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Sunday Soundbite

Whole Foods at Shaw – Is this the mall of the future?

Chris Field
Chris Field

Who wouldn’t want to live here? A complex of 428 apartments, a 45,000 sq ft Whole Foods, parking, roof pool, gym – all in Shaw, a hip district of Washington DC. And only half a mile from the nearest Metro station.

Now, you’ll say I’m stretching a point beyond breaking to suggest this might be at least one blueprint for future malls, but consider the crisis in US malls, with Dan Bell’s dead mall series required viewing on YouTube. It’s clear we need to consider not simply a reinvention of existing malls, but whole new concepts for multiple retail centres.

We are already seeing the rise of a new model in neighbourhood retail, which goes far beyond the convenience grocery store trend. It’s clear that millennials want it all on their doorstep. Check out Broadway in Manhattan below Midtown as far as Greenwich Village; boutique retail formats combining coffee, flowers and apparel, all made for browsing and grazing. Or the new Apple, Adidas, Samsung and Nike stores, again all built for living not shopping, although all these brands are of course hoping you are already on the journey to purchase.

Or Gotham West Market. Or Eataly, a place built for eating, shopping and hanging out, a US concept now open in Bologna, Italy, despite protests from the inhabitants. This is retail where consumption may still be conspicuous, but hardly transactional. Hospitality entrepreneur, Damian Mogavero, said in January: “Food will be an anchor tenant for many major real-estate developments in this country.”

Market Watch reported in January that “in Plano, Texas, outside of Dallas, a 55,000 sq ft food hall is expected to open in the fall with more than 20 artisanal food stalls, a brewery and a stage for live music. It’s part of a giant multi-used development called Legacy West that will include Toyota’s new U.S. headquarters and other major corporate offices as well as condominiums, hotels and more restaurants”.

It is retail and hospitality flagships like these that will anchor the new generation of multiple retail formats. Ok it’s not a mall, but it’s certainly a better idea than most malls, and it is entirely complementary to online retail rather than threatened by it. How many traditional malls can you say that about?

I’m not against malls, particularly those working hard to reinvent themselves through better access, entertainment, hospitality and assisted shopping services. But now, retailers have new choices – locating nearer to where people live.

Out of town malls frankly can stay where they are, out of town and out of sight. I’m on my way never.

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