Many malls in North America are considered "dead" (for the purposes of leasing) when they have no surviving anchor store (often a large department store) or successor that could serve as an entry into or attraction to the mall.
Without the pedestrian traffic that department stores typically generate, sales volumes decline for almost all stores and rental revenues from those stores can no longer sustain the costly maintenance of the malls. Without good pedestrian access smaller stores inside malls are difficult to reach.
The now-vacant anchor store position may be referred to as a "ghostbox" and the outline of where signage once was indicates the branding or trademark of the former anchor as "label scar".
Dead mall is a commercial real estate (property) term that has its origins in North America.
Changes in the retail climate
In many instances, a mall begins dying when its surrounding neighborhood undergoes a socio-economic decline or a newer, larger mall opens nearby.
Structural changes in the department store industry have also made survival of these malls difficult:
A few large national chains have replaced many local and regional chains, and some national chains
- US typical example: Montgomery Ward & Woolworth's are defunct
- Canada: Eatons, Zellers, Woolco, Kmart, and Woodwards are all defunct; Target closed all Canadian stores in 2015, and unlike the other defunct stores, Target has no successor to lease their vacant space. Walmart once held a large presence in Canadian shopping malls after taking over the Woolco chain, however most of these spaces were abandoned in favor of larger freestanding big box stores.
Hence, in some areas or suburbs there are insufficient traditional department stores to fill all the existing larger lease area anchor spaces.
Attitudes about malls have also been changing. With changing priorities, people have less time to spend driving to and strolling through malls, and during the Great Recession, specialty stores offered what many shoppers saw as useless luxuries they could no longer afford.
In this respect, big box stores and conventional strip malls have a time-saving advantage. The rise in big box stores since the 1980s left malls reliant on an older business model that could not change with the times. 21st-century retailing trends favor open air lifestyle centers, which resemble elements of power centers, big box stores, and strip malls over indoor malls. The massive change led Newsweek to declare the indoor mall format obsolete in 2008. The year 2007 marked the first time since the 1950s that no new malls were built in the United States.
In recent years, the number of dead malls has increased significantly because the economic health of malls across the United States has been in decline, with high vacancy rates in many of these malls. From 2006 to 2010, the percentage of malls that are considered to be "dying" by real estate experts (have a vacancy rate of at least 40%), unhealthy (20-40%), or in trouble (10-20%) all increased greatly, and these high vacancy rates only partially decreased from 2010 to 2014. In 2014, nearly 3% of all malls in the United States were considered to be "dying" (40% or higher vacancy rates) and nearly one-fifth of all malls had vacancy rates considered "troubling" (10% or higher). Some real estate experts say the "fundamental problem" is a glut of malls in many parts of the country creating a market that is "extremely over-retailed".
Some malls have maintained profitability, particularly in areas with frequent inclement weather (or otherwise weather undesirable for outdoor activities, such as shopping in an open air shopping/lifestyle center) or large populations of senior citizens who can partake in mall walking. Combined with lower rents, these factors have led to companies like Simon Malls enjoying high profits and occupancy averages of 92%. Some retailers have also begun to re-evaluate the mall environment, a positive sign for the industry.
Dead malls are occasionally redeveloped. Leasing or management companies may change the architecture, layout, decor, or other component of a shopping center to attract more renters and draw more profits.
Sometimes redevelopment can involve a switch from retail usage to office or educational use for a building, such as is the case with Park Central Mall in Phoenix, the Eastmont Town Center in Oakland, California, the Windsor Park Mall in San Antonio (now the global headquarters of Rackspace), and the Coral Springs Mall in Florida.
As a last resort, the structure is demolished and the property redeveloped for other uses, known as building on a greyfield site.
In jurisdictions such as Vermont (with a strict permitting process) or in major urban areas (where open fields are long gone) this greyfielding can be much easier and cheaper than building on a greenfield site. A good example of this type of redevelopment is Prestonwood Town Center in Dallas and Voorhees Town Center in Voorhees Township, New Jersey.
- "Greyfields and Ghostboxes Evolving Real Estate Challenges". Uwex.edu. Retrieved 2009-07-16.
- "Recession Turns Malls Into Ghost Towns - WSJ.com". Online.wsj.com. 2009-05-22. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
- Stephanie Rosenbloom. "Malls See Plenty of Action, but Less of It Is Shopping". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
- Newman, Rick (2009-06-26). "How To Tell When a Mall Is In Trouble". News.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2009-07-16.
- "Target Canada owes more than $5-billion to creditors". thestar.com.
- "The vanishing shopping mall". The Week. 2009-03-26. Retrieved 2009-10-24.
- Dokoupil, Tony (2008-11-12). "Is the American Shopping Mall Dead?". Newsweek. Retrieved 2009-10-24.
- "The death of the US shopping mall". BBC. 2014-04-11.
- "Mall Walking". Walking.about.com. 2013-07-17. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
- Cory Schouten. "General Growth deal would extend Simon's mall dominance | Indianapolis Business Journal". IBJ.com. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
- Melissa Regennitter (2010-05-29). "Leading the charge to bring back the mall". Muscatinejournal.com. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
- Nelson D. Schwartz, "The Economics (and Nostalgia) of Dead Malls," New York Times, Jan. 3, 2015.
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