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Life cycles

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North Hills Mall in Raleigh lies peacefully in the ICU waiting for someone to pull the plug, and Durham's South Square is sprawled out on a gurney of its own. Over in Chapel Hill, Hudson Belk's recent retreat has left University Mall staring blankly at the future--a peaceful stare, like right before the eyes freeze and the attending nurse gently lowers the lids.

When University, North Hills and South Square were swimming in Christmas shoppers and allowance money and Orange Julius, Carrboro's Carr Mill was the saddest little mall in the Triangle. Today it thrives, and so may the freshly minted Streets at Southpoint in Durham. It's just entered the mall lifecycle, a generation behind University, South Square and North Hills.

As milestones go, none have more parking than old malls. But the spaces could sit empty because there's little commercial appeal to a place known only as "the old mall."

Word is North Hills is slated to become a mixed-use utopia. University still has a lot of local flair and may attract a new anchor store or two (A Southern Season?). But South Square, once the new mall, back when golfers whacked balls into the parking lot from the par three next door, could be on its way out. If it goes, it should be recycled--maybe as a high school with parking decks turned into playing fields and the stores remade as classrooms.

Many of those stores are now empty, and that emptiness drives home this lesson in mall logic: By depending on the whims of out-of-town chains, malls become as disposable as the trendy goods they hawk inside.

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