Have U.S. malls lost their sense of community?
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the blog of Nikki Baird, VP of retail innovation at Aptos. The article first appeared on Forbes.com.
In April, analysis from Thasos showed mall traffic, after moving back into positive territory from July to December 2018, was back to year-over-year declines.
The draw of experiential retailers like Apple, Eataly and Tesla weren’t found to be enough to reverse the declines. Neither is it likely that entertainment destinations like movie theaters, Legoland or Dave & Busters, nor a wing of outdoor restaurants will turn things around.
Ironically, malls in other parts of the world, from my own experience, are thriving. Mexican malls have playgrounds and verandas stocked with places for people to linger. In the Philippines, crowds flood out of nearby churches to roam wide aisles and a vibrant mix of fresh food and grocery amidst the traditional clothing and electronics stores.
It’s easy to be dismissive — “People only go for the air conditioning” or “Online shopping just isn’t that entrenched there yet” — but that’s missing what malls in these regions have that American malls don’t anymore: community.
Indeed, what drove home this point was watching a resurrected American mall from the 1980’s in Stranger Things (Season 3). The busy mall wasn’t all about offering convenience, it was about hanging out with friends.
In the meantime, food halls are thriving. The stores aligned with these market halls are smaller — everything is smaller, except for the community areas. The seating is communal and central. The entertainment is constant and ever-changing.
Food halls are one big party all day long, while malls are vast, echoing caverns that are more interested in kicking out “the teens” than in doing anything that might capture their interest.
As more consumers pile into cities with high housing costs and challenging commutes, community centers will become even more important. People might want to live in tiny houses, but they want to hang out with their friends in airy places that provide lots to do.
Malls have airy down to a science — the rest of it, though? There’s still a lot of work ahead. And they’d better hurry. The health of all their tenants depends on how quickly they can get their own vitality and sense of community center back.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How can malls revive their “sense of community”? Would more community events and activities help? Are experiential retail and entertainment options over-hyped as traffic drivers?