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Grayfields

Jun 6, 2021 | Trends

It’s becoming an eerily familiar sight: deserted shopping malls and big-box stores, surrounded by vast, decaying parking lots, abandoned due to either the “Retail Apocalypse” trend or the novel coronavirus pandemic. Tenants leave behind hulking, gray skeletons that architects refer to as “grayfields.”

The trend is not limited to retail. Environmentally hazardous, uninhabited manufacturing sites are called brownfields. Due to the popularity of e-commerce, these concrete wastelands are spreading rapidly, turning many parts of the U.S. landscape into somber graveyards. The perfect setting for some dystopian science-fiction movie.

  • Retail Apocalypse – The Retail Apocalypse exacts an enormous human toll. The more than 45,000 stores that have closed since the Great Recession began in 2007 have resulted in the permanent loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Another worrisome sign: the estimated 2.1 million retail jobs lost due to the pandemic, many of which may become permanent.
  • Other factors – While the Digital Lifestyle puts much wind in the sails of e-merchants, it’s not entirely to blame for the Retail Apocalypse. Some stores closed due to extenuating circumstances. Once the nation’s largest sporting goods retailer, Sports Authority had to shutter all its 450 stores after admitting to being swamped by debt.
  • Declining universe – The number of malls peaked at around 1,500 in the mid-1990s. Today, there are only about 1,000 left. America’s suburbs have absorbed the brunt of the 500 deserted malls that now litter the landscape. In a story about dying malls, CBS News’ Mark Strassmann noted in 2014 that “no new enclosed mall has been built since 2006.” The same report featured Robin Lewis, author of The New Rules of Retail, who predicted that “fully half of all our malls will close in the next 10 years.” That prediction suggests that 500 more malls will turn into grayfields in the very near future.

Many possible ideas have been floated by those both in and out of retail, some tied to aging demographics, like walk-in clinics and gyms. It remains to be seen whether those concepts will generate enough foot traffic to keep the dinosaurs from graying prematurely.

Ubertrend Categorization: Digital Lifestyle.

Michael Tchong’s Ubertrends book
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