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It's last call to do your shopping at the last mall
June 19, 2014 11:34 AM   Subscribe

The Guardian on the decline of America's shopping malls. "Dying shopping malls are speckled across the United States, often in middle-class suburbs wrestling with socioeconomic shifts. Some, like Rolling Acres, have already succumbed. Estimates on the share that might close or be repurposed in coming decades range from 15 to 50%. Americans are returning downtown; online shopping is taking a 6% bite out of brick-and-mortar sales; and to many iPhone-clutching, city-dwelling and frequently jobless young people, the culture that spawned satire like Mallrats seems increasingly dated, even cartoonish.

The trend is especially noticeable in the Midwest, a former blue-collar bastion where ailing malls have begun dotting suburban landscapes. Outside of Chicago, Lakehurst Mall was levelled in 2004 and the half-vacant Lincoln Mall is costing its host village millions in botched redevelopment plans. Dixie Square Mall sat vacant for more than 30 years after serving as the backdrop for the iconic chase scene in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers. It was finally demolished in 2012. Many others will similarly lie dormant as they wait for the wrecking ball."
posted by porn in the woods (181 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Where have they gone? The Galleria and Cinnabon? They are falling in the food court as rain.
posted by The Whelk at 11:36 AM on June 19 [16 favorites]


Not a moment too soon. Burn, baby, burn.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:39 AM on June 19 [5 favorites]


These malls will make excellent squat camps for the communes to come!
posted by oceanjesse at 11:41 AM on June 19 [14 favorites]


DEADMALLS.COM Read the stories and see the pictures of retail establishments and malls past, and some present.
posted by rebent at 11:42 AM on June 19 [8 favorites]


Forget shopping malls, think bigger. Except for high end stores, retail is dead. First Barnes & Noble will shutter, then the jewelry stores, then the electronics stores, then the rest. All that will be left will be restaurants, groceries (temporarily hi peapod!), and clothing stores. A good refund system and consistent sizing standards will eventually kill off the clothing stores, too. Good riddance. Let's level them all, tear up the roads that feed them, and put in some parks.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:44 AM on June 19 [21 favorites]


A story this week about a mall near me: Century III Mall in West Mifflin slides into retail abyss.
posted by octothorpe at 11:45 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]


1) Um, online shopping, duh?

2) IIRC, that deadmalls.com link says that malls only have a lifespan of 30 years. So this isn't suprising? (link may have been in a previous FPP, can't remember, need to get back to work)
posted by Melismata at 11:46 AM on June 19


I grew up near Monroeville Mall, best known as the shooting location of Romero's original Dawn of the Dead. Haven't been there in years, but given demographic trends in Pennsylvania, I've been assuming that it's doomed for awhile now. I hope that in a few years, someone will do a zombie movie set in an Amazon fulfillment warehouse.
posted by gsteff at 11:47 AM on June 19 [11 favorites]


A good refund system and consistent sizing standards will eventually kill off the clothing stores, too.

I've switched to almost exclusively made-to-measure websites for my shirts. No need to worry about sales, sizing, returns, etc. Quality is a hundred times better and the price isn't much higher.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:48 AM on June 19 [8 favorites]


Good! These spaces can be replaced with something designed for humans.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 11:49 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]


In my experience, most malls get cannibalized by other malls. Especially if the older mall was a design that grew unpopular, like smaller two-anchor / one-story malls.
posted by smackfu at 11:49 AM on June 19


Malls are dying because malls depend on traditional department store anchors, and traditional department stores are dying.

Big block centers (basically one big parking lot with the likes of Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl's, Best Buy, craft store chains, probably a grocery store and a strip mall of smaller shops) are taking over for now -- at least as long as THEIR chain anchors stay afloat.
posted by delfin at 11:50 AM on June 19 [8 favorites]


It's weird that with the exception of the bigger cities and smaller towns, many areas of the U.S. don't have a communal area formerly referred to as a "market". Such areas serve a lot of purposes, shopping, entertainment, eating, social meetings, etc. The mall was this space for the suburbs. Now I guess it's Starbucks.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:53 AM on June 19 [5 favorites]


Where, where is the town? Now, it's nothing but flowers!
posted by gauche at 11:54 AM on June 19 [35 favorites]


These malls will make excellent squat camps for the communes to come!

