The New Yorker reports that the Internet has claimed another victim: shopping malls. According to the CEO of "one of the largest privately held American real-estate companies," he forecasts that "within ten to fifteen years, the typical U.S. mall, unless it is completely reinvented, will be a historical anachronisma sixty-year aberration that no longer meets the publics needs, the retailers needs, or the communitys needs."
Part of whats hurting the mall, obviously, is that, increasingly, people are shopping online. Internet sales reached six per cent of total retail spending in the fourth quarter of 2013, nearly doubling their share from 2006. Some retailers, understandably, are responding by focussing more on the online end of the retail business. Gap, which became synonymous with the American mall, is no longer counting on malls for growth. Culturally, the business pivoted towards digital, Glenn Murphy, the C.E.O., said, describing the past year. Mall traffic, for a number of years, has been slowing down. Whether it continues to decline somewhat over time, I think thats realistic to assume. Gap customers now can order clothes online and pick them up in a store. When it opens new stores this year, Gap will focus on Asia; earlier this month, the company launched its Old Navy brand in China.
Its not hard to imagine the future that Caruso described, in which malls are obsolete: the case for Amazon is pretty strong when the alternative is to crawl through gridlock to a mall, unwittingly park in the space farthest from the store you plan to visit, cringe as toddlers shrieks reverberate off the tile floors, and dodge salesmen hawking knockoff perfumes and hundred-dollar curling irons. But Caruso offers an interesting alternative scenario: what if malls reinvented themselves? As any cubicle dweller knows, people like natural light and fresh air and, when deprived of them, feel oppressed. So are people alienated by those older malls, with their raw concrete, brutalist architecture and fretful, defensive air? Developers have a shorthand for this style: the classic graybox. In his talk, Caruso flashed grim photos of their fa?ades. He lingered on a picture of a deserted food court; you could practically smell the stale grease. Does this look like the future to you? he asked. On Monday, Sbarro, which represents one of the four food groups of mall cuisine, along with Jamba Juice, Panda Express, and Cinnabon, filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in three years. Court papers cited an unprecedented decline in mall traffic, meaning fewer hungry shoppers settling for foldable pizza slices.
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