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The Great Retail Retrofit

The “retail apocalypse” affords a unique opportunity to turn retail stores and malls into more productive community spaces.
The abandoned Randall Park Mall in North Randall, Ohio
The abandoned Randall Park Mall in North Randall, OhioJoshua Gunter/AP

In late October of this year, the office-sharing startup WeWork announced that it was buying Lord & Taylor’s flagship store in New York City. Coming as this did in the wake of the bankruptcies of such long-established retailers as The Limited and Toys “R” Us, it was widely viewed as the latest harbinger of the “retail apocalypse.”

It isn’t just chain stores in economically distressed suburbs that are going belly up, but high-end luxury goods purveyors along the retail corridors of America’s leading cities, such as New York’s Madison Avenue, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and Chicago’s Miracle Mile. All told, roughly 100,000 retail jobs were lost between October 2016 and April 2017. In the next five years, one out of every four malls is projected to close, according to an analysis by Credit Suisse. The square footage of America’s already dead malls covers more land than the city of Boston.