I don’t particularly enjoy shopping. It has never been a pastime or a stress reliever for me. An ideal shopping trip can be described thusly; “Get in, get out, no one gets hurt”. There are places which I enjoy visiting where others might be shopping, but they are integrated into the daily life of at least a few people, and connect to a variety of other activities not necessarily connected to shopping.
Around here there is the “mega-mall”, the Holyoke Mall at Ingleside, which was built at the intersection of two interstate highways and which has expanded and expanded and expanded since it first opened. Then there is the Eastfield Mall. It opened a decade or so before the Holyoke Mall on the furthest edge of the City of Springfield, just beyond the one neighborhood in the city which best exemplifies what we now know as post war auto oriented sprawl: Sixteen Acres.
Eastfield Mall has been suffering since the Holyoke Mall opened. By the time the second of two local department stores which had originally anchored it had closed in 1994 it had long since ceased to be relevant. Since then it has added a modern multiplex cinema and been given a makeover a time or two. There simply isn’t the space around it to really enlarge the total retail space, nor is there any practical way to “improve access” by expanding the stroads which feed it any more than the futile effort the city is engaging in right now:
And so there it sits.
Amidst all of the news of expansion and growth in the downtown, the owners of the mall have tried to sell the demolition of what was one of the anchor buildings of the mall as “expansion” despite the fact that there are no actual plans, or tenants, for this purported new construction.
The mall is shrinking. An entire wing is dying, and rather than allow that to continue the owners of the mall are hacking off the gangrenous stump of the former JC Penney Outlet before it spreads permanently to remainder of the mall.
What I can’t help but wonder is if this commitment to downsizing, this acknowledgement of shrinkage on the edge, bodes well for the center?
In an ironic, perhaps almost completely paradoxical statement at a press conference at the new Union Station, the city’s chief economic development officer, the city’s chief cheerleader for the MGM project in the downtown which contains tens of thousands of square feet of retail space, stated that “The days of downtown retail are passed” in explaining why so little of the renovated station will be developed as retail space.
The United States is “over-retailed“. Way over-retailed. Almost unimaginably over-retailed. And so it is altogether reasonable to suggest that a great deal of retail space is about to disappear to be replaced with nothing whatsoever. I can see that. But I can also foresee a time, especially in traditionally designed neighborhoods where normal neighborhood retail at a normal neighborhood scale returns to provide the regular types of services that people need to live their daily lives and the only retail that exists at any scale beyond that is a type festival retail which exist in connection with special places which provide amenities that just can’t be produced by a developer. Like the Zócalo in Oaxaca, the Puerta del Sol, or Fanuiel Hall, these places will be social destinations which also provide whatever people want to buy in a space which isn’t from a neighborhood shop or the 21st century equivalent of mail order.
Goodbye, “Power Center” (Man, I hate that term!), goodbye “Big Box”. Hello real places integrated into the fabric of real, walkable, multi-use spaces like this: