Houston Community News >> How to Say Shop Till You Drop in Chinese

1/18/2007 BEIJING, Jan. 18 (Xinhuanet) -- Monstrous malls in Asia have given new meaning to the phrase "shop till you drop."

America, long the king, has almost fallen off the list of the world's largest shopping malls because of a building boom in China, Malaysia, the Philippines and soon, India.

Based on Gross Leasable Area, or the amount of space devoted to revenue-producing operations such as stores, amusements and food, Asia is home to eight of the world's 10 largest malls, six of which have been built since 2004. That's added some 27 million square feet of shopping space to cities such as Beijing and Guangzhou in China and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Two Chinese malls rank No. 1 and 2 in the world -- the South China Mall in Dongguan and Golden Resources Mall in Beijing. They include features such as wind mills and childrens' theme parks. Golden Resources Mall is surrounded by newly built apartments and office buildings.

"It's almost unimaginable, the boom that has occurred in these Eastern cities," says Emil Pocock, a professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, whose American Studies department has documented the sizes and amenities of the world's largest malls.

Many more of those regions' consumers now own cars, he notes, increasing the demand for more destination shopping centers. That's attracted money from mall management groups from outside China, especially Indonesia and Japan.

"These people need a place to shop, and it's not going to be at the old shopping districts that date back to the days of traditional socialist rule," Pocock says.

While many traditional malls in North America are getting squeezed by a big-box era that includes the likes of Wal-Mart Stores, Best Buy and Target in nearly every county, Asia's rapidly growing economy has spawned a new wave of consumers looking for places to shop and play.

Just three years ago, the top 10 list would have included a pair of popular California destinations -- South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa and Del Amo Fashion Center in Los Angeles -- along with the famed Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. The lone U.S. mall on the list is the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania.

The traditional shopping mall is part of a saturated market in the United States because of off-mall big-box retailers and a retail industry consolidation. Many malls have taken to revamping or downsizing to survive. At the Houston Mall in Texas a traffic court and outpatient health care services have replaced some big stores like Sears.

And at Illinois' Park Forest Mall, near Chicago, Sears and other big stores were razed about 10 years ago to make way for a Main Street thoroughfare that includes a town green, residential units and a series of smaller stores.

In the hope of finding future growth, developers are turning to mixed-use centers, projects that combine retail, dining, entertainment and residential living units, not unlike some of the new Asian malls, such as the Beijing mall and Berjaya Times Square in Malaysia.

"We recognized in the '90s that the future of the business would be acquiring properties and [enhancing] them," says John Bucksbaum, chief executive of General Growth Properties.

An acquisition spree begun in 1993 has increased his company's portfolio of shopping center properties to over to 200, with a market capitalization of approximately 37 billion U.S. dollars, from 22 centers and a 1.2 billion dollar market cap.

An ambitious project that sums up GGP's vision is a massive redevelopment of the Natick Mall, a 40-year-old shopping center in suburban Boston. Longtime anchors Macy's and Sears aren't going anywhere, but a major expansion will add two luxury condominium complexes and an upscale shopping area headlined by Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.

Elsewhere, mixed-use "lifestyle centers," a creation of outdoor urban villages that mix retail theater and condos, are doting the map more and more.

At Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix, Ariz., outdoor walkways, myriad restaurants and spas surround top retail names like Neiman Marcus and Gucci. And at The Oaks, originally a 1970s-era mall in Thousand Oaks, Calif., near Los Angeles, a 1993 makeover helped it fit in with a planned suburb that includes growth areas like Simi Valley, Camarillo and Agoura Hills.

"It creates more density on the land you already own, which a lot of communities prefer to more urban sprawl," Bucksbaum says.

(Contributed by Xinghua)