The commercial real estate firm CoStar rings the same bell with its estimate that nearly a quarter of malls in the U.S., or roughly 310 of the nation's 1,300 extant shopping malls, are at a high risk of losing an anchor store, meaning they're at a high risk of eventually going under – that is, unless a replacement anchor store is found (doubtful) or something else is done with each structure (slightly less doubtful.)
As for Fashion Square, which anchor store will be next: Macy's, JCPenney or the zombie Dillard's? Time will tell.
The buzzword among industry experts is "experiential retail" – things like laser tag arenas, rock climbing gyms and the like. But by most estimates, the U.S. has twice as much square footage in shopping centers per capita than the rest of the world, and six times as much as countries in Europe. We can rest assured that the "experiential" bubble will eventually pop, too. (And didn't Fashion Square already drop that ball when the Bowling and Entertainment Center went under late last year?)
It also wouldn't be easy to completely overhaul the mall into something different – to, say, gut and renovate it into affordable housing, for example.
"Some of these retailers, these concepts, die a really slow death. Some of these leases are 20-year leases," says David Marks, president of Marketplace Advisors, an organization that creates mixed-used town centers. "To compound, in a lot of cases, the department stores will own their own building. So you'll have an owner of the mall and then you'll have the department stores owning maybe their own separate patch. So going through the process of redeveloping the property is complicated because you have multiple parties that have to agree on how you're going to execute that."
Which brings us to the real point: In its current form, Fashion Square is too big to thrive and it's too big to properly die – i.e., be torn down.
So though one person might consider it a waste of space, for others, it's still the main vein of their livelihood – such as John Tran, the owner of H&Q Jewelers.
"It's all going down," Tran says. "But for as long as it's been here, it's never gone away – as dead as it seems, it just doesn't go away."