If mall dies, what dies with it?

The phrase, "America is over stored" gets bandied about a lot. And there was a lot to indicate that was true, even before everything really hit the fan last fall.

And it's all shifted into high gear now, as the Wall Street Journal so thoroughly points out. Brian Florence, co-founder of deadmalls.com, says mall failures have definitely picked up in the last few years. Many of these locations had been in trouble for years but when the economy hit the skids, stores started closing and with them, the malls.

What does this mean for us, the shoppers, the ones whose communities deal with the empty buildings, vacant lots and lost taxes?

A lot of these old buildings can be re-purposed in some pretty exciting ways. Vanderbilt University transformed the 100 Oaks Mall in Nashville into a medical center. Shopping remains on the first floor with offices and medical facilities on the second. Patients get pagers and can shop while the they wait. According to Florence, the $90 million makeover is drawing new retail and restaurants.

Old retail spaces have been transformed into auto malls, churches, community centers and even museums. Seems the creative re-purposing knows no limits, as exhibited by the Spam Museum in an old Kmart store (Hormel headquarters also shares the space).

In the past, vacant stores and malls might be torn down and rebuilt. But that was back when developers had financing and retail seemed like a great investment. When those days return, a better way to avoid quick obsolescence is to include more public meeting areas into mall designs like libraries, medical facilities and stores that sell essentials beyond trendy apparel.

Are malls something to be nostalgic about, like rotary phones and drive in movies? Hard to say really. A meeting place is gone, leaving a social vacuum. Jobs are lost and making up lost revenue from retail and property taxes means municipalities have to look elsewhere to fund schools and services.

Jason Damas, runs a Web site devoted to retail history. He says you can't calculate the cost to the community in just dollars.
"We saw in a lot of suburban areas built from 50s onward. these malls were centers of community. They were about commerce but had elements of community and gathering place," he says. "When they fall into decline, its bad in terms of things beyond taxes."

Something to think about when making a choice of where to shop.
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