Those of us who have read Gone Girl are shuddering already.
posted by psoas at 11:55 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Nice Steely Dan reference in the headline there.
posted by Clustercuss at 11:57 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


No sense going to a mall and walking around when you can just go to a big box center and drive between the various stores.
posted by ckape at 11:57 AM on June 19 [6 favorites]


I live maybe a mile away from Springfield Mall in Springfield Virginia, that one is currently being re-modeled in an attempt to revive the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s. Once considered one of the top malls in the DC suburbs, I think Springfield Mall was less of a victim of socioeconomic shifts than it was gross mismanagement of the mall's security, and it was taken over by area gangs. When they started kidnapping people from the parking lot in broad daylight, and the security guards had to wear masks because of death threats, the customers stopped coming.

Meanwhile, across the Beltway at Landmark Mall, life goes on in some kind of retail zombiedom.
posted by smoothvirus at 11:59 AM on June 19


Coming soon: mall nostalgia, and earnest treatises on how important the social bonds forged in mall-shopping were and how the decline of the mall is the cause of Everything Wrong with Society Today.
posted by yoink at 11:59 AM on June 19 [53 favorites]


Forget shopping malls, think bigger. Except for high end stores, retail is dead. First Barnes & Noble will shutter, then the jewelry stores, then the electronics stores, then the rest. All that will be left will be restaurants, groceries (temporarily hi peapod!), and clothing stores. A good refund system and consistent sizing standards will eventually kill off the clothing stores, too. Good riddance. Let's level them all, tear up the roads that feed them, and put in some parks.

Yay for putting millions out of work! Yay!
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:59 AM on June 19 [35 favorites]


Malls are over. We've found something more dehumanizing.
posted by goethean at 12:00 PM on June 19 [35 favorites]


gsteff: "I grew up near Monroeville Mall, best known as the shooting location of Romero's original Dawn of the Dead. Haven't been there in years, but given demographic trends in Pennsylvania, I've been assuming that it's doomed for awhile now. I hope that in a few years, someone will do a zombie movie set in an Amazon fulfillment warehouse."

Last I checked, the Monroeville mall was doing OK. They opened a new theather there last year (and showed Romero's Dawn during the first week).
posted by octothorpe at 12:01 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


I grew up around malls in Montgomery County, MD, and I love malls. In the part of the Midwest where I live, there are dead and dying malls, but there are also thriving malls; the trend seems to be not "malls don't work" but "we don't need as many malls as we did in 1985." Hilldale Mall, not far from my house, is where the best sushi in town is; where the art movies play; where the locally-owned 24-hour grocery is; where one of the west-side farmer's markets sets up on Saturday mornings; and etc. It's a common market space where you always see somebody you know. Also, the University of Wisconsin owns the land and rents it to the mall developer, so there are about eight very fancy Hilldale Professorships at UW, named after the mall.
posted by escabeche at 12:01 PM on June 19 [6 favorites]


Coming soon: mall nostalgia, and earnest treatises on how important the social bonds forged in mall-shopping were and how the decline of the mall is the cause of Everything Wrong with Society Today.

Close, but the demise of the malls is just another symptom of the true cause of Everything Wrong: the death of the video arcade.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:02 PM on June 19 [23 favorites]


In New Haven, CT, when all the people were fleeing to the suburbs, they built a mall downtown. Surprisngly, it lasted for 30 years or so, but closed before I moved here. The interesting thing is that they turned the mall into apartments. If you think malls are dystopian, check out this photo. And not cheap! $1400 for a 1BR.
posted by smackfu at 12:02 PM on June 19 [21 favorites]


The monroeville mall also has an incredibly confusing parking lot. Actually a lot of the Pittsburgh area has incredibly confusing parking lots (I'm look at you penn hills giant eagle complex)
posted by Ferreous at 12:04 PM on June 19 [6 favorites]


.
posted by Asparagus at 12:05 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Late last summer was the first time I returned to New Jersey in almost a decade. Growing up in Jersey, Mallrats wasn't just satire - it was documentary. Malls were everywhere, and your town was judged based on how nice the mall was. It was remarkable to see that, for the most part, not much had changed in ten years.

While the "traditional" malls are still there for the most part (though we didn't go in any of them, so I have no idea how they're doing today), the new thing that I saw were these mixed-use developments with what looked like rather expensive apartments/condos resting on top of luxury outlets in a strip mall-type arrangement. In one way, I suppose it's not much different than building a skyscraper and putting retail on the ground floor, but I think the bigger problem is how... captive it felt. I mean, if you put a skyscraper downtown at least the residents can walk away and go somewhere else. The residents of these developments can't get anywhere without driving down the highway.

