A dying breed: The future of shopping malls

By Tera Roberson - Special Projects Producer

HOUSTON - With just 27 days until Christmas, retailers are pushing their best deals to increase the bottom line.

But is it enough to get shoppers offline, off the couch and back into traditional stores?

“I wouldn't go within five miles of the Galleria until January, quite honestly,” Dr. Lynn Godwin said.

Godwin is a professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas in Montrose.

He says with more and more shoppers hopping online for retail therapy, the brick and mortar stores and malls have a lot of competition.

“You have to be fun. You have to give me a reason to leave the house. I can sit in my jammies at home at 2 a.m. and shop for pretty much anything, so for me to get in the car, for me to park, for me to get out, there's gotta be a bit more than just an exchange of money for a product,” Godwin said.

In Houston, we've seen a slow death of some of the city's most popular shopping malls as most of us knew them growing up. Take Sharpstown Mall for example -- once a thriving mall with big retailers, it's now filled with mostly independent stores.

And then, there are the malls that are mostly empty, like Houston's Northwest Mall.

PHOTOS: A look inside Northwest Mall

“I don't know that I would refer to them as zombie malls because zombie is something that died and then sort of came back again. I just see malls as dying and I'm not sure there's much hope for a cure. It's that department stores are dying and dragging down malls with them,” Godwin said.

Once filled with hundreds of stores, Northwest Mall is down to two stores: Palais Royal and Thompson’s Antique Center.

Houstonian Mike Abboud remembers going to the mall with his grandparents. He captured video in 2016 of what it looked like inside.

“When that happened I started coming back pretty regularly just to kind of document it as they were shutting down, as they were closing. The mall at that point was already pretty empty, most of the chain stores had gone,” he said.

The site itself could get a non-retail related revival.

The company building a bullet train between Dallas and Houston says the property off U.S. 290 is its preferred location for a Houston train depot. Watch the video below for more information on the station.

When it comes to shopping, Godwin said for most people it comes down to time and convenience.

“What you have done if you shop online, or having groceries delivered, is you are buying leisure time. You are increasing your leisure time. I think we're all getting spoiled. First I want it delivered in a week if I order online, then it's two days, and now Amazon is down to a day,” Godwin said.

Ask him about growth in the retail arena, and Godwin points to free-standing stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Ross and Burlington, who can change up their inventory more quickly and offer more options to shoppers looking for the variety they can find online.

“TJ Maxx, if you go a week from now, it'll be a totally different mix of merchandise. Same with Ross. Same with Burlington, to a certain extent. And so that gives you sort of a feeling of adventure. It's like going to an antique store. You never know what you're going to find,” Godwin said.

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