America’s Malls Are Shrinking
Have you been inside a mall lately? It’s just sad. For people my age—tragically deemed “Geriatric millennials,”—few things will make you feel as old as wandering through the mall of your youth, sounding like the old lady from Titanic, “I can still smell The Body Shop … the Sam Goody used to be right over there.”
Not surprisingly, Americans simply aren’t shopping at malls any more. Online retail has been growing by leaps and bound since the onset of the pandemic and remains strong. As fewer people shop at malls, it makes less sense for brands to maintain a presence. As premier shops and anchor stores pull out, malls eventually wither and shut-down.
The total number of U.S. malls has declined from an estimated 2,500 in the 1980s to about 700 today, reports the Wall Street Journal. Many were turned into open-air retail, an expensive and difficult undertaking that often takes decades. Some were demolished. Others remain standing, but aren’t operating and stand as vacant “ghost towns.”
Nick Egelanian, president of retail advisory firm SiteWorks, which tracks U.S. mall performance, told the Journal that he expects the number of malls to continue to decline over the next decade to a mere 150 nationwide. The survivors will be top-tier properties, with updated infrastructure and the best fashion and luxury retailers as well as dining and entertainment.
That seems to track. It’s more about a full experience, right? Because online has a seemingly endless inventory. But a good shopping experience involves service, environment and a social aspect. And that’s always been true. After all, the mall was one of the original “third places” for young people. But that’s essentially been replaced by social media.
Other industry watchers predict similar trouble on the horizon. Earlier this year, analysts at UBS projected that 40,000-50,000 American retail stores would shut down by 2027. They said traditional shopping malls were particularly high risk because shoppers now prefer to make quick trips to close-by stores. But you know what you don’t get with those quick trips? A leisurely moment to yourself, downing a delicious Cinnabon.