I thought the malls were soulless, but they may have been trumped.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:05 PM on June 19 [11 favorites]


I don't think you understand how important malls were for kids like me who grew up in the middle of nowhere. My high school was forty minutes away; my best friend forty-five. Our "main street" was a car dealership, a restaurant, a fire house, and a defunct library-- and it was a twenty minute drive away. And sure, summers were great and everything, but where can you hang out all day on a frozen Saturday in January that's not your musty basement or your buddy's barely-insulated garage?

Malls were the only game in town for kids in the city's outskirts: safe, social, easy to get to, open rain or shine.
posted by eamondaly at 12:08 PM on June 19 [25 favorites]


I should add that Lakehurst was my mall, and it was awesome.
posted by eamondaly at 12:09 PM on June 19


Heh, very true wrt Jersey judging based in malls. In the town I lived in there was a big socioeconomic divide based on whether you mall ratted at the Toms river mall or freehold mall.

Jersey is a weird place
posted by Ferreous at 12:10 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


We have two local malls, and the one on our side of town has been going through bankruptcy proceedings/winding down for at least the last 5 years. It's a sad clown of a place now. There's only a few stores left and most of them are small local concerns with temporary storefront signs printed on vinyl banners because no one can really justify the cost of a more permanent sign given the sketchiness of the situation.

I can remember back in the late 90s through the mid 00's, the place was constantly crammed full of people, to the point it was uncomfortable to walk around during peak shopping hours during most days. Our other mall seems to be holding on a little better, but the crowds are never even close to what they used to be anymore.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:11 PM on June 19


In Tallahassee, Florida, that is...
posted by saulgoodman at 12:11 PM on June 19


Malls only thrived because they were the only game in town, same as the mom-and-pop stores they replaced. I buy t-shirts from webcomic artists or musicians or political groups I want to support. I buy winterwear from Lands End or LL Bean. Kids clothes/underwear/socks I get at Target. My office and casual clothes I get at two standalone boutiques that carry stuff I like/that fits (which the malls never have).

So that's clothes. I was never much of a jewelry buyer. Toys and books are better gotten elsewhere.

All that leaves is Dippin' Dots, and while I loves me some Dippin' Dots, I'm not going to a mall just for that.
posted by emjaybee at 12:12 PM on June 19


I'm looking forward to visiting the last few malls preserved for historic purposes, populated with an ersatz Chess King, a B. Dalton full of bull terrier and Kliban cat calendars, and a food court with a faithful recreation of the croissant hotdog.
posted by bendybendy at 12:12 PM on June 19 [11 favorites]


The monroeville mall also has an incredibly confusing parking lot.

Statements like this make me despair for America.
posted by gsteff at 12:12 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Malls only thrived because they were the only game in town, same as the mom-and-pop stores they replaced.

Maybe true, but in our town, nothing's thriving more. The drop in retail activity has been pretty uniform across all the strip malls and box stores, too, or so it seems at least.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:13 PM on June 19


There are a bunch of "dead malls" near me in the DC suburbs. The biggest and most-undead-ish is Landmark Mall, which I've heard has been an albatross since it was built; the developer had big ideas for the time, but then other malls were built just a few years later (before Landmark could recoup its buildout costs) and siphoned off all the high-end customers and stores. All that's left now are weird popup stores and a few anchors who are stuck there by virtue of owning the actual ground under their stores.

The plan is to eventually demolish the 'mall' part of it, leaving the freestanding anchor stores (presumably to go out of business on their own; I'm not sure they'll survive individually, but this may just be part of a plan to sell out later at a better price), and do the currently-fashionable mid-rise mixed-use thing. Basically 5 to 10 floors, with retail and office space on the ground floors, apartments and condos above, parking mostly underground. Faux "main street" atmosphere but with some actual degree of walkability. Not a bad trade IMO.

I think it's premature to declare that the concept of the shopping mall is dead, though. The 1980s fully enclosed mall, with huge pedestrian concourses and food courts, that's probably dead. But "outlet malls" seem to be booming, and they all seem to have the same pattern: single-story retail strip malls arranged face-to-face with each other to create the illusion of streets, surrounded by acres of surface parking. It's a horrible use of land, which is why they always seem to be built out in exurban areas (in the DC area the big one is out in Leesburg). My guess is that the per-square-ft rent to the tenant stores is lower because there aren't the big interior spaces to maintain.

