The Biscayne Times

Feb 23rd
The Fall of the Mall PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jay Beskin, BT Contributor   
December 2017

Is the expanding Aventura Mall an endangered species?

YPix_JayBeskin_12-17es, it is that time of year again, that special time we all look forward to. Some for the chance to make our money, some for the chance to spend our money.

You know the time, that Week of Weeks -- Turkey Thursday, Black Friday, Hangover Saturday, Football Sunday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and Work Wednesday.

It all seems like a bunch of fun, especially if you are not underwriting a bored spouse’s shopping spree. But then immediately afterward we find ourselves huddled over the numbers. Did we have a good Black Friday this year? Was it better or worse than anticipated? Was it better or worse than last year? Was it better or worse than comparable post-hurricane years? Was it better or worse than the average compiled over the past decade? Was it better or worse in Florida than in the rest of the United States? And finally, was it better or worse in the Aventura Mall than comparable size malls in comparably populated areas around the United States?

Once the numbers come in, the post-mortems begin. If things went well, we can’t leave well enough alone, we have to analyze where it went well and why it went well. Which sectors were hot and why? Which sectors were slow and why? If Sears did poorly, is it because all Sears are doing poorly or is it a problem with our Sears? Is the construction around the mall creating an aura of expansion and success, thereby driving business, or is it creating an atmosphere of disorder and inconvenience, thereby driving business away? Is the effect of Hurricane Irma a drag on sales, because people had to deplete their cash reserves to make house repairs? Are the type of products people buy after hurricanes the type of products people are unlikely to purchase in a mall environment? And on and on and on.

All of which leads us to start wondering. Is the mall and all its expansion a good thing for Aventura, or are we walking into a sort of a trap? Think of it this way: What if we really are approaching a turning point -- or if there is no sharp turn, then what is currently known as a “tipping point”? In his best-selling book of that name, Malcolm Gladwell lays out the notion of a kind of invisible point of no return, where a trend becomes irreversible, well before the ultimate consequences arrive at a full finality.

There is no question that shopping in stores, so called “brick and mortar” commerce, is on its way down and has been for some time, while computer- and smartphone-based “cyber” sales are on their way up and have been for some time. This has caused the demise or diminution of several noted brands on the storefront side of the ledger, Sears and Kmart prominent among them, paralleled by the advancement and enhancement of several noted brands on the Internet side of the ledger, most notably Amazon.

The question a Gladwell devotee might ask is: Will there be a tipping point and when? Are we shortly facing a time when all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again, and the bricks will be martyred? There might simply not be enough interest in the store experience to sustain the shopping mall as a profitable enterprise, pretty much anywhere.

Now, this one story may be relevant or it may be irrelevant, but somehow my mind senses it is related. An acquaintance of mine owned a dress store in ritzy section of a foreign capital. He was selling high-end dresses and staying on top of the latest fashions. He figured if he was doing well in this one area, which had a relatively small amount of foot traffic, he would certainly do well if he could rent an expensive storefront in the part of town where the shopping and tourism crowd congregated more heavily.

He did that and sure enough his second store is busy all day with people constantly coming in and trying on dresses. One problem: virtually no one actually buys anything. They come to that neighborhood for the leisurely experience of drifting around, wandering into a store when something catches their eye, then wandering right back out empty-handed. Visually that street appears busier, but what looks superficially like shopping is actually a form of brick and mortar websurfing.

Is there a danger that the brick and mortar storefront is becoming itself a kind of catalogue, while the Internet is the actual marketplace? People can go to Macy’s, let’s say, to try on suits, dresses, jewelry, and whatnot, then go home to order the sampled items on the Macy’s website. By doing that it might be easier to aggregate their reward points, make sure they use the right credit card with the extra cash back, and then get a less expensive delivery via FedEx.

All of these phenomena, if they outpace our capacity to adapt, may overnight -- or very suddenly at any rate -- plunge the mall world into a tailspin. If our merchants are not nimble enough to anticipate trends, they may come crashing down. And if the mall suddenly becomes unworkable as a business model, there goes the neighborhood.

Aventura has done very well with the mall as its beating heart over the last quarter of a century. Outwardly the signs of expansion are heartening and appear to portend success. We sincerely hope that the various entrepreneurs and developers are reading their hands well and playing their cards right.

Nothing would make me happier than to hear the derisive laugh of one of these merchants, mocking me for being a provincial type of urbanite, one who sees the big glitz but misses the big picture. This is one occasion on which I would be happy to be off track and to miss the boat. “Tell me again how wrong I am, honey. I love to hear you tell it.”

If the mall were to collapse, if we are caught unawares and suddenly we are sitting on a vast expanse of otiose terrain, with half-empty parking lots, a few active food establishments surrounded by shuttered stores with forlorn For Rent signs, will that be ruinous for the neighborhood?

A doomsday scenario, to be sure, but is it so far out and so far off? Hard to say. In the meantime, we return to worrying about the Christmas and New Year’s season. Will it be better or worse than anticipated, better or worse than last year?


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