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Challenge yet opportunity in national mall, retail space shakeup

They're not necessarily dying. In many cases, their apparent flailing is more about evolution and the opportunity to reemerge in a stronger and more dynamic way in the future.

We're talking malls here, specifically the rather sudden and ongoing disappearance of brick-and-mortar retailers that have long been mainstays in malls in New York and across the country. The term "retail apocalypse" has been used to spotlight the phenomenon of shuttered shops. It has been frequently accompanied by a narrative predicting a collapse of the mall model as generations of Americans know it.

That message seems well-founded, based on what consumers can easily see. Legions of malls nationally are in flux. One recent national article addressing the topic notes that scores of chain businesses are "closing down or reducing their footprints" owing to stark challenges. Consumers' growing preference for online shopping is one often noted catalyst that is leading to increasingly more emptied mall spaces and "for lease" signs.

It's not all gloom and doom, though. In fact, mall challenges spell opportunity for many forward-thinking and nimble entrepreneurs, and some mall owners and management groups actually enjoy seeing traditional retailers pull up stakes and leave.

"There definitely needs to be attrition," says one mall-linked leasing executive. He adds that the traditional mall "just needs to evolve."

And it is in many cases, with the mall landscape unquestionably taking on a revised appearance. Industry insiders note that new types of businesses that are primarily online-based are still looking for a mall foothold.

"They need brick and mortar," says one commentator. "When they open a store, their online sales go up."

Nontraditional tenants like health clubs and medical clinics can also spell welcome additions for mall owners. They command an ability to bring individuals and families close to multiple businesses and give them various reasons to make a mall visit.

The in-flux nature of the American shopping experience spells a new dynamic in the commercial sphere. It also provides exciting opportunities for start-up entities and established businesses who can cater to new consumer demands.

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