So really, the only part of the 'mall' equation that's seemed to have changed is the desirability, to consumers, of the big quasi-public enclosed spaces, sometimes with fountains and places to sit and other attractions, that the inward-focused 1980s malls had. Instead, today's outward-facing malls are a lot less friendly to doing anything other than parking your car, walking to a store, doing your shopping, and getting the hell out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:14 PM on June 19 [8 favorites]



Forget shopping malls, think bigger. Except for high end stores, retail is dead. First Barnes & Noble will shutter, then the jewelry stores, then the electronics stores, then the rest. All that will be left will be restaurants, groceries (temporarily hi peapod!), and clothing stores. A good refund system and consistent sizing standards will eventually kill off the clothing stores, too. Good riddance. Let's level them all, tear up the roads that feed them, and put in some parks.


Don't forget to put in some refugee camps for the people who formerly worked at the malls, the city employees whose jobs were formerly supported by [admittedly not enough] taxes and fees paid by the malls, and everyone else whose jobs were ripple effects of the malls. Those of us who still have jobs can live in our pod-like Dwell magazine apartments and have our sweatshop-made goods dropped down to us by drones; the drones can also drop basic humanitarian rations in the camps.

Not to cheerlead for the malls or the kinds of jobs they generated, but "yay, we are losing retail" really isn't an uncomplicated statement.
posted by Frowner at 12:16 PM on June 19 [53 favorites]


Nice Steely Dan reference in the headline there.

Yeah, good work there. (We would also have accepted Drake's "I'm shutting shit down in the mall.")
posted by octobersurprise at 12:16 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


The mall I most remember, Metrocenter in Phoenix, was used in the first Bill and Ted movie. (I remember the exercise equipment set up for the Joan of Arc scene.) They've since remodeled it into blandness a couple of times now. But there was a time when I was 12 and 13 when I'd take one of my moms diet pills and run from one end to the other all day long.

I probably go into a mall once every three or four years, and swear off them each time.
posted by Catblack at 12:17 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Malls destroyed many downtowns. It's only fitting that a resurgence in cities is helping to kill malls.

When I was a kid I dreamed of accidentally being locked in our local mall overnight. There was a music store there; I'd go in and fiddle with all the guitars, maybe play the arcade games. That's how ingrained mall culture was in the late '70s and early '80s, malls were something to aspire to. And play video games and wander around gaping at - though never actually talking to - girls.
posted by kgasmart at 12:17 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


HGTV 2017 "Mall Flippers!"
posted by Freedomboy at 12:18 PM on June 19 [15 favorites]


I don't know. You live long enough, you get a little fatigued from the constant whiplash of things moving from "obviously bad thing that is a sign of terrible modern decay" to "crucial element of the social fabric we wantonly destroyed in our heedless rush towards a future of cruel anomie." But 'twas ever thus, I guess.
posted by yoink at 12:19 PM on June 19 [27 favorites]


It's weird that with the exception of the bigger cities and smaller towns, many areas of the U.S. don't have a communal area formerly referred to as a "market". Such areas serve a lot of purposes, shopping, entertainment, eating, social meetings, etc. The mall was this space for the suburbs. Now I guess it's Starbucks.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:53 PM on June 19


I know that in some rural towns in my neck of the woods, that place is Wal-Mart.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:20 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


When I read The Caves of Steel, I pictured dystopic, packed shopping malls in my head. I always wanted to shoot something set on Asimov's Earth, but malls were always open for business or too commercial looking. It gladdens my heart that there are now a bunch of closed malls ripe for re-use as dystopic SF sets.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:20 PM on June 19 [6 favorites]


Malls with intelligently designed parking lots are the exception, not the norm.

The other thing about malls is that many of them are long overdue to croak because they're overpopulated. Right now, if I drew a circle with a radius of an hour's drive from my apartment, there would be fourteen traditional deparment-store-and-small-shops malls in it -- and that's not counting the ones that've closed, the big-block centers, the outlet centers or open-air shopping districts.

One of those malls has 2,391,000 square feet of retail space available. That's a lot of Orange Juliuses.

Of course, that brings up the OTHER problem with traditional malls -- most of them have the same chain stores the other malls have. Why drive to mall X if mall Y is closer and has the exact same stuff?
posted by delfin at 12:23 PM on June 19


.
may their pastel-coloured hot air balloons forever rest in peace.
posted by scruss at 12:25 PM on June 19


But 'twas ever thus, I guess.

