Shopping malls in Turkey, which were partially closed on May 11, have now been completely opened as of June 1. After the declaration of the pandemic, Turkey’s Council of Shopping Centers recommended that the working hours for malls should be between 12 p.m. and 8 p.m. Despite this recommendation, the majority of chains and big stores decided to close down, and after that, in the span of one week, 100 shopping malls were closed. It was not the owners of the malls who listened to medical doctors, but the store owners and managers.
Even though there are now 163,000 cases detected in Turkey and even more cases that are undetected, the malls are opening. At what cost and for whose sake they are opening? It is quite apparent that they are not opening for our sake; the data is clear.
Let us take a quick look at certain data to better understand shopping centers.
Turkey’s first mall was Galleria AVM. It was opened in Ataköy, Istanbul in 1988; however, it was demolished in 2015. Turkey now has 454 shopping centers.
These centers are measured by the space they offer for rent. As of the end of 2019, there were 13.5 million square meters of rentable mall space. When the areas that are not for rent, like parking lots, are added to this space, then it becomes 40 million square meters.
In the first six months of 2018, shopping centers with a total of 500,000 square meters of rentable space were opened in Turkey. Now, there are 44 mall projects to be built. After 2023, no new mall projects are expected to be made.
In 2019, the number of visitors to malls was 2.4 billion. This means a daily average of 15,000 visitors per mall. Thousands of visitors to a small shopping center and tens of thousands of visitors to a giant mall create an excellent infrastructure for Covid-19.
In 2019, shopping centers had an estimated 160 billion lira of turnover. You can guess the rent revenue from this amount and understand why mall owners wish to open these stores.
These data are indeed not adequate to not go to shopping malls, but when you review this equation from the point of view of the novel coronavirus, then you have five huge reasons not to step inside these malls.
1. Don’t be the savior of zombie malls
After the 2008 crisis, malls started to go bankrupt in the U.S. Now, across the world, a process called the “retail apocalypse” is being experienced. In 2019, in the U.S., 9,302 stores were closed, an increase of 59 percent. In parallel to this, the number of closed malls is also rising. They are even called “zombie malls.” Recent studies show that the closure of stores and malls will escalate. Shopping malls have caused serious damage by undermining the local economy. When they are done, we will be left with zombie malls.
What relations will there be between the shopping malls of the world and Turkey? Let us say that the share of foreign capital in Turkey’s malls is around 30 percent. One leg of the capital of the bankrupt malls abroad is actually here.
2. Malls in Turkey also going bankrupt
From 2011 to mid-2017, 1.4 million square meters of space of rentable space of malls were closed. This means almost 5 million square meters of asphalt and cement were wasted. Also, the names of these malls are never mentioned. We do not know about these shopping malls that have been knocked down, that have been rebuilt and forgotten, or the lucky ones that have adopted a different function now. In Ankara, until 2017, eight malls were closed or their function was changed. There are tens of malls in the country, the names of which have been forgotten.
The shopping malls that will be opened during this epidemic will serve the purpose of feeding this bottleneck mall market in Turkey — in spite of the risk of you getting sick.
3. Shopping centers undermine small businesses
The number of small groceries in 2007 was 240,000, but this figure dropped to 165,000 in 2017. The number of chain supermarkets in malls and chain supermarkets in neighborhoods plays a huge role in this. These shopping malls not only steal business from grocers, but also from butchers, bakers and greengrocers. Through this epidemic, we have understood once more how valuable the shopkeepers, butchers, bakers and even tailors are, the ones we exchange greetings with every day.
For this reason, if you love your neighbor, do not go to malls.
4. Malls consume too much energy
In order to be brightly lit and due to their air conditioning systems and machines, malls consume a lot of electricity. For heating, they consume a large amount of fuel, and for cooling, they consume electricity at a mad rate. This week, as the malls are opening, electricity consumption will increase, but as the weather gets warmer, this increase will multiply due to the need to cool the buildings. If only fresh air is used for air conditioning, as the regulation states, then electricity consumption will again multiply. In this case, mall administrators may be more economical about the use of fresh air. They may take such a risk, but you cannot and should not. Worse is that there is no mechanism to control this situation. Because the capacity for public oversight is low, it is impossible for us to trust any shopping center administration.
5. Malls kill physical distance
Shopping malls are structures that encourage mass buying. Even if they control the number of people going in because of the measures against the coronavirus, it is the speed that is the real problem here. This is the first point: the speed of consumption in shopping malls shortens distances.
Add the increasing number of visitors to the speed of consumption. On the first day they were reopened on May 11, some 1.2 million people visited malls. In other words, an average of 3,000 visitors per mall. The head of the Council of Shopping Centers, Hüseyin Altaş, said, “We are calculating that we would start with 20 percent at the beginning, then this figure will increase to 30, 40 and 50 percent. Eventually, after September, we would reach 60 and 70 percent.” In other words, by September, an average of 7,500 visitors daily will be reached. This is the second point of concern. The “interaction volume” will increase — exactly at a time suitable to serve the second wave of the epidemic.
However, much worse is that with their 13.5 million square meters of rentable space and 40 million square meters of total space (a product of asphalt and cement consumption), shopping malls are where there should have been assembly areas and parks for the city in the event of an earthquake. While we have to put a 1.5-meter social distance per person, you have narrowed this space through construction to half a meter per person in the malls. This is the third point.
Shopping malls are now dead investments. In Turkey, nobody except for the owners of these malls can advocate for these investments. While store owners and store managers are listening to medical experts, the owners of shopping centers are not tuned in. For this reason, we need to think again. If the coronavirus epidemic had not erupted, we would have been discussing the shopping center model that has died in the world and that is simply hobbling along in Turkey. Today, the insistence on sustaining shopping malls is only good for the mall owners. But small businesses are good for all of us. We have seen and understood this during the pandemic. Moreover, these shopping centers that kill physical distance, that leave no nature for us, that will feed the second wave of the disease, with their unlimited, uncontrollable energy consumption are a serious problem for all of us.
Do not forget: social distancing is one and a half meters, but the shopping center space per person is half a square meter.