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The Death of the Mall

Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping

Since moving from a “big city” the perceived need to go to the mall has lessened. We still get those pangs of rural fever where we just need to go to a “real city” like Kelowna, Spokane, Vancouver or Calgary. Living away from the City makes you realize just how much time we used to spend in the mall, subjecting ourselves to the hype of the hyper-individualism marketing that takes place in these centers of retail worship.

Retail: Is the American Shopping Mall Dead? | Newsweek Project Green | Newsweek.com

“The mall at the end of town is dead. Amen,” says Bill Talen, a.k.a. Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, a secular movement dedicated to exorcising consumerism from everyday life. The reverend’s tactics may be unusual—he’s been known to leap on shop counters in order to “exorcise” cash registers—but his message of modest spending is increasingly mainstream.

This isn’t some fringe activity being reported, but a mainstream phenomenon…

Just as people are flying from malls, many are landing at a series of offbeat, alternative trading posts. The Salvation Army has seen sales jump 15 percent at some locations, while The Freecycle Network, a clearing house for second-hand goods has grown from 40 people to around 6 million since its founding in 2003. Each day, the group says, it keeps 500 tons of stuff out of landfills and in use. Another second-hand movement, known as The Compact, where members commit to buying nothing new for an entire year (underwear excluded), has grown from 10 friends to 10,000 members since 2004. Even those who are still buying new are viewing shopping through a changed lens: almost 40 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 30 prefer to use brands that are “socially conscious”—environmentally safe and produced through fair labor—according to research by Alloy Media and Marketing, a youth-focused ad agency.

[ad#200-left]The mall was the natural replacement for the local shopping district – the ability to centralize all the retail and commercial services in one sanitized building, where the experience can be carefully crafted to ensure that visitors are not too hot, not too cold, that the music is not too loud, and that they will not want to go home without spending wads of cash. The online communities such as Freecycle, the used goods outlets and the general attitude of enough rather than more gives me some level of hope for the demise of the consumer culture and a return from something other than the mall and big box stores. I don’t say this out of any dislike of shopping or the retailers themselves, rather, the mall and all it stands for, and the big box stores’ take over of all local retail services have been complicit in the reduction of community as part of the urban environment. Driving has replaced walking. Air conditioned corridors have replaced streetscapes. Large international corporations have replaced small local owners.

As a society, we have traded-in local community for convenience and price – as city planners and decision-makers the challenge is how to reverse the trend and reduce reliance on large corporations that are entirely reliant on huge amounts of credit, and cheap oil.

I can’t say it will be fun.

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Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

4 thoughts on “The Death of the Mall

  1. The Muzak pacifies my thoughts to anything other than shopping and I become a zombie-consumer endlessly wandering the mall in search of the next great bargain. Good thing Waneta Plaza is small and the above sentence is just in my worst dreams.

  2. I’ve hardly ever been to malls and no need for cities either. In fact just came home from day trip to Spokane and only shopped at Goodwill and Value Village. Lots of shoppers there- even a new Mercedes in the VV parking lot.

  3. @EJ – Spokane seems to be suffering, maybe not as much as elsewhere in the states, but there is definitely a lot of houses for sale and spending has to be down.

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