You know what they say: you never miss your Orange Julius 'till your mall dries up.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:25 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


The trend is especially noticeable in the Midwest, a former blue-collar bastion where ailing malls have begun dotting suburban landscapes.

Nearly every word in that sentence is wrong, including "the" and "a".
 
posted by Herodios at 12:27 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Isaac Brock called it almost 20 years ago.

"The malls are the soon-to-be ghost towns, well so long, farewell, goodbye..."
posted by echocollate at 12:27 PM on June 19 [6 favorites]


Well, in Chicago's case, I don't think people there ever fully understood the concept of malls.



Seriously, though- having worked as a survey collector in most of Chicago's malls at one time or another, I can honestly say it can't happen soon enough.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:34 PM on June 19


Although it's been a while since the last update, Labelscar is one of my favorite blogs on the subject of dead/dying shopping malls. Previously.
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:36 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I can remember reading articles about the incipient demise of many malls fifteen years ago in my first year of grad school. I hope those authors got tenure, because they were right.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:37 PM on June 19


I live in Tysons Corner, and the mall there is still thriving. Hell, there are two malls across the street from each other, and they're both packed most days. I wonder why they've been so successful for so long?
posted by empath at 12:37 PM on June 19


Also: The Queers
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:39 PM on June 19


I'm sure that I was in a mall in the last five years but I can't remember exactly. We almost never shop in any brick-and-mortar stores except for food and alcohol.
posted by octothorpe at 12:39 PM on June 19


Evidently a common use of old malls is in the filming of zombie movies, The Dawn of The Dead remake was also filmed at a mall, the Thornhill Square Shopping Center in Thornhill, Ontario. Part of the mall was still in use, the other half was gutted and rebuilt (all those stores in the movie...they were built from scratch)...
posted by HuronBob at 12:39 PM on June 19


Anything to do with suburbs is open season these days. Yet suburbs are still where most people live (including younger people) not in cities. Malls still work the problem is with retail in general: competition from online vendors, overcapacity too many box stores and strips, middle-class squeeze, etc.. the demise of the mall has been long foretold, and there will be examples, but there are also new malls being built and old malls being upgraded, and every Christmas season good luck getting a parking space at the mall (near me anyway).
posted by stbalbach at 12:40 PM on June 19


Gladden your hearts my friends, for it is only upon the scorched and blackened wasteland of history that we may build Our Glorious Future! We must burn our way forward; let the flames lick the very heavens!
posted by aramaic at 12:40 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


In the meantime Malaysia builds a new mall every second, even demolishing heritage and historical buildings to do so, because apparently the only thing Malaysians know to do is shop.

(So kind of what eamondaly is saying, but I don't think that's a good thing.)
posted by divabat at 12:40 PM on June 19


I live in Tysons Corner, and the mall there is still thriving. Hell, there are two malls across the street from each other, and they're both packed most days. I wonder why they've been so successful for so long?

Wikipedia: "The median income for a household in the community was $94,083, and the median income for a family was $131,717."
posted by junco at 12:41 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


Man all these faux downtown like developments always remind me how much America hates small towns.

It occurred to me that several of the scifi stories I read as kid in the mid 90s had scenes set in abandoned malls.
posted by The Whelk at 12:43 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Malls destroyed many downtowns. It's only fitting that a resurgence in cities is helping to kill malls.

I glad if that's really what's happening elsewhere but it doesn't seem to be what's happening in our area. Here it just looks like retail is slowly dying all around to me. But I don't have concrete data to back that up and maybe it's a regional thing. How's retail doing overall these days?

Well, according to this, it looks like the rate of retail growth over the last year (0.76%) is tracking below the overall population growth rate, which was roughly 0.96% over the same period, according to the numbers over here.

And according to this, those overall retail numbers (derived from the census bureau) do include internet retail sales, so the overall retail market is just plain down.

So to me, it seems more reasonable to conclude that malls and big boxes are failing because they have very high fixed operating costs compared to other retail models, and so can't tolerate the downturn in overall retail sales as well as some other models. I'm not sure there's really much to be happy about here, despite the fact I agree that malls and big box stores are bad for small retail and healthy small scale economic development, not to mention the environment.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:44 PM on June 19


Wikipedia: "The median income for a household in the community was $94,083, and the median income for a family was $131,717."

