The rise and fall of the American Mall

When you hear the word “mall”, do you picture a bustling space with colorful bags all around, or a dead and eerie atmosphere? 

For decades, the mall was a staple activity for Americans. It was a social hub, thriving with customers and commerce. But now the question arises: are malls slowly dying? With malls closed or on the verge of closing, the institution is considered outdated by a great deal of people. How did this culture change occur in relation to the new generations? 

Malls made shopping easier. With the convenience of malls, there was no more driving to four different stores for your needs. 

“The mall to me is a place of convenience where I can shop and have fun,”  said sophomore Natalia Di Scala. 

Besides the number of stores, most malls also provided other attractions like restaurants, theaters and sometimes even supermarkets to attract more people into the space. 

Malls were first created in the 50s. As suburbs and the number of people owning cars increased, retail rapidly grew in society. 

Victor Gruen, an Austrian-American architect, played a massive role in popularizing the American mall. In his time, he was already popular for designing stores and shopfronts, but what he was creating and about to reveal would revolutionize the way Americans shop. 

The first mall designed by Gruen was built in 1956 called Southdale Center, located in the suburbs of Edina, Minnesota. Gruen was inspired by European cities and envisioned a town square of a collection of stores linked together by one space with plenty of parking and air conditioning.  

This design was transformative, making national headlines. Now, everyone, particularly white middle-aged women, were hooked on the mall and all of its unique features. 

This new attraction now allowed Minnesotans to shop all year round given their harsh winters and blazing summers. Because of the opportunity to shop and eat indoors, people were no longer restricted by the weather to find a space to shop but could do it any time of the day and year. 

As time passed and children started to grow into their teenage years, they began to overtake the malls. The mall transformed into a social space overrun by teenagers. Managers learned to adapt to the change and increased their teen-focused activities, like arcades and stores that fit the interests of teens. The mall became a phenomenon for the youth as this was a way of communication and a part of the culture in the 80s. 

 Technology began to creep into the next generations and new trends started to arise, the mall began to decline due to the increase in online shopping. 

Online shopping has changed the shopping experience. From the comfort of your home, just about anything can be purchased with the touch of a finger at any time of the day. Whether the time is 3 am or 9 pm, online shopping is accessible, which contrasts with mall shopping times.  

There is also a wide selection of things to buy online. Since the internet is not limited to shelves, buyers have an easier time finding what they are looking for. With online shopping, people also get access to reviews of its success and photos of the product itself. 

Due to this increase, fast fashion has also grown. Websites have clothes for an enormously cheap price compared to some stores in the mall which, in turn, attract more customers to shop online rather than in-store.

“I know a lot of people who shop online now and malls aren’t a big thing for them. I don’t necessarily think the malls are dying since people still shop there, but they aren’t as full and most people just prefer online shopping,” said senior Priscilla Sales. 

Malls remain not completely dead. They still are used in ways that differ from the past. As new generations came, malls learned to adapt. 

It used to be stamped into the teenage culture and had a large impact on social activity. But today, technology has replaced this in-person shopping, in favor of other activities with friends. 

The rise of online shopping and fast fashion have changed when and how people shop. As the new generations continue to come into play, will the mall cease to exist?

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