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Are Traditional Shopping Malls Dying?

Here is a look at the 40 plus year old Regency Square Mall in Jacksonville. It was hard to believe how many empty stores there are. Someone who works at the mall told me there are 36 vacant stores in the main mall anchored by Belk, Sears, J.C. Penny and Dillard’s. The Regency Square website states they have about 170 stores so that works out to about a 21% vacancy rate. In walking through the mall Saturday, it seemed like a very quiet place. Regency Square management featured merchandise from currently open stores in many of the vacant windows to improve on the desolate feeling one gets in walking around. This compared to the hustle and bustle I encountered at St. Johns Town Center, an outdoor shopping venue packed with shops and shoppers about six miles away from Regency.

So is the traditional mall dead? A quick Google scan for articles about failing malls produced 77 results. Here is an article from Newsweek that believes they are. Another article from the Wall Street Journal states that the current recession is turning malls into ghost towns. A very well thought out piece at MSN’s Money Central, features experts debating their fate.

According to the Planetizen web site, failing malls didn’t get into trouble overnight: most began their descent long before the tough climate.

“The enclosed shopping mall, an uniquely American retail innovation, was the ‘future of retail’ in the 1950s and 60s. Shopping centers became an icon of suburban living in the 1970s and 80s, before beginning their slowly accelerating decline in the 1990s. Today, the growing number of dead or dying shopping malls and centers are seen as symbols of the downside of ‘suburban sprawl.’

Finding new uses for old shopping centers will likely be a significant challenge for planners and real estate developers over the next decade. While revitalized downtown areas are making use of 19th Century buildings and neighborhoods to generate new businesses and profits, the iconic, post-World War II shopping mall design of the 20th Century too often fails to offer the same flexibility.”

So what do you think? A temporary setback due to the recession and a lack of discretionary income, or is the way we shop going to change in ways that will make malls extinct?


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