On the Life Cycle of Suburban Malls

Using Greenwood, Indiana as an example, Eric McAfee discusses how the value of individual suburban malls depreciates over time. Shiny new shopping centers compensate for inevitable vacancies in older ones.

November 14, 2015, 1:00 PM PST

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


South Mall Parking Lot

Scott Alderfer / Twitter

Online shopping and changing consumer preferences have prompted speculation about the suburban mall's decline. Eric McAfee offers some perspective on the cycle of retail decline and rebirth. On malls, he writes, "History has proven time and again that, as soon as one new development opens its doors, another one within a five-mile radius begins a steady and generally incorrigible decline."

McAfee's piece looks closely at the spread of retail centers in Greenwood, including its long-neglected main street. "So why does Greenwood need a new shopping district more than half the size of the regional mall, which sits just two miles away?"

American retail has incredible staying power, but not in any one fixed location. "Americans respond more positively to shiny new things than they respond negatively to what gets left in the wake—the abandonment. Or else they catch abandonment amnesia when the next glossy package comes along. All a retail developer needs is 10-15 years of successful tenancy to reap solid profits—which is about all they can expect when depreciation life cycles are so brief."

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