COVID-19 kills the malls

Some of our recent helicopter flying has been with a photographer tasked with getting pictures of shopping malls in the context of highways, cities, etc. What are these for? “Everything is for sale now,” he said. “They’re all going bankrupt.”

Is it actually too late for these spaces? If schools need more square footage to do in-person learning, why not rent the vast department stores to local school districts? Because the schools aren’t actually willing to pay? In Shanghai, a typical mall might have half the space devoted to after-school programs for children, e.g., dance or English-language instruction. Perhaps that can’t work in the U.S. because at any time a governor can make it illegal to operate the after-school program.

Readers: What else can be done with these spaces? If retail and most other forms of gathering are outlawed, what is the value of a lot of climate-controlled space?


11 thoughts on “COVID-19 kills the malls

  1. From a Wall Street Journal article updated on August 9, 2020:

    [title]Amazon and Mall Operator Look at Turning Sears, J.C. Penney Stores Into Fulfillment Centers
    [subtitle]Hookup between Simon Property Group, Amazon would show how retail and logistics are converging more rapidly
    By Esther Fung and Sebastian Herrera

    article begins:

    The largest mall owner in the U.S. has been in talks with Inc., the company many retailers denounce as the mall industry’s biggest disrupter, to take over space left by ailing department stores.

    Simon Property Group Inc. has been exploring with Amazon the possibility of turning some of the property owner’s anchor department stores into Amazon distribution hubs, according to people familiar with the matter. Amazon typically uses these warehouses to store everything from books and sweaters to kitchenware and electronics until delivery to local customers.

  2. Turn malls back into airports. It isn’t just coronu killing the malls, the pre-virus vibrant youth dance outbreaks had an effect. Plus suburban teenagers haven’t used malls as pick up spots in decades.

  3. The Berkshire Mall was largely dead when I happened to visit it over the July 4th holiday week in 2018. I think three stores (including an ice cream place — so maybe I kept them in business that day?) were still operating, but I can’t imagine they were making much (if any) money. It was pretty sad, and this is way before all the recent craziness. I was about to bike up the Ashuwillticook rail trail that starts (southern end) just outside the mall parking lot. Had been hoping to find a fast food place to grab lunch.

  4. Why not use the vacant climate-controlled malls to house refugees and immigrants until they can be provided more permanent and private government-subsidized housing.

  5. ‘Reeducation camps for undesirables’? Realizing that definition will change, day-on-day.

    The above demonstrates the tremendous logistical challenge to implementing ‘ideologically-safe’ spaces, and the Chinese can still actually build stuff. OTOH, who’s visiting Thom McAn at Brookfield mall?*

    *comments by Wally are for entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered investment advice.

  6. Using the malls as schools is an interesting idea. You might also need more teachers though because it seems hard to manage students spread out over a large enough area. This would of course require state and local governments to be innovative and come up with new ideas, which is essentially impossible.

    > In Shanghai, a typical mall might have half the space devoted to after-school programs for children, e.g., dance or English-language instruction.

    You’re assuming children have parents who care about their development and have time and money to spend taking them to enrichment activities, which is increasingly not the case. More and more kids are being raised by single parents who spend all their free time on Tinder trying to find hookup buddies.

  7. In Massachusetts, the teacher’s union is opposed to reopening schools for many, many reason but among them is their desire to see that all the buildings have their ventilation systems rigorously inspected and updated with whatever filtration systems they deem appropriate to stop the virus. Which in most school districts will be very costly to impossible. The HVAC systems just aren’t designed to take the kind of microfiltration devices necessary to make an elementary school into a chip fab cleanroom. I’ll guarantee that they won’t let anyone teach in a reconfigured mall unless vast sums are spent on that single item alone. Then there’s the issue of busing disadvantaged students and other equity issues, insurance, security, restrooms, nurse’s offices and COVID-19 “safe rooms” for people showing symptoms.

    As you already know, school buildings are extremely specific architectural and engineering projects that cost enormous sums of money to build.

    You should contact the head of the MTA and ask her what she thinks.

  8. Phil,

    You are welcome, and thanks for the link to the USA Today story.

    It was my understanding that the MERV filters to which I saw a reference, which were MERV-13 filters, were intended to reduce the spread of airborne droplets of varying sizes that might contain the virus. They were installed in the libraries of a university. The newest of the buidings in which they were installed was built in 1964, when HVAC systems were primitive.

    The USA Today article mentions the fact that N-95 masks are effective against particles smaller than openings in the filter material, and mentions Brownian motion as part of the explanation. This article has an outstanding graphic showing relative particle sizes:

    What Is PM0.3 and Why Is It Important?


    While PM of any size can cause adverse effects to our health, particles below 2.5 microns in size are especially dangerous. These are small enough to be absorbed directly to our bloodstream and enter our lungs, heart, and brains.


    But when we get to really small particles – like particles under 0.3 microns, things start getting weird. Particles that small have so little mass that they actually get bounced around like a pinball when they hit gas molecules (known as Brownian Motion). So they move in random zigzag patterns.

    These tiny particles are small enough to fit through HEPA filters if they flew straight. But because they fly in zigzag patterns, they end up hitting the fibers and getting stuck.

    Here’s why that 0.3 micron number comes up all the time. The weirdness of Brownian motion works its magic under 0.3 microns. The more easily understandable filtering works its magic above 0.3 microns. But where those two processes overlap is the weak spot. Particles at 0.3 microns lie in between the two, and that makes them the hardest particle size to capture. Researchers call this the most penetrating particle size (MPPS).

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