Not All Bad

In conversations with property moguls (i.e. Mr. Free Market) the general consensus seems to be that shopping malls are facing a time of commercial decline, caused firstly by online shopping and lately, by the ChiCommiepox.

Yesterday I visited such an emporium universalis, expecting to find an indoor ghost town. And indeed, there were many boarded-up stores, but at a rough guess, only a third of the total.

I should point out that this particular mall — which I actually frequent quite often — is in an area of Plano known as Willow Bend, where houses start at $750k and spiral rapidly into the stratosphere.  One would expect, therefore, that a mall supported by Nouveau Riche Pharttes (there is no Old Money in Plano) or, more specifically, by the wives and teenage kids of the aforesaid would be largely immune to the ups and downs of the economic cycle, and mostly, one would be correct.  To whit, all the department stores (Dillards, Macy’s and Neiman-Marcus) were open for business and doing brisk trade — one saleslady confided to me that the Memorial Day weekend was the busiest she’d ever seen — and considering it was a Tuesday afternoon, still busy.  As were all the jewellers, of which there are close to a dozen (!) in Willow Bend Mall.  All the high-end stores — Talbots, J. Crew, Swarovski etc. — were not only still open but seemingly prosperous, with several Women Of That Ilk peering at the clothes and geegaws.  Ditto the (overpriced) art galleries and toy stores (Crayola? FFS) which, if not filled with kiddies (school day), were at least open and selling merchandise to, one assumes, said kiddies’ mums and nanas.  Ditto the housewares stores like Z Gallerie, Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn.

The main casualties seemed to be what I call the Fripperies:  candle stores, soap stores and those stores which sell house clutter.  Sadly, the superb cutlery store (razors, knives and swords) was one tragic casualty, unless I missed seeing it (I hope I did:  I buy stuff there at least twice a year).

No doubt, over time this mall will be restored to if not its former occupancy then at least something close to it, because its customer base is, as I said, more likely to be less affected by a downturn than most.

Somehow, though, I doubt it.  On of the things Mr. FM and I often talk about is how the lockdowns have affected what were once considered inviolable institutions:  in-office work, dress codes and so on.  (An aside from Mr. FM:  “There’s no way we’re ever going to be able to enforce a jacket and tie rule ever again — the kids will just tell us to get stuffed.”)

Likewise, I think the lockdowns have accelerated an already-growing trend of shopping which does not have to involve on-premises visits.  I’ll talk about that trend and its marketing implications at a later date.


  1. At the architectural firm I still work for, shopping centers and malls were the meat and potatos of our practice in the eighties. We had twenty-three projects concurrently in Florida at one point. Had our own airplane to make job inspections. I went to the ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers) conventions twice with my employer, held in Vegas, the only venue at the time that could host thirty thousand plus.

    I saw the writing on the wall when I made my first Amazon purchase. It took my boss a while longer since he wasn’t into computers. Our practice morphed into mixed use projects with retail, office and residential components. We haven’t had a stand alone shopping center project in this century. There will always be some people who prefer the market to remote shopping but I don’t see a resurgence in my lifetime.

    1. Who is the architectural firm? Where are they located? In the 80’s I worked for Watson &Company based in Tampa, at their Fort Myers office. I worked on the Bucs stadium, the airport, lots of high schools, loads of roadwork, bridges, etc. Ink on Mylar. In 1986 I started my own thing, and still do.

      1. Our firm is Vander Ploeg and Associates, Inc. We are located in Boca Raton, Florida. The centers we were designing were for CCDC (Commercial Center Development Corporation) whose principals eventually went to jail for Savings and Loan fraud. Investigators found some sites that had construction draws funded over 50% were actually empty sites with field grass growing. That is why we had an airplane and made frequent job inspections. None of our sites were approved for funding by us until the work was in place.

        BTW, I cut my teeth with ink on mylar as well.

  2. Haven’t been in a mall in decades. Generally speaking they are gun-free zones and thus dangerous.

  3. I haven’t been to our local (about 40 min away) mall since the lockdowns, so I can’t really comment on how well or poorly it’s doing, but I have some thoughts on how the Chinkflu will change business.

