Analysts and consumers alike have expressed rationales as to why sprawling shopping malls are fast becoming retail relics. Although they have differing opinions on what precipitated the downward spiral, there is one common reason on which they agree — the explosion of Internet shopping. As buyers seek faster and more streamlined ways to shop from the convenience of home, brickand-mortar stores seemingly topple like dominoes.
At the opening of the 2015 calendar year, the New York Times published a study by real estate firm Green Street Advisors predicting that over the course of the next decade an estimated 15 percent of large-scale shopping centers nationwide would either close up shop entirely or be converted into noncommercial space. That was a jump of 5 percent over a predication the same company made just a couple of years prior.
PBS recently aired a news segment on this phenomenon, in which panelists proffered their perspectives on ways to salvage, rehabilitate and revive forgotten buildings, and how best civic leaders can face the evolving ways people shop and their breakneck pace of life. The documentary noted that enclosed shopping malls enjoyed a boon during the 1950s, when the allure of suburban life created the perfect shopping storm. In the 50 years spanning 1956 to 2005, there were approximately 1,500 indoor malls created and built across the United States.
The number of new, similarly styled malls since 2006? Virtually none have been documented.
Len Schlesinger of Harvard Business School pointed out that the focus should now be on what can be done to enhance and functionally beautify these vast facilities, citing such successful ventures as conversion into storage facilities, bowling alleys and theaters. Architect Larry Grossman of ADD Inc. even described opportunities for a mix of retail and business, all encompassed within the same structure.
In Chestnut Hill, Mass., developers have applied this principle with resounding success, converting a formerly decrepit complex into what is now known as The Street. The campus houses a series of upscale shopping avenues for refined interests, along with nooks for alfresco dining. A nearby Macy’s has become a theatre known as SuperLux, which features the popular amenity of table service.
A winsome formula has made The Street well-received in the commerce landscape. Retailers that have taken root there have focused on offering options geared toward a family friendly environment.
For example, when the children’s apparel franchise Rugged Bear selected a new region in which to unveil another store, it’s 30th anniversary was chosen as the proper time to welcome guests to the The Street as well, even opting to herald the occasion with a birthday party to commemorate the occasion.
“We couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate our success of opening over 30 stores in 30 years than here,” announced Rugged Bear CEO Garr Larson in 2010. “Consumers are definitely more discerning and are thinking carefully about their purchases, especially when it comes to their kids.”
WS Development, The Street’s owning and operating firm at its inception, shared a similar sentiment. David Fleming, director of corporate marketing, said, “We’re excited that both our new and longstanding retailers are doing well, that our recent updates are creating a positive impact and that the shopping center continues to be a community destination for shoppers.”
Still other shopping malls have rebranded themselves in ways that replace the traditional “big box” appearance of grid-like corridors with a more open, airy design and of-the-moment retail options. Oakbrook Center in Chicago first opened in 1962, and underwent a $30 million renovation in 2014 to rave reviews. The changes included an enlarged, more spacious common area, outdoor seating in a “prairie-like” setting and dozens of new stores and restaurants. An entertainment outlet space was created to host special events such as movie nights and car shows. Travelers to that destination will also find lodging space, thanks to the premiere of Le Meridian Hotel, along with unique features that are strictly exclusive to the Midwest — another draw for shoppers who desire an experience offered nowhere else in America.
These will be the characteristics to ensure that while online shopping offers certain measures of convenience, there will always exist a certain charm to shopping in the traditional sense, and making memories along the way.
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Practically nowhere is immune from having to deal with abandoned mall structures. A few of the many U.S. cities struggling with the problem are below, although some have successfully recruited new tenants or owners to the site:
FLORIDA: Colonial Plaza Mall, Orlando; Crystal River Mall, Crystal River; Miracle City Mall, Titusville; Seminole Mall, Seminole; and 11 others
GEORGIA: yrna; Macon Mall, Macon; Savannah Mall, Savannah; and fi ve others
ILLINOIS: Washington Square Mall, Homewood; St. Charles Mall, St. Charles; One Schaumburg Place, Schaumburg; Jeff erson Square Mall, Joliet; Colonial Village Mall, Rockford; and 22 others
IOWA: Duck Creek Plaza, Bettendorf; Park Fair Mall, Des Moines; and four others MICHIGAN: Marquette Mall, Marquette; Northland Center Mall, Southfi eld; North Kent Mall, Grand Rapids; Summit Place Mall/ Pontiac Mall, Waterford; and eight others
MINNESOTA: Apache Plaza, St. Anthony Village; Brookdale Mall, Brooklyn Center; and four others
MISSOURI: Blue Ridge Mall, Independence; North Town Mall, Springfi eld; Mall at Wentzville Crossings, Wentzville; Metro North Mall, Kansas City; and seven others NEW YORK: Dutchess Mall, Fishkill; Galleria at Crystal Run, Middletown; Hudson Valley Mall, Kingston; Kings Mall, Kingston; Mall At New Rochelle, New Rochelle; Nanuet Mall, Nauet; Orange Plaza, Middletown; and 35 others
NORTH CAROLINA: Salisbury Mall, Salisbury; Signal Hill Mall, Statesville; South Square Mall, Durham; Southgate Mall, Elizabeth; and 12 others OHIO: American Mall, Lima; Beechmont Mall, Cincinnati; Euclid Square, Euclid; Northland Mall, Columbus; North Towne Square, Toledo; Parmatown Mall, Parma; Towner Place Mall at Carew Tower, Cincinnati; Woodville Mall, Northwood; and 19 others
PENNSYLVANIA: West Manchester Mall, York; Pittsburgh Mills, Tarentum; North Mall, York; MJ Mall, Carlisle; Gallery At Market East, Philadelphia; Century III Mall, Pittsburgh; and 23 others