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The Mall vs. Downtown

In the early ’90s, the Macy’s in the mall in the city where I grew up closed. The mall wasn’t anchored by another big retailer, and it wasn’t long before the rest of the retailers and, eventually, the whole mall shut down. The downtown area was pretty hollow for several years before being redeveloped about 10 years ago.

So I read with interest Karen Klein’s interview about what small shopping center tenants should expect if an anchor tenant closes. The Wall Street Journal also has this story about malls struggling through retail closures and consumers who are cutting back on spending. If Americans’ newfound thrift turns out to be a longer-term shift to more savings and less debt-fueled consumption, what will happen to our retail landscape? How many malls and shopping centers will close? And what will happen to that space?

On a related note, we have a story today about independent businesses promoting local shopping to stave off the worst effects of the recession. (We also have a slideshow of some successful buy local campaigns.) These efforts are often concentrated in old urban or small-town downtown areas — in other words, the opposite of where most shopping centers are. Some people are also shifting away from driving long distances to shop, which again favors local merchants over big box retailers. And while it’s tough to measure, the business owners I spoke with credited their campaigns promoting local, independent businesses with helping them cope with the downturn.

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