NOTE: This program has rescheduled dates (originally November 8 and 22, 2022).
The modern shopping mall came into being soon after World War II. Malls came not only to dominate the retail scene, but helped undermine traditional city centers, promote urban sprawl, reshape commercial patterns, and foster the decline and eventual demise of many department stores in the process. How did this dominance come about—and why? How did it decline so rapidly? And where are we headed now? Just in time for the holiday shopping season, Bill Keene, a lecturer on architecture and urban studies, looks at what drew us to the mall—and why we left.
November 22 The Rise
Toward the end of the 19th century a new, revolutionary mode of shopping—the department store—appeared. These establishments became popular destinations, places where a task principally done by servants was transformed into a new experience for the growing middle class: shopping for pleasure.
By the early 20th century, giant emporia such as Macy’s, Marshall Field’s, and Wannamaker’s dominated retail trade and strengthened downtowns across the country. Following WWII, pent-up consumer demand, a booming economy, surging home construction, and the spread of the suburbs coupled with wider ownership of automobiles combined to provide the ideal environment for the introduction of modern shopping malls. Flagship department stores played two key roles in their birth: at times they financed construction and always they provided the crucial anchor stores to underpin development. Keene offers a detailed examination of the conditions that enabled the rapid acceptance and success of these malls and the devastating impact of that success on center cities.
November 29 The Decline
The rapid fall of the shopping mall resulted from a combination of factors. Aging infrastructure, changing demographics, the rise of Internet buying, consolidation among department stores, and overbuilding all contributed to the decline and failure of malls across the country by the second decade of the 21st century. With the advent of Covid-19, the decline became for many a death spiral. Keene concludes with an overview of the prospects for the near future, ranging from demolition to repurposing malls into housing, offices, Amazon fulfillment centers, hospitals, and locations for new growth.
- If you register multiple individuals, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses so they can receive a Zoom link email. Please note that if there is a change in program schedule or a cancellation, we will notify you via email, and it will be your responsibility to notify other registrants in your group.
- Unless otherwise noted, registration for online programs typically closes two hours prior to the start time on the date of the program.
- Once registered, patrons should receive an automatic email confirmation from CustomerService@SmithsonianAssociates.org.
- Separate Zoom link information will be emailed closer to the date of the program. If you do not receive your Zoom link information 24 hours prior to the start of the program, please email Customer Service for assistance.
- View Common FAQs about our online programs presented on Zoom.