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Mall pass

Warehouses emerging as new shopping hubs

Man in orange vest pulls boxes on cart
“Neighborhood fulfillment centers” are replacing shopping malls as the hub of retail commerce.

Living near a shopping mall used to be important to a lot of people, but as online commerce continues to grow, retail meccas are losing their cachet.

Instead, many consumers are now drawn to areas near warehouses that can quickly process their online orders.

“It’s shopping as infrastructure,” Adie Tomer, a Brookings Institution scholar, told The Wall Street Journal last week. The nation’s growing network of shopping sites, warehouses and delivery services now “function like a utility.”

Unlike colorful shopping centers, modern “neighborhood fulfillment centers” are plain and located in industrial areas. The centers are designed to process orders quickly, often shipping items to customers in just a few hours.

The rise of these centers coincides with the decline of traditional retail. Mall vacancy rates are climbing, and many cities are razing downtown shopping centers to make way for other development.

The shopping revolution might also change lifestyles.

“Getting goods delivered to one’s home doesn’t eliminate that other part of the human experience — wanting to get out of the house to get fresh air,” Tomer said. “People will just exchange it. ‘Now that this other itch is scratched, maybe I’ll sit outside with a newspaper.’”

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