OLLI CLASS - FALL 2020
The Rise and Fall of the Great American Shopping Malls and Retail Brands
Course Description: Sears, Roebuck, and Company, better known as Sears, was founded in 1893 as a mail-order catalog company. By the 1970s, Sears had become one of the largest retailers in the world and marked that achievement by constructing the tallest building in the world in 1973 as their world headquarters in Chicago. However, less than 30 years later, the company found itself in financial trouble, and by 2018, fled Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Sears is not the only American icon with that story. The lifetime of Sears and several other great American brands have spanned and embodied the rise of modern American consumer culture. They witnessed and contributed to the suburbanizing wedge of post-war shopping malls and strip malls. They helped atomize the industrial economy through manufacturer outsourcing in the 1970s and 1980s. They played a key role in the diffusion of mass consumer culture and commercial values. For better and for worse, their logos are the symbols of American capitalism – and now they’re disappearing. In this class, we’ll put the top down on our 1963 Pontiac Bonneville convertible and drive out to the suburbs to check out these new-fangled shopping malls.
Topics of discussion for this course
death of the American shopping mall
The American Shopping Mall will soon be a thing of the past...a throwback to suburban America. Once-proud visions of suburban utopia are left to rot as online shopping and the resurgence of city centers make malls increasingly irrelevant to young people.
iconic brands disappearing
More than 3,500 stores are expected to close across the US by the end of 2022. Among the stores that are closing are some of the most iconic American fashion brands shutting their doors. As mall traffic declines and e-commerce grows, many fashion brands have struggled to keep up and many large retailers like Macy's, Victoria's Secret, JC Penney, and more are having to close under-performing locations.
Changes in American Culture
Shopping is arguably one of the most important leisure activities for millions of Americans…and it has been an important leisure activity for a very long time. Despite e-commerce growing to become the dominant retail form for the recent generation, shopping malls still remain a spatial activity for many people – particularly teenagers. Shopping spaces have become one of the most occupied public spaces in our communities and have grown to become an integral part of American social and community life. The shopping mall is still considered an icon of contemporary American culture. Sociologists argue that shopping malls provide a microscope for understanding the qualities desired in modern public spaces, the primary intention is to seek answers to the values that we are constantly looking for in a society and world that seemingly is in constant flux.