The Fall of the Mall

Mall LogoRemember when shopping malls were the center of American life? During the 1980s and 1990s, the shopping mall served as the hub of commerce and culture in the United States. Just watch any movie about teenagers of that era, and you’re bound to see a scene set in a shopping mall. Nowadays, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, shopping malls still exist. But now they’re more utilitarian. The mall is still around as a place to shop, but it’s lost a lot of its luster as a place to hang out.

Dwindling Middle Class

Several factors have contributed to the fall of shopping malls. Most obviously, there’s the Internet, which replaces both the shopping and the socialization aspects of the mall. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Another factor is income disparity. The upper crust shops at upscale malls, (the dwindling) middle class shops at strip malls and outdoor “lifestyle centers”, and the poor stick mostly to discount stores. Middle class and working class malls are on the endangered species list.

Take the Dallas Galleria and Valley View Mall. These two shopping centers are a quarter-mile apart. When I moved to Dallas in 2007, they were both thriving, but within a few years, Valley View went downhill, and now there’s hardly anything left but a Sears and a movie theater. Meanwhile the Galleria is doing just fine, with its upper class stores that I can’t afford. It’s a pretty nice place, but with such pricey stores, I rarely have a reason to go there.

A Pessimistic Future

I don’t see a bright future for the traditional shopping mall. As the poor continue to flock to Walmart, and the middle class goes to Target, the traditional mall will cater to those with a lot of expendable income. And even then, gentrification and neo-urbanism will drive the rich and upper middle class into walkable shopping districts, instead of dealing with a climate-controlled mall. Of course, a lot can happen in a generation or two, so malls may make a comeback. Only time will tell.

Do you still go to the mall on a regular basis? What do you think the future of malls will be? Let me know in the comment section.

Steve Lovelace

Steve Lovelace is a writer, photographer and graphic artist. After graduating Michigan State University in 2004, he taught Spanish in Samoa before moving to Dallas, Texas. He blogs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at http://steve-lovelace.com.

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