Regional malls initially started without too much of a threat to diversity. They had foundation stores to 'anchor' an end of the mall, typically then a department store. In between were several specialty shops, often smaller local traders relocating from older, declining shopping areas. But to ensure the highest possible rent, mall operators preferred leasing to stores with proven track records, especially those with marketing success in malls. Few small, local stores could match the track records of national specialty retailers, chains of stores specializing in a single product niche but operating internationally, such as Gap, Williams-Sonoma (cooking supplies), Dorothy Perkins and Benetton. As the market became saturated with malls, specialty retailers thrived even when malling declined.
Malls began homogenizing by the early 1990s. They now break down into three broad categories, driven by class and income. 'A' malls cater to upper- and upper-middle-class shoppers. In the US they include department stores, such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's; exclusive national specialty clothing retailers like Ralph Lauren and Kenneth Cole; household goods stores like Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel; and national niche stores that appeal to broader audiences, such as Gap. 'B' malls are targeted more at middle- and partly upper-middle-class shoppers. Their department stores have large selections, but not as large or as exclusive as those in 'A' malls. While the mix of specialty shops in 'B' malls is similar to those in 'A' malls, retailers like Bulgari, Yves Saint Laurent and Tiffany & Co. would not locate in 'B' malls. Others, such as Banana Republic, offer reduced selections of merchandise. 'C' malls cater to middle- and lower-middle-class shoppers. Their department stores only target people with lower incomes. Specialty retailers that seek to attract wealthier shoppers, such as J. Crew or Abercrombie & Fitch, will not locate stores in 'C' malls.
This retail mix renting strategy significantly reduced risks for mall operators but has created a monotonous shopping experience for consumers, who want a more varied choice. Visitors increasingly feel the convenience of one-stop, climate-controlled shopping in regional malls is counter-balanced by the inconveniences of parking, ever-expanding buildings and limited choice heavily focused on national speciality retail stores.
Two approaches are being offered as an alternative to regional malls. The first is the 'big box' shopping centre, which is essentially a strip mall that contains several very large stores. There, outlets are 10-20 times the size of the speciality mall store. Shoppers park their cars in parking lots directly in front of the store. Depending on where you are you see Best Buy, Home Depot, Currys, Halfords or Office Depot. The second is to reinvent the old high street: the 'main street mall', combining big box and smaller shops, designed
A good secondary shopping street in Cork, Ireland -the kind that is disappearing very rapidly to resemble the fantasy of a main street in a small American community at the turn of the 20th century. The storefronts in main street malls, like those of early malls, face a pedestrian walkway. Parking is tucked inconspicuously behind the building.90
The bland processes of malling, shedding and big boxing have reconfigured cities dramatically. They tore older cities apart by inserting malls inside their cores, losing the street in the process and breaking up community patterns, rupturing the historic urban fabric. Placement on the edge of town or out of town drains the city of its lifeblood - a process well documented. It has led to the decline of local shopping and the attendant network of relationships. It has made facilities like libraries and other services feel out of place, because they are now separated from shopping.91 It has helped the process by which chains have become ever dominating, providing the larger templates they require. Yet what irony! Back in 1956, when the first mall was opened in Minnesota (Southdale Mall in Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis), the father of the enclosed mall, Victor Gruen, stated that the mall was the way to replicate community by providing social interaction and recreation in pedestrian-friendly environments by incorporating civic and educa-
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