Last weekend, I went to the Westfield Galleria in Roseville, a suburb of Sacramento, to check out the grand opening of its new wing of stores.
I guess Westfield has a lot of confidence that Roseville is recession-proof and residents still have money to spend -- the new shops included Louis Vuitton, Lush Cosmetics, H&M and Hot Topic. New stores opening there next year include Tiffany and Burberry. The stores were crowded but most people simply ogled, then exited empty-handed (I did my part to prop up the economy by buying a $6 Bath Bomb at Lush).
Global recession notwithstanding, Westfield also opened a humungous mall in London this month, even though Brits say they don't like shopping in malls. Simultaneously, Dubai is crowing about being home to the world's largest mall, with 600 retailers. Meanwhile back here in the U.S., home to more than 2,000 shopping malls, retailers are going out of business right and left, leaving darkened windows and abandoned space behind. Malls now seem more appealing to skateboarders than shoppers as a place to cruise. So are they on their way to extinction?
According to Newsweek, malls are in their dying throes, if not already dead. Nearly a fifth of American malls are failing, and a record 150,000 retail outlets are heading toward the exits. The largest, costliest mall to date, Xanadu in northern New Jersey, has only signed up nine tenants for its 200 spaces. To find dead or dying malls in your area, check out Deadmalls.com.
Experts say there's a few ways for malls to go. One is to market themselves as centers of thrift, and many malls already are hyping the low-cost retailers they have or trying to add them if they don't (can you see a 99-Cent Store or Goodwill store as the anchor tenant in your mall?). The other strategy is to hit the high-end crowds with Coach, Louis Vuitton and ride out the recession to more free-spending days. Appealing to the middle class isn't working for malls, which is why mainstays like the Gap and Foot Locker are turning off the lights.
But the future of the American mall actually looks pretty appealing. Mall developers are creating "lifestyle centers" that mix stores, apartments, offices, parks and promenades. One example is the The Americana at Brand in Southern California, where the mall was built as a small-town set with a trolley car, chemist and car-free promenades that is supposed to represent, well, Americana. While we may never regain that innocent time of non-consumerism before we all became mall rats, isn't it nice to know that you'll soon be able to snag a park bench and bucolic view instead of a oily Food Court table in between shopping sprees?
It's the end of the mall as we know it