How Many Shopping Malls Do We Need?

Private Property South Africa
Shaun Wewege

I am beginning to wonder if property developers are losing the plot or if shopping is a professional hobby in South Africa. In an 8km radius from my home in Radiokop there are at least three new developments that have or are about to be launched, and all of them are retail centres.

We already have two major retail centres in Clearwater Mall and Northgate, Westgate is a bit further out, and there are countless smaller centres where one can get groceries, dine or get fast food. I can’t help but wonder whether the new stores are all going to remain empty. Many of the aforementioned malls have new stores and there is a relatively high tenant turnover in the smaller centres too. Should we really be building more shopping centres when the tenants in the current ones are battling? I’m no expert, but I doubt anyone opens a store in a high-rent centre because they hope to lose their life savings.

On the one hand, a new mall means new opportunities. It’s a chance for entrepreneurs to open a store, employ staff and use a network of external suppliers to provide everything from stock, to IT equipment and stationary. But on the other hand, in areas that are dense with retail and food outlets, how likely is a new development to succeed? As a consumer I can only afford to shop at a handful of places every month. I can only spend a certain amount of money before I have to make a call between eating food and filling my car. And while convenience does play a part, there are over a dozen retail centres (where there are multiple stores) within five kilometres from my home. Unless my neighbour converts his garage into a store, there is no way anyone could build a shopping centre more convenient.

I remember the old days where we had to drive at least three kilometres if we wanted to buy bread and milk. And sometimes, the store only had 2% low fat. The horror! Even worse, they never used to stock ciabatta or gluten-free bread. With such harsh living conditions I wonder how suburbanites even managed to live so long.

The terror of not being able to buy a toaster close to home was only matched the adversity we would face by only have a dozen fast-food outlets within walking distance. Not that we would walk to buy fast food. Climbing out of your air-conditioned car is a sure fire way to get sunstroke. Or be poisoned by noxious fumes from car exhaust pipes. Or mugged.

Life was certainly far more difficult when you had to drive for seven minutes to a neighbouring suburb to buy the artery-clogging burger for dinner. I don’t know how we coped without such convenience. In fact, I think that having a major retail centre every three kilometres isn’t enough. I think we need to develop mobile shopping units that pull up beside you to sell you things for those times when driving for another two minutes to the next retail centre is too much of a hassle.

We hear of drive-by shooting all the time – why can’t I buy vegetables and a loaf of bread when I’m doing 120 on the highway?

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