During the 1970s and '80s, America was in a full-throttle shopping mall building boom. New retail square footage hit its peak position in 1985. However, between 1989 and 1993, shopping center construction starts dropped by seventy percent. By the late 1990s, the notorious "dead mall" syndrome had appeared.
There have been several explanations given for this phenomenon, where once-vibrant retail hubs become virtually vacant ghost towns devoid of tenants and shoppers. The most obvious reasons for the proliferation of moribund malls in the United States are the advent of televised home shopping channels, in 1982, and introduction of online retailing, in the 1990s.
However, as I see it, the primary reason for many of the dead, dying -or redeveloped- malls is simply this...there were too many built in the United States during the 1970s and '80s. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that a medium-sized American city such as Toledo, Ohio could only -realistically- support one large fully-enclosed shopping mall. FOUR opened in the metropolitan area between 1969 and 1980, so it was inevitable that some would eventually fail. Just one -FRANKLIN PARK MALL- remains in business today.
This shopping mall malaise, a hangover from the nation's overbuilding binge, has been repeated in over-malled cities and towns from coast to coast over the past two decades.
Along with all of the over development of the 1970s and '80s, a few other dead mall generators might be mentioned. There has been a precipitous drop in our buying power since 1970. The end result was that the typical American did not have as much disposable income as they did during the halcyon years of the nation's suburbanization and shopping mall development.
With less discretionary income, John Q. Public could no longer afford to shop at the typical mall as much, where prices for merchandise were higher due to "common area fees" levied on all tenants. These surcharges paid for mallway maintenance and heating and cooling of the areas. In the 1950s, '60s and early '70s, electric power was plentiful and cheap.
This changed drastically during the mid-1970s, when monthly power bills began to escalate (and never stopped!). This inevitably caused the prices for mall-bought merchandise to rise, while -at the same time- the purchasing power of the general public was shrinking. In essence, the underpinnings of the dead mall syndrome were being established, although they would not manifest themselves for several years.