Not the whole story, though, because Springfield isn't that far off from that.
posted by empath at 12:45 PM on June 19


Dead Malls rock. Last time I went to the Great Mall of The Great Plains in Olathe KS about 1/16th of the stores were open. Nearly deserted. So clean, so eerie.
posted by hellojed at 12:45 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


leotrotsky: "A good refund system and consistent sizing standards will eventually kill off the clothing stores, too."

LUCKILY, the garment industry has sworn to never, ever provide us with either of these things!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:48 PM on June 19 [21 favorites]


The people so enthusiastically cheerleading "the end of retail" might consider that it's not just internet retail -- it's the fact that recreational shopping (and that was fundamentally a mall's draw) is now an unattainable luxury for a lot of what used to be the middle class.

I'm not a fan of recreational shopping myself, nor of malls, but it's a sign of the continuing impoverishment of the many in favor of the enrichment of the few. And retail jobs are not necessarily fun, but when they are either not replaced or replaced by a handful of much worse jobs in a hellish warehouse sorting packages, that's not a social good.
posted by tavella at 12:49 PM on June 19 [43 favorites]


So, like, what do teenage people DO nowadays? I was a mallrat kid in my teens. I'm told with fewer and fewer of them driving and high gas prices that "driving around aimlessly" isn't as much of a thing, and if mallratting is out, I can't even picture what my free time would've looked like. Is it internet stuff?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:52 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I live in Tysons Corner, and the mall there is still thriving. Hell, there are two malls across the street from each other, and they're both packed most days. I wonder why they've been so successful for so long?

Hi, neighbor! While I think money is part of it, I suspect other parts are size (particularly with Tysons 1), effective mixes of retail, and niche attraction (Tysons 2 - fun fact, I got married in that mall! Confused the heck out of the Starbucks line that day!). I personally avoid Tysons 1 as much as possible because it is never not ungodly crowded, but that means it's doing something right. Biiiiig movie theater, good supply of sit-down restaurants, multiple large anchors, connected to transit. That's my guess.

Tysons 2, I think the rich people just like having a pretty indoor space. You stay at the Ritz, you buy your Lilly Pulitzer, you have dinner at Wildfire, you do not go outdoors. But that place always seems kind of dead by comparison.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 12:53 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite things about living in a city is being able to avoid malls, even stripmalls. I think my record was 11 years, mid 90s-late 2000s. I even worked for Nordstrom's without ever going to a mall! Now I'm out of luck bcse the main Nordstrom Rack (discount) moved to the downtown mall. Although I can enter directly from the transit tunnel, how convenient is that?!
posted by Dreidl at 12:54 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Is it internet stuff?

As far as I can tell, yep.
posted by The Whelk at 12:54 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Everywhere that I have lived still has the exact same set of stores* in clusters, it's just that they are all facing onto parking lots instead of into a pedestrian atrium.

It is culturally totally different, as the point seems to be to strip off every possible extraneous human interaction, but I don't know how economically different it is.

*Well, no Wicks'n'Sticks, which has apparently been replaced with vape shops. Both of which, I am convinced, are money-laundering fronts.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:58 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I think we've been to the mall four times this year: Two trips to the Apple store, the closest of which is in a new and seemingly prosperous mall; one trip to Victorias Secret, because sizing is not at all consistent; and one trip to Nordstrom, again because sizing is not consistent and it happens to be attached to a mall with a brewpub run by a quite nice local brewery, improving my opinion of malls considerably. I can't imagine going to a mall recreationally, but for specific shopping needs it is pretty painless and drama-free, and the newer ones are full of people.

Given the predictable life cycle of malls, municipalities need to collect enough in development fees and taxes to deal with the final stages and redevelopment.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:00 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I really don't think this represents the death of retail. Mixed development retail seems to be doing fine. There's a shopping center called Mosaic near me that I love. An art house movie theater, cafe, restaurants and lots of stores. Reston Town Center also seems to be doing well. There's just something particular about suburban sprawl and malls that is dying.
posted by empath at 1:04 PM on June 19


I live in Tysons Corner, and the mall there is still thriving.

The fact is, good malls are getting better while bad malls get worse. There are a lot fewer in between than there used to be.

It may be counterintuitive that good malls get better, but bear in mind that many of them are in wealthy and relatively dense suburbs where you could never in a million years get approval to build something like that again, and there simply isn't enough retail space in the "old downtown" (often just a single street of restaurants) to replace it. And even as retailers move more of their sales online, they still want to keep physical stores in these locations for advertising and (increasingly) distribution purposes. So even as they close stores at weak malls, they're lining up to get into strong ones.

