While high-end malls thrive, many others have been unable to keep up with changing shopping demands of American consumers, leading to obituaries in the US press with headlines such as “A dying breed – the American shopping mall” and “shopping malls in crisis”.
About 80 per cent of the country’s 1,200 malls are considered healthy, which means store vacancy rates of 10 per cent or less, according to CoStar Group data published in The New York Times.
That is down from 94 per cent in 2006, and there is even a website dedicated to documenting what some are calling the death of the shopping centre, deadmalls.com, keeping tabs on the latest closures across the country. Ms Dorsey remembers the old-style mall with nostalgia. “The first time my mum allowed me to go out by myself, it was in a mall,” says Ms Dorsey, a saleswoman at a natural products shop in Fairfax, outside the US capital. “I do have fond memories.”
Most of America’s malls were built in the 1950s and 1960s, as a growing network of highways connected suburban homes to futuristic urban shopping centres…
“It’s not that consumption is going down – consumption is going up, but we’re consuming differently in different places,” says the sociologist George Ritzer, the author of a book on consumption, Enchanting a Disenchanted World. “They are becoming more entertainment complexes.”
There are some competing trends contributing to this:
1. The rise of the suburbs helped lead to this as centralized locations for shopping became more important than communities where needs could be met within walking or mass transit distances (like in cities). But, that decentralization can now be moved increasingly online.
2. Suburbs didn’t have as many public places – and if they did, they were more difficult to access since they often required driving. Malls filled this void, particularly for teenagers who became a prominent social group right around this time (and their collective life was encouraged in the suburbs which was largely centered around child-rearing).
3. Americans still like consuming. See the fate of higher-end shopping experiences. However, shoppers now have more options including big box stores and online retailers. Additionally, the shift in malls toward experiences rather than consumer goods is still consumption. In fact, prioritizing experiences might even increase consumption because people can have a variety of experiences.
While malls won’t disappear anytime soon, perhaps they will be seen at some point as the result of a particular historical and social convergence.