Cortana Mall: How one of Baton Rouge’s original mega shopping centers fell victim to the changing times

Cortana Mall: How one of Baton Rouge’s original mega shopping centers fell victim to the changing times
Cortana Mall is officially set to close after more than 40 years of business in Baton Rouge.

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Recent news of the Cortana Mall’s closing has shined a new light on changing consumer behavior in recent years. Digitization has shifted focus to a more convenient form of shopping, leaving malls like Cortana to slowly slip into irrelevance.

Cortana Mall opened on August 4, 1976 and was built in response to the trend of mega shopping malls that took over around this time. Cortana was Baton Rouge’s second mall after the Bon Marche Mall which opened in 1960. Mall’s like these were in high demand in American suburbs because they provided a concentrated area of entertainment that previously had only been available in larger cities.

Nearly a century before its conversion into a shopping center, Cortana Mall and its surrounding area began as Cortana Plantation. In the mid-1800s, the prominent sugarcane plantation covered around 400 acres; around 100 of which was converted for the mall’s construction. At around 1.3 million square feet, Cortana was the largest mall the south had to offer at the time of its opening.

Cortana Mall (Google maps)
Cortana Mall (Google maps)

The demand for mega malls around the country was notorious for being a major obstacle for small businesses. These facilities provided a large assortment of retail options in one convenient location; many of which acted as direct competition to local business. Historically, when consumers are faced with a choice like this, they choose convenience.

Cortana thrived in its hay day, housing some of the most popular retailers in the world such as JCPenney, Dillard’s and Macy’s. The mall eventually expanded to 1.6 million square feet and housed over 100 stores. Its undeniable popularity attracted other mega malls to make their way into Baton Rouge. Eventually, Cortana started declining from the influx of competition and from the bulk of Greater Baton Rouge’s population shifting away from the general area of the mall.

Feeling the heat from up and coming competition in the 90s Cortana began a series of renovations to rejuvenate the mall from top to bottom, including changing the name to Mall at Cortana around the time of the mega-popular Mall of Louisiana’s opening in 1997.

The name reverted to Cortana Mall in 2009 as it struggled to stay alive in the changing marketplace. Stores began leaving after business continued to decline, including Macy’s and JCPenney in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Losing these two major stores began the mall’s final descent.

Adding additional pressure to the mall and its business was the rise of digital shopping platforms that took over at the turn of the century and continues its rise today. Companies like Amazon have shifted the consumer’s preference away from malls like Cortana much like how mega malls did the same to small businesses decades earlier.

Amazon boxes being sorted for shipping and delivery
Amazon boxes being sorted for shipping and delivery (Source: Mary Altaffer)

As with almost everything nowadays, retail shopping is going digital. Prominent online shopping sites have been seeing huge increases in sales over the past decade while in-store retail sales have been increasing at a much slower rate or declining depending on the store. In the past 10 years, eCommerce has gone from accounting for 5.1% of total retail sales to 14.3% in 2018.

The recent news of Cortana Mall’s permanent shutdown is a perfect example of the ever-changing marketplace and the struggle to stay relevant despite past success. The decline of shopping malls nationwide continues as online shopping continues to rise with no signs of slowing down.

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