existent mall, and most importantly, when consumers move from a state of easy credit to having to actually choose a few luxury items instead of buying them all on credit (sometimes bought in cash by the folks that took out their home equity). Basically everyone in that cycle was just gummed up. That's not the only thing that happened, but its a start.

Now, let's hit basic retail theory: store traffic has a sharp gain over the first few months, peaking generally no later than 18 months after opening, and then declines exponentially. Well before the 7 year mark, your business had better be changing some aspect of its format to shock the system and regain customers, or else you are starting to look at a steady state much lower than your peak. As a retailer, you can beat this cycle by layering in new storefronts, but sooner or later you hit this peak density of retail locations, and that means that you have to expand into less desirable locations. So if retail expansion was largely put on hold since 2008, there has been a pretty good chunk of time where the defining retail characteristic is shrinkage.

Now available retail inventory is growing - but let's take a look at where it isn't growing but sales are strong, places like palm springs, CA and white plains, NY. Both of these places are destination shopping areas, and the retail density is such that its hard to put every new store in those areas when most retailers are already there - (meaning, the Starbucks model where multiple Starbucks can exist in close proximity works for Starbucks, but it doesn't work for The Gap. At some point new stores cease attracting new customers and instead just cannibalize preexisting locations.

Lastly, North Dakota. There is generally too small a population base in places where your store doesn't already exist. You can't expand into an area where you don't have a big enough customer base. Even though customers are willing to drive further in rural areas, the population density of areas surrounding malls in ND vs NY is such that it is almost always universally better to expand in NY.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:56 PM on December 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


You mall haters, what do you do, where do you go? I'd really like to know.

I've never been a big window shopper. I have always disliked going and just hanging out without buying. When I do need something I pick a couple of stores and am in and out. If I go to a mall it's because of a specific store.

If I'm going to stroll shop I'll go to one of the main streets which have more mom and pop stores because the things they have in them are more interesting and tend to not be as available in such a mass produced way. That's one of the things that always bugged me about malls. One mall tended to be the same as another. Same stores, same old stuff.

I do way more shopping online now. I'm loving it more and more as it means less time out actually shopping. The less walking around type shopping I have to do the better.
posted by Jalliah at 9:06 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


escabeche: "I brought my 2-year-old daughter to the mall the other weekend and for a day afterwards all she could talk about was "I want to go to the mall again!" "

Yeah, I had been to the mall once in five years before my kids were born (because someone was registered for her wedding at one of the stores and I couldn't buy online), and now it's really a very pleasant winter outing -- walking up and down the mall twice is a pretty good walk, there's lots to look at for the kids (people! lights! stores full of stuff!), there's easy special-treat snacks in food courts where it's okay to have toddlers, there's kiddie play spaces, and I can even theoretically run an errand or two. All dry and indoors and with no traffic if a kid happens to dart away. And NOW that we can go without a stroller we can ride ESCALATORS which is apparently life's pinnacle experience.

We go downtown at least weekly, and we walk all over our walkable neighborhood and run lots of errands on foot, but it's honestly been shocking to me how pleasant the mall is as an outing when you have small children. I'm not a huge fan of malls for all the reasons people mention in this thread, but there are just so few indoor things to do with active 5-and-under children when the weather is bad that it's made me look at malls with new eyes.

Locally the older indoor mall seems to be doing a bit better than the fancy new outdoor mall, I assume partly because rents are lower at the older indoor mall. But also, dude, indoors. Six months of the year the outdoorness of the outdoor mall is an annoyance that makes it a too-spread-out shopping center.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:13 PM on December 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


You mall haters, what do you do, where do you go? I'd really like to know.

i live in nyc, i just walk out my front door and shopping happens.
posted by elizardbits at 9:15 PM on December 29, 2012


That's a pretty asinine conclusion to draw from a comment that's clearly directed at a corporate ethos and not the people that work there. If you're really sincere in your love of disingenuous corporate enterprises I assume you buy all your electronics at Best Buy?

