Mauled by a mall – part two

So yesterday, we discussed why the plan to revitalize the old Charlestowne Mall, renamed, The Quad St. Charles, won’t work. And I want to thank capable DH reporter Jim Fuller for hosting a generally cogent conversation on the topic on his facebook page.

As usual, I found myself in the vast minority as most of contestants, including former St. Charles Mayor Sue Klinkhamer, thought this new retail endeavor was the best thing since sliced bread. But in all the debate, nobody, not even Sue, addressed my main contention.

The development team can consist of the best minds in the country and their redevelopment blueprint can be a stroke of sheer genius, but it doesn’t matter because the basic premise is completely flawed.  So to repeat myself, and staying withing that venerable high school debate team format; Resolved, American shopping malls are dying and will soon become extinct.   deadmall

1. Malls were conceived and born as a result of President Eisenhower’s Interstate system push. This new level of mobility led directly to the one-stop shopping concept. But gas was 26 cents a gallon in the 50’s and even if you adjust it for inflation, it comes to $1.75. Right now we’re paying four bucks a pop and the real driving season hasn’t even started.

2. The whole point of obtaining a driver’s license was to avail yourself of the freedom to meet your friends at the mall. But now I’ve heard it from dozens of parents, “My kid doesn’t care if he learns to drive or not.” Beyond school, teenagers rarely get together anymore. My youngest son regularly “meets” with his friends on Skype, playing Minecraft, and on various video game networks. And once high schoolers aren’t conditioned to go to the mall, they won’t do it as adults either.

3. To reiterate! The big box store concept is on its way out and malls cannot survive without the anchor stores that draw the smaller retailers.

4. Steadily vanishing malls are also a result of the vanishing American middle class. The malls that are making it – and still being built – are those that cater to the 1 percent. The irony there is, those uber-wealthy folks who’ve tilted the financial playing field in their favor are sealing their own business doom. What happens when there’s no one left to buy their products?

5. Malls are generally sterile places with poor customer service and it’s always hard to get into or out of them. When was the last time you heard someone say, “Wow, I really enjoyed my trip to the Mall!” On the rare occasion I visit the Geneva Commons (mostly to Fresh Market or the bank), my goal is to get the hell in and get the hell out.

6. The Internet is the ultimate in one stop shopping. And the lack of sales tax advantage argument is specious because instant gratification still reigns supreme in this culture. The truth is, I can sit in my comfortable home office naked (I bet you can’t get that picture out of your head), find anything I could possibly want at a reasonable price at my fingertips, avoid Randall Road traffic, not spend a dime on gas, dispense with surly salespeople, and enjoy a few shots of tequila in the process. How do you compete with that?

Again, the singular exception are those malls that cater to the 1 percent will succeed. But that’s because it’s kind of like those boxes at the opera that don’t really face the stage. You don’t buy them to see the proceedings, you buy them to be seen.

In Other People’s Money, Danny Devito’s character issues one the best silver screen soliloquys ever. My favorite line is, “And do you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow, but sure.”

That’s why, despite any $20 million city incentive and the best laid mall plans of mice and men, The Kruasz Companies will eventually lose most of the $70 million they’re investing in The Quad St. Charles.  Having wasted all that time and energy,  St. Charles will be the proud owner of yet another large, empty vacant lot that they won’t be able to do anything with.

If it can happen once…

I firmly believe that a great part of the stiff resistance to my assertion is that nobody likes a prophet because they’re so antithetical to our love of wishful thinking. The truth is, I’d love to see this project succeed, but no amount of wishful thinking is enough to overcome a major cultural shift and it’s certainly not enough here.

11 thoughts on “Mauled by a mall – part two

  1. . . How about one level a skate park and the other level for paintball ? ?

  2. Jim,

    That actually would have a far greater chance so success than another mall!

  3. Maybe the Kane Forest Preserve District cal buy it for “open space” and tale it off the tax rolls, like the ball park, skating rink and two golf courses.
    It falls within their practice of recent years, as none of the three items listed “preserve forests” either.

  4. Although I tend to agree with you, the City of St. Charles has very little to lose. An empty or torn down mall (look at the old St. Charles mall) generates Zero sales tax revenue anyway. New townhomes/apartments or other residential projects also generate no sales tax.

    How a about a giant Auto Mall. The city leaders would jump all over that.

  5. Dear STC,

    Believe it or not, I tend to agree with you – but only in the short run. Again! How long has the former St. Charles Mall sat empty?

    The real risk is putting all that time and energy (and it will take time and energy) into something that fails in the long run. Housing would be a better idea. One reader suggested and Indoor paintball, skating park, which I believe would actually work.

    The question is, does the fact that the developer is willing to assume a great deal of the risk make it a good idea? To wit, on the same night, the STC city council shot down a drive-through grocery/liquor store. There was absolutely no risk to the City – they simply didn’t think it was a good idea.

    Jeff

  6. Jeff, your comment about Geneva Commons is prophetic. That will be the next disaster on Randall Road. The stores are second rate, the restaurants unappetizing and the parking is a mess. How about an interview with Mayor Tubby Burns and his outlook for Geneva without sales tax revenue?

  7. Mike,

    Though I love being labeled as “prophetic,” in this case, it’s simply a matter of a keen perception of the obvious. There is a cultural shift which is leaving all malls behind.

    And I would talk to Kevin Burns, but he is one of the two people who’ve cut me off (Karen McConnaughay being the other one). But not to fear, Geneva is trying to move towards home rule and the Mayor will have to listen to me at that city council meeting.

    Thank you for the encouragement!

    Jeff

  8. I would be interested in what stores they think they can bring. The major chains are on Randall. Perhaps they can put in aBoarders, Coldwater Creek, or Bombay Company

  9. The mall situated on 64 would work if it was modeled after Woodfield Mall. There is a reason people travel from far and wide to go there. It has stores not located anywhere else. People in the Fox Valley have money. The far western suburbs are woefully neglected in retail regardless of the Randall Road corridor. We still do not have a Whole Foods, Marianos, Cheesecake Factory, Bloomingdales, Nordstroms, Lord and Taylor, Coach, Michael Kors, Vans, a full line Fans Edge, a Lego Playland, an Apple store, an Aquarium, Maggianos, Mongolian BBQ, Frontera Grill, Weber Grill Wildfire, Ditka’s steakhouse, Harry Carey’s steakhouse, Dave and Busters. The list is endless, but they need to get input from 20 and 30 somethings. And the completions of the Sterns Road bridge and Red Gate Road bridge have made getting across the river far easier and reduced the overwhelming congestion on North Ave/route 64. We don’t need another mediocre mall housing stores located everywhere else.

    • Dear Akfabing,

      You are dead on in that regard, but the fact that Woodfield already exists makes it difficult to replicate that in the western suburbs.

      Jeff

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