Thursday, December 31, 2009

How the Aughts killed America’s malls and newspapers – with one stone

by Philip Bump | 10:46 am, December 29th, 2009 is celebrating a decade of recording the death rattles of American shopping malls. Chronicling the nasty and brutish lives of malls throughout the fifty states with pictures and anecdotes, the site launched in 2000 and celebrates its first ten years next month. It seems a remarkably appropriate tenure.

Hard numbers documenting the decline of the American shopping mall are hard to come by. (Anecdotal and pictorial evidence, like this remarkable photo essay of defunct shopping malls, are much more accessible.) The phenomenon of mall death received robust coverage in magazines and newspapers and on television over the past 18 months. The Newsweek piece linked above cites the International Council of Shopping Centers, which reports that one-fifth of the nation’s largest 2,000 malls were failing. Its current number broadens that significantly – to 102,000 shopping centers of all size. This is much more in line with the widely-cited number from a 2004 Dallas Morning News article, claiming that the nation hosts 46,990 shopping malls and shopping centers. Wikipedia, meanwhile, has a list of shopping malls in the United States containing a modest 868 locations. It also notes that much of the fluctuation results from competing definitions of what constitutes a mall; we can assume that similar uncertainty exists as to what constitutes its death.

Some part of any decline, to be sure, is a function of the economic environment. The Journal article above, for example, graphed declining mall sales during the recession, painting a clear picture of impact. The recession, though, isn’t to blame. It made an existing trend worse.

In a piece from two years ago, The Economist detailed the numbers behind that trend. Nearly no new indoor shopping centers in the latter part of this decade. A 50% drop between 1997 and 2002 in the percent of all retail sales occurring at malls (from 38% to 19%). What once was a mecca became mainstream. And then, this decade – moribund. …

How The Aughts Killed America’s Malls and Newspapers – With One Stone

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