The news that Borders Books will liquidate doesn’t just bring the loss of four big bookstores in the valley, public spaces where people could browse, relax and maybe even socialize with a neighbor.
The demise of Borders also indicates the flagging fortunes of the suburban big-box store model of development. In Henderson, the closed Borders will be just down Stephanie Street from the old Circuit City, which went through its own liquidation in early 2009. Despite prime retail space in an affluent area, the old Circuit City space remains unfilled, and I’d bet the Borders spot will be similarly vacant for a long time.
The coming problems with suburban big-box development are threefold, and they are worse in Las Vegas than almost anywhere else.
1) Young people want to live in an urban environment, not the big-box suburbs where they grew up. As I reported earlier this year, more than 80 percent of Americans born between the mid-1970s and 2000 would choose to live in an urban area, or a suburban area that qualified as “urban lite,” such as Arlington, Va., or Bethesda, Md, according to a consultant with the real estate firm RCLCO. (Arlington and Bethesda are suburbs that feature walkability and easy access to urban amenities.)
2) The days of mass affluence — when people went to the big-box stores and spent a little of their home equity or savings or whatever — appear to be finished. Americans, if they have a job at all, are de-leveraging — paying down debt. And who can blame them?
As an Advertising Age columnist alerted readers recently, the only people with real money to spend are the super rich. Only those who made $100,000 or more last year spent more than in the prior year. And that’s not the big-box store model.
3) Increasing use of the Internet to buy everything from books to electronics to apparel continues apace, eating into big-box store revenues.
This is a serious problem for Las Vegas because, all we did was build big-box retail and suburban living and office space, even as the country began moving back toward urbanism in the 1990s. We were building the wrong product.
Similarly, The Wall Street Journal reported recently that big city downtown office towers are bouncing back strongly while suburban office parks are being left behind. What did we spend 20 years building? A bunch of suburban office parks. Our office vacancy rate is currently more than 20 percent.
Las Vegas: Better weather than Detroit!