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5 Alternative uses for Vacant Mall and Big Box Stores


The American mall has long been in peril thanks to the ongoing retail apocalypse, but the coronavirus is accelerating the rate of vacancies and bankruptcies, leaving more empty storefronts littered across the nation. In recent months, temporary closures and economic strife has prompted an onslaught of retail bankruptcies and liquidations, serving as the possible nail in the coffin for companies already floundering companies ranging from traditional mall brands like Lucky Brand, J.Crew, and New York & Company, to department stores like JCPenney and Neiman Marcus.


According to a recent report from real estate investment firms, an estimated 60% of mall-based department stores are expected to permanently close by the end of 2021.


Here are 5 viable alternative uses for those abandoned spaces.


Logistics, fulfillment, and distribution centers


As e-commerce continues to boom post-pandemic, retailers have already started transforming empty storefronts into fulfillment and distribution centers. Experts said this is likely to continue within vacant malls.

There is an opportunity for e-commerce retailers to grow their businesses and establish greater brand loyalty by offering faster shipping of their products to consumers living in more rural or 'off the beaten path parts of the country, as well as offering quick drop-in pick-up locations to these consumers.


Apartment complexes and community centers

Several modern malls found success in turning multi-story buildings with escalators and food courts into hybrid outdoor and indoor living spaces with integrated entertainment centers and fine dining. Spaces that once housed Sears and Sephora now house 300-unit apartment complexes.


Public housing and homeless shelters

Homelessness in the US is on the rise with more than 567,000 homeless Americans reported in 2019, up from 552,00 in 2018, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. In recent years, shuttered department stores have already started to be converted into homeless shelters.

In 2020, some are advocating that dying malls continue to take this approach turning empty retail space into public housing space or homeless shelters which` could have a significant impact in cities like San Francisco, which has one of the highest rent prices and homelessness rates in the country.

Health clinics

As the early days of the pandemic showed, the American health care system was ill-equipped to handle mass illness, causing overcrowded hospitals and rapid depletion of resources like protective personal equipment. Many cities turned convention centers and parks into make-shift clinics. Experts are saying empty mall space could serve as not only an alternative medical space in the time of a national crisis but also permanent clinics for communities.

Off-price retail stores

With many people lay-offed or reduced hours off-price retail stores boomed. Stores like Tj Maxx and Marshall have become staples. Many discount retailers have taken over the spaces that previously housed major department stores like Sears and JC Penny. While many high-end, luxury malls have actively avoided bringing in off-price tenants, the current economic crisis may change their minds. Many malls are looking for options to backfill vacant space with stores that are relevant to a changing consumer mindset.


Contact our team at BHI Construction & Real Estate Development, www.BHIbuilds.com.

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