(Smart Money) — 1. “We’re a dying breed.” Not long ago, Zan Jones, 43, took a trip to a mall in her hometown, Plano, Tex., and came home slightly depressed. The mainstays were still there Dillard’s, Sears, and a diner she’s known since her teenage years but in between the familiar landmarks, she found empty storefronts, “For Rent” signs and sloppy temporary shops. “I felt kind of nostalgic,” says the marketing professional and mother of two. “It just used to be so great.” It’s a common feeling. Shopping malls, once a hub of suburban commercial life, are rapidly losing ground to online shopping and off-mall locations. And it shows: vacancies at regional and super-regional malls topped 9% in the first quarter of 2011, up from 5.6% four years ago, according to market researcher Reis, Inc. “We’ve seen malls at the highest vacancy rates since we’ve been tracking them for the last 10 years,” says Ryan Severino, a senior economist for the firm. And more may be on the way, because of clauses in many leases that allow retailers to opt out if a mall can’t retain a major department store.