Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  Most recent sense check, Entry #365.  

Some of the entries are part of a series.  Several series are available as easy-to-read booklets for download:

Prelude: I’ve concluded Trump is a lunatic and the administration filled with lapdogs save a couple of people at CDC.  Instead of wasting time commenting on actions by Trump, I thought it more productive to begin discussing what happens in the US once the coronavirus is more under control.  #378 began the series. At this point not sure how many entries.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #380: If one believes COVID-19 will trigger some changes in societal behavior, then what behavior might be disrupted permanently after the immediate threat has dissipated? Last week’s entry discussed how the general public likely will demand more affordable or government-provided healthcare coverage.

This week’s entry addresses how shopping patterns might continue to be affected and the implications of major changes. The “stay-at-home” mandates during early months of COVID-19 accelerated the use of on-line shopping.

While some brick-and-mortar stores were able to generate on-line business for delivery or store-side pickup, many shoppers shifted to such on-line stores as Amazon. The shift affected food shopping as well. Even though most grocery stores remained open, many people ordered on line with curbside delivery at the store or home delivery.

The big unknown is whether consumer shopping behavior has been altered permanently. If it has, how will such behavioral change affect attitudes toward participating in such other large-crowd activities as football games, concerts, restaurants, even religious services? If people are satisfied to watch sporting events at home on large-screen TVs, to shop on-line, to have food delivered, to live-stream religious services on the same large-screen TV, then what happens to the physical structures supporting large-crowd activities?

For the businesses/organizations associated with these activities, what happens to the value of the real estate or the value of the franchise, whether the organization is a chain restaurant, retail outlet, or religious institution? (Interesting, the value of a sports franchise may be less affected since much of the value is not based on the number of fans attending an event but the advertising revenue associated with the media broadcast of the event.)

If the value of the real estate falls, then what should be done with the property? Let’s start with the most obvious real estate – shopping centers. As suburbs were developed following WWII, shopping centers became the de facto downtown for the suburbs. Just as the value of real estate in many downtowns declined as shopping centers proliferated, the value of shopping centers has declined as on-line shopping has proliferated.

Without having any hard data, the United States likely has at least two times the number of shopping centers needed. Some of the surplus shopping centers are large-footprint centers with multi-anchor stores and some more neighborhood centers and/or strip malls. Most larger centers also have a number of big-box stores on the periphery, which are also not needed.

What should be done with these surplus shopping centers and big-box stores? Converting the real estate to office space has been an option. However, following the coronavirus the US may end up with too many office buildings as well. As people were forced to work from home, and the implementation of technology was accelerated, many companies began to rethink requirements for (i) office space; (ii) employees on staff. The result of this rethinking is likely to be fewer office buildings and smaller staffs. (For more information about the impact on employment of the implementing more technology, download Tech Tsunami Booklet with Supplement).

If office space is not needed, then what could be done with these shopping centers? Why not address a national need and convert the shopping center to affordable housing? The coronavirus pointed out the irony that many workers deemed “essential” were also lower-paid workers. Converting shopping centers to affordable housing for these workers also would allow them to live closer to public transportation, which usually is available in larger shopping centers.

The shopping centers could be reconfigured to become true neighborhoods. Many shopping centers have large areas devoted to parking that could be converted to playgrounds, small parks, even neighborhood sports fields. Many centers are ringed with restaurants, dry cleaners, drugstores, etc., which could stay in place following redevelopment. With some creative planning, neighborhood schools could be built as part of the conversion. (School nicknames could incorporate the name of the former shopping center – the Carolinaplace Cougars or the SouthPark Sentinels. Just kidding.)

As a centerpiece of the neighborhood, the schools could be designed with classrooms for the traditional “3 R’s” education, as well as classrooms for introduction to sciences and the arts.

Neighborhood schools would reduce the need for and the inconvenience and cost of busing. Neighborhood schools would encourage children to participate in after-hours extra-curricular activities as well as be available, if needed, for remedial classes. Such here-and-now remedial classes would help students keep pace.

The proximity of the school near students’ homes would reduce the need for parents to spend money on expensive babysitting. Building design could include rooms adaptable for adult education and/or neighborhood meetings.

To help address the problem of limited access to healthcare faced by many lower-paid workers, the redeveloped shopping center could include a neighborhood clinic with office hours tied to non-working hours of neighborhood families. Clinics would serve basic needs, including physicals for children and adults and would be linked electronically to larger medical facilities. Such “preventive medicine” would reduce visits to ER.

Next week. More on post-coronavirus impact on societal behavior, including how religious institutions might be affected. Could some churches, synagogues and mosques suffer the same fate as many big-box stores?