You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 14 – 27
A- 1956 saw the first appearance of what would become a symbol of the consumer experience: the modern shopping mall. The idea of having department stores, smaller retailers, food vendors, and services all in a single, attractive, enclosed area was an instant hit. Shopping malls rapidly spread across America, becoming a fixture of American cultural life. Thus, it is surprising that, in America at least, the shopping mall is dying. In fact, many experts predict that a few decades from now there will be few if any shopping malls left.
B- The first true shopping mall, the Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota, was the brainchild of architect Victor Gruen. An immigrant from Europe, Gruen imagined a modern version of the market squares that had always been such a common feature of European towns. He saw the shopping mall not only as a commercial space but also as a social hub where people could meet and exchange ideas. Whether ordinary citizens shared Gruen’s vision is debatable, but they certainly appreciated being able to shop and spend time in the comfortable, climate-controlled building, especially during the cold Minnesota winters.
C- Gruen’s idea soon caught on across the country. In the years following the construction of the Southdale Center, more than a thousand new shopping malls sprang up around the United States. The rise of the mall would not have been possible without another trend that was occurring at the time, the growth of residential suburbs. In the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, there was an unprecedented construction boom. Around every city, farmland was being turned into vast areas of new suburban housing. At the same time, America was investing heavily in road and highway construction. In a few decades, America had become a car-centred culture, and the shopping mall, with its huge parking lots and one-stop shopping, met the needs of these car-driving consumers in a way that traditional urban shopping could not.
D- Even at the height of their popularity, shopping malls had their critics. Gruen, the designer of the first mall, did not like what his creation had become. Instead of being the social hubs that he had envisaged, shopping malls, Gruen complained, were soulless structures that were destroying the economies of many towns and neighbourhoods. Downtown stores could not compete with the convenience of the new malls. Moreover, the large department stores that were traditionally located in city centres moved to the shopping malls in the suburbs, further hurting urban areas. Other experts pointed out that as malls moved farther and farther into the suburbs, they would be hard to reach except by those who had cars. Indeed, this is what has happened and new malls have seen their customer numbers drop for this reason.
E- In addition, the very design of malls has contributed to their decline. Despite various experiments in layout, the basic arrangement of malls remained the same. From the 1950s onwards, the main attraction of malls was generally two or three large department stores. These department stores were connected by long pedestrian areas lined with smaller stores that customers would visit while walking from one department store to another. However, in the last few decades, the department store business has faced many challenges. Due to falling business, large department store chains such as Macy’s and Sears have been closing their mall locations all over the country. Without department stores to attract customers, the other stores suffer. Slowly but surely they close, leaving many malls empty and depressing.
F- Thus, malls were already facing economic challenges when they were hit with what might prove to be an unstoppable force: online shopping. The original attraction of malls was that they provided a convenient, attractive location for consumers to make their purchases. But what is more convenient than shopping from home and making purchases with the click of a mouse button? Furthermore, with their high rents and limited space, small stores in malls have no way of competing with the selection and prices offered by online retailers.
G- What is the future of shopping malls in America? Some former malls are already being torn down and redeveloped for various purposes. For other malls to survive, they need to change considerably as just adding more stores will not be enough to help them compete with online shopping. Ironically, redesigned malls may end up returning to Gruen’s original dream of modern market squares.