    I started working remotely almost a year before everyone else did, and we chose our home with my ability to do so in mind (I have an office in the basement, insulated from whatever Mrs D is doing, where I can swear at the screen without causing offense). Others I know weren’t so fortunate, including a co-worker who lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in a 600 square foot apartment, where both he and his wife were working remotely. They couldn’t both be on video calls at the same time because their internet connection couldn’t handle it. Meh, that’s what you get for living in Manhattan (at one point they moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn, three blocks from our office at the time, and after a few months moved back because downtown Brooklyn was “too suburban”).

    So my prediction is that office space that’s outside the cities will be a booming market. Not company office space, but individual offices that people can rent if they don’t have space in their home for a full-time office. Buy a strip mall, divide it into 100-200 square foot offices, supply a secure door, lighting, power, phone and internet. Move in your furniture and computer equipment as needed and get to work. Perhaps furnished offices that can be rented by-the-day. Hell, it needn’t be much more sophisticated than a self-storage facility.

    I’ve heard stories about NYC commercial real estate crashing, at a time when houses in Northeastern PA are selling faster than they can list them (I could probably sell my home now for nearly double what I paid for it two years ago, but then I’d still have to live somewhere. For the record, my house was on the market for two years, and we bought it for below asking price.)

    Mark D

    1. Mark,
      I agree with you. I’ve seen some law firms do that. A solo attorney rents and office, they pay rent and in return receive the office space, utilities and someone to answer the phone for them. I am sure there is access to office staff for assistance and copy machines too.

      As far as malls go, the only time I have seen them busy is around Christmas time. OTher than that they are largely empty. I have also heard that some towns rent space in the mall because they can office town services including a library branch for the townspeople.

      I large mall near where I grew up remodeled itself several years ago. They first started building new anchor stores at either end of the mall, then they demolished the mall between the new anchor stores and rebuilt the mall. Over the two levels of stores, they built condos or apartments. I would assume that the apartments or condos had special access to parking otherwise it would be a pain to find parking at the mall.


  4. I buy huge amounts of stuff online. I cannot convince retailers to stock things either on their websites or their bricky outlets like pants in 35w 29l or a hammer drill bit with an 18 inch shank and a 1 5/8 head, at all or at a sane price. How could it hurt these merchants to stock with the bell curve in mind? Am I missing something? Is warehouse space for 3 or 4 weird hammer drill bits that may sell twice a year so expensive?

    So, while I buy that stuff from Amazon and the growing number of other online specialty merchants, I still go to the mall. I like to walk around, see people of all sizes, races and shapes, especially the girls, finger the schmattes and the actual paper books, eat some mall food. Given my Canadian location, it’s very nice do all of that out of the cold, driving from my heated garage to the mall’s heated parking so I can walk about without heavy winter clothes.

    There’s a mall up in Edmonton that seems to me to be a model for the future. It’s a long 4 story building with a double row of shops and restaurants, with a 4 story corridor in the middle, about 40 or 50 feet wide, on the ground floor. The corridor is overlooked by apartments with balconies. The ceiling is glass and the place is also well lit for evenings and dark days.

  5. I literally cannot recall the last time I went to a mall.

    @Mark D: it’ll be interesting to see if the Cuomos/Newsoms/KamalaToes of the world would ever permit your office space paradigm to occur. Kung Flu has been the left’s wet dream: conditioning the sheeple to suckle at Big Bro’s teat. I’ll wager it’s more than even money the left (I include the GOP under that umbrella) would bend over backwards impose their typical regulatory burdens upon such a proposal. To keep us safe, of course. Thinking/providing for oneself is unsafe.

  6. Most of the malls here in the DC suburbs have become rendezvous points for the feral yoots from the sporty, urban areas and the wiggers who aspire to be like them. Outside of my local Merchant of Death, the only retail establishments I frequent are Graingers, Restaurant Supply (I own a commercial bakery and kitchen), Lowes and once a month, Costco to take on stores. I used to make the occasional trip to Ft Myers to shop at the commissary, but the DoD have made it essentially non-competitive in order to kill it. It’s working.

