On July 17, we asked if Americans were seeing the death of traditional retail. In its July 31st issue, Time Magazine asked the same question. In its “The Death and Life of the Shopping Mall,” Time not only shared some scary statistics — like, “This year alone, an estimated 8,600 stores could close, according to industry estimates, many of them brand-name anchor outlets” — but raised a point we didn’t think of.
While we touched on the disruption to the commercial real estate market, we didn’t discuss (except among ourselves) the impact of Amazonification on small towns. When local retailers can’t keep up with Amazon (even as Amazon opens brick-and-mortar bookstores and supermarkets, now Whole Foods), they will close up, resulting in a problem for local towns from a tax revenue and employment perspective.
But it gets worse. As Time points out, many stores, including local malls, are not just places where people work or shop. As Time notes, “The shopping mall has been where a hug 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 ear piercing, where goths and grandmothers could somehow walk through the same doors and find something they all liked.”
Retail can be a gathering place. They can act as town centers, giving people a reason to gather, not just to spend, and to work. Even if current retail staff switch from sales to warehouse, even if some don’t lose their jobs, their communities will lose something important.
Without local stores and malls, where do people gather on bad weather days? Sure, restaurants, pubs, etc. will likely remain but other stores will have a tougher time. And that will have further implications on small communities.
Perhaps we’re giving up something in exchange for efficiency and cheaper prices.
Anyway, check out the Time article. This will continue to be a trend we monitor because its implications are significant.