This year alone, more than $8,600$ stories could close, according to industry estimates, many of them the brand name anchor outlets that real estate developers once stumbled over themselves to court. Already there have been $5,300$ retail closings this year... Sears Holdings- which owns Kmart - said in March that there’s “substantial doubt “ it can stay in business altogether, and will close $300$ stores this year. So far this year, nine national retail chains have filed for bankruptcy.
Local jobs are a major casualty of what analysts are calling, with only a hint of hyperbole, the retail apocalypse. Since $2002$, departments stores have lost $448,000$ jobs, a $25\%$ decline, while the number it store closures this year is on pace to surpass the worst depths of the Great Recession. The growth of online retailers, meanwhile, has failed to offset those losses, with the ecommerce sector adding just $178,000$ jobs over the past $15$ years. Some of those jobs can be found in the massive distribution centers Amazon has opened across the country, often not too far from malls the company helped shutter.
But those are workplaces, not gathering places. The mall is both. And in the $61$ years since the first enclosed one opened in suburban Minneapolis, the shopping mall has been where a huge swath of middle-class America went for far more than shopping. It was the home of first jobs and blind dates, the place for family photos and war piercings, where goths and grandmothers could somehow walk through the same doors and find something they all liked. Sure, the food was lousy for you and the oceans of parking lots encouraged car-heavy development, something now scorned by contemporary planners. But for better of worse, the mall has been America’s public square for the last $60$ years.
So what happens when it disappears?
Think of your mall. Or think of the one you went to as a kid. Think of the perfume clouds in the department stores. The fountains splashing below the skylights. The cinnamon wafting from the food court. As far back as Ancient Greece, societies have congregated around a central marketplace. In medieval Europe, they were outside cathedrals. For half of the $20$th century and almost $20$ years into the new one much of America has found their agora on the terrazzo between Orange Julius and Sbarro, Waldenbooks and the Gap, Sunglass Hut and Hot Topic.
That mail was an ecosystem unto itself, a combination of community and commercialism peddling everything you needed and everything you didn’t: Magic Eye posters, wind catchers, Air Jordans….
A growing number of Americans, however, don’t see the need to go an Macy’s at all. Our digital lives are frictionless and ruthlessly efficient, with retail and romance available at a click. Malls were designed for leisure, abundance, ambling. You parked and planned to spend some time. Today, much of that time has been given over to busier lives and second jobs and apps that let you swipe right instead of haunt the food court. ‘Malls, says vats business professor Leonard Schlesinger, “were built for patterns of social interaction that increasingly don’t exist.”
Why does the author say that the mall has been America’s public square?
- Malls did not bar anybody from entering the space
- Malls were a great place to shop for a huge section of the middle class
- Malls were a hangout place where families grew close to each other
- Malls were a great place for everyone to gather and interact.