    I haven’t been to the movies in 5 years+ and have no plans to go (thank you LG OLED!). My wife and I have a social group that does dinners together every other week at our respective homes. I play poker once a month with guys I have known for 20-35 years. Trips to the private range are down to once a month or so, but only because nobody else has ammo and I don’t want to be That Guy With All the Ammo. Malls have never held any appeal to me–in my mind, 80% of the stores sell overpriced junk you don’t need, are understaffed and the staff are undertrained, uninterested and generally unhelpful.

    Mall space here in the metro DC area is giving way to million dollar plus town houses and and “affordable” co-ops and apartments ($800K plus with $1200/month association dues).

    I did venture out to a new “craft” pub that was “designed to recreate the English Pub experience.” If the English Pub experience is $28 for a pint of Guinness and a pasty the size of a toddler’s fist, I’ve had of all that experience I care to. Trenchermen need not apply.

  7. We operate a small organic teaching farm near the outskirts of Eugene Oregon.

    Zoning on the adjacent acreage changed thrice in a decade:
    * feral farmland with orchards and cattle and llama and emu, to
    * warehouse and manufacturing, then to
    * an ‘economic zone’ encouraging a multi-story condensed version of downtown — retail on the ground-level, offices on the second level, and apartments/condominiums on the upper levels.
    The same piece of ground, reduced from productive to warehousing urban (‘millennial’) humanoids… the majority are Caucasian, resulting in another urban desert devoid of the good kinds of cultural diversity.

    The bumblebrats are changing their definitions of ‘urban growth boundaries’ from lateral/horizontal to vertical.
    By extending their claim into the air above a property, they automatically reduce the extension of utilities such as water/sewer/electricity and the absolutely unequivocally must-have essential — cable televisionprogramming.
    And nary a food-producing garden in sight.
    You want a garden, watch gardening televisionprogramming on cable.

    As an inducement for the ‘back-to-nature’ crowd, vast tracts of individual properties are re-surveyed, then suddenly discovered to be ‘heritage areas’, ‘delicate areas’, ‘essential wetlands’, or swamps.
    According to the scribblings of some nameless faceless bumblebrat’s pencil deep in the bowels of some bureaucracy someplace, these ‘public spaces’ are suddenly deemed “perpetually unbuildable’ and can only be used as a park or ‘nature-oriented buffer’.

    You own five acres, but only two acres can be used.
    Does TheLaw© involving seizure (on our side… ‘forfeiture’ on their side) seem familiar?
    I remember feeling vaguely uncomfortable walking around a shopping maul.
    I imagine it might be the ‘shooting gallery’ linear design of the property, including the parking-lot and restrooms.
    Fussing-about down-range is no longer in my lifetime allotment of minutes.
    I visit elderly shut-ins.
    Instead of going to the local-owned gardening supply, one gal ordered her rose bushes ‘on-line’.
    Her new garden was delivered in boxes the size of Godzilla’s fedora.
    Somebody is growing the trees for the shipping boxes, somebody is cutting the trees, somebody is transforming the trees into shipping boxes, then somebody recycles the boxes into pulp to be made into new boxes.
    All so buyers can ‘order from the comfort of your home-office’.

    I blame soy.

  8. Over Christmas dinner this year the conversation turned to gift shopping patterns. This year, for the first time, the majority of money spent on gifts was spent on-line. Surprisingly, the digital natives spent the least on line, as they tended to walk the mall looking for inspiration. The savvy and the time poor spent the most, almost exclusively on line.
    That’s the writing on the wall. Remember, our super funds own huge chunks of these malls.
    The other phenomena that’s becoming common round our parts is retail ghosting. The practice of looking at a garment, say, in a shop and then going online and sourcing the best deal.
    Strike two for the malls

  9. Kim, unless Karl has vaporized recently, he’s still located at Willow Bend. His shop, Cutlery Collection, is located directly across from ‘Forever 21’ on the Dillards end of the mall.

    Tell him Ron sent ya…

    1. Ah, fantastic. Many a male relative has had a knifely present purchased at his store…

    1. Unless I’m mistaken ( a distinct possibility ! ) they’re talking about
      ‘The Shops at Willow Bend’, a mall in Plano Texas, ’bout 15 miles straight north of Dallas just off the Dallas North Tollway.
      It’s what some of us here, in a certain age bracket, might call a ‘yuppie mall’ and I suspect our Kim just might go there incognito to protect his reputation ! Or maybe not.

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