The New American Mall (2024)

The Atlantic Daily

The future of large shopping centers will encompass much more than shopping.

By Lora Kelley
The New American Mall (1)

This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.

The mall isn’t what it used to be. But that doesn’t mean it’s dead.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:

  • Aileen Cannon is who critics feared she was.
  • MAGA, the next generation
  • America’s doublethink on working through the heat

The “Experience” Era

Images of the fallen mall—the empty shop floor littered with mannequins, the dusty escalators leading to an abandoned food court—have loomed large in the American cultural imagination over the past decade. And it’s true: The mall of your childhood, whether it had big department stores, Orange Julius counters, or flip-phone kiosks, may no longer exist as it once did. Malls now feature escape rooms, axe throwing, and the occasional brand-sponsored “immersive experience.” The mall has changed, but some version of it is staying with us.

After a brief pandemic dip, in-person retail is going strong. Shopping-center vacancy in early 2024 was nearly the lowest it had been in 20 years, at 5.4 percent, according to a recent report from the real-estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, and demand for retail space is outpacing supply. Some lower-tier malls have entered cycles of weak traffic and contraction, John Mercer, a retail analyst at Coresight Research, told me, especially as the department stores that occupied major square footage have closed. But higher-tier malls—those with desirable brands and high sales density, often in affluent areas—are performing well, Mercer said, with occupancy frequently above 95 percent across the past few years.

The perception that malls have suffered is rooted in truth—many malls and stores have closed in recent decades, maybe even the one closest to where you live. But this narrative also picked up steam in part because of how much attention Americans pay to the mall and what’s happening to it. As Alexandra Lange, an architecture critic and the author of Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall, explained to me in an email, “The ebb and flow of retail is much more visible to the general public than other types of business,” so people pay attention “earlier in the downcycle” of a mall’s trajectory. Plus, as Mercer put it, “it’s more dramatic to see a mall closing than thriving.”

The mall is a cultural fixture of America. The plots of many a rom-com and teen flick play out in the atriums of malls—and so, too, do the dramas of many real people’s lives. As Kristen Martin wrote in The Atlantic in her 2022 review of Lange’s book, “Perhaps we continue to declare the death of the mall because doing so allows us to occupy two attitudes at once: disdain and nostalgia.”

The composition and vibe of malls has transformed. Lately, investors have poured money into ever more elaborate mall “experiences” to bring customers in and encourage them to spend more time on the premises. At the cannily named, 3-million-square-foot American Dream mall in New Jersey, for example, visitors can enjoy an indoor ski mountain and surf pool between stops at Zara, Balenciaga, and Ugg. Netflix just announced new in-person “immersive experiences” in two massive malls, with food, retail, and show-related promotions, spanning more than 100,000 square feet each.

Overall, Mercer predicts, the future of malls will be mixed-use, and will encompass much more than shopping: Some malls are using available real estate to house a selection of other businesses, including grocery stores and gyms. Some have even added apartment complexes, giving people the ultimate opportunity to linger at the mall.

But the mall’s enduring appeal (even to unenthusiastic and infrequent mall-goers like myself) is rooted in something simpler than all that: It’s a convenient place to shop for various items at once. And shopping for certain things is much more pleasant in person—it’s really hard to tell by looking at a photo online whether a new pair of shoes will pinch at the heels, or whether a wool sweater is itchy. That’s why, as huge as e-commerce gets, in-person retailers are refusing to crumble altogether—and why many online retailers are expanding to in-person locations.

In an act of consumer optimism, or perhaps hubris, I ordered a lovely pink dress the other week from a sale online. Instead of the dress, I received a random men’s suit jacket, leading me into a Kafkaesque weeks-long back-and-forth with the company. I did not ultimately receive the dress; I still need to take the jacket to the post office. In retrospect, I might have been better off going to a mall. I could have even engaged in an immersive experience while there.

Related:

  • The most modern form of American architecture isn’t going anywhere.
  • When malls saved the suburbs from despair

Today’s News

  1. The Supreme Court upheld a federal law that bans those who have domestic-violence restraining orders against them from owning firearms.
  2. Steve Bannon, a former Trump adviser convicted of contempt of Congress, asked the Supreme Court to intervene so that he can avoid serving a four-month prison sentence. A federal appeals court rejected a similar request from him yesterday.
  3. In Donald Trump’s classified-documents case, the judge heard arguments in a hearing about whether Special Counsel Jack Smith’s appointment was constitutional.

Dispatches

  • Atlantic Intelligence: Children will likely be the ones to first figure out generative AI’s advantages and drawbacks, Damon Beres writes.
  • The Books Briefing: Published works of fiction by nonwhite authors more than doubled from 2019 to 2023, Maya Chung notes. But we may now be seeing a reversal in this trend.

Explore all of our newsletters here.

Evening Read

The New American Mall (2)

Americans Have Lost the Plot on Cooking Oil

By Yasmin Tayag

Every meal I make begins with a single choice: extra-virgin olive oil or canola? For as long as I’ve cooked, these have been my kitchen workhorses because they’re versatile, affordable, and—most of all—healthy. Or so I thought.

These days, every trip to the grocery store makes me second-guess myself.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

  • An attack on free speech at Harvard
  • “The party of the ultrarich and the ultra-poor”
  • Google is turning into a libel machine.
  • “Dog food is so fancy now that I ate some.”

Culture Break

The New American Mall (3)

Celebrate. Welcome to hot brat summer. The sound of right now, according to women pop stars, is a little selfish and very self-assured, Spencer Kornhaber writes.

Read. Vicki Valosik’s new book, Swimming Pretty: The Untold Story of Women in Water, documents our enduring fascination with female swimmers, who have always challenged the boundary between sport and spectacle.

