Reports of the Malls’ Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

The Times on Sunday tossed off a variation of that old journalism standby, “The Death of the Mall,” going to the Mall of America to get the pulse of the consumer economy.

THERE are roughly 1,500 malls in the United States, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, many of them ailing, some of them being converted into office buildings, and others closing their doors for good.

At Web sites like, the carcasses of these abandoned buildings are photographed and toe-tagged, along with tributes from former shoppers. All this as the worst retail environment in decades continues to sag in a sickly economy.

I know a little bit about the mall industry from my days covering it at the Journal. Lots of malls have closed over the last ten or fifteen years, but that’s mostly because the industry just plain overbuilt during the 1980’s and early 1990’s. The mall isn’t going away anytime soon, however much we might like it to. Owners can adapt them more rapidly than you might think.

And the Times uses shopkeepers to question the Mall of America’s claim that its sales were up 2 percent in 2008. But that likely means total sales, not average sales per square foot. The mall had more stores open up last year:

Sitting in her office in the basement, she is explaining how it’s possible that total sales at the mall were up 2 percent in 2008. Even she seems a little amazed by the number, in part because a major highway nearby was shut down during some crucial days in the holiday shopping season.

Yes, 11 stores closed in 2008, including Hot Dog on a Stick, a clothing retailer named Big Dog, and Wilsons Leather. But 31 new stores opened, among them American Apparel, True Religion and Best Buy…

The mall will survive.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.