High five.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:25 PM on December 29, 2012


You mall haters, what do you do, where do you go? I'd really like to know.
For shopping or just in general? We do almost all of our shopping online except for food, beer and kitty litter. In general we go out to the movies, restaurants, the gym, parks, museums, etc. Even before the Internet, I never understood the point of going to the mall just to go to the mall.
posted by octothorpe at 9:41 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


You mall haters, what do you do, where do you go?

There's nothing in a mall for me. (I'm old, I'm a guy.) I'd like to browse a bookstore, a music/CD store, a camera store, a hardware store: None of these things exist in malls anymore. (Radio Shack is still in every mall, but they no longer sell anything I'd want to buy.)

From my perspective, malls are almost entirely full of shoddy, overpriced clothing. And I hate shopping for clothes (did I mention that I'm an old guy?). My feet have not changed size in forty years or so, I can buy my shoes on-line. And as an aside, if daddy doesn't want to hang out at the mall, my kids don't get to go to the mall as often as they'd like, either. The death of Borders means that I dropped from going to the mall once a month to going maybe twice a year, only when my kids insist.

For me, well-made clothes that fit come almost entirely from the internet.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:46 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


i live in nyc, i just walk out my front door and shopping happens.

Great solution, now let's try do duplicate it in a North Dakota wheat field (about the same size as Manhattan) and move five million multi-cultural folks to that field. Maybe dig a couple immense drainage ditchs, the East ditch and the Hudson ditch.

Oh and to snark about Boston's 'squares', the Burlington Mall seemed reasonably busy on a recent random day, it seems to tune itself up often enough to remain relevant. It has a Nordstroms, again relatively recently.

There seem to be enough malls that reinvent themselves that a few will continue.

Now couldn't legislation or zoning be used to kill strip malls?
posted by sammyo at 9:51 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm from Minneapolis, which usually means I would claim never to go to the Mall of America, but I actually loved the place. I mean, all your criticisms of malls are well-founded, and I agree with all of it, but there was one thing the MOA offered that most American cities have lost.

There was a time, before suburban flight, before a sort of car culture that eliminates walking for any distance, before parking ramps that open directly into stores, before television and radio and Internet commercials, before direct marketing, when many American cities were adventures. You just went for a walk in the city and you would see something extraordinary, free of charge. There were buskers, because there was a significant pedestrian culture, and you could make a few bucks by entertaining them. Businesses did things to attract passers-by, including taking a lot of their business out onto the street. Advance men for circuses would come to town a week early and bury themselves in the earth for a week, with a tube down to their living grave so you could talk to them, there, in the center of a business district. Variety shows would have public performances. There were regular promotional parades. There were public spaces where people went for leisure, and they had events, such as brass bands or talent contests or bicycle demonstrations.

And this was everyday. When you went out for a walk in the city, you were part of a sprawling public square. There are still places like this, particularly big old cities like New York and San Francisco and New Orleans. But Minneapolis ain't one of them. Even though we have a pedestrian mall downtown, we don't have much that happens on it -- once in a blue moon, but sporadically. People take the skyways, and while you'll see an occasional busker, it isn't used for the sort of endless promotion, community development, and public space that you once found in the city.

No, if you want a place that is an adventure, you go to the Mall of America. I have been there for fashion shows (where I met Playboy playmate and Bettie Page spokesmodel Claire Sinclair, and had a long and very nice talk with her sister, also a Playboy model). I have been in a reality show at the Mall. I have met Mr. Clean. I have seen mariachis and folklorico dancers on Cinco de Mayo. I have seen a shark dissected -- and not just any shark, this one. I saw Rick Springfield talk. Every time I went to the Mall, it was another adventure, and never preplanned. I just walked around and sooner or later a crowd would gather and something mad or fascinating would happen.

