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Peter Blackbird and Brian Florence have devoted a fascinating (and vaguely Gothic) website to America's decaying and abandoned shopping malls.


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  1. Every town got two malls: the mall where the white people shop, and the mall where the white people USED to shop. The black mall! The black mall got nothin’ but sneakers and baby clothes.

  2. In my hometown of South Bend, IN, the malls sprang up in the late 60’s as strip malls, and then in the 70s and 80s as the indoor type- the large physical area that these structures occupied lent themselves to the low-price farmland areas outside of town, rather than the higher-priced areas downtown. Misunderstanding completely, the city fathers attributed the attraction to people’s love of walking around, and paved over main street, making a “walking” downtown. The city built numerous large parking garages nearby. With car traffic cut off, the few remaining anchor/department stores closed up or moved to the mall. the little stores all soon followed, leaving a ghost town of empty buildings. Eventually, the property costs downtown went down, and the taxes went down, and tax credits were put in place. The oldest malls are being abandoned if they don’t expand and modernize. Business has picked up downtown in recent years, but the parking garages all sit empty most of the time and are sometimes used for sawp meets and giant “garage sales”.

  3. Rex: Yeah, the site reminded me of Dawn of the Dead too. (That’s a brilliant movie, and I say that with no irony or exaggeration.) I don’t think your paintball idea will catch on, but I really hope it does…

  4. The movie “Dawn of the Dead” was filmed in Monroeville Mall, outside of Pittsburgh. Unlike the dead malls seen at this link, it is still doing quite well (although perhaps past it’s prime). It has survived by benefitting from an onsight Expo center, and supplemental expansion of the box-type stores/restaurants nearby.

  5. I had a “dead mall” not too far from me in NJ, Seaview Square mall.
    Before it was redeveloped it was one of the most depressing places you could possibly imagine. At one point only about 1 out of every 6 stores were operating with the rest being abandoned and empty. I guess since malls are usually associated with lots o’ people and activity the lack of it was very off-putting.
    Rex: I had the same hope that it would become some sort of paintball field/arena (Had my Angel all ready) but, alas it’s now a Target.

  6. dude,

    The demand for mall space is still rising. The dead malls are not the result of declining demand, but because of an inefficient, free market business model that overbuilds retail space. If you notice, dead malls are usually located in thriving areas where there are larger, occupied malls.

    Why is mall space overbuilt? Because the ability for a developer to get financing has only a tangential relationship to the ability of a property owner to rent out space. Malls are built by a corporation which then sells them to another owner to rent out the space, or creates a subsidiary to do so. If the mall isn’t making money, the subsidiary goes bankrupt without doing any harm to the builder, who is off rounding up financing to build the next mall.

    This is exactly what happened with textile mills in the northeast in the 1800s.

  7. What signaled the decline of the mall to me is when they all started to have the same chain stores. I have been to malls in FLorida, Boston, Texas, Missouri, California and even friggin’ Hawaii, and see the same stores _ Kay-Bee, SunCoast, Gap, Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, etc. Even the malls within the same city are virtually identical. I have actually paused in the middle of a mall and thought, “Now, where the fuck exactly am I?”

    The first mall I have any memory of, Gulfgate in Houston, had in the 1960s an independent model/hobby shop, an independent toy store and an indie bookseller. There were things you could only find in Houston at those three stores. Now, every mall carries the same thing as every other mall. They are nothing more than overpriced Wal-Marts.

  8. dude:

    a bike trail in dead malls would be AWESOME.

    especially if they left everthign how it was, all the big names of stores in the red and blue or whatever color, all the railign and tile floors. that would be really cool.

  9. There have been some good projects to reinvent vacant malls, the most interesting involving running a street down the center atrium, so the stores become the sidewalk-fronting storefronts they they used to ape. One sprawlville actually turned this into their main street, and are planning on locating public buildings along it as they get built. The acres and acres of parking that can be built on makes such a transformation economically feasible.

  10. Tom_J, you’re absolutely right.
    How many of the standard mall clothing stores are owned by the same company ? Old Navy, Gap, Gap Kids & Structure (I’m pretty sure) are all owned by the same corp.
    Most malls are really nothing more than about 12 stores divided up into 30 storefronts with different names and targeted demographics. E.G. Old Navy = Gap blue collar, Gap = Gap middle class, Structure/Banana Republic = Gap upper class. Same stuff at different prices. Pretty neat marketing.

  11. The new Steely Dan CD, “Everything Must Go,” has this track called “The Last Mall.”

    “It’s last call/to do your shopping/at the last mall.”

  12. I referred to this great “Deadmalls” site as source material constantly when I wrote this feature on malls for Reason last year ( I tried to interview the site’s creators as well, but they stopped responding to my queries.

    I grew up near one of the “dead malls” they discuss on their site, The Dutchess Mall in Fishkill NY. It’s semi-ghostliness used to haunt me every time I drove by it. Now they say it’s home to “one of the scariest flea markets on earth.” I can’t even imagine what that means, but I’d love to find out!

  13. I just wasted an hour on this site plus various
    other related sites I found. Very cool stuff.

    Creative destruction leaves some magnificent

    Jeff Smith

  14. There is no worse dead mall than Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois. It’s shown on this website. I grew up about 3 miles from there; believe me, it has actually gotten worse. For the last four years of its “life”, there was one open store; how it lasted that long I’ll never know. And that was 30 years ago!

