The Life And Death Of The Shopping Mall

<p>Once thriving, America's indoor shopping malls are on the decline, and many predict their death may finally come within the next few years.</p>
January 2, 2008, 7am PST | Nate Berg
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email Comments

"By the early 1980s indoor shopping centres were woven tightly into American culture. New cuisines (the term is perhaps too grand) emerged in them, thanks to chains like Cinnabon and Panda Express, which did not exist outside malls. They began to swell to the point of absurdity. Canada's West Edmonton Mall, which opened in 1982, has an ice-skating rink, a pool with sea-lions and an indoor bungee jump. The Mall of America, in Minnesota, has three rollercoasters and more than 500 shops arranged in "streets" designed to appeal to different age groups. Every morning it opens early to accommodate a group of "mall walkers" who trudge around its 0.57-mile perimeter for exercise."

"By the 1990s malls were in trouble. Having bred too quickly, they began to cannibalise each other. (Turn left out of Southdale's car park and the first building you pass is another shopping mall.) Discount shops, factory-outlet stores and category killers like Toys "R" Us ate into their profits. As middle-aged shoppers began to disappear, the teenagers who had inhabited malls from the beginning became more noticeable, which only made things worse. In 1998 Good Housekeeping ran a story entitled "Danger at the Mall". Indoor shopping malls are now so out of favour that not one will be built in America before 2009 at the earliest, according to the International Council of Shopping Centres."

"One reason for the malls' problems is that the suburbs have changed. When the Southdale shopping centre opened on the outskirts of Minneapolis, the suburbs were almost entirely white and middle-class. Whites were fleeing a wave of new arrivals from the South (the black population of Minneapolis rose by 155% between 1940 and 1960). Although Gruen could not bear to admit it, his invention appealed to those who wanted downtown's shops without its purported dangers. These days, in Minneapolis as in much of America, the ethnic drift is in the opposite direction. The suburbs are becoming much more racially mixed while the cities fill up with hip, affluent whites. As a result, suburban malls no longer provide a refuge from diversity."

Full Story:
Published on Wednesday, December 19, 2007 in The Economist
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email