Malls, the destination venue of 1980s America, have witnessed their heyday come and go. A combination of factors contributed to their decline. If the walkability trend (one must typically drive miles to reach a suburban mall) and the proliferation of online shopping led to the downturn, the coronavirus pandemic sealed the deal.
Not all malls are dead, of course, but America has far too many of these retail shrines than we need. What should we do with them? Would malls make good warehouses?
What's being done with malls?
Mall operators have gotten creative with mall space, turning some of these failing shopping centers into multifamily units, hotels, office space, medical centers, gyms, and entertainment space. All these uses for these new-style malls have one thing in common: They draw and attract people.
Instead of using redesigned mall space for just shopping, people are living in repurposed malls, staying there while in town, working there, receiving healthcare, working out, and just having fun with friends and family. Some malls have gone topless by taking off the roof, changing the atmosphere from an enclosed retail fortress to a property more appealing to the public. Some redesigned malls offer farmer's markets and concerts in the summer and ice rinks in the winter
The warehouse solution
The warehouse solution might also be a good use of mall space, but it would have the opposite effect of attracting people. It would serve a need as a close-by fulfillment center but would fall short as a destination.
Should malls become warehouses?
If an underperforming mall can't or won't be repurposed for the public, it could serve as a great space for a warehouse. The best retail-to-warehouse conversions involve big-box stores, so-called because they're literally built like one big box just as a warehouse usually is. Malls can be made into warehouses as well, but it's more difficult because of the multiple floors, escalators, and segmented stores a mall contains. Many times, it's better to tear down old malls and then rebuild them as warehouses.
What a mall-to-warehouse conversion has going for it is location and parking. Most malls are located right off the highway, and they typically have lots of parking for delivery trucks.
The best locations
The first thought for warehouses and fulfillment centers was to put them in rural areas. But being closer to people's homes is a better option because consumers can receive their goods faster when the warehouse is nearby. Malls are typically in the suburbs, close to many homes.
A mall-to-warehouse type of conversion usually works best when there isn't available land nearby. If there is, most warehouse developers would probably just buy the vacant land and then build a warehouse on it.
Redeveloping mall space, whether as a destination place or a warehouse, is expensive. But there's another huge, even often-insurmountable, hassle: obtaining rezoning permits. Doing so could take years, and that alone could end any possibility of conversion.
The Millionacres bottom line
Many residents used to having a mall nearby aren't too excited about having a warehouse there instead. There's cost and location to consider as well when commercial developers go about repurposing a mall. While the idea of converting an underperforming mall to a warehouse can happen, all the right conditions need to fall into place.