Death of the Mall: The future of retail in Tucson

According to a survey, 20 to 25 percent of malls will close in the next five years. (Source:...
According to a survey, 20 to 25 percent of malls will close in the next five years. (Source: Eddie~S / Wikimedia Commons)
Published: Jul. 19, 2017 at 2:31 AM MST|Updated: Jul. 19, 2017 at 10:21 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Shopping is as American as apple pie.

It's a hobby and passion for many but the world of shopping is changing before our eyes, especially for malls and shopping centers.

According to a survey, 20 to 25 percent of malls will close in the next five years.

And Tucson's not immune. Some of our malls are struggling.

The once-booming Foothills Mall was sold at the end of 2016 and is being renovated.

Other malls and shopping centers are also struggling.

A 2009 photo showing empty stores at the El Con Mall in Tucson. (Source: Acc78 / Wikimedia Commons)

Some shoppers who love to go to stores and hate shopping online said they're not happy. Cassandra Alvarez is one of those shoppers.

"I dread it. I have to feel it before I buy it," she said. "You don't know if it's too small, too thin, you don't know if it's really what you're looking for. To buy this online I'd never know if it fits correctly, who knows who made it, where it's made, what the sizes are."

For Alvarez, it's not just about the actual purchase. She loves the experience of shopping – and worries her kids won't be able to enjoy the same experience.

"When my kids are old enough, it's probably not going to be an option to drop them off and say, 'Here's your money for clothes,' and then give them the freedom and take their time and be in a controlled kind of environment," Alvarez said.

But the writing is on the wall. The list is stunning. These big national chains recently announced store closings around the country and in southern Arizona:

Tucson News Now asked the owner of Tucson Mall and Park Place mall about the number of stores that have closed and their vacancy rates. The company  (GGP Inc.) did not give us that information, but issued this statement:

"Park Place and the Tucson Mall, both owned and operated by GGP Inc., have always been thriving regional shopping centers because they’ve evolved with the community.  Curation is a focal strategy at GGP, and Park Place and Tucson Mall are always pursuing ways to bring in new uses and introduce new concepts that shoppers have come to expect from these retail properties. The Tucson Mall recently introduced Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar to the Tucson market, added an Arizona Rose Theater, Tucson Games & Gadgets and will be opening a new Aeropostale and Hollister by this holiday season. Park Place is nearly 100 percent occupied, recently opened The Underestimated City (TUC) and is opening Boba Tea Company and Q (ladies apparel) in the next few months."

Kmart is just one of several national retailers to announce store closures in the past year. (Source: Flickr)

We looked at the numbers on Tucson's economy. While other sectors like manufacturing and aerospace are up – retail lost about 1,200 jobs in the past year. That's the most of any sector of our economy.

"Retail's gotten hit particularly hard this year," said George Larsen, who has owned and developed malls and shopping centers for the past 35 years. "There have been lots of store closures, no question about it."

Larsen admits retail has gotten hit hard and said the culprit is online shopping.

"The era of selling stuff in stores is pretty much over," he said. "If it's a commodity, it can be bought easier and faster on Amazon."

Larsen's company redeveloped the Bear Canyon Shopping Center on Tanque Verde near Catalina Highway.

It's currently filled to capacity and he said this is the mall of the future.

"The properties we're walking through are all Amazon-proof," he said. "This entire shopping center has only one store that sells stuff. Everyone else is restaurant, medical or service provider."

There's also a new school, church, yoga studio and gym for children.

If this Amazon-proof mall is the future, Alvarez doesn't buy that it will be the same.

"If they're not there anymore I think I'm going to cry," she said. "Sometimes you can't find what you need, except for in that one store."

(Source: Flickr)

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