Shopping Malls, two



focus claim (2) Black Friday
retail break in vandalize
habit ongoing correspondent
roll draw (2) phenomenon
recent fixtures poster child
swipe decline auction off
host peak (2) attention
local hang out homeless
swell on a roll understatement
facility stall (2) blue-collar
creep obstacle square feet
teem wing (2) discount store
spawn hail (2) tremendous
boom launch guarantee
affect A-mall high-end
sort of etcetera customer base
unique income all sorts of ways
retail convert real estate
fail double revolution (2)
angst play out bowling alley
brass upscale racetrack
tend rule (2) founder (2)
redo alfresco structure
Fido storage carve out (2)
acre martini commodity
adapt shift (2) fundamental
schlep resident well-heeled
outlet complex tuck away
propel location obstacle course
suburb quarter apocalyptic






Much of the attention on Black Friday focuses on just how much people will spend. But one story that’s also important for retailers and local economies is a big shift in where people are shopping.

Economics correspondent Paul Solman looks at how those changing habits are affecting the traditional mall. It’s part of his ongoing reporting, Making Sense of Financial News.

The remains of Rolling Acres in Akron, Ohio. Poster child for a recent phenomenon in America: the dead mall.

This one went dark in 2008, fixtures auctioned off. Others swiped or vandalized. Nature now claiming more than fifty acres that once hosted Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, the Parisian . . . a hundred and forty stores at its peak.

University of Akron economist, Amanda Weinstein.

Amanda Weinstein, University of Akron: “Even just a few years ago, you could see someone like Lebron James as a teenager. He would be hanging out here.

And now we see teenagers breaking in, and homeless people occasionally been living there.

And so it’s really changed a lot.”

Talk about understatement.

Rolling Acres opened in 1975, swelled to 1.3 million square feet of retail. It was once the place to shop for miles around.

But neighborhood income began to stall, as in so much of blue-collar America.

Teen gangs crept in.

Rolling Acres was on a roll — in the wrong direction.

Amanda Weinstein, Economist: “We started seeing more discount stores, the JC Penny turned into a discount outlet store. They’re trying to get the lowest stores possible.

But why spend money on gas when you can schlep to the mall, and now get the lowest price possible online.

Is this then the future for the American indoor mall, just decades after it was hailed a retail revolution?

TV Commercial Narrator: “And now let’s see how shopping can be fun.”

In the 1950s, car culture spawned the suburbs, and launched a half-century mall boom: fifteen hundred built from 1956 to 2005.

But barely a thousand indoor malls are left today; not a single new one built since 2006.

Len Schlesinger, Harvard Business School: “Malls have been declining for years, and will continue to decline.”

The Harvard Business School’s Len Schlesinger.

Journalist: “Do you mean malls like Rolling Acres in Akron . . .”
Len Schlesinger, Harvard Business School: “No, I’m talking about the high-quality malls, what we call the “A-malls”. The B-malls and C-malls, the ones that have never drawn high-end customer bases or high-end traffic.

They’re already being in the process of being repurposed in all sorts of ways. They’re becoming bowling alleys and storage facilities, etcetera.

And we’ll continue to see the repurposing of that real estate.”

That’s because fifteen percent of malls are expected to fail or be converted into non-retail space in the next decade.

Why the across the alphabet decline?

Well, online shopping has doubled in the last seven years, tastes and habits have changed.

Teens in movie, one: “What’s the matter? You looked depressed.”
Teens in movie, two: “I had working the theater; all the action’s on the other side.”

For example, no longer are malls teeming with teens.

Teens on movie, three: “Thanks. What can I do for you?”
Teens in movie, two: “Can I have your phone number so I can ask you out some time?”

Today, teenagers play out their angst elsewhere, or at home on their computers, while their parents are shopping on theirs.

So many malls; so little time.

There’s even the Atrium Mall in upscale Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts — It’s now a construction site.

It had bowling and brass and lots of lights and mirrors. And so we had to find a way to repurpose it, but really sort of mask the image that was sort of 1980s.”

Let’s never forget the three rules of real estate: location, location and location.

So developers are demalling Atrium.

Architect Larry Grossman.

Larry Grossman, Architect, ADD Inc: “This is in fact the third time I’ve done this, because malls have tended to fail. In this case, it’s a total redo where we’re looking for office uses, medical uses and retail, all mixed within a single structure.”

Just down the road, a once foundering middle-market mall has gone upscale.

The old Chestnut Hill Shopping Center is now “The Street”, an alfresco town center, with Tony Restaurants and shops, including the Polka Dog Bakery, featuring natural foods for Fido.

And a former Macy’s is now Super Lux, a high-end cinema with table service.

Journalist: “Cheers.”
Brian Sciera, WS Developments: “Cheers.”

Brian Sciera of WS Developments says these so-called life-style centers had better be unique.

Brian Sciera, WS Development: “If we want to survive today, we want to carve out a point of difference in the marketplace where we become something special.

We have to be out of the commodity business, and into the experience business.”

Starting at $20 a seat for instance, cinema-style and comfort, including chocolate martinis.

That’s because, says Len Schlesinger,

Len Schlesinger, Harvard Business School: “The fundamental question becomes one of what’s going to draw traffic to shopping experience.

And it’s no longer the stores: it’s movies, gyms, restaurants and entertainment.

And what I think the developers have done here is actually the new normal.”

Journalist: “No guarantee.”

Len Schlesinger: “Never a guarantee in retail. Never a guarantee; you’re always adapting.”

But Chestnut Hill, with it’s ever more well-heeled residents, is a much better mold bed than working-class Akron, Ohio, where the only use of Rolling Hill Acres these days is a storage facility, tucked away in one small wing of the complex.

In the parking lot, the mall tells the history of the area, say urban economist Weinstein.

Amanda Weinstein, Economist: “Akron really started booming with the tire industry. And the tire industry is what propelled it forward. It had tremendous growth in that industry. The tires have been a little bit repurposed here, teenagers now using them for a little racetrack or obstacle course.”

But nobody is using the indoor mall itself, a post-apocalyptic vision of shopping mall America.

This is Paul Solman reporting from Rolling Acres in Akron, Ohio.

Footnote: Online sales in the US totaled about $78 billion for the third quarter this year.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *


1. The Rolling Acres shopping mall in Akron, Ohio has changed in recent years. True or false? How has it changed? How do the journalists describe it now?

2. Has the shopping mall always been a traditional feature of American culture? When did the shopping mall become popular? Are more malls being built today?

3. What are the reasons for the malls’ decline in popularity? Why are more malls being abandoned?

4. Who have been the customer base of shopping malls? Have trends and fashions changed?

5. Are all malls are going bankrupt or going out of business and being completely derelict? How are the more “successful” malls being transformed?

6. Can all mall turn into recreational, fitness and entertainment centers, such as in Massachusetts?

7. Is the journalist and the news report optimistic or pessimistic about the future of shopping malls in America, or do they have mixed feelings?


A. Shopping malls are very popular in my city. Is this correct or incorrect? Do teens and families like to visit malls?

B. Do you and your friends love shopping malls? Do you have fond memories of shopping in malls as a child and teenager? Do you feel nostalgic?

C. Malls are a part of life and culture; there have been many movies, songs, dances, shows, TV programs featuring malls. Yes or no?

D. I am totally shocked by abandoned, ghost malls. True or false?

E. When did malls start being built in your country? When did they become very popular? Are more malls being built in your country or have they started to decline in popularity?

F. What will happen in the future?


Comments are closed.