When the Woodville Mall opened, in 1969, in Northwood, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo, its developers bragged about the mall’s million square feet of enclosed space; its anchor tenants, which included Sears and J. C. Penney; and its air-conditioning—seventy-two degrees, year-round! Two years later, the Toledo Blade published a front-page article about the photo-takers and people-watchers who gathered around the mall’s marble fountain, “that gushing monument to big spending and the shopping spree.” The story quoted an anonymous businessman: “The water has a great calming effect on a person, especially when you’ve been badgered all morning.”
This week, Woodville is being torn down. So are countless other malls across the U.S.—so many that there’s a Web site devoted to “dead malls” that are out of commission. In some cases, the buildings have been converted into community colleges, corporate headquarters, or churches. Others, like the Woodville Mall, have become so damaged by water, mold, and asbestos that city officials are glad to demolish them. In January, Rick Caruso, the C.E.O. of Caruso Affiliated, one of the largest privately held American real-estate companies, stood on a stage at the Javits Center, in New York, and forecast the demise of the traditional mall. “Within ten to fifteen years, the typical U.S. mall, unless it is completely reinvented, will be a historical anachronism—a sixty-year aberration that no longer meets the public’s needs, the retailers’ needs, or the community’s needs,” he told his audience, which had gathered for the National Retail Federation’s annual convention.