Don't Say Goodbye to Malls Just Yet

When they find the right niche, they thrive.


Shopping malls aren't going extinct; they're evolving. So argues Joel Kotkin in an article that acknowledges the dead malls littering the landscape but also points out shopping centers that have managed to adapt and thrive. In the past, Kotkin writes, malls "tended to reflect the mass sameness of mid-century America; those in the future focus on distinct niches—ethnic, income, even geographical—that are not only viable but highly profitable."

For example:

Day of the Dead Malls
La Gran Plaza

Across the country, savvy investors and developers have been buying older malls, which tended to serve either Anglo or African-American customers, and shifting them instead to focus on fast-growing ethnic markets. Such malls can now be found in traditional Latino areas such as Southern California and Texas, but they also exist in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, and Charlotte, places that have recently become major hubs for immigrants.

"We had a terrific recession," notes Los Angeles-based mall maven Jose Legaspi, who has developed 12 such malls around the country. "You do well if you target specific niches that are growing. You can't make it with a plain vanilla mall. We are creating in these places a Hispanic downtown."

Fort Worth's 1.2 million-square-foot La Gran Plaza, which Legaspi manages, epitomizes the advantages of such marketing. When investor Andrew Segal bought the mall in 2005, it was a failing facility that primarily serviced a working-class Anglo population. Barely 15 percent of the mall's tenants were both open and paying rent.

Segal quickly recognized that the area around the mall—like much of urban Texas—was becoming more diverse, in this case largely Latino.

Segal and Legaspi redid the once prototypical plain vanilla mall to look more like a Northern Mexican town plaza, a design pattern developed by Los Angeles architect David Hidalgo. Latino customers are drawn to amenities like large and comfortable family bathrooms, an anchor supermarket, mariachi music shows, and even Catholic masses. There is also a "swap meet" that accommodates small vendors, something that Legaspi sees as essential to creating "a carnival of retail experiences." By 2008, when the face-lift was complete, the mall achieved 90 percent occupancy. Today La Gran Plaza is effectively "full," says Segal, who is considering a further expansion of the mall.

Kotkin concedes that many old malls are doomed, and he says those properties should be converted to other uses. But that doesn't mean the market has dried up entirely. Indeed, in 2014 "vacancy rates in malls flattened for the first time since the recession." There may be some life in those old beasts yet.

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  1. I'm waiting for the time that a black area with abandoned buildings is called "plain chocolate," and its return to vibrancy when whites gentrify the area (making it more "diverse") is celebrated. But I won't hold my breath.

    The self-loathing in this piece is odious.

  2. I can't remember the last time I went to a mall to buy something. Has to have been at least fifteen years.

    1. As long as you aren't counting anchor stores or the food court, then I haven't been to a mall in about as long.

  3. Kotkin concedes that many old malls are doomed

    A lesson my former town has yet to learn as they for the second or third time gave away a bunch of money to try to revive a mall that has spent the last 7 years at about 20% occupancy or less.

    The reason the mall is failing is pretty obvious. The mall is on the far eastern edge of the town, but all the new housing was going up on the far western edge of town about 4 miles distant. Tenants just picked up and moved where the bulk of the customers moved.

    Nearly dead malls are probably best used as office spaces.
    The anchor stores would make great covered parking areas.

    1. The reason the mall is failing is pretty obvious. The mall is on the far eastern edge of the town, but all the new housing was going up on the far western edge of town about 4 miles distant. Tenants just picked up and moved where the bulk of the customers moved. Ebay and Amazon.


      1. People also just like to be surrounded by other people, so shopping becomes an experience rather than a means to an end. A good mall is a social gathering place where you can also get that little endorphin high from obtaining shinies.

        1. The last time I considered a mall to be a social gathering place was when I was in my teens.

      2. There is that too

        But a good number of stores you typically expect to find in or near a mall did migrate to the strip malls and shopping centers on the west side of town.

  4. So malls that have more attractions that people want to visit will have more customers? Insightful.

    There are two malls within a few miles of each other where I live. One is constantly packed because it's got restaurants that people want to visit on the outside, stores that people want to shop in on the inside, traffic flowing around it in all directions so it's easy to access no matter where you're coming from, and it's closer to other shopping destinations. The other is mostly empty because the stores on the inside aren't great and it's bounded on three sides by low traffic roads and by a road that's mostly used to leave or enter town on the other. It looks more like a strip mall with a Target, Texas Roadhouse, and Bass Pro than an actual shopping mall.

