No more mallrats

American teens don’t hang out at malls anymore. They eat at restaurants

April 11, 2014
April 11, 2014

The suburban shopping mall has been part of American adolescent life since at least the 1950s, as the default location where teens hung out.

Now, malls are dying. Across the country, these giant suburban monstrosities have been closing, due in part to their inability to compete with cheaper online alternatives. (There is even a site, deadmalls.com, and collections of empty mall photos.) But the desertion of teens is also a big part of the reason why brick and mortar retail tenants have been closing their doors.

Teen mall traffic has declined by 30% over the past decade, according to Piper Jaffray’s 27th semi-annual study into teen behavior (which incorporates a survey of nearly 7,500 teens). Teens averaged 29 visits to the mall in the year to spring 2014, compared to 38 visits in 2007. And for the first time since the inception of the study, teens  (particularly high income ones) spent more on food and events than they did on clothing.

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Quietly, the restaurant has displaced the mall as the socially acceptable place to hangout for teenagers in America. “Restaurants have become a gathering place and teens are increasingly suggesting they prefer dining out to other forms of status brand spending,” the report says. “We see restaurants as the next generation hang out for teens.”

The establishment of curfews and the imposition of heavy-handed mall cops have also contributed to the decline in mall culture, according to the report, alongside the well documented rise in e-commerce.

As for the rise in restaurant spending? The study finds that modern teens are more interested in “experiences ” than name-brand clothes. There are some interesting dynamics underpinning this—but that’s a post for another day.

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