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Opinion

Why indoor shopping malls have lost their cachet

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Crime,Michael Barone

A poignant blogpost (hat tip: Tyler Cowen's marginalrevolution.com) with pictures of the closed-door food court at the White Flint mall in North Bethesda, Md., provides visual proof of what the author writes is "a general and growing American discontent with the enclosed shopping malls that captivated the 1970s, 1980 and 1990s in favor of the roofless 'lifestyle center' of the 2000s and beyond." Another example might be the gutted-out Georgetown Park mall in Georgetown.

Both also may have been mislocated. White Flint was intended to be a premier, upscale mall, but it's located at the north end of the most affluent parts of metro Washington rather than in the geographical middle, like the Mazza Gallerie mall at Wisconsin Avenue and Western Avenue at the boundary between the District of Columbia and Chevy Chase/Bethesda, and access to the Capital Beltway is considerably less convenient than at the Tysons Galleria in Tysons Corner, Va.

But the larger point remains: the new luxury shops just north of the D.C. line are not part of an indoor mall but have outdoor entrances. So, why don't luxury shoppers like indoor malls anymore?

The one word answer: crime. Violent crime in the United States roughly tripled between 1965 and 1975 and remained at a high plateau, spiking occasionally above it, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s. That coincides ("the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s") with the vogue for enclosed malls. Shoppers couldn't count on the public sector police to protect them, but they have more faith in the private police that patrolled enclosed malls. Those malls were private property: suspicious characters could be kept out.

With crime down sharply since the mid-1990s, shoppers are no longer so fearful. So outdoor malls (often with covered parking available) are more attractive. The market is responding to changes in consumer preference, changes which reflect changes in (accurate) perceptions of the risk of being a victim of a violent crime.

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