Dead Malls are Casualty of Consumer War

With the Christmas gift season over a week in the rear view mirror many retail chains are counting their profits and hoping that the season helped them get “in the black” for the year.

Through the use of sales and promotions starting in late November and running to January, stores look to boost their profits through holiday sales and gift giving.

For many years one area where shoppers would flock before and after the holiday gift giving season was the local shopping mall.

The Mall of the Mainland in Texas City, Texas celebrated its last christmas this year as it will soon join the ranks of fallen malls that came before it. Photo R. Anderson

The Mall of the Mainland in Texas City, Texas celebrated its last christmas this year as it will soon join the ranks of fallen malls that came before it.
Photo R. Anderson

These concrete behemoths allowed shoppers to find everything they could possibly ever need under one roof while they walked shoulder to shoulder with thousands of their closest friends while listening to elevator music.

Growing up I was not much of a mall rat.

I enjoyed the food court, Waldenbooks and the KB Toy store but the idea of spending a whole day walking from one end of the mall to another never really appealed to me.

Once Waldenbooks and KB went under I found that there really was not any reason for me to go to the mall on a regular basis.

Much like many others I turned to standalone big box retailers and online shopping when it came time to purchase things.

Traditional malls soon gave way to open air shopping centers where one could park directly in front of the store they wanted to get to as opposed to using a directory to find some hidden store down the A Wing.

The Miracle City Mall in Titusville, Florida saw its hey day during the Apollo years. Soon it will meet the bulldozer after becoming a ghost of its former self over the past couple of decades. Photo R. Anderson

The Miracle City Mall in Titusville, Florida saw its hey day during the Apollo years. Soon it will meet the bulldozer after becoming a ghost of its former self over the past couple of decades.
Photo R. Anderson

This exodus from traditional malls led to the term “dead mall” being coined as mall after mall was left as a ghost town as store after store vacated.

While many people may try to avoid dead malls I find that I actually enjoy them more than the still thriving malls filled with tweens, teens and others.

Aside from offering more elbow room for walking through I look at dead malls as a sort of retail archeology and have been to around a dozen in numerous states.

Each of the dead malls I have visited all share certain traits regardless of geography.
There is a stillness inside the once bustling hall ways. If one listens they can almost hear the hustle and bustle of shoppers gone by. And yes, the dead malls still pipe in the elevator music.

Food is no longer served at the food court of the Mall of the Mainland. Photo R. Anderson

Food is no longer served at the food court of the Mall of the Mainland.
Photo R. Anderson

There is usually a central court in the mall where men dressed up as Santa Claus heard the whispered wishes of generations of children but the days of Santa coming to town are no more.

Sometimes a dead mall will still have a few restaurants in the food court but many times the food court is silent.

These dead malls usually will have a few kiosks and other stores open but little else to show that they were once the retail hub of the community.

Usually a dead mall will show signs of life and a brave face but if one looks past the empty store fronts and the crumbling paint one can usually tell that the writing is on the wall that the mall will be gone soon.

Despite the best efforts of a few dedicated employees it is almost impossible to rehabilitate a dead mall once the shoppers have moved elsewhere.

Halls that were once filled with shoppers are now filled with only memories and covered kiosks. Photo R. Anderson

Halls that were once filled with shoppers are now filled with only memories and covered kiosks.
Photo R. Anderson

The malls offer both a time capsule of the way things were, as well as a cautionary tale of what can happen when the commercial bubble bursts.

Recently it was announced that a “dead mall” near me was going to be completely shut down aside from the movie theater and a couple of anchor stores.

The news that the 20-year-old mall was shutting down really should have not been a surprise as it had been on life support for many years but there was still some sadness when the announcement was made.

I had been pulling for this particular mall to defeat the odds and to make a comeback but I knew that was a longshot.

Despite the mall only being around 20 years old it never really took off in terms of full occupancy so I never saw the mall truly busy in any of my trips there.

Future archeologists will have a field day studying the relics of America's "mall era." Photo R. Anderson

Future archeologists will have a field day studying the relics of America’s “mall era.”
Photo R. Anderson

As one anchor store after another closed down, or moved up the road, the mall inched closer and closer to closing forever.

The fate of the mall was further sealed when an upscale outlet mall was opened just a few miles away.

Shortly after the announcement I made a final trip to the mall to say my goodbyes and walk the hallways one more time.

Much like any archeologist would I took my camera along to document the scene and to try to picture the mall in better days.

The remnants of the food court at the Mall of the Mainland which will soon meet the wrecking ball. Photo R. Anderson

The remnants of the food court at the Mall of the Mainland which will soon meet the wrecking ball.
Photo R. Anderson

As I walked the halls I wondered if malls as we know them will survive for many more generations.

I picture a day when archeologists of the future unearth the remains of a mall and wonder about those hot dog rollers and why we needed so many cell phone kiosks.

I know there will be more dead malls to explore and with each one we will grow closer to a time when the mall as we know it becomes extinct until all that is left is memories of what was and perhaps a lone hot dog left on the roller for those archeologists of the future to find.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about malls has me craving an Orange Julius.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson