As the economy changes, so do shopping malls throughout the United States
Since the 1950s, malls have been places where people gathered to socialize, eat and shop. In the last few years, malls in the United States have seen fewer and fewer visitors
According to Statista, in the retail vacancy rates of malls in the United States during the summer and fall of 2020 was 6.2%
What’s the main reason for that?
Online shopping. According to a survey conducted by eMarketer, when it comes to shopping for financial services, TV and video devices and clothing, people prefer to shop for those types of things both in store and online or just online rather than in-person.
Today, online shopping is becoming more popular than going to a shopping center or mall. Meredith Drennen, director of the Homewood Chamber of Commerce, said that there has been an increase in internet sales recently, which can contribute to the decline in visitors in local malls such as Brookwood Village in Homewood, Alabama. “I think that you see a lot of internet sales taking away from local malls across the board, not just in Brookwood, but everywhere,” Drennen said.
The Brookwood Village is located in Homewood near Shades Creek, and a few years ago, it was a lively, bustling area with multiple restaurants and both local and chain stores within the mall. However, that all changed around 2018. Rising rent prices, competing with other malls in the area and accessibility issues are things Drennen said that Brookwood Village has faced in the last few years. “Overall, people want to shop out in an outdoor, easy in-and-out setting with some easier accessibility,” said Drennen. In the last few years, Belk, which was considered by Drennan an “anchored tenant” in Brookwood, became oversaturated in the Birmingham market, as there are multiple Belk stores in the Homewood and the Birmingham areas. As a result, Belk is no longer in Brookwood Village.
According to Forbes, in February, Belk filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and then emerged from it within a couple days. As a result, Belk is still in operation with 290 stores nationally.
Then, Drennen said, losses led to a snowball effect where other businesses didn’t renew their leases with Brookwood and the mall pivoted their focus on non-profit organizations and shorter leases with a rise in rent prices. “Once you lose that anchored tenant, it is really difficult to come back,” Drennen said. Today, it is often a ghost town, as the COVID-19 pandemic slowly shut down many popular and beloved stores. Currently, a total of nine stores remain open including Macy’s, with many store spaces vacant throughout the mall. Homewood locals have noticed this change and expressed their sadness for the mall.
“I think it’s really sad,” a Brookwood Mall visitor said. “I can’t believe in this day and age that people shop online instead of in stores.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, locals noticed many restaurants and stores including Books-aMillion and Brio Tuscan Grill shutting down.
“It needs to bring business back,” another Brookwood Mall visitor said.
Those who walk the empty mall will no longer hear chatter or even music in the mall, but instead hear the AC unit running and the unnerving squeaking coming from the escalators. “It is like a hybrid of a regular mall and a strip mall,” a Yelp reviewer said. “The parking deck runs underneath and behind the stores. And despite the deck spots usually being full, there is a sense of this mall going downhill.” This “hybrid” model of stores, outdoor spaces and apartment complexes seems to be the model.
Along with that, outdoor malls and outlets grew in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You see at places like The Summit where you can stop at one store, you don’t have to go through the whole mall to get to the one place you’re trying to go. You can pop in and out really quickly,” Drennen said. “There’s been a little bit of a trend towards that in national malls.” Through public involvement meetings and helping landowners and business owners become successful, the Homewood Chamber of Commerce hopes to address those issues by working with businesses in Birmingham.
“The retail in Homewood has been pretty strong in other areas,” Drennen said. “I think you just have to have the right mix to make sure it’s successful. A lot of it is going to be that accessibility.”
There is hope for Brookwood Village being revived, as Brookwood Office Partners LLC announced their plans last year to make the mall a mixed-use development.
Drennen said that many malls are changing to a new model of “mixed-use” spaces, as the national store chains recalibrate their own business models.
“Look at a successful mall like The Summit,” Drennen said. “They’ve got apartments that are right there, so they have that market on those people that live there that wanna pop in and out of somewhere quick. That’s what you’ll see with the condos and the apartments they are looking at building there, and they’ll kind of create a 24hour market for their services.”
Brookwood Village hopes to become a mixed-use model like The Summit. Nationally, outdoor malls and outlets are becoming more popular, and Drennen thinks that looking ahead, this mixed-use model for outlets and malls will continue to grow in popularity. According to an article published by “Bham Now,” the new Brookwood Village plans include locally owned retail outlets, high-end apartments, up to 120 hotel rooms, restaurants and more. Hopefully this is not the end for Brookwood Village, but it may be the end for shopping malls as we know them. “Once that space is renovated, I do think it’s going to be utilized a lot better,” Drennen said.