The slow death of many shopping malls is well documented and it does not just affect retailers and developers; it has consequences for suburbs.
When anchor stores close, it can be hard to find businesses to replace them, because they occupy the multistory buildings at mall entrances that are often at least 100,000 square feet. If no replacement tenant is found, the loss could trigger a decadeslong downward spiral for the shopping mall and surrounding communities.
“The communities wither away, and they never come back,” said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a national retail consulting and investment banking firm headquartered in New York City…
The process of a shopping mall shutting down is slow, often over the course of a decade or more. As stores are boarded up one by one, shopper traffic slows and crime in the area tends to spike, Davidowitz says.
“Malls are big, big contributors to city and state taxes, jobs, and everything,” Davidowitz said. “Once they close, they are a blight on the community for a very long time.”
There are a number of options for suburbs to consider when renovating or replacing malls: try to fill vacant retail space, creating more experiences such as interesting architecture, introducing more mixed uses, and just demolishing the mall and starting over.
But, all of these require time for change to occur, foresight and flexibility on the part of local officials and residents to think about what might be more appropriate in these spaces (as well as how they might diversify their local economy and tax base to offset the loss of tax dollars from a dying mall), and interest in developers and business interests in doing something new. Indeed, a suburb could work really hard to develop new ideas but without an infusion of capital, it may not happen. Or, it may take years for plans to come together and the requisite partners to feel comfortable and meanwhile vacant spaces are just sitting there.
More broadly, the lack of shopping malls hints at a changing way of life in suburbs. Whereas the new postwar suburbs were marked by driving, new shopping malls, and prosperity that allowed people the time and resources to make purchases, suburbs today might be known more for struggling to find retailers, driving to different kinds of places (and less celebration of driving in general), and pockets of prosperity in some places (where malls might still thrive) and then pockets of scarcity elsewhere (where retailers are in short supply or only certain kinds of retailers are available).