Within a few months, more than one-eighth of the country's retail space will be sitting vacant, according to some estimates. That's about 1.4 billion square feet, or 50 square miles, of empty store space, ringed by roughly 150 square miles of useless parking lot.
It will be tempting to blame the weak economy for all of this wreckage. But the recession has merely been the trigger. This avalanche of vacant retail, much like the mortgage crisis, has been a long time in the making.
Since the early 1990s, the pace of retail development has far outstripped growth in spending. Between 1990 and 2005, the amount of store space in the United States doubled, ballooning from 19 to 38 square feet per person. Meanwhile, real consumer spending rose just 14 percent.
Stacey Mitchell is the author of Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses. which we reviewed here.