I stepped back in time a couple of months ago.
One minute I was listening to Ed Sheeran on Spotify in my car, the next minute I could have easily been listening to Huey Lewis and the News or Phil Collins blaring from some long ago boombox. In an instant, I was back in the ’80s and ’90s.
When I looked up, there was Kay Jewelers, Bath and Body Works, a Hallmark store, a cellphone retailer, and a myriad of other stores trying their best to hold-on in today’s market. A local nonprofit held its annual Christmas bazaar in a local mall and I felt like I had turned back time.
I hadn’t been in the mall in years. It felt strange, like I had come across an old friend who had run into a rough patch and looked nothing like himself. He needed a shave and a shower, a haircut, and maybe even a new wardrobe. I looked at my old friend not sure what to say or how to help him.
Most of the big box retailers had moved out of the mall. There were still a couple stores, hanging on the best they could. Kohls looked the strongest, but they were more of a destination unto themselves, then part of the mall.
There were a few new stores, but they even looked a little shoddy: a year-round Halloween store, an Escape Room, and a fitness center, that was empty, except for one lost soul, running trance-like on a treadmill.
The rest of the mall, outside of those specifically attending the bazaar, was empty.
Oh, I’m old enough to remember when malls reigned supreme. The 1980s saw record growth in the shopping center industry, with more than 16,000 centers built between 1980 and 1990, according to one industry source. You went to the mall to get your new kicks at Footlocker, your new clothes for the start of school and to fill up on Orange Julius’ and Boardwalk French Fries.
We all thought malls would live forever, but it wasn’t to be. The rise of online shopping and the blow of the Great Recession in the 2008 led to a drop in sales and foot traffic at big-brand retailers like JCPenney, Macy’s, and Sears. My local mall suffered the same type of challenges. The decline started slow, but traffic in the mall soon dropped off a cliff.
And yes, I know some malls across the globe still do quite well. Many that I have seen over the years, however, have struggled and will continue to do so until they come up with creative, non-traditional tenants and uses.
Malls replaced the small mom and pop department stores and downtown shopping and now Amazon and online retailers have replaced the mall. I doubt Charles Darwin was thinking of modern day shopping habits, but maybe this is exactly what he had in mind, when he wrote about the Survival of the Fittest. The obvious question is: What will be next?
I don’t think anyone knows. There’s a part of me that misses those bygone days, but I ordered something this weekend from Amazon. The package came a day later. It was exactly what I wanted. It’s hard to beat that service.
Oh, I still like to window shop and try on clothes, there’s no replacing that experience, but the service and speed of today’s online retailers is too big of barrier for most traditional retailers to overcome.
I guess in the end, we can be dinosaurs or we can adapt and grow with the times. I’ll take growing with the times!