The End of the Mall? Navigating the Shifting Retail Landscape

More online shopping means fewer consumers are spending money at brick-and-mortar stores, with suburban malls hit especially hard. But municipalities are looking for creative strategies to navigate a post-mall world.

December 27, 2019, 7:00 AM PST

By Camille Fink

End of the Mall

Nicholas Eckhart / Flickr

Gregory Scruggs writes about changing consumer trends and the impact on municipalities. "Over the past two decades, consumers nationwide have made significant shifts in their shopping habits, migrating to online retail and returning to traditional commercial corridors and shopping districts in economically strong metro areas."

The result has been more struggling suburban malls with high vacancy rates or properties that have shut down altogether. This in turn means lower property assessments and decreases in property tax funding for local communities. For municipalities that depend largely on commercial property taxes, the effects of flagging malls can be substantial.

But, says Scruggs, communities are planning ahead in anticipation of a long-term shift away from traditional malls. Municipalities are investing in housing and retail in downtowns to make up for the tax revenue that used to come from suburban malls. Others are looking to the redevelopment of mall properties as a way to diversify and transform these spaces.

Scruggs reviews examples of various municipalities around the country that are working to adjust and adapt to changing retail landscapes. "Such a radical change from the mall as an exclusively retail environment may conflict with land use policy. Instead of serving as an obstacle to this transition, local government can seize the reins to help secure an economically vibrant future."

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