The e-commerce threat is overrated in my opinion. The lifeblood of malls is apparel, and while it will certainly go online more than it has, it will continue to lag other categories of retail. Right now I think apparel & shoes are about 9% online, vs 20%+ for some other categories like electronics. If you really think the Gap will have no physical stores at some point, you can be sure that Best Buy and a lot of other non-apparel retailers will be gone much sooner.

One interesting question is how much the Apple Store phenomenon has propped up mall foot traffic, and what will happen when it fades out...
posted by neat graffitist at 1:04 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I actually didn't know that there were Apple Stores in malls. I've only seen them in neighborhood shopping districts.
posted by octothorpe at 1:06 PM on June 19


Three months to opening: Sarasota Florida
posted by robbyrobs at 1:07 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Ghostride The Whip: "So, like, what do teenage people DO nowadays? I was a mallrat kid in my teens. I'm told with fewer and fewer of them driving and high gas prices that "driving around aimlessly" isn't as much of a thing, and if mallratting is out, I can't even picture what my free time would've looked like. Is it internet stuff?"

To judge by my teenaged babysitters, and difficulty scheduling same, it is TEN BILLION EXTRACURRICULARS for their college applications; the internet; and some amount of traditional teenaged minimum-wage jobs (retail, lifeguarding) but for far fewer hours a week than when I was in high school. Also they hang out with their parents A WEIRDLY LARGE AMOUNT.

Half of them don't even HAVE drivers' licenses and you'd think hiring a 16-year-old would free you of the torture of having to drive a teenaged babysitter home attempting to make mom-like small talk, but NOOOOOO because they DON'T FREAKING DRIVE.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:10 PM on June 19 [15 favorites]


Having read it, a faint scent of bathos does hover over the Guardian piece, like a whiff of floor wax and Sbarros. "'Everyone has good memories of the malls. It was a happier time, essentially', Lawless says over lunch in Cleveland ...," an observation that should conjure this tune, ideally.

"Gazing down at the motionless escalators, dead plants and empty benches below, he adds: 'It’s still beautiful, though. It’s almost like ancient ruins.'" Which, of course it is. It's a mall. You can get the sublime there for anywhere from 20-40% off.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:12 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Irondequoit, a suburb of Rochester, NY, is home to the former Irondequoit Mall (now called the Medley Centre). Its opening was such a big deal they actually changed the town's welcome signs to add "Home of the Irondequoit Mall".

It's a barely-maintained wasteland with a Macy's (that just closed) and a Sears and nothing else. The owner is behind on payments, tax credits are being canceled and the state just terminated its Empire Zone status. Oh, and the welcome signs don't mention it anymore. But it's got a fairly hilarious Twitter (parody) account.
posted by tommasz at 1:12 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


we have some of the mixed-use buildings going up in my town. near campus, and honestly they look exactly like the downtown mall (first in america!(maybe)) which is basically shops on the first floor, apartments and offices on the upper floors, each building between 2 and 5 stories tall.

It makes perfect sense to have this space downtown, but it seems a little strange to have it out in the neighborhoods.
posted by rebent at 1:12 PM on June 19


Don't forget to put in some refugee camps for the people who formerly worked at the malls, the city employees whose jobs were formerly supported by [admittedly not enough] taxes and fees paid by the malls, and everyone else whose jobs were ripple effects of the malls. Those of us who still have jobs can live in our pod-like Dwell magazine apartments and have our sweatshop-made goods dropped down to us by drones; the drones can also drop basic humanitarian rations in the camps.

Not to cheerlead for the malls or the kinds of jobs they generated, but "yay, we are losing retail" really isn't an uncomplicated statement.


Listen, there's going to need to be a massive realignment of our country's tax and governance structures regardless. Advancing technology coupled with laissez-faire capitalism is going to be a bad ride for almost everyone but the 1%. Between better robotics and expert systems, many many people's jobs are just going to get obsolete. The death of retail is just a symptom of the deeper underlying cause.

