My latest came out just in time for Black Friday, on Manhattan Institute’s City Journal: a world without malls. It’s my most recent rumination on the bleak future of retail in 2018–an industry that looks increasingly likely experience a collapse with no other precedent than era when the suburban shopping mall replaced the American town center as the place to purchase goods. Retail struggles have escalated to the point that they are part of common parlance. Everyone knows malls–and strip malls, and lifestyle centers–are in a nosedive, because everyone sees it.
I’ll confess that, until recently, I still thought the best malls might survive. But now that Sears has declared Chapter 11 and even luxury names like Lord and Taylor are floundering, it’s difficult to know what is likely to prevail a decade from now. And it’s not just the suburbs; the retreat of retail is hurting our urban neighborhoods’ nascent revivals. And the biggest culprit is broadly known by a majority of Americans: online shopping has all but supplanted a day out in the SUV toward that suburban megaplex.
In short, The Information Superhighway is bulldozing its way through the enclosed shopping mall, that hallmark of American retail enterprise for the last sixty years. It’s unfair to claim that Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, is the 21st century Robert Moses. So what is causing the creeping retail pandemic? The real culprit is the average American consumer…just as it always has been. Just as Americans chose, after World War II, to migrate their consumption patterns out to the fringes of a city instead of its downtown, they have decided they prefer the convenience of shopping by mouse instead of minivan–resulting in the widespread retail struggles we see today, in which bricks-and-mortar showcasing of goods is increasingly passé.
While the featured article is mall-centric, the original draft of this article also explored the impending threat to walkable, urban main streets. It is probable that I’ll salvage that excised material for a blog post on retail struggles in the near future. In the meantime, please indulge this article; I’ll be happy respond either here or through City Journal comments. Thanks as always for your interest!