The indoor shopping mall, that very American invention, has seen some tough times in recent years. Chain retailers are going out of business and some malls are facing possible closure or bankruptcy. Even when exported to a rapidly growing economy like China, a massive indoor shopping mall – the biggest in the world, in fact – has only a 2 percent occupancy rate.
Is all hope lost for the shopping mall? Not if they have faith. Or, actually, a lot of faith, like Euclid Square Mall in Euclid, Ohio, where more than 15 churches have moved into spaces vacated by retailers. It’s a religion-fueled transition underway in a number of malls around the country, as Daily Finance.com reports.
As the News-Herald of Northeastern Ohio has ably documented, the Euclid Square exodus started in the late ‘90s when anchor stores started to pull out of the mall. With space for 99 stores, these days the mall is barely even a mall anymore: its website lists just 17 stores. Along with the 15 or so churches, Euclid Square is currently about one-third occupied. But that’s better than one-sixth without the churches.
It’s also been good for the churches, which have been able to grow from small groups to larger congregations. Rev. Martha Forrest of Faith Baptist Church has seen her congregation grow from 25 to 75 people since opening up shop in the mall.
“It’s just amazing,” Forrest told the News-Herald this summer. “I was directed by the Holy Spirit to go to the mall. I had heard that some churches were already there. That’s where I started and that’s where I’m still at.”
Interestingly, 85 years ago the city of Euclid played a significant part in the history of the modern U.S. city. As the defendant in a 1926 land use case that went to the Supreme Court, Euclid’s development of a zoning ordinance to control growth helped establish the constitutionality of land use zoning in the United States. But thanks to a more recent law, churches are often able to skirt zoning requirements, allowing them to locate in almost any location. Even in malls.