The Shopping Mall in the Post-COVID Economy
The phrase “unprecedented” has become almost a cliché in defining this time. It is also inaccurate. Mark Twain’s quote, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,” better characterizes the era in which we inhabit. From the first recorded pandemic of 430 BC in Athens to the most recent Spanish Flu of 1918, these severe outbreaks have occurred in our history with horrible results. None was more destructive and societal changing than the Black Death of 1530 that killed one-third of the world’s population. Once the virus was over, the survivors of that calamity began to reassess life, their place in the world, and the importance of individual growth. This era we refer to now as the Renaissance. Although COVID-19 does not have the decimating death rate of the great Plague, some similarities parallel both post-pandemic societies in the attitude, the search for meaning, and desire to impact the world by the survivors.
Like those individuals of the Renaissance, today’s citizens will pursue personal change, creation, and optimization journeys. Owners of retail malls and their renters will need to understand that the post-COVID consumers will be looking for products, services, and experiences that do more than enthuse, engage, and entertain. Many will be looking to be transformed. In this emerging Hero’s Journey Economy, malls have an opportunity to redefine themselves as areas of idea exchange as well as commerce.
Malls can redefine themselves as transformation centers designed to enable societal physical, mental, spiritual, and entrepreneurial journeys. The traditional anchor retailer will remain but will coexist with other unique environments, equipment, and instruction not available at home or on-line. The result will be a redesign of the mall that supports a mission shift from mass consumption to one that enables personal transformation.
Health and Safety
Parking lots will use new efficient lighting to turn night into day so that an older woman signed up for an English as a second language course can feel comfortable attending a midnight session. Cameras monitoring and roving human and robotic surveillance will silently ensconce the mall to make for a safe 24-hour campus-like environment.
State of the art commercial kitchens will host Keto cooking classes and support local food truck menu creation. Celebrity chefs worldwide can broadcast their techniques to students as they follow along with local instructors.
The latest exercise classes, isolation tanks, heat/cold therapies, and even sleep pods will be available to the masses. Sophisticated Virtual Reality technology that blurs gaming and training lines will bring iconic thought leaders, mentors, and lecturers in fitness up close and personal.
The current dentists and eyeglass shops will be joined by naturopaths, eastern medicine shops, and even Shamanic Healers. The result will be a modern architectural design that combines the Zen of an Apple Store with a Moroccan marketplace's excitement.
Diversity / Inclusion
The most significant step in the Hero’s Journey is the first one into the unknown. From the art on the walls to music played, the structures will be welcoming cross-cultural centers. Hi-tech language translators will facilitate a United Nations like atmosphere for both the transformational and shopping experiences representing. People of all ages and demographics will feel comfortable to come to the mall by themselves and spend the day to take in all it has to offer. The design will bring together government, educational institutions, and the private sector to cohabit a dwelling and the best that each has to offer.
Hi-Tech / Hi-Touch
Stealing a page from business incubators, these spaces' design will be welcoming areas for like-minded people to meet and exchange ideas. With whiteboard walls, intuitive computer projection systems, and the latest video conference capabilities, these facilities will offer state of the art technologies for people and groups on transformational projects. Flexible large room formats will host and broadcast TedX conferences. People with similar interests can watch a live YouTube video or Podcast and later join a post-presentation discussion group on a given topic.
These new private and public spaces will be like a modern-day DaVinci workshop and will foster the participants’ creativity and innovation. The areas also will offer coaches, mentors, and instructors access to multiple specialized facilities without the need for substantial investment in a fixed brick and mortar location. Facilitators can work out of numerous mall locations expanding their market reach in an efficient and affordable style.
Bringing the Outdoors Indoors
Cavernous shopping tunnels will be replaced with retracting roofs, natural light, and hydroponic gardening on select walls. Temperature controlled courtyards will blend indoor and outdoor experiences. Trails with heated pavement and cooling misters will circumnavigate these facilities for all year walking and biking. The open-air design will allow local food trucks to park inside the complex and supplement the permanent food offerings. Events not generally associated with shopping malls like Farmers Markets, AA meetings, Yoga classes, religious services, even youth sporting events will all take advantage of the open design and all-weather architecture.
Commerce will still be a driving force of these new malls. Businesses will be located and positioned to support visitors on their transformational journeys. But unlike the gift shop that you must walk through after getting off the ride in an amusement park, these retail shops and services will be smartly and authentically woven into the pattern and flow. Renters skeptical of these new layouts will quickly be won over by the step function increase in foot traffic. Most of all, these distinctive architectural constructions will provide a host of transformational offerings and experiences not available at stand-alone big box or online retailers.