    Both malls serve mostly the same demographic, only difference being that the better one has more interesting stores for kids and teens so the people there are a bit younger.

  5. People like newer malls. That's not even a new thing. And older malls that stay in operation begin to attract customers in the lower economic ranks.

  6. Dey took r malls!

  7. Why is it that people assume that what they grew up with is "natural" instead of one more phase in passing? When I was a kid, living in Cleveland Heights, there was one Mall in the area, and it wasn't all that big. Two anchor stores (Higbee's and Halle's, and no, I can't tell the difference), no "Food Court", and a fountain in the center. I gather it's been remodeled out of all recognition.

    In the '70's there started to be new malls all over the place. And they had interesting stuff in them. The food courts were a new thing, and hadn't degenerated into the moderately obvious cockroach feeding stations of today. And over the last several decades the malls have been losing their interest, as the internet takes over the purchase of anything you don't need to try on.

    But it's been changing the whole time. There are proto-malls dating back to the 19th century (se Burlington Arcade, London and The Cleveland Arcade). Kresgie's becomes K-Mart. Woolworth's dies. It's always shifting.

    Stop freaking panicking. The only thing that really worries ME is what are we going to do with all those huge, one concrete floor buildings when (inevitably) Walmart dies. Society just doesn't NEED that many roller-rinks.

    1. Prison?

    2. Thunderdomes?

    3. I loved the local malls when I was a little kid in the 70s - they had all kinds of interactive stuff to do. Today the only thing I want to do when I enter a mall is exit the mall.

    4. I grew up there, too; Severance is unrecognizable compared with the way it looked back then.

      My first job was at Disc Records; a friend of my brother's worked at Le Petite Caf?, which he called "Leper Tit Caf?".

  8. I inquired about leasing some space in a mall in the county seat of the poorest county in my state. Dude asked me what I wanted to lease it for, which is to sell second hand furniture and household goods. When I told him that he says "We don't really want this kind of business in that mall".

    Well, fuckhead, enjoy leasing out 10%(manicure anyone?) of your mall until it finally crumbles to the point that it costs more to bulldoze than it's worth.

    1. When I told him that he says "We don't really want this kind of business in that mall".

      Well, yeah. Who wants a mall that attracts poor people looking for a bargain? That rabble will drive out the high class customers that he wants in the stores.

  9. From what I've seen in Phoenix and Vegas, the malls have simply changed from indoor to outdoor. A generation ago, the shopping mall killed downtown shopping districts. Today, the faux downtown malls, with plentiful parking, no crime or homeless panhandlers, are killing the traditional mall.

    1. What about colder climes? I can't imagine an outdoor mall doing very well during, oh, a lake-effect snow event.

      1. I've seen them in Chicago suburbs at least, but the accuracy of my statement may be suspect when it comes to the more northern states.

      2. Behold, Legacy Village, which is in the middle of the primary snowbelt off of Lake Erie. Crocker Park is on the other side of town, so not so much lake effect, but still shitty weather 5 months of the year.

        Both are largely outdoor "lifestyle centers".

        Columbus has Easton Towne Center. Not much snow, but Columbus in the winter sucks pretty hard. Vast, treeless plain...

        1. Huh, OK. I'm a city boy so I haven't seen these things. I guess the city I live in is a "lifestyle center" too.

  10. It's fashion driven. They still build malls, they've just taken the roof off and call them Village Square or something like that.

    1. Or what Mimsy said. *refresh*

  11. If you hate shopping like I do, the best thing in the upper midwest is an outdoor mall. Especially at Xmas time, when it's cold on a weeknight the outdoor mall is free of riff raff and I can get the drudgery done much faster.

    1. Also this.

    2. My vision of upper Midwest malls is this.

  12. Need more bars.

  13. I make up to $90 an hour working from my home. My story is that I quit working at Walmart to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $40h to $86h? Someone was good to me by sharing this link with me, so now i am hoping i could help someone else out there by sharing this link... Try it, you won't regret it!......

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