I am in Omaha now, and I am very fond of this town, but there is nothing here to match the adventure of just going to the Mall of America. I miss it, and the web will never offer something comparable.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:51 PM on December 29, 2012 [13 favorites]


I can't see huge spaces like that going to waste. Put in things that interest people. Turn the old department store into a lazer tag or paintball palace. Make the food court look like Tokyo or an old town in Germany. There is one near me with an ice rink. And I just went to see a movie in the Newish Imax 3d theater at the mall.

They are not completely dying only going through a transition which will require a transition. Some won't make it, but some will.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:46 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


They are not completely dying only going through a transition which will require a transition. Some won't make it, but some will.
new mall
yet the old "inner city" mall is dying
posted by robbyrobs at 7:21 AM on December 30, 2012


Near my work, we have two outdoor premium outlet malls under construction virtually across the street from one another. They are both near a large, ~2 mile strip mall and a decent sized mall. It's like a shopping cibola all built up in an area that was over 10 feet underwater (except the mall) during the midwestern floods in the early 90's.
posted by Jacob G at 7:32 AM on December 30, 2012


That's a pretty asinine conclusion to draw from a comment that's clearly directed at a corporate ethos and not the people that work there.

Um, way to strike a blow against the Man. Instead of going to the mall and buying clothes, we're...shopping on sites like Amazon and mostly using our credit cards backed by faceless megabanks.

No, if you want a place that is an adventure, you go to the Mall of America.

Well, since I've now heard about the experience at America's 2nd largest mall, I feel I have to talk a bit about my local mall, which happens to be the 4th largest. I think what you've said about the public square thing is true. The South Coast Plaza is a "luxury" mall, so it's an opportunity for the typical OC wealth flaunters to both buy their luxury brands and a space to show them off too. Another feature of it being a luxury mall is that it attracts tourists wanting some cheap(er) genuine LV and Gucci, and I most often overhear Chinese being said. I think it was part of the reason why it was built next to the John Wayne Airport. It also helps that it has a skybridge that connects to the Segerstrom Center of the Arts, which is pretty much the only place in the county that has Broadway performances and other world class performance-type stuff. So, yes, the whole adventure aspect is there too.

And if anyone's curious, the reason I go is because of the Lego Store. I mean, I like Brooks Brothers and such, but before the Lego Store I went like once or twice a year.
posted by FJT at 7:35 AM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would think the rise of the Big Box store plays a huge part in the fall of the mall. Which is a bit ironic since the Big Box store resembles nothing less than the free-standing department store of yore...which evolved into the anchor store at...the mall.

I note, too, that most new "mall" creation is along the lines of the "town marketplace" open-air concept, where the stores are laid-out like a small town, complete with sidewalks and angled parking. Concepts evolve.

As someone who absolutely must try clothes and shoes on, and has the need to inspect an item before purchasing (and who finds the order-it-online-then-return-it-if-it-doesn't-fit method stupidly inefficient) I pray physical stores don't disappear anytime soon.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:47 AM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


First, I've spent very little time in malls, and would not describe myself as a fan.

But this is again a symptom of something I've mentioned here over and over - which is that decent jobs are going away. And these mall jobs which are vanishing are sort of low-grade decent jobs - but they are decent jobs where you at least get to meet people and hang out.

Why is shopping online cheaper? Because it uses less labor. Because you don't have people standing around, idle some of the time, and spending some of the rest of their time attempting to persuade people to purchase their products. Because the physical labor it hires is employed far away from urban centers or even suburban sprawls, so they can pay bottom dollar.

And when you're working to fulfill online orders, your every minute is taken into account. You don't get to stand around on a slack day and chat - the machines know how many orders need to be filled that day, and when there are fewer than usual, some of you get sent home. Each order you fill is kept track of - if you start to slack off, the machines will know and you'll get cautioned, and pretty soon, fired, because there's another replaceable part ready to take your place. Since you aren't involved in selling at all, there's no hope of a commission - since you learn little or nothing about the products you're putting into boxes to ship and how to sell them, there's almost no hope of promotion past a certain level of "managing" other people putting products into boxes. Since there's little training and little knowledge, if you try to organize a union or strike, they can very easily replace you with other spare parts in a moment.

