Malls are in decline. They decimated downtowns which lost their luster to the suburban lure of convenient parking and the perception of low crime. Now the malls have become victims of changing consumer habits (i.e, e-commerce, Amazon, etc.), changing perceptions (concerns about crime) and lifestyle changes. In sum, the hunter has become the hunted.
Yet municipalities still engage in the rat race hoping that a grand opening of another restaurant and another big box retail store will somehow stem the tide of decline. Pursuit of the silver bullet of economic success resembles the dog chasing its tail. The eateries and the shops open with great fanfare and high expectations. But all too often like commets in the night sky, they burn out. Our local mall includes many such restaurant turn-overs a sample of which include the following: Jonny Rockets became Walburgers which then closed. TGIF Fridays (or was it Applebees?) became The Cheesecake Factory which thankfully is still in business but there basically has been no net expansion of business. The “footprint” has remained the same. So many eateries have come and gone in the food court that it resembles the wack-a-mole game with a gradual increase in vacancies. Among the three anchor retail stores, Target is doing well thanks in large part to the surge of shopping by college students and families affiliated with schools in general and Sacred Heart University in particular at the start and end of the school year. Macys and J.C. Pennys are hanging in there but their long term prognosis is doubtfull both locally and nationally. These retailers boxed themselves into the corner trying to “be all things to all people” loosing the market to boutique/specialty retailers and the discount retailers (i.e, Target, Walmart, Dollar Stores, etc.).
In sum, we will never be able to eat our way and shop our way to ecomonic success despite our best intentions.
And that brings me to propose MAKER SPACE (or comparable business incubators) for our community.
- Producing stuff creates NEW jobs, generates NET increase in ecomomy and expands the ecomonic pie.
- Making stuff, inventing stuff and experimenting broadens our horizons, stimulates ingenuity encouraging us all to be more creative and self-sufficient.
- Research & Development, skill building, learning and collaborating are more likely to generate income and build a stronger, self sufficient society that simply eating and shopping which create nothing other than adding unwanted pounds and credit card debt.
- Underutilized commercial space is already in commercially zoned areas so there would be no disturbance of residential areas. The infrastructure is already in place (sewer, water, etc.) and potential Maker Space sites are already on public transit routes. This is important since participation and creativity should not be limited to only those who own a vehicle. The existing site charactristics of these structures with limited windows and load bearing walls would be conducive to the maufacturing orientation of Maker Space endeavors (i.e., woodworking, machining, electronics, crafts, experimentation, etc.). Of course, all health and safety protocols would be required as they would for any commercial/manufacturing endeavor.
So that’s my proposal. It might work in my hometown of Trumbull CT but it should be considered wherever there is under-utlized commercial space. When it comes to economic development, let’s look forward through the windshield and not continue to view the future through the rear view mirror. Let’s consider Maker Space type endeavors and continue the tradition of Yankee ingenuity here in New England, the birthplace of the America’s Industrial Revolution.
If you like this proposal or have other innovative ideas, I’d love to hear of them. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog concerning hydroponic urban/vertical farming as another way to go-green, become more self-sufficient and revitalize commercial areas by making stuff rather than just feeding the consumer economy and going deeper into debt. These outside-the-box concepts of self-sufficiency are also baked into my upcoming novel entitled Mall Child so stay tuned for that release.