In little more than a decade, Kyiv’s retail landscape and the shopping habits of the city’s citizens have undergone a quiet revolution. They may be relatively new to Kyiv but the shopping mall can trace its origins back more than a century, beginning with the Victorian shopping arcades found in the UK. With new innovations like escalators, these evolved into shopping centres, and with the rise of the automobile in that most car-centric of world societies – the US – these evolved into the shopping malls the US is credited with pioneering and exporting across the globe.
The Race Is On
Kyiv’s mall culture began in earnest in 1999 and it was a completely underground industry. The first underground shopping complex, Kvadrat, opened for business on Khreshchatyk in the passage to Prorizna Street. A second Kvadrat would follow, constructed under Maidan Nezalezhnosti, which would eventually link with Globus in 2002. Also in 2002, the sprawling subterranean maze that is Metrograd opened, running from Khreshchatyk to Lva Tolstoho Square. The mall race was officially on and all gloves were off as each new addition raced to bigger and better the last.
Malls in Kyiv have gone from being a literally “underground” movement to brash and loud. They scream “look at me”. Both Gulliver and the curiously-themed (in a city with no coastline) Ocean Plaza, which opened in January, put on dazzling light shows every night. Kyiv’s malls have begun to swell to the point of absurdity and the pace of development is staggering. Four additional malls are tipped to open between 2014 and 2016. They will be called Republic, Art Mall, Happy Mall, and Lavina, and if you thought Dream Town’s in Obolon’s wealth of entertainment venues or the unique theme of Ocean Plaza can’t be outdone, think again. The new malls place heavy emphasis on entertainment.
Competition Heats Up
In Republic, plans show a 500-metre long rollercoaster will be built. Construction of Republic will begin next year on Kyiv’s main ring road. At 284,271 square metres, it will, probably briefly, hold the title of largest shopping centre in Ukraine.
Art Mall is already under construction at the intersection of the Zabolotnoho and Metropolitan highways. Art Mall will cover 50,000 square metres and to keep pace with Republic, developers are building a wind tunnel and a mini-amusement park aimed at children. On O Trutenko Street, Happy Mall is also under construction. This 42,000 square metre mall has an emphasis on supermarkets and grocery shopping as well as shops with developers intending it to be a “one stop shop” for locals.
Lavina is under construction near Metro Akademistechko at the end of the red line. The new mega-mall will cover 140,000 square metres with in excess of 300 stores as well as a 15,000 square metre amusement park, a 12-screen cinema and, of course, an American style food court.
But is Kyiv in danger of mall overload? Are developers creating a culture where our lives become “smaller” – where we can eke out our entire existence within a few blocks from our homes? The experience in other parts of the world suggests yes.
Malls have been credited globally with ripping the “soul” out of a city centre – their traditional retail hubs killing businesses not attached to a brand or chain. Then there’s the emergence of the mall culture. In the US by the early 1980s, malls were so tightly woven in the fabric of American culture urban anthropologists began to note the appearance of mall-based tribes. It’s brilliantly depicted in the 1995 film Mallrats, which has the tagline: “They’re not there to work. They’re not there to shop. They’re just there.”
It’s happening in Kyiv. Despite the gimmicks, there is cookie-cutter sameness to Kyiv’s malls, a mass-produced quality that means the retailers are, for the most part, the same; the same clothes outlets, the same fast-food joints, cinemas showing the same movies across multiple screens, and the same people milling around aimlessly – most aren’t shopping. However, having bred so quickly, Kyiv’s malls run the risk of cannibalising each other.
Global experience shows that as one mall opens, another “old-fashioned” mall is abandoned by its “anchor” stores, which stray from the relationship in search of a younger model. Some shut shop completely. Websites such as Deadmalls.com chart the phenomenon in the US focusing on malls that now look twee, and where the space once occupied by GAP is now either exactly that – a gap, or occupied by a community group lured by cheap rent.
For now Kyiv’s malls are packed, but as more and more open will that continue? The answer is possibly not.
by Jared Morgan