The Amazon forest has followed a predictable pattern. Loggers make way for cattle ranches that make way for farms. Now shopping malls.are moving in.

Only a few decades ago, many scientists believed that the Amazon was barely habitable. Today, at least five Brazilian Amazon cities have populations over 300,000, a key threshold for attracting national retail chains. By the end of next year, four of the five biggest cities will have large American-style malls. Developers are considering projects in three others.

The latest mall project broke ground in March in Rio Branco, a once-isolated outpost near the spot where rain forest activist Chico Mendes was killed in 1988. Builders were encouraged by a successful new mall about 340 miles away in Porto Velho. Folks from Rio Branco were making the six-hour drive there to shop.

The proliferation of Amazon shopping malls marks an economic turning point for one of the world's last frontiers. A modern consumer economy is taking root in a region that most people still imagine as dense jungle and piranha-infested rivers, checkered with deforested patches.

Wall Street Journal