Could the Internet power a small-town renaissance?

But now it’s the city retailers’ turn to watch their livelihoods going away, as the internet has paved a new kind of highway, with many more than four lanes, sucking away their share of possibly the most covetous consumer culture in history. Thirty minutes on accomplishes what used to take a logistically complicated day, including two hours wedged into a station wagon fighting heavy traffic and sometimes daunting weather.

Geographically remote communities are now on a level playing field when it comes to shopping. It’s one of the paradoxes of the internet age—the social isolation of outlying rural communities from their nearby metropolitan centers, even as they connect digitally with the entire world.

Meanwhile, the decline of the mall is creating new opportunities as entrepreneurs refashion abandoned retail space into parks, apartments, walk-in health clinics and even bowling alleys. The Greenwood Park Mall’s owners demolished the wing that had housed L.S. Ayers, a now defunct department store, replacing it with a line of Main Street-style shops and several midmarket restaurants. They put in a fountain, and there’s live music in the summer. At Christmas, shoppers bustle out of the winter wind into the haven of warm, candle-scented shops. Sometimes it looks and feels a little like that grainy 1953 film.

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