The Decline of the Indoor Mall

The Decline of the Indoor Mall

Particularly for long-time residents of Montgomery County, the changes at White Flint Mall have been striking.  Dark storefronts and demolition have taken the place of a once-vibrant shopping center.  But, as we’ve discussed before, the decline of the indoor mall is a trend sweeping the country.  This week, WTOP published another article focusing on this trend.

In the face of busy local malls like Westfield Montgomery or Tysons, it’s clear that this is not a universal truth.  But, “the overall decline of malls can be attributed to many factors, including the economy, access and evolving consumer interest,” says David Versel, senior research associate at the Center for Regional Analysis at the George Mason School for Public Policy.  The recession also hit malls hard from both ends.  Not only were consumers pulling back on their spending, but large nationwide chains regretted their heady expansions and began consolidating stores to rein in costs.  The closing of Bloomingdale’s, which declined to renew its White Flint Mall lease in the face of declining sales, is an example of that.  Stock and staff were consolidated into their Chevy Chase store for the immediate future.

The up-side is that these indoor mall sites provide excellent potential for redevelopment.  The land under White Flint Mall measures in the billions of square footage – that’s a lot of room for opportunity.  “I think the most exciting possibility is that as these older, commercial properties — whether they’re big boxes or malls or strip malls — reach the end of their functional lives, they then provide an opportunity for redevelopment. And then that redevelopment can be made with shopping and housing, together, so that it’s more walkable, along with restaurants and entertainment,” says Kaid Benfield, director of sustainable communities at the Natural Resources Defense Council and author of “Even teenagers don’t want to go to the mall anymore,” published in The Atlantic Cities.  These comprehensive, neighborhood-based experiences are what will draw today’s consumers.

Walkable?  Accessible? Mixed-Use?  I think we’re heading in the right direction!  Read the entire article on WTOP’s website by clicking here.

Lindsay Hoffman


One comment

kat c

Malls do serve a purpose—they’re never going to be needed in San Diego or LA where the weather is balmy and clear almost every day of the year. But in many parts of the US, where we aren’t used to the “high street” style of shopping—folks want to be cozy, warm and dry, not picking their way down icy sidewalks or dodging raindrops and dealing with freezing temps. In my travels, I’m seeing malls being redone with grocery stores, clothing and entertainment all under one roof —and it can work. The day of the huge regional mall maybe over, but the mall isn’t dead–no matter how hard developers try to persuade us. Many people do prefer one stop shopping, and until there’s affordable housing mixed in with the new swish redevelopment (and larger apartments for families), we’re still going to need the old school malls and parking spaces. I have a lot of under 30 friends who’d love to live in Bethesda and walk to everything, or live downtown near the ballpark (where there’s not much to walk to yet), but can’t afford a 500+ condo, or 2000 dollar a month rent for a 1 br—or find a reasonably priced 2+br place.

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