Last week I read an article featured in Architectural Record entitled "Is the Shopping Mall Dying or Just Evolving?" by Margaret Rock for the Deseret News. According to the article, not a single new, fully enclosed mall has opened in the United States since 2006. And from 2006 until 2013, e-commerce doubled.
Even before finding my way into construction industry reporting, I knew the heyday of the traditional shopping mall died soon after permed hair and penny loafers. But now, what's more distressing than seeing closed brick-and-mortars mar the landscape with weedy parking lots and "No Trespassing" signs is knowing that the fewer newly built stores there are, the fewer the jobs for the construction industry.
After Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales were tallied, the National Retail Federation forecast 2014 holiday sales to increase a healthy 4.1 percent, higher than last year's actual 3.1 percent seasonal increase. And while that's good for retailers and the economy, "the suburban mall of yesteryear is fading into digital consumerism, impacting more than just the way we shop," Rock says. These impacts include tax revenue decline and loss of jobs, for example.
We already know the bad news about malls. I remember watching it happen. Stores like Montgomery Ward and Circuit City shuttered shops across the country. Then toy stores and book stores. After some time, it seemed malls were used more as indoor walking tracks than for retail therapy. But what interested me about the article, and others as I did more research, was the idea of repurposing.
"By creating higher density and more diverse spaces that are easily accessible, provide a natural/outdoorsy element and are pedestrian-friendly, communities are developing dead and dying malls," says Rock, of the efforts to repurpose these spaces.
It seems that malls aren't the only segment going down the repurposing path. Downtown districts have been seeing an influx of young professionals, part of an urban revival in America. But, like malls, a revival in a changed consumer landscape means what's working now looks nothing like the glory days, according to Joel Kotkin, executive editor of NewGeography.com.
What’s emerging in cities is a very different conceptualization of downtown, as a residential hub. Massive construction of new offices may not be happening, but the conversion of offices to residential buildings is. Kotkin points to repurposing in downtown Chicago, where developers are adapting older office towers, malls, as well as hotels for apartments.
And improving malls as a potential community asset, that revives tax collection and increases construction jobs, involves attracting mixed uses like residential, medical, warehouse and office space, or creating an environmentally friendly use. Many of the transformation plans for malls across the country include mixed-use plans that aim to integrate the best of e-commerce, traditional retail and a sense of community.
Both my nostalgic and practical sides like this concept. Is revitalization really in the cards for brick-and-mortar, and can the glass industry help itself by getting on board? I'll let you know when I start seeing glass installs at the old Waldenbooks in my neighborhood.
Stough is managing editor of Glass Magazine. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org