NJ Chasing News: lurking amidst the zombie malls.

If you live in the NYC media market, I made the local news a few days ago.  The clip is now available on YouTube.

Chasing News Malls

NJ Chasing News interviewed me last week, in the wake of the escalating vacancy in malls, both in North Jersey and across the country. I only physically appear briefly (it was a Skype interview) but my narrative carries across most of the feature, built off of my coverage of the Bridgewater Commons Mall. And yet, in spite of the evidence that many (most?) malls will soon implode, the State of NJ just subsidized a new mega-mall called American Dream in the Meadowlands–that’s right, it’s the long-defunct project formerly known as Xanadu, opening at a time when far more malls are closing than breaking ground.  In fact, no new mall has opened in the U.S. since 2006.

Needless to say (as has been manifest on this blog numerous times), I’m not sanguine about the future of bricks-and-mortar retail in northern New Jersey or anywhere else.  At the very least, as recently as the 1990s, the likelihood that two malls would feature the exact same mix of department stores was rare.  Now, after the near-complete consolidation of all those department stores, it’s basically the status quo.  Even more portentous: the big three (Macy’s, Sears, J.C. Penney) are shuttering locations left and right.  What will be the future of malls when virtually all of them has at least one vacant department store?

Learn more through the feature, and then feel free to offer comments here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

19 thoughts on “NJ Chasing News: lurking amidst the zombie malls.

  1. Astara

    Insightful piece. It’s interesting because I don’t believe it’s just about online shopping. It’s also about how retailers provide service and experience or realistically fail to do so. We have to do a tremendous amount of soul-searching here to keep our industry alive.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      I’m with you completely, Astara. And, with the growing trend toward online restaurant delivery services, even that industry might start feeling the pinch before long. The strong will survive, but they’re going to be the ones that convince people to get their duffs off the seats and go out to shop/dine/tweeze their eyebrows. And it will be all about the level of service embedded in product delivery. The service may very well BE the product!

      Reply
  2. Pete W

    Nice work Eric! I’m also w Astara – service is a nontrivial piece of the evolution if this. When it comes to new clothes or shoes, I go Bricks but only when the service and experience is good.

    Reply
      1. AmericanDirt Post author

        Thanks, Pete. I think that may have something to do with how running shoe stores have survived. They almost HAVE to be well-versed in the quirks of running and cadences and pronation/supination or they’re just selling shoes that you can probably get online for 15% cheaper. Also, nearly all running stores have turned into social hubs for club meet-ups and cross-promotional campaigns. Aardvark in downtown Bethlehem PA is brilliant at this.

        Reply
  3. Rk Shaffer

    AWESOME!
    Hopefully national outlets will see it and you will get more contacts and exposure.
    We can say we knew you when. (k)

    Reply
  4. Amy Lynn

    I’ve seen these malls be converted to city or county office complexes. One stop shoppibg, lots of parking, easy access abd egress. Greenville, SC did this. Very cool little city.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Thanks, Amy! It’s been ages since I’ve been anywhere in South Carolina (as is obvious from my lack of blog posts there). I need to get out there sometime again. Eventually I’m going to blog on a place that used to be 100% mall, but is now about 50% mall and 50% medical clinic. I don’t think malls will disappear completely, but they might shrink to the point that we don’t see many of them, they become rare, and then they turn into a novelty…which could make them popular in a “second-wave” resurgence, much like we’re seeing these days with our old downtowns.

      Reply
  5. Chris B

    Not much to add, Eric. Well done.

    Now we have to figure out how to re-purpose those big places. So far, lots of things have been torn down and replaced when the destination remains a shopping center. See, for instance, Glendale and Greenwood Park in your hometown, both with some or all of its space reconfigured for non-enclosed shopping and dining.

    If you look at the configuration, some malls look like giant versions of today’s senior/retirement/health care communities: many wings off a central core. Could these be repurposed as little villages, or is the infrastructure too cheap to withstand massive renovation?

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Good question, Chris. Considering that seniors already show a great fondness for malls (more for air conditioned walking than for shopping), it might be interesting to think of repurposing them for continuum of care services. I wonder if the ceilings may typically be too high to justify pricey HVAC, the plumbing density is too low in existing malls (often a huge hurdle), the parking more abundant that would be needed for a senior home, and the specialized emergency vehicle access might not be up to standards. Those are just my offhand guesses. At the same time, the average mall layout does not entirely deviate from a senior home that I recall visiting for my own great-grandmother many years ago. It may be a square-peg-in-a-round-hole scenario, but the re-development world has embarked on far more fanciful projects.

      Reply
  6. Mo. Laura Mh

    Congratulations on the piece. I have often wondered about the “gotta have new” when there are so many needing refurbishment.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Thanks Mo. Laura1 Yeah, I think our obsession with shiny and new explains why even many of the strip malls built as recently as the mid-1990s are already faded and largely vacant. These things depreciate quickly, thanks to our attitude toward shopping centers in particular, and this disposability of land in general.

      Reply
    1. Tina

      I am. I just saw a former mall in Pittsburgh that was turned into an elementary school and administration bldg.

      Reply
  7. Mike Hardie

    You should, if it fits into your research, look at Eastgate Mall in Chattanooga. It now houses a charter school and a Convergys call center.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Definitely will have to do that the next time I’m in that area Mike. Incidentally, my home city of Indianapolis used to have an Eastgate Mall (the only mall in the area that has fully died) and I think it became a call center for a short time as well. Now it’s the local office for Homeland Security.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. You are not required to sign in. Anonymous posting is just fine.