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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

For the last decade or so, malls have been dying. Surprisingly, the pandemic may save them.

The big picture: A year and a half of isolation has reignited a desire to gather in public spaces — and spruced-up, futuristic malls could make billions off of a cooped-up America.

  • "The pandemic has definitely made people appreciate public spaces more, so there is scope for malls to capitalize on this trend," says Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.

By the numbers: About 25% of America's roughly 1,000 malls will close in the next five years, retail analytics firm Coresight Research projects. That continues a long trend of store and mall closures across the U.S.

  • But the malls that survive the shedding will be relatively future-proof, experts say.
  • "The malls caught COVID when the population caught COVID, and those that were fit and strong made it through," says Michael Brown, a partner in consulting firm Kearney’s Consumer Products and Retail Practice. "There’s a long future for the malls who are doing it right."

Thriving malls look more like downtowns than traditional shopping centers, with apartments, offices and restaurants.

  • They're adding third workplaces: As we've reported, a key emerging workplace trend is the rise of places to work that aren't the office or the home. Malls are building such tertiary workplaces to attract teleworkers, Saunders says. For example, the Scottsdale Fashion Square in Arizona has incorporated office space through the co-working company Industrious.
  • They're looking beyond retail: One of the fastest-growing types of mall tenants is doctors' and dentists' offices, according to a Coresight report.
  • They're going local: One of the factors that killed scores of malls is that they offered the same set of chain stores no matter which town or city they operated in, says Denz Ibrahim, head of retail and futuring at Legal & General, the United Kingdom's largest owner of retail property assets. Ibrahim designed a new mall in Poole, an English coastal town, with hyperlocal tenants like a fishmonger and a gin distiller.
  • With such local flair, malls can become post-pandemic tourist destinations, says Brown.

Bigger budget projects are taking it even further: The American Dream mall, a $5 billion project in New Jersey, was set to open at the beginning of the pandemic, and that was stalled.

  • Now it has finally opened and is drawing crowds, not for its store, but for its amusement park-style rides.

The bottom line: Says Brown, "Malls need to be more than just a place to shop because frankly, we can just shop online."

Go deeper

28 U.S. citizens depart Afghanistan on Qatar Airways flight

Passengers board a Qatar Airways aircraft bound to Qatar at the airport in Kabul on September 10, 2021. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department on Saturday confirmed that a Qatar Airways charter flight left Kabul on Friday with 28 U.S. citizens and seven lawful permanent residents on board.

The big picture: Friday's flight is the third such airlift by Qatar Airways since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, AP reports.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Smaller than expected "Justice for J6" rally met with large police presence

Police officers watch as demonstrators gather for the "Justice for J6" rally in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18, 2021. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

A few hundred demonstrators were met by a heavy law enforcement presence on Saturday at the "Justice for J6" rally outside the fenced-off U.S. Capitol, AP reports.

The latest: Four people were arrested at the rally, including one person with a gun, one with a knife and two with outstanding warrants, per the U.S. Capitol Police.

DHS to increase deportation flights to Haiti from Del Rio

Migrants walk across the Rio Grande River carrying supplies back to a makeshift encampment under the international bridge between Del Rio, Texas, and Acuña, Mexico. Officials are struggling to provide food, water, shelter and sanitation, forcing migrants to cross the Rio Grande several times per day for basic necessities. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security on Saturday announced plans to ramp up deportation flights to Haiti out of the small Texas border town Del Rio, starting as soon as Sunday.

Why it matters: Reports have emerged of more than 10,000 migrants, primarily from Haiti, crowded in a temporary camp under the international bridge in Del Rio. Hoping to find refuge in the United States, they've had to bear with filthy conditions and the scorching sun for days, per an NBC News affiliate.