It's appalling, and the change is only accelerating, due to the vicious cycles mentioned above. The result will be the continued devaluation of most forms of labor... and the net result of the devaluation of labor will be very bad if not catastrophic for society.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:41 AM on December 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


In cities where you can't even get on a public bus without being at serious risk of armed robbery, the malls are an oasis of calm and 'normality'.

That was pretty much the premise of Howard Chaykin's American Flagg!, which was set mostly in and around a fortress-like mall in Chicago in the 2030s to which most civic functions had moved. Of course, Chaykin, like most people, didn't foresee the internet.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:46 AM on December 30, 2012


I'd like to browse a bookstore, a music/CD store, a camera store, a hardware store: None of these things exist in malls anymore.

Plenty of malls have Apple Stores.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:01 AM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I work in mall that had died back in 2006...

It has been renovated into office spaces, meeting rooms, class rooms, and commons areas.

There is a small data center which is our internal lab.

We have a small coffee shop, which sells food as well.

It has been an amazing transformation from a dying retail space, into a LEED certified office complex.

Mind you... This is an outlier... and may not work everywhere.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 11:23 AM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd never heard of deadmalls.com before reading the article. Having just visited it, I find its name ironic.

I looked at the two closest entries to me (within my metro area, and that I'm familiar with). The information on them was 6-7 years old and completely out of date. Neither mall exists in its previous state, but both sites have been redeveloped for retail. One appears to be thriving, while the other is doing okay.

But you wouldn't know any of this from deadmalls.com ... so caveat emptor if you're constructing social or economic arguments with their information.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:53 AM on December 30, 2012


The problem with Malls is that they always clamp down on the possibility of anything interesting happening in them. Much like the rest of the suburbs. They are a public space in the same way a mannequin is a person.
posted by srboisvert at 12:46 PM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


But you wouldn't know any of this from deadmalls.com ... so caveat emptor if you're constructing social or economic arguments with their information.

You could let them know. There's even a radiobox for 'redevelopment' on their comment form.
posted by madajb at 1:10 PM on December 30, 2012


Interesting article. Here in the Chicago area, we have plenty of dead or dying malls, but we also have quite a few that are doing very well. Oakbrook Center, Woodfield Mall, Water Tower Place and The Shops at North Bridge always seem to be packed. (Woodfield in particular is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area) Yorktown Center, near me, has become much more popular in the last couple years.

I will say that a dying mall is one of the most depressing places to go.
posted by SisterHavana at 1:10 PM on December 30, 2012


pmurray63: "But you wouldn't know any of this from deadmalls.com ... so caveat emptor if you're constructing social or economic arguments with their information."

Their articles on the two that I linked to were accurate. As with anything, cross checking information against multiple sources is always a good practice. Just ask Snopes.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:20 PM on December 30, 2012


A number of physical retailers have already succumbed to online competition including Circuit City, Borders, CompUSA, Tower Records and Blockbuster

Boo. Fucking. Hoo.

Just in time for Most Misplaced Concern of the Year award.


I can't remember the last time I've heard someone distressed that a big named retailer that provided excellent customer service was going out of business because of online competition. It may happen, but it's so rare, I think, as to be the exception. You provide a particular kind of customer service, and people will find you. You provide less than stellar customer service, and people use you as a showroom for buying online.

It's really surprising to me the number of places that have responded in exactly the opposite way needed to online competition. There are at least two places that I was more than happy to traverse through sleet and rain to to provide my business, because when you care about something, you watch out for it. However, instead of providing better customer service when times got tough, they cut back on services and competent staff, to where the in-store shopping experience was highly disappointing. And when this happened more than a few times, I decided I'd go to online places to start getting certain things. I haven't looked back, nor felt bad when these places kept going under. Especially since the online experience (Amazon, for example) proved to be not only quick and easy, but also an example of customer service that validated my concerns each and every time with creative solutions, and made me feel appreciative of them in a personal way.