    There are at least 3 more failed malls within a 6 mile radius of it. When I show people my old haunts, they are shocked that the places actually look haunted!

    You could drive along U.S. 6 from the IL/IN border west for about 15 miles and see nothing but failed retail centers. There is more boarded up stuff along that stretch than stuff that is actually open. I’m trying to think if there is a book store anywhere in that stretch… I honestly can’t think of one. What a childhood, growing up between Harvey and Calumet City, two of the most notoriously corrupt suburbs in history!

    Of course, when the area’s US Reps for the last 30 years have been Gus Savage, Mel Reynolds, and Jesse Jackson Jr., the decay kind of makes sense.

  15. Joe,

    For some reason your renovation proposal reminds me of an invention on MST3K: a treadmill with wheels on the bottom, to move forward as you walk (in case you want to exercise outside).

  16. Once there were only a couple of cigarette brands. Thenl someone figured out that by boxing their smokes in 19 different packages they’d have 19 of the 20 or 21 brands on the shelf. A 19/20 shot of selling product was a lot better than a 1/2. Obviously, other companies followed suit which eventually lead us to our present situation where there are probably hundreds of brands available.

    The same thing is essentially happening with stores in malls today, especially the clothing stores.

  17. Are we devolving into a discussion of Marketing, subcategories of price points, branding, brand identity, price discrimination and mass customization?

    Fantastic! Far better conversation devolution than usual in Hit and Run.

    I loved the dead malls link. Thanks.

  18. I wonder about this sometimes. Are malls a relic of a certain age: the 60s and 70s, and will simply fade away as a concept? Or will they always be here to some extent? Seems like the 80s and 90s were more about building complexes of stand-alone “big box” stores rather than malls. What will the buildings and parking lots be used for, if anything? Is “big box” the end state of retail? What comes after that?

    This seems to be more about “mall” malls – then kind where you walk around indoors. But there’s nothing more forlorn and ugly than a dead strip mall.

  19. These “Dead Malls” remind me of the film “Dawn of the Dead”, where a Mall is infested with Zombies and a few heavily armed survivors of the living dead apocalypse. Possible redevelopment plans for these real life dead malls should include being used as paintball arenas, preferably against actors portraying zombies. Also, what about indoor skateparks or bike trails? If anyone has seen the film “chopping mall” or “night of the comet”, you can imagine the creepy but fun feeling you can have in an abandoned mall…

  20. I remember going to the Dixie Square Mall as a kid…kinda remember that it wasn’t ever crowded and has an orangish exterior. The pics are really stunning and I knew that that area where I lived (Lynwood) was not going to get better with age…

  21. Not sure if anyone is going to see it (would have been more timely yesterday), but there’s a story on “Dawn of the Dead” fans still coming to visit the mall where it was shot.

  22. Well, I saw it. Thanks, I love that movie. Any fans of the zombie/apocalypse sub-genre are strongly advised to check out “28 Days Later” if you haven’t already….

  23. I’ve been looking up on Dixie Square Mall this evening, seems like a neat place to check out. I don’t know if any of you folk know about this, but I read that there were 2 rapes (One in the JCPenny) and one murder there, not hard to believe. Also Jesse Jackson visited there, in hopes to “save the space” for some airport.I’ll have to make a stop by for some brief filming this year, before it’s gone..Pfh! I’m in Lynwood also, and no it will not get better with age…sadly.

  24. Before it’s gone? Will it ever be gone? MAybe eventaully the elements will deceimate it, but that probably won’t happen for a VERY long time.

    It would be a really cool place to explore I think.

  25. I now live in Minnesota, but grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. Dixie Square Mall was the place to go in the late 60’s to see things that the mall would bring in and display in the center court. Out of curiosity, I did a Google search on this mall recently, and was amazed to find the site and photos of the mall… they did a great job. I thought the mall looked bad in the mid-80’s before I moved; it’s amazing to see what it looks like now. Mold growing on walls, ceiling caved in, trees growing in front of entrances… just remarkable that the city of Harvey has just let this thing decay, but they probably have no money to tear it down or market it to someone. Too late now for that.

    It is symbolic of this area and how downtrodden it really is. I agree with a writer above who described the failed and shuttered stores lining this area. Doubt it will get better anytime soon.

    Seeing photos of the inside of the mall was like going back in time… still being able to make out how it was and what they did to make it ready for the Blue Brothers car chase scene. Remembering what it was like as a kid and to see it now is amazing.

  26. The Dixie Square was partialy torched a few weeks ago by an arsonist. Looks like it’s closer to being torn down. Make your dead mall travel plans now!

    Read our newsletter article on the Dixie Square mall:

  27. Actually, the only part of the mall that was burned up, was a 25,000 foot storage area near Montgomery Wards. Anyone with old pictures of the interior of the mall, or present inteior pics, please email me If you can. Thanks!

  28. Plus, I work for as well 🙂

    To contact me: email me at for anything to do with deadmalls or other malls. And just to talk, contact me on AOL Instant Messenger at HudsonValleyJack. Thank you.

  29. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/26/2004 07:47:25
    Reality is not affected by our apprehension of it.

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