Saving the Mall By Returning to Its Ideals

Stephanie Clifford documents the extraordinary lengths malls across the country are going to in hopes of attracting customers in the face of e-commerce and a battered economy.
February 7, 2012, 12pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Victor Gruen probably didn't have vegetable gardens and casinos in mind when he envisioned the country's first enclosed shopping malls as community centers. But in communities across the country who cannot afford to demolish malls suffering from high vacancy levels or attract new tenants, some extraordinary uses are bringing in visitors. According to Clifford, "Schools, medical clinics, call centers, government offices and even churches are now standard tenants in malls."

"The efforts reflect a shift in how Americans want to shop today: rather than going to big, overwhelming malls, many prefer places where stores can be entered from the street, featuring restaurants, entertainment and other Main Street mainstays. Also, as commuters in urban areas shift to public transportation, the giant parking lots are no longer needed."

"While some malls can afford to change with the times, many cannot, and over all, there are too many malls today, urban planners say. The vacancy rate at shopping centers and strip malls was 11 percent in the last quarter of 2011, the highest level since 1991, according to the research firm Reis. Larger regional malls fared better, with a vacancy rate of 9.2 percent."

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Published on Sunday, February 5, 2012 in The New York Times
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