Editor's Notebook: Retail’s extinction, the new evolution, and you

Editor's Notebook: Retail’s extinction, the new evolution, and you

Will an effort to repackage or resurrect traditional shopping malls place new demands on the snow and ice management industry?

November 27, 2018

I wanted to make you aware of an interesting little case study article from Axios (The future of malls could look more like towns) about redevelopment of retail malls into open-air, manufactured downtown live-work-play sites, which has been the commercial real estate craze for at least the last decade.

This article generates some interesting points to ponder for our industry. For example, the article states that at the turn of the Millennium, there were as many as six malls in the greater Columbus area. Today, only half of those retail meccas remain due not only to retail preferences, but to the fact that consumers conduct a fair amount of purchasing online.

In the Columbus market, this shift also means that three major snow and ice management opportunities were lost over the same time period. Offhand, I’m not certain which snow firms in the Columbus market were vying for those mall contracts, but logic dictates that when you take those contracts out of the economic equation the result is a significant loss in revenue opportunity (and jobs, and equipment and material sales, etc) for our industry.

The good news is that there’s a real estate investment effort under way to save brick-and-mortar retail by the development (or redevelopment) of sites into open-air live-work-play communities. There’s a good chance you’ve experienced one of these “instant downtowns” pop-up in a nearby suburb. If this trend continues throughout North America, I imagine these properties will pose new challenges for the snow and ice management community, as well.

In the past, a single snow and ice management operation may have controlled the services for a single mall complex. However, since these new facilities are designed to feel like downtowns, they bring with them new and unique challenges. You’re no longer just pushing snow from one side of a giant parking lot to the other. Just think of all the walkway pavement that needs to be clean and wet. How about multiple parking decks? Now there are streets to consider. Then, there’s the question of snow placement and off-site removal. Just how high will the level of service expectation be with property owners/managers?

Overall, just some food for thought. I’d love to get some feedback from you guys about the challenges this trend brings to our industry. I would especially like to hear from contractors who have or still are servicing traditional retail mall properties, as well as from those contractors who are dealing with the new multi-faceted, open-air complexes.

Mike Zawacki is the Editor of Snow Magazine and can be reached at mzawacki@gie.net.