Shopping malls fall on hard times

In the 1990s shopping malls were built across the city with much pomp and fanfare. Today, however, the malls are a shadow of what they once were.

The shopping malls have been reduced to empty buildings as locals travel to the town centre to shop.
The shopping malls have been reduced to empty buildings as locals travel to the town centre to shop.

The basic philosophy behind the establishment of these malls was to bring shopping convenience to the residents who, prior to that, had to travel to the city centre. Outside the basic commodities offered by chain supermarkets, the malls brought with them a rich assortment of luxury goods, banking facilities and food and drink outlets.

Westgate shopping centre catered for medium-income residents, while High Glen mall attracted shoppers from Budiriro, Glen View, Glen Norah, Highfield, and Mufakose, Kuwadzana and Kambuzuma.

“We are now guarding empty buildings. Big companies that used to operate here have since relocated to other places and there are hardly any customers here,” said a security guard manning the premises at High Glen.

Relocation, relocation

A survey conducted by The Zimbabwean revealed that most of the companies which used to operate at the mall have pulled out. These include banks, furniture shops and supermarkets.

“We are contemplating a move because business here is so bad and the rentals are so high. We can’t continue to operate under these conditions because it is no longer viable,” said one butchery owner.

Residents in the surrounding areas said High Glen Shopping mall was fast becoming a white elephant.

“I used to spend months without setting my foot in the CBD, because the mall used to be my shopping destination but now most of the shops are closed and we have no choice but to travel into town to get our essentials,” said Thandiwe Mutumbi, a Budiriro resident.

The mall which had a strong catchment area of 100, 000 family units and a strong industrial base, namely Southerton and Willowvale, used to service an estimated 3,000 customers a day.

Urban planning expert Mike Vareta said the demise of High Glen Shopping centre was catapulted by its location.

“Shopping malls should be within walking distance like in South Africa. High Glen was supposed to serve the poor in low-income suburbs like Glen Norah, Mufakose and Highfield but these residents have to commute at the same cost as getting into town,” said Vareta.

In that case, he added, shoppers preferred shopping in town where there is greater variety.

Lonely shoppers

Town Centre, built as the central business district for Chitungwiza, has met the same fate. Major retail shops and banks have pulled out and where crowds thronged the mall in the past, you only see lonely shoppers and kids now.

Most of the businesses that have relocated have cited high rental fees charged by a property developer in charge of the complex.

Westgate Shopping Mall is facing the same problem as most of the shops in the upper level have been closed. A bank official who has been working at the mall for more than eight years said the situation was fast degenerating.

“Most shops have closed here. People are opting to travel to the city centre,” he said.

Economic analysts have also blamed the degeneration of the malls on the decade-long economic crisis Zimbabwe suffered, also pointing out high operating costs. In addition, they say all the red tape frustrates potential investors at the shopping malls.

However, an official from Old Mutual, the company which owns most of the shopping malls and buildings in the city centre, expressed optimism that the malls will enjoy a new lease of life.

“Soon, there would be a boom (at the malls). Remember we are coming from a dark period as a country and most businesses were affected, “said the official.

Post published in: Business

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