I read with sadness an op-ed column on NJ.com that talked about the slow decline of some south Jersey malls. I remember when I first moved to New Jersey, and at the intersection of Route 35 and 36 in Eatontown stood the “Monmouth Shopping Center.” It had a few stores in a little outdoor plaza where you could walk up and down the row of shops.

One day. in the mid '70s they renovated it and re-christened it the “Monmouth Mall.” I had never seen a mall and had no idea what it was. As I’m sure was the case with a lot of New Jerseyans, I had never seen anything like it ... and it might as well have been the Taj Mahal. A place where you could shop indoors all day, regardless of the weather— a place where everything you needed was in one humongous clump of real estate.

When malls became ubiquitous in New Jersey, they sort of dictated the retail landscape. It was no longer a choice of what store to go to. Now you could go to them all. The entire country experienced the same thing. Mall culture actually changed the entire lifestyle and economy of a town. And like it or not, malls became part of American culture. But now that malls are dying, we have to be ready for a huge change in the feeling and culture of a town. And I don’t like it.

I still feel like malls are important. Some towns are so dependent on the income, jobs, and tax revenue from malls that when one does, it can turn a town in New Jersey into a veritable ghost town. So it’s scary that PREIT (Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust) might be going into bankruptcy if it doesn’t get the $150 million it desperately needs from lenders. PREIT owns Cherry Hill, Cumberland and Moorestown Malls, and has a partnership with the company that owns the Deptford Mall in Gloucester County.

The piece points out that like a lot of companies, PREIT has tried to revive its malls by adding restaurant rows and some residential and office space. Burlington Township has already had a mall go under. And several other New Jersey towns have malls that are basically on life support. I hope that towns will do everything they can do to try to save New Jersey malls. There’s an important place for malls in the New Jersey economy and we don’t want to lose all of them.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Judi Franco. Any opinions expressed are Judi's own.

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