Dying Malls Get New Purpose
Five clever ways they are being reinvented
By now, we've all heard the common refrain that malls are dying—and, to some extent, the numbers support that. In 1998, the number of shopping centers peaked at 42,000, accounting for about 40 percent of all retail sales in America. Today, only 1,000 remain, while countless “zombie malls” keep thrill-seekers and photographers entertained. But there’s a different story to be told.
A new book chronicles the rise, fall, and ongoing reinvention of the mall since 1956, when Victor Gruen designed the first American enclosed mall in Edina, Minnesota. Out today, Meet Me by The Fountain dives into the storied, almost nostalgic, past of the American mall and makes a case that, no, malls aren't dying—they're just changing with the times.
In the early 2000s, the U.S. was over-malled — blame "capitalist competition," said Alexandra Lange, an architecture critic and author of the book. Then, one by one, malls started to close. "People attribute it to the rise of online shopping, but it also has to do with the decline of department stores, which were anchors for malls," she said. Between 2016 and 2020, 360 mall-based department stores closed, then the pandemic happened: J. C. Penney closed 165 locations, Macy's announced 125 of its stores would go dark by 2023, and Neiman Marcus filed for bankruptcy protection.
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