What to do with dead malls?

Seph Lawless Mall with Snow.jpg

What are we going to do with all these indoor malls?

Retail is changing, and what was once the omnipresent center of any town’s universe is now going the way of the dodo. From the first indoor mall built in suburban Minnesota in 1956 to 2005, there were approximately 1,500 built across the country. Only about 1,000 survive today, and 75% of those remaining are predicted to close by 2022. Time Magazine’s Josh Sanburn published a good piece on the topic last year.

The decline of indoor malls is such a significant issue, there are even really fascinating Facebook PagesYouTube channels, and photographers like Seph Lawless, dedicated to the topic.

So why did they fail?

Lots of reasons, including (but not limited to)

1.   Online shopping

2.   Changes in social interaction: Meet-up spots like movie theaters and arcades have been replaced by Netflix and online gaming, and apps like Tinder have made “cruising the mall” sooooooooo 1990. **Rolls eyes**

3.   People are tired of being inside all the time. (Have you seen Office Space?)

4.   Longing for the old “Main Street USA” shopping experience (aka “Experiential Shopping”)

5.   Indoor Malls are expensive to heat and cool (like, $50K/month for a 200K SF mall. Mall of America is 5.6 million square feet, so…)

So now what?

What do we do? Scrape them all and replace them with dog parks? The dogs would love that, wouldn’t they? But dogs don’t have the powder to make that happen, nor opposable thumbs, so that’s a non-starter.

Adaptive reuse? Sure. Google has purchased malls and converted them into offices, others have been retrofitted into hospitals, colleges, and even low-income housing.

Perhaps a better solution is a combination of the above (fine, with the dog park included). Keep some of the indoor retail space, replace some of it with outdoor shopping, and add multifamily, office and green space to the mix. Untie the “Experiential” Gordian Knot without having to use (too much) dynamite.

More on "Experiential Shopping" and my insane idea for converting malls next week. In the meantime, what would you do with all these malls?