I've seen stores doubling down at times to fix this problem, but it seems to be in the wrong direction, and often at expense of customer relationships. People go out of their way to spend money where they feel good about themselves. You should never mess with that.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:24 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


However, instead of providing better customer service when times got tough, they cut back on services and competent staff, to where the in-store shopping experience was highly disappointing.

Sounds like the type of all-american decision making that wins the executive leadership huge bonuses. When in trouble, fire the workers.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:54 PM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


> There's nothing in a mall for me. (I'm old, I'm a guy.) I'd like to browse a bookstore, a music/CD store, a camera store, a hardware store: None of these things exist in malls anymore.

The mall nearest to me has all those things except for the CDs (other than the ones in the book store), plus a branch of the library and a bakery with good sandwiches. Neener neener.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:48 PM on December 30, 2012


I've seen stores doubling down at times to fix this problem, but it seems to be in the wrong direction, and often at expense of customer relationships. People go out of their way to spend money where they feel good about themselves. You should never mess with that.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:24 PM on December 30 [+] [!]


Word.

Our local Nordstrom's is always mobbed. It isn't rocket science. Don't treat your customer's like idiot children and make returns hassle-free. Meanwhile the Best Buy across town is practically empty except for a few lost septuagenarians looking for 9 volt batteries.
posted by docpops at 5:15 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


A couple thoughts:

-Consolidation in movie theaters has eliminated another notable (maybe secondary?) set of anchor tenants, and just like the decline of bookstores, music stores, and department stores this is also linked to rise of digital media, online retail and networked entertainment.

-Empty malls make good ready-made large schools or small colleges.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:16 PM on December 30, 2012


"There are only two types of malls: The ones that white people go to and the ones that white people used to go to"--- Chris Rock
posted by Renoroc at 5:45 PM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


The only thing that's really different are the no handgun signs.

One of my favorite honeymoon pictures is me in front of a Mall of America sign that said something like "No, Seriously, Do Not Bring Your Guns Here" and making a super disappointed face.

Anyway, some malls are cool, some aren't.

Great solution, now let's try do duplicate it in a North Dakota wheat field (about the same size as Manhattan) and move five million multi-cultural folks to that field. Maybe dig a couple immense drainage ditchs, the East ditch and the Hudson ditch.

There are millions of people who don't need malls because they live in decently planned urban areas. Sorry, I guess.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:46 PM on December 30, 2012


Malls will become places for other activities that require physical presence, now that shopping doesn't any more. As others have noted, they will house churches, paintball arenas, offices, restaurants, gyms, clubs, medical offices, etc. Not necessarily a bad outcome.
posted by Triplanetary at 6:05 PM on December 30, 2012


The building the Blockbuster once occupied in my home town turned into a branch of the local library. I'm all for that kind of reuse but I'm not seeing a mall being turned into doctors offices, etc working well.

Or you could turn a dead mall into your corporate HQ...
posted by zsazsa at 6:38 PM on December 30, 2012


I grew up in malls, pretty much. Many of my earliest memories are of hanging out with my parents drinking Orange Julii and window-shopping at our local mall, and I'd say I went to the mall at least twice a month to hang out with friends during several of my teenage years. I'm from the San Fernando Valley and malling was one of the only options if you didn't want to spend time at your friends' houses, where there was always the risk that one of your friends' parents would hear you say a swear. Our parents were always down to drop us off at the mall to roam unattended for a few hours because they knew there was a security presence there and they knew we didn't own enough money to get ourselves into real trouble. The mall where I grew up was renovated a few years back and is now overwhelmingly huge. I've noticed that now that I don't go to enclosed malls often, I find them very, very exhausting; something about all that noise bouncing off the walls is just hard for me to tolerate now that I'm not accustomed to it any more, which is funny given the extent to which it used to be music to my ears. Where I grew up there were three malls within walking distance. One was demolished to be replaced by a Walmart and a bunch of other cheapo retailers, one was expanded as mentioned above, and one has remained sort of eerily exactly the same. The last was anchored by a multiplex, so it's always had a slightly different situation in terms of attracting foot traffic. I'm sure anyone who's from my neck of the Valley can now say EXACTLY where I grew up based on this description.

