A dying breed: The American shopping mall

American shopping malls struggle to survive 06:15

It used to be when a sign at the mall said EVERYTHING MUST GO, it meant a particular store was going out of business. These days it could very likely mean the entire mall is shutting down. Our Cover Story is reported by Mark Strassmann.

This story was originally broadcast on March 23, 2014.

"This was a working fountain, wasn't it? Many, many years ago?" said Audrey Caligiuri.

"Yup," said Dayne Bihn, "it definitely was."

These are the ruins of a dying culture: the American shopping mall.

Caligiuri grew up outside of Toledo, and like many of her generation, she spent much of her teenage years hanging out at the Woodville Mall.

"The mall was always the place to go," she said. "It was always busy. I mean, you couldn't even get parking spots a lot here. I probably spent most of my paycheck in my high school years at JC Penney's and Petrie's."

With the explosion of the Internet and changing shopping habits, hundreds of U.S. malls are expected to close their doors - like the Woodville Mall outside Toledo, Ohio. CBS News

Audrey wasn't alone -- everyone wanted to go to the mall. For half a century the mall was the Mecca of our booming consumer culture, a fact celebrated in many a teen movie.

America's love affair with shopping malls began in 1956, when the nation's first fully-enclosed mall, Southdale, opened its doors outside Minneapolis.

"This was the most exciting period in this economy," said Robin Lewis, author of "The New Rules of Retail." "Actually, the most explosive growth anywhere on Earth at any time during history, the early '50s through the '70s.

"In the mid-'50s Dwight Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act, and they constructed 54,000 miles of interstate highway. Now, what that did immediately is it provided mobility for the population which, prior to that, had been mainly rural. So they began to move into the suburbs and cities.

"But also, what it afforded was the ability to construct these regional malls, and they just exploded across the country."

Between 1956 and 2005, about 1,500 malls were built, including the Mall of America, one of the world's biggest -- 4.2 million square feet of stores, an amusement park, even a wedding chapel. And it attracts millions of visitors each year, from all over the world.

It was a Golden Age of shopping, which lasted until a new Golden Age came along, courtesy of the Internet.

"All of a sudden, the consumer now has every single retail store throughout the world a key tap away," said Lewis.

Today, malls across the U.S. are dying. No new enclosed mall has been built since 2006, and Lewis predicts fully half of all our malls will close in the next 10 years.