The American mall surrenders

SUBHEAD: It’s a time of reckoning for an industry that once expanded pell-mell across the American landscape.

By Matt Townsend on 20 November 2014 for -

Image above: Kiddie rides near JC Peeny anchor store at Steeplegate Mall in Concord, New Hampshire. From (

On a crisp Friday evening in late October, Shannon Rich, 33, is standing in a dying American mall. Three customers wander the aisles in a Sears the size of two football fields. The RadioShack is empty. A woman selling smartphone cases watches “Homeland” on a laptop.

“It’s the quietest mall I’ve ever been to,” says Rich, who works for an education consulting firm and has been coming to the Steeplegate Mall in Concord, New Hampshire, since she was a kid. “It bums me out.”

Built 24 years ago by a former subsidiary of Sears Holdings Corp., Steeplegate is one of about 300 U.S. malls facing a choice between re-invention and oblivion. Most are middle-market shopping centers being squeezed between big-box chains catering to low-income Americans and luxury malls lavishing white-glove service on One Percenters.

It’s a time of reckoning for an industry that once expanded pell-mell across the landscape armed with the certainty that if you build it, they will come. Those days are over. Malls like Steeplegate either rethink themselves or disappear.

This summer Rouse Properties Inc., a real estate investment trust with a long track record of turning around troubled properties, decided Steeplegate wasn’t salvageable and walked away. The mall is now in receivership.

As management buys time by renting space to temporary shops selling Christmas stuff, employees fret that if the holiday shopping season goes badly, more stores will close. Should the mall lose one of its anchors -- Sears, J.C. Penney Co. and Bon-Ton Stores Inc. -- the odds of survival lengthen.

‘We Surrender’
“Rouse is basically saying ‘We surrender,’” said Rich Moore, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets who has covered mall operators for more than 15 years. “If Rouse couldn’t make it work and that’s their specialty, then that’s a pretty tough sale to keep it as is.”

Image above: Chart demonstrates that operations like Steeplegate Mall are at great risk. From original article.

Incidentally, our mall here on Kauai - the Kukui Grove Mall - fits into the A Mall category. That's l likely because there is no other place to to "mall-crawl" without getting on a jet plane. Even so the place often looks like a ghost town.

Mysterious case of Steeplegate Mall

By Rebecca Lavoie on 3 April 2012 for New Hampshire Public Radio -

Image above: Parking lot at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord, New Hampshire. From original article via An Orchard Away on Flickr.

Last week, after we aired a segment on creative methods of discouraging teenage loitering, listener Jennifer Army sent us the following email:
I just heard the piece about using high-pitched noise makers to deter loitering teens and it reminded me of something that happened recently.  I was at the Steeplegate Mall with my sons (ages 11 & 9) and we parked in front of the main entrance by Talbots.  As we walked closer to the big bell tower my sons started complaining of a horrible noise.  I didn't hear anything and didn't know what they were complaining about.  We finished shopping and they insisted that I "listen" to the noise as we exited.  I really tried but I didn't hear ANYTHING.  Yes, I guess it's time to admit I'm 40 and I didn't hear the examples you played over the air either.  My immediate thought at the time was that the sound was to deter pigeons from roosting in the bell tower but maybe it's actually to deter all those rowdy Concord teenagers!
After placing a couple of calls to the management office at the mall, I finally heard back from Joseph Eaton, who confirmed that yes, in fact, there is a pigeon deterrent system at the mall.

It was also clear that Joseph had done a little digging on us before he called back, because although I hadn't mentioned loitering in my message, he wanted to make is very clear that the Steeplegate Mall would "never, ever" put into use a system to discourage their "target demographic." Namely, teenagers.

Case closed.

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