I live in a tourist destination now and we have a luxury mall that is always unpleasantly crowded with folks from all over the world. It's actually a new mall - the old mall was an enclosed one and the new one is open-air and opened up just last year after many years under construction. All indications are that the new mall is a huge success. I guess we're not really in a typical retail situation here where I live, though, due to the tourism and the socioeconomic makeup of the surrounding area. Definitely malls aren't dead, though...just changing. The ones near me are juggernauts.
posted by town of cats at 7:35 PM on December 30, 2012


and has the need to inspect an item before purchasing (and who finds the order-it-online-then-return-it-if-it-doesn't-fit method stupidly inefficient) I pray physical stores don't disappear anytime soon.

Yeah, I find the whole idea bizarre that it’s easier to buy everything online. I have no idea how anyone could regularly buy clothes or shoes online, I’ve only done it a couple of times and was disappointed. It’s just too much work to return things, I’d rather just go to the store.

Um, way to strike a blow against the Man. Instead of going to the mall and buying clothes, we're...shopping on sites like Amazon and mostly using our credit cards backed by faceless megabanks.

Well said. Where did this attitude come from that shopping with Amazon or other online retailers is some kind of underground shit? It’s just weird. Giant corporations have wet dreams about you just sitting home ordering things sight unseen with credit cards. They don’t have to hire people, train them, rent retail space, be part of any community or be nice to you. They make you do most of the work. Shit in a can.
posted by bongo_x at 8:48 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I live in Brooklyn and shop in a mall pretty regularly. It's easy to walk or bike to, in addition to being on top of a huge subway station.
posted by akgerber at 9:45 PM on December 30, 2012


Where did this attitude come from that shopping with Amazon or other online retailers is some kind of underground shit? It’s just weird. Giant corporations have wet dreams about you just sitting home ordering things sight unseen with credit cards. They don’t have to hire people, train them, rent retail space, be part of any community or be nice to you. They make you do most of the work. Shit in a can.
posted by bongo_x at 8:48 PM on December 30 [1 favorite +] [!]


Perhaps I'm being obtuse, but in less than an hour I was able to restock all my spa chemicals, purchase a set of rollers for a chronic hamstring injury, and purchase a new printer without leaving the couch. No gas wasted, no issues with showing up and not having stock, the ability to read dozens of reviews on products before purchasing. I don't think anyone thinks shopping online is edgy or underground - it's the natural evolution of how people are going to want to do the bulk of their commerce that does not require trying on clothes or direct contact with a salesperson. As far as a "faceless megabank", that just makes no sense. It's the same entity no matter the locale of the transaction. In my case USAA, hardly a faceless entity.
posted by docpops at 9:32 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


My commercial real estate insider tells me that the mallpocalypse is coming. They've been trying to dump retail and office/light industrial and pick up multi-family because they see the writing on the wall.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:36 AM on December 31, 2012


Places we go instead of malls:

Target (kid's clothes, dry goods, random "stuff")
Boutiques (my clothes, since I'm picky about them)
Online (husband's clothes, since he is not picky if they are long enough to cover his freakishly long back)
Local western warehouse/cowboy supplies place for husband's "costume" shirts for his hillbilly hiphop band
DSW Warehouse, for...shoes.
Bookstores, for books/entertainment
Occasionally Frye's or other retailers for electronics stuff, but you can get the basics at Costco or online just as cheap.
Gamestop, now that we have a Wii, although lots of people have been giving us their old games.
Movie theaters (many have grills/restaurants now, which is nice)
Museums
Playgrounds (here in Tx you can go outside most of the year)

I did go to malls when the boy was small, but honestly, they were a stopgap. I could've done just as well taking him to a McDonald's play place. And often did. The play spaces were nicer there.

