Nostalgia is one of the most powerful emotions we feel today. Even though we as consumers keep buying the newest products, we still happily listen to music on old records, proudly wear t-shirts depicting our favorite 90s cartoons and smile with joy when we play old NES or SNES games. We keep older decades alive through the products we buy, the stories we tell and the historical sites we preserve. And while we Gen-Xers and Millennials are more than happy to keep the memories of the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s alive, we are also neglecting to preserve one crucial location that has been a cornerstone of United States culture in the late 20th century: the shopping mall.
Shopping malls are so ubiquitous of consumer culture, it’s easy to assume they will always be around. But sadly in the last decade, that has been far from the case. Due to the rise of services such as online shopping, malls have had a crisis of existence. According to Time Magazine, one out of every four malls could be closed by 2022, as online shopping continues to expand its dominance. The term “dead mall” has emerged to describe a mall that has either been closed or is near to being closed. And while many stores go out of business on a regular basis, a shopping mall closing has much bigger consequences for the community.
The impact of dead malls
Historically, malls have not only been places to shop, but also have served as bedrocks for entire towns. Whole neighborhoods have been built around these retail behemoths. Malls have served as gathering places for residents, a vital resource for jobs and platforms for small local businesses to thrive alongside the biggest retail chains.
Malls can also serve as cultural time capsules. Many malls built in the 70s, 80s and 90s have distinct architecture and artifacts from their respective eras that can’t easily be found in other places. Many people look back at malls with nostalgia, such as filmmaker Dan Bell, who has formed a sizable following online taking pictures and videos of shopping centers that were once a big part of his childhood.
When a shopping mall suffers, the entire community suffers. Thousands lose their jobs and livelihoods, other businesses around the mall start to close, crime in the area spikes and giant shells of mall buildings are left to rot away. Howard Davidowitz, chairman of retail consulting firm Davidowitz & Associates, explained how communities suffer from mall closures in an interview with Business Insider.
“The communities (surrounding shopping malls) wither away, and they never come back,” Davidowitz said. “Malls are big, big contributors to city and state taxes, jobs and everything. Once they close, they are a blight on the community for a very long time.”
A bright spot in Boise
While many around the country are left to grapple with the consequences of their local malls closing, residents here in Boise have surprisingly been spared from the advent of dead malls when compared to other cities.
The Boise Towne Square Mall has remained a successful and busy mall in spite of nationwide mall closings. In fact, it’s one of the most successful malls its owner (General Growth Properties) owns, according to Boise Weekly. Open since October 1988, almost 30 years ago, the mall continues to hold onto it’s five main anchor stores, and its occupancy rate remains high, with many local residents still gathering there to socialize. Meanwhile, the Karcher Mall in Nampa still remains after more than 50 years since its opening in 1965, although it does have more vacancies, fewer customers and a harder time drawing in residents when compared to Boise Towne Square.
According to the Idaho Statesman, part of the reason for Boise’s better retail landscape is due to the healthy store-to-population ratio Boise maintains. Other areas of the country have suffered from overbuilding, with too many stores serving too little residents. Yet by limiting the amount of big box stores to around one in Boise, retailers such as Macy’s and JCPenney have managed to stay alive in the region. The continued success of the Boise Towne Square Mall is not guaranteed, however, with retailers continuing to close stores nationwide in 2018, according to NPR.
Time to go back to the mall
It can be difficult to make the effort to go to a brick and mortar department store considering both the fast-paced modern life and financial limitations many students face. But right now, shopping malls and the stores within them need our support more than ever. The Boise Towne Square Mall and the Karcher Mall were influential in building our cities and economies, and many of our neighbors rely on their wellbeing for their livelihoods.
You don’t have to become a shopaholic to support your local mall. Even something as simple as getting a pretzel, buying some coffee and walking around a mall to get exercise can help keep these community giants from fading away.