Play our daily crossword.

Your Thoughts

This newsletter has a curious and thoughtful community of readers. In a previous edition, we asked readers to share how they’re thinking about the 2024 election. Here’s what some said when asked how their habits of staying informed have changed since 2020 and what they find concerning and/or hopeful about this election. Their responses may have been edited for length and clarity.

  • “The biggest change, by far, on how I stay informed is TikTok. It’s raw and real. And I’m a former strategist; I’m not given to blowing with the wind. The kids are coming for the Boomers and us Gen X had better be allies.” –– Alex Maitre, 53, California
  • “I now have access to more worldwide news than I ever have in my lifetime. I can curate the journalists, articles, and opinion pieces of my choosing so quickly, it makes my head spin. And the problem is that I can also choose to ignore journalists with whom I disagree. Every so often, I dip my toe in the water and read or listen to or watch someone whose opinions are the exact opposite of mine. But I often quickly tire of their point of view and mutter about their stupidity.” –– Linda Trytek, Illinois
  • “As a first-generation American with a mother from Europe, I have begun to question if when I die, I will die in the democratic country her family came to so many years ago.” –– Barb Wills
  • “I find little to be hopeful about in the coming year. The idea that most people I speak with on this subject have calcified positions, based on emotion, tradition, or some channel other than informed analysis, is most concerning. I do find comfort in being informed, despite the often dire information … I find a more complete understanding of my world, my reality, my community, to be a balm of sorts; I can be afraid in the dark, or afraid in the light. Conquering that fear is much closer to possible in the latter.” –– Adam Ridge, 31, Pennsylvania

We have loved hearing from you all, and look forward to learning more about your perspectives in the future. Thank you for joining the conversation with us!

P.S.

I will leave you with this morsel surfaced by Molly Young in her New York Times review of Lange’s book. She quotes a 1996 issue of The American Historical Review, in which Kenneth T. Jackson wrote: “The Egyptians have pyramids, the Chinese have a great wall, the British have immaculate lawns, the Germans have castles, the Dutch have canals, the Italians have grand churches. And Americans have shopping centers.”

Tough? Fair? Perhaps both. Have a great weekend!

— Lora

Stephanie Bai contributed to this newsletter.

When you buy a book using a link in this newsletter, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.

Lora Kelley is an associate editor at The Atlantic and an author of the Atlantic Daily newsletter.

The New American Mall (2024)

FAQs

Is the American Dream mall in Miami being built? ›

The philosophy of “everything and everyone under one roof” has experienced a significant downturn with the pandemic emergency, which has slowed down, if not halted, projects that were already underway and funded. Among these is the American Dream Miami, whose completion has been pushed back from 2023 to 2026.

Is the American Dream mall doing well? ›

Filings show that the mall lost $61M in 2021, its first full year of operation, then a further $245M in 2022, according to a draft securities filing reported by Bloomberg. Expenses at the property almost doubled, reaching $428M in 2022, while financial expenses reached $189M, though liabilities fell 11% to $2.3B.

What is special about the American Dream mall? ›

American Dream is a destination experience with over 400 stores and attractions, featuring an indoor theme park, water park, ski slope and high-end luxury stores. Feel the excitement of making memories again at the newest place for indoor family entertainment.

What is Miami's biggest mall? ›

Aventura Mall, sited about 15 miles north of Downtown Miami in Adventura, is a chic, three-story mall with bragging rights as the biggest indoor shopping mall in South Florida.

What is the biggest mall coming to South Florida? ›

What is the American Dream Miami? Profile: When the developer won approval from Miami-Dade in 2018, American Dream Miami proposed to open the biggest mall in America, dwarfing the current giant, Minnesota's Mall of America, by some 400,000 square feet.

Is American Dream the biggest mall in the world? ›

American Dream, the second-largest mall in North America, spans 3 million square feet. Jenny Powers visited this mall with her family for a 3-day staycation. Due to the attractions, Powers ended up walking 20 miles and shopping more than she expected.

Who owns the American Dream mall? ›

The mall is owned by the Ghermezian family and Triple Five, who also own Mall of America in Minnesota. The site was projected to draw in 40 million visitors annually, with $2 billion of income in its first year of operations.

What is the most luxurious mall in Miami? ›

Luxury Shopping Mall in Florida

The best place to shop in Miami, Aventura Mall is defined by unique experiences, renowned luxury boutiques and shopper favorites, a world-class art collection, international indoor and outdoor dining, a popular Farmers Market, and cutting-edge architecture.

What is the oldest mall in Florida? ›

Located 3.8 miles north of downtown Fort Lauderdale, Coral Ridge Mall holds the distinction of being Florida's first enclosed shopping mall.

Does Miami have an outlet mall? ›

Dolphin Mall in Miami - The Largest Outlet Mall in South Florida - Go Guides.

How long does it take to build the American Dream mall? ›

More than 17 years in the making, American Dream megamall's story was shaped by retail's upheaval. First envisioned in 1996, the American Dream complex in New Jersey finally opens Friday at an estimated cost of $5 billion. The project has seen multiple owners, and ground was broken for the project in 2004.

What is the arch being built in downtown Miami? ›

The Signature Bridge is planned as a 1,025-foot-long bridge over NE 2nd Street and Biscayne Boulevard and will redefine Miami's skyline with six massive arches. The largest arch is expected to reach a height of 325 feet and be 650 feet wide.

What company owns American Dream mall? ›

Triple Five® Worldwide Group of Companies has developed, owns and manages the world's first, second and third largest tourism, retail and entertainment complexes of its kind; West Edmonton Mall® in Canada, Mall of America® in the United States and American Dream™ in Metropolitan New York.

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