As retailers continue to close stores in response to declining in-store sales, planners are trying to figure out what to do with increasingly vacant malls. Hulking malls sit half-vacant, or in some cases entirely shuttered. Strip malls built when the economy was booming never lived up to their potential when the economy tanked.
According to a story in the New York Times, planners are dreaming up different uses for the structures, from mini-golf to vegetable gardens:
"The efforts reflect a shift in how Americans want to shop today: rather than going to big, overwhelming malls, many prefer places where stores can be entered from the street, featuring restaurants, entertainment and other Main Street mainstays. Also, as commuters in urban areas shift to public transportation, the giant parking lots are no longer needed."
Whether you're in the suburbs or a small, rural town with no malls in sight, check out some interesting story opportunities:
RETAILERS: Check with retailers in your town about the change in shoppers' habits. Has this benefited them or hurt them? With more people shopping online, how do your retailers draw shoppers in? Have your Main Street retailers seen more people gravitating back to their stores and away from shopping malls? Also, talk to the Chamber of Commerce in your town to see if officials have observed trends with retailers and how they are responding.
SHOPPERS: Ask your readers in an online poll how they do most of their shopping. You can also find people shopping at a variety of places to ask how they prefer to shop and how they differs from shopping 20 years ago.
BUSINESS EXPERTS: Contact business professors and planning experts at nearby colleges to get their take on changing shopping patterns and how that will affect your area.