A massive 3 million-square-foot megamall begins its grand opening Friday as more than 8,600 stores close in 2019. A retail expert explains why American Dream could defy the grim trends rocking the retail world.

  • The 3 million-square-foot American Dream complex is opening to the public on Friday in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
  • The complex will be one of the largest malls in North America and will feature a theme park, ice rink, water park, and indoor ski center in addition to over 450 shops.
  • Meanwhile, more than 8,600 stores are expected to close in 2019 as the retail apocalypse rips through America.
  • Retail historian and lecturer Vicki Howard said that a megamall’s independence from traditional anchor department stores could be an advantage, though the success of American Dream still remains to be seen.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

More than 8,600 stores are expected to close in 2019 as the retail apocalypse ravages the US.

Somehow, megamalls appear to be weathering the storm.

After over 20 years of planning and multiple delayed openings, the 3 million-square-foot American Dream megamall opened its doors on Friday for the first phase of its public launch. A Nickelodeon Universe theme park, DreamWorks water park, and ice-skating rink opened first and will be followed by various stages of opening that will last throughout 2020.

After over 20 years of stalling, American Dream is surrounded by hype

“It does sound like it’s generating a lot of interest, at least initially,” remarked retail historian and lecturer at the University of Essex Vicki Howard, who authored the book “From Main Street to Mall: The Rise and Fall of the American Department Store.”

American Dream will house Nickelodeon Universe, which will be the largest indoor theme park in the Western Hemisphere.

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American Dream will house Nickelodeon Universe, which will be the largest indoor theme park in the Western Hemisphere.
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American Dream

American Dream, which has evolved considerably since its conception in 1996, has garnered much hype for its widely anticipated opening after being delayed for many years. Tickets for the opening weekend of the complex’s Nickelodeon Universe theme park have already sold out.

“But I would wonder whether over the long haul it would be able to sustain the foot traffic that it would need to remain profitable,” Howard added.

Bigger does not necessarily mean better

Traffic in US malls has declined considerably in the last year.

“The idea that big is better is not necessarily the case today,” said Howard about the megamall trend, explaining that whether or not American Dream will be successful in the long run still remains to be seen. “I’m not sure that it is something that is going to take off.”

More than 150,000 people swarmed the Mall of America when it opened in 1992.

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More than 150,000 people swarmed the Mall of America when it opened in 1992.
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Mall of America

Luckily, the owners of the massive complex, Triple Five Group, have a reliable track record with super malls. The group also owns Mall of America and West Edmonton Mall, the two largest retail and entertainment centers in North America.

More than 42 million people from all over the world come to visit Mall of America every year. The complex generates nearly $2 billion in economic activity for Minnesota annually, according to press materials for the shopping center.

Megamalls are not dependent on department store anchors

An advantage that large complexes like American Dream possess is their independence from traditional department store anchors. “The department store industry has suffered in recent decades,” Howard said. “And their path is closely connected to that of the shopping mall.”

When department store like Sears and JCPenney close, that creates an empty hole in a traditional mall, which can sometimes lead the the shuttering of the entire complex.

“This is a different kind of complex not dependent on department store anchors,” Howard said of the megamall, explaining that other attractions and amenities will likely be the drivers of foot traffic in these centers.

‘American Dream’ is a term with cultural resonance

The name chosen for the megamall is an interesting choice, Howard said. The mall was initially named Xanadu but was re-dubbed American Dream in 2011 when the Triple Five Group took over the project.

“It’s a complicated word that has a lot of cultural resonance and has been debated over time,” Howard said of the term “American Dream,” which she teaches in her US history class. As a center of American consumerism and entertainment, American Dream seems like it will be worthy of its name.

“For over 35 years, Triple Five Group has embraced the concept that retail cannot exist without entertainment and experiential elements, and American Dream will further raise the bar,” said President of American Dream Don Ghermezian in a press release. “Guests will experience something completely unique each time they visit – this project will be the realization of their wildest dreams.”

For this 3 million-square-foot center, the success of this dream still has yet to be determined.

“It’s an ideal,” Howard said of the term that has come to represent consumerism and consumption. “It’s something that’s promised, but it’s not something that is enjoyed by everybody.”