The Death Of Shopping Malls?

Early Show - death of shopping malls - March 23, 2009
The weak economy is taking a heavy toll on retailers and nowhere is that more apparent than in a dying shopping mall. Many American cities now have malls with a high number of vacant stores.

Early Show national correspondent Hattie Kauffman reports on how some malls are trying to cope.

Crestwood Court used to be one of the premier shopping malls in St. Louis. Today 40 percent of its stores are vacant.

"It certainly is challenging for malls in the given economy. People are spending less, people are shopping less, and retailers are scaling back," said Leisa Son, mall marketing director.

So when Macy's announced it would be closing its store in the mall, Son knew she had to do something.

"We needed to find a creative solution to fill some of those vacancies," Son said.

The mall decided to basically give the empty spaces away to local artists. Now theater companies have moved in, and dance troupes are rehearsing in stores that retailers have abandoned.

"We're not the only center that's looking for alternative uses. Most every shopping center is struggling with being able to fill their spaces," Son said.

In 2008 nearly 150,000 individual stores closed nationwide. Many of them were in malls that were already in decline.

"It's very depressing to walk around a dead mall, and it depresses property values to have a dead mall in your neighborhood. I think it's a very traumatic event for any community to see its mall die," said professor/author Ellen Dunham-Jones.

Dunham-Jones has written about the decline of shopping malls in a book titled "Retrofitting Suburbia."

"Malls have been in decline for the past decade. Not all of the malls are dying, but the weaker ones are absolutely dying off," said Dunham-Jones.

What's behind the decline?

"Internet shopping is one factor of many that is taking away from malls. Big Box stores have been a significant factor throughout the '90s," said Dunham-Jones.

Some say America's taste has changed, and our love affair with the enclosed shopping center is over.

At their peak, 140 new malls open every year in America. But in the last two years, not a single enclosed mall has opened. Instead we're seeing many more of these, open-air, lifestyle centers.

Lifestyle centers are outdoor shopping areas that try to create the feel of a town square by including parks, playgrounds and often apartments built above the stores.

"So people are enjoying living in this environment where you can walk downstairs and get a cup of coffee," said Rick Caruso, a developer of lifestyle centers.

Caruso is a lifestyle center developer in California. He believes Americans still want to shop, but where they prefer to do it is changing.

"Indoor malls took it away from town centers. Now there's clearly a shift back to the streets and being outdoors," Caruso said.

Crestwood Court plans to tear off its roof and turn itself into a lifestyle center as well. Perhaps that will give this aging mall new life.