The Future of the American Mall

They started popping up in the late 1960’s, about the same time as air-conditioning.Malls were an American invention, a large indoor space for shopping, usually anchored on each end by prominent department stores, smaller retailers inside catering to bustling shoppers along the labyrinth of hallways. Those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end. Many of them today are probably ending, victims of the double whammy of the Amazon Effect and a novel coronavirus.

Kelly Kofer is CEO of The Retail Coach in Austin and has consulted on 650 malls across America, working with municipalities to develop properties. He says his work has a lot to do with the changes that have taken place across the decades, and finds consumer shopping habits have changed dramatically. Many of the department stores that anchored malls have closed and there are no new ones to replace them.

The key, Kofer says, has been finding alternative uses. As the department stores have vacated it’s put pressure on the interior stores, so re-purposing he says is going to be key in 2020, 2021 and further ahead. “These malls are in superior retail locations. Their problem has nothing to do with retail locations. Consumer shopping habits have changed.”

Online sales have taken a huge bite out of malls as well as the mom and pop shops on Main Street, and Kofer says there is no end in sight for their growth trends. Add to that Covid 19 and you have a volatile cocktail of forces spelling an end to what has been a suburban staple for decades. Kofer says with a pandemic raging it is likely to magnify the collapse of many American shopping institutions that went into the equation too weak to survive.

The future is about re-purposing, and that means moving beyond retail, some converting to a bulk distribution or various-use model. The big buzzword, Kofer says, is mixed use. Think apartments, think office space, think medical facilities. Everyone is taking the blinders off and looking at possibilities with new eyes. It’s an era of creativity dawning. Some areas, because of the prime location of malls, are just leveling them. Hauling them away, to be replaced by high-density living quarters with shopping areas, doctors offices and parks.

That means the end of malls. Some analysts are predicting 50% of malls won’t survive the Covid impact. The survivors will have to rethink their future.

Photo: getty images

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