For the past few generations, some say we’ve been living in the Information Age. Or the Space Age. Or the Atomic Age. But if I could name it, I’d call it the Mall Age.
Since the first U.S. indoor mall – the Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota – opened in 1956, the mall has been the place to be. Future historians will look at movies from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” to “Dawn of The Dead” to “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and know that there was once this place where we all gathered, a place that meant a lot to us.
But Black Friday is well-named this year. The day after Thanksgiving, when shopping is supposed to kick into high gear, may instead sound the death knell for that great American institution of the mall.
Why? The short answer: Amazon. A slightly longer answer: online shopping saves money and makes it unnecessary to drive to the mall. And one-stop shopping at stores like Walmart and Target – not to mention dollar shops popping up like mushrooms – is more convenient and generally cheaper than shopping at the mall.
Over the last decade or so, U.S. department stores have lost about a third of their revenue. Giants like Sears, J.C. Penney and Macy’s have been shedding outlets like a St. Bernard sheds fur.
And specialty stores that populated malls are falling by the wayside as well.
Look at bookselling behemoth Borders, defunct since 2011. Or RadioShack, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2015. Or Payless, the shoe store that announced its bankruptcy this year. There’s trouble at the Gap, Banana Republic, Gymboree, Michael Kors, Ann Taylor and so on and so on.
There’s been no construction on a major new mall since 2006.
In fact, with thousands of stores closing, 2017 looks to be bleaker for brick-and-mortar retailers than the crash of 2008.
I live in Los Angeles, a mecca for malls, and can see the collapse happening before my eyes.
My favorite mall is the Westside Pavilion, where Tom Petty shot his video “Free Fallin.” Petty left us this year, and I wonder if the Westside Pavilion won’t be following him.
Not that long ago, when the mall’s Barnes & Noble closed, I thought there might be trouble. But that was nothing. This year, one of its anchor stores, Nordstrom, relocated. And its other anchor, Macy’s, will be closing in 2018.
Hundreds of malls are expected to shutter in the next few years. This would have been unimaginable in my childhood, when malls were being built, not abandoned. But, in fact, there’s been no construction on a major new mall since 2006.
Some aren’t giving up, trying to cater to modern shoppers. This means a livelier atmosphere, a more stylish layout, increased activities, better food, whatever they can come up with. It could also mean more Apple stores. Or Amazon bookstores.
I wish these malls luck, but the future looks grim. Kids don’t hang out at malls like they used to. They hang out on social media.
Of course, in some ways, this is an appropriate revenge. Malls grew with the car culture, as Americans moved to the suburbs. This led to the decline of the beloved town square.
And look at Sears, which is in serious trouble. More than a century ago, before moving into department stores, Sears made its money through its famed mail-order catalog – the Amazon of its day. What goes around, comes around.
If malls do disappear, I’ll miss them. They’ve been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
But I have to believe that people don’t want to just stare at a screen (though I’m not saying to stop doing that, either, dear reader). People want to go out and have human contact. As long as that’s true, someone will figure out a way to give the public what it wants.