There definitely aren't enough indoor places for kids to just hang out, and that's the biggest loss where malls are concerned; when it's 20 below or 110 degrees, outdoor playgrounds just don't work. Maybe doomed malls could fill themselves with real playgrounds, bounce houses, kid-friendly eateries, mini-kid museums etc and survive ok.
posted by emjaybee at 2:31 PM on December 31, 2012


Places we go instead of malls:

Target (kid's clothes, dry goods, random "stuff")


But Target, of course, is a mall. It just doesn't have walls between the stores.
posted by escabeche at 3:45 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, thriving downtowns are great and everything, but when it gets dark at 4:30, it's 36 degrees with a nice cold misty rain, that mall play area is a godsend.

QFT. There are two huge malls within 20 minutes' drive of me, both packed all the time, both anchored by multiple large department stores; one is a lot more upmarket than the other, but they both have a Nordstrom's, they both have an Apple store, they both have restaurants both casual and fancy. AND they both have children's play areas, which my husband and I have affectionately dubbed "run and shrieks."

There's another local mall that lacks a play area, and it is not doing so well. Lots of empty storefronts, the only place where you can regularly find people is in the food court (the two thriving malls don't even have food courts, the eating options are distributed all over the mall), it just feels echoey and sad.

Clearly the difference is in the presence of the play area.
posted by KathrynT at 11:12 PM on January 1, 2013


I don't think anyone thinks shopping online is edgy or underground - it's the natural evolution of how people are going to want to do the bulk of their commerce that does not require trying on clothes or direct contact with a salesperson. As far as a "faceless megabank", that just makes no sense. It's the same entity no matter the locale of the transaction. In my case USAA, hardly a faceless entity.

I think the "natural evolution" aspect of it is something you are not completely seeing. Earlier in the thread it was pointed out that large shopping malls were partially responsible for eliminating the competition from retailers that were more local or smaller. Yes, people are glad not to go to their mall and have to find parking and deal with the crowds (not to mention pick up all sorts of germs, since I've been battling a terrible fever this last week). But the online retailers replacing them are still large corporations, or even just the online arms of brick and mortar behemoths.

So, this means the malls will suffer, and some people in the thread are cheering. But, this doesn't mean the small stores are coming back. And the community suffers. For example, money paid online doesn't circulate in a local community. In fact, there was a post about a month ago on US made items for Christmas, but got turned into a discussion about the importance of purchasing goods locally. And with cash I might add, since the involvement of credit companies as transactional middlemen takes money out of the community too.

So, I wasn't under the mistaken impression that people shopping online were renegades. Oh, far from it. I was implying that shopping online is only going to hasten the speed in which we jump out of the frying pan and into the fryer.

In short, of course it's easier to shop online, you don't have to think about people losing jobs or the erosion of local community.
posted by FJT at 10:18 PM on January 3, 2013


Automation and expensive oil are the only viable methods for keeping production local, FJT.

I personally hope that slow robotic container ships using solar and wind might make long distance shipping viable permanently. I'm happy buying locally produced food that's potentially better, but many products cannot benefit from local production. I'm happy buying off etsy if the product is genuinely creative of course, but that's still globalization, just without the homogenization.

There is still room for quais-local production however, namely customization. If you find jeans with particular logos and decorations you like, you could order correctly fitting blank jeans from China, download the artwork from thepiratebay.se's physibles section, and run the jeans through the computer controlled sewing machine at your local makerspace or DIY taylor.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:15 AM on January 4, 2013


But what are the implications for old Warren Zevon songs?
posted by Chrysostom at 10:55 AM on January 11, 2013


Werewolf in Walmart ?
posted by y2karl at 11:55 PM on January 11, 2013


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