Our opinion: Mall needs new idea

Ah, those were heady days of commerce, those decades of the ’70s and ’80s when buildings of giant proportions and extravagant concourses sprung up to lure national retail chains and the consumers who were mesmerized by the selection and the accoutrements.

Malls were suddenly the place to be.

The places no one seemed to want to be, of course, were traditional downtown retail areas. The prediction that downtowns would suffer as the result of these suburban cornucopias of convenience ultimately came true. The traditional downtown department store became a thing of the past. If they didn’t move into a mall and become part of the homogeny that the malls offered, they moved into oblivion.

Then came the new century and the great mall shakeout. Malls hadn’t just appeared in the periphery of metropolitan centers, they were sprinkled around small towns like Warren and Bradford and thousands of others.

The “smaller” malls like Warren’s had already started to decline as larger malls with even greater selection and services, and not so far away that a drive to shop was out of the question, began to rob them of customers.

The Warren Mall was already on the decline, losing its allure to local shoppers as malls in Erie, Lakewood and Buffalo, N.Y., beckoned with filled store fronts, even better selection and services. They survive – some even thrive – in their much larger markets.

Enter the Big Box.

For malls like Warren’s, the Big Box was the coup de grace. The Big Boxes, like Wal-mart, Target, Costco and others, didn’t like malls and became so incredibly successful with their formula of providing everything to run a household under one roof that they were a destination in and of themselves. Other big boxes tagged along. So did full service restaurants and specialty stores that used to be in malls.

And hence, the once wonderful Warren Mall, which drew shoppers from far off places like Kane and Tionesta, are now virtually empty monuments to the natural selection process of free enterprise.

As its owner bemoans his tax bill in county court and perhaps questions his decision to purchase the property only a short while ago, we offer a suggestion: Think outside the box. Stop thinking of the mall as a mall, but rather a very large building with lots of big rooms and lots of small rooms and a concourse linking them together.

Take a hint from the very successful outdoor show which has filled that concourse with visitors each of the past two years.

Except for its few remaining large shopping venues, breathing new retail life into those empty store fronts is Sisyphean. It’s time for a new idea.