RIP Malls

In January, Rick Caruso, the C.E.O. of Caruso Affiliated, one of the largest privately held American real-estate companies, stood on a stage at the Javits Center, in New York, and forecast the demise of the traditional mall. “Within ten to fifteen years, the typical U.S. mall, unless it is completely reinvented, will be a historical anachronism — a sixty-year aberration that no longer meets the public’s needs, the retailers’ needs, or the community’s needs,” he told his audience, which had gathered for the National Retail Federation’s annual convention.

Malls are dying, or so claim certain real estate barons quoted on the New Yorker’s Currency blog this week. Whether he’s right or not, I am nostalgic already.

And while people like Rick Caruso may have a vested interest in getting big box stores to buy into his ideas about revitalizing what we think of as the American mall, or what developers call “the classic greybox”, as outdoor malls (the sunshine! the Wi-Fi!) are his business. But there are other, realer signs as well, which Amy Merrick outlines in her piece.

1. Sbarro filed for bankruptcy for the second time in three years this week, citing an “unprecedented decline in mall traffic.”
2. The Gap is like, Hmm maybe Asia?
3. People are choosing to shop online rather than go to the mall, because malls are generally horrible places unless you are an evil teen or have no other options. “Internet sales reached six per cent of total retail spending in the fourth quarter of 2013, nearly doubling their share from 2006.” No real surprise there.

“These indoor malls in the middle of nowhere, which typically supplanted the old Main Street — that’s where it’s an anachronism,” Rick Caruso told me. But he still sees a place for malls elsewhere; after all, people have always needed gathering places, from the Lascaux caves, in France, with their Paleolithic paintings, to the modern-day souks of Marrakech. “Humans have an innate sense of wanting to come together,” he said. “I bet the souk will be there long after Amazon.”