We've got a choice, are we going to spread that incredible wealth around, or are we going to let a few pathological rich fucks try to keep all the cake for themselves?
posted by leotrotsky at 1:13 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


The company I work for owned Lincoln Mall and sold it to Realty America Group (must have been 2003/2004) at a loss after anchor tenants went dark. We were absent landlords (based in California) and never had much success rehabilitating the asset. It was a money pit then and apparently hasn't improved. I was still fairly new to the business and not terribly involved, but some of my co-workers still have "I Survived the Lincoln Mall Closing" plaques on their office walls.
posted by rekrap at 1:13 PM on June 19


I'm told with fewer and fewer of them driving and high gas prices that "driving around aimlessly" isn't as much of a thing, and if mallratting is out, I can't even picture what my free time would've looked like. Is it internet stuff?


I think "huffing paint" and "raiding the medicine cabinet" are top contenders as well.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:13 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


One interesting question is how much the Apple Store phenomenon has propped up mall foot traffic, and what will happen when it fades out...

After Christmas, I went down to a mall I know in Delaware to exchange something. The Apple Store there was _beyond_ packed; there were two security guards at the door trying to maintain a semblance of order.

The Microsoft Store was a few doors down. (First brick-and-mortar one I'd seen.) There were two people in the store who weren't wearing an employee nametag.
posted by delfin at 1:14 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


During high school I worked in a mall (technically the movie theater attached to it but close enough), so I spent a lot of time there. It's strange to think about, but after a while you got to know the rhythm of the place and the various people that worked and shopped there. There was the food court featuring a bunch of fast food chains plus one out of place mom and pop gyro place. The guy I vaguely knew from school who worked at the pretzel place (common trade was a free pretzel for sneaking him into a free movie). The kiosk shop worker with a creepy crush on my manager 30 years younger than him. The weird unfinished back hallways with doors leading to each shop. I never go to malls now and have long since moved away, but I have fond memories of that one.
posted by downtohisturtles at 1:16 PM on June 19


All the empty malls around these parts have become for-profit university campuses. This tickles my cynical self delightfully.
posted by Fezboy! at 1:18 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


And on the Apple Store front, I think the last time I was in a mall was whenever Snow Leopard came out. Since all the OS updates since then have been downloadable that reason for going to the mall is gone.
posted by downtohisturtles at 1:20 PM on June 19


For me the mall was the place where a sheltered small-town kid could sneak a glance at the cultural stream of the rest of the world flowing by.

I grew up in rural Southeast Ohio, where the sole shopping choice consisted of the local K-Mart (Blue light special in the socks department!). The closest mall was in Huntington, WV, about an hour away. That mall, combined with the arrival of cable TV (MTV, “Night Flight” on USA etc.) were what opened the door to the world for me.

When I was 13 I bought “London Calling” at the mall record store. When I was 16, I got a used Les Paul copy at the mall music store. I bought Douglas Adams, Piers Anthony and Robert Asprin books at the Waldenbooks store and computer games at Electronics Boutique. These are the cultural touchstones of my youth.

As a city-dwelling adult, the mall still feels like comfort food to me. I take my kids. They hang out and play. We’ll eat at the food court, browse some video games and hit our usual favorite stores. I would be saddened if it all went away.
posted by Otis at 1:21 PM on June 19 [15 favorites]


I actually didn't know that there were Apple Stores in malls.

In fact, the first one was at Tysons Corner.
posted by empath at 1:21 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


Eden Prairie Center, where Mallrats was filmed, is about 25 minutes from where I went to high school. The rumor at my school was that it was shot there because the mall was so broke that they made more money shutting down for the duration of the film shoot than they made by being open.

That may have been an exaggeration, but I do remember it feeling like a wasteland back in the 90's. It somehow managed to turn things around, positioning itself as a sort of upper-middle class mall, by the mid 00's. I'd be sorry to see it crater again, because Eden Prairie doesn't have much in the way of a downtown.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 1:22 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Don't forget to put in some refugee camps for the people who formerly worked at the malls, the city employees whose jobs were formerly supported by [admittedly not enough] taxes and fees paid by the malls, and everyone else whose jobs were ripple effects of the malls.

What about all the places the malls put out of business? That's just how capitalism works. Mall jobs are basically the definition of dead-end McJob. I don't really see what was lost here.
posted by empath at 1:25 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


Those who claim online shopping will soon kill most retail: don't you ever want or need an item THAT VERY DAY?
posted by juniper at 1:27 PM on June 19 [7 favorites]


Our mall here in the extreme south suburbs of DC, Fredericksburg, seems to be doing just fine. They built an outdoor "towne center" section a few years ago. We frequent the restaurants in the outdoor section frequently, and there are not any empty storefronts to rent. The indoor part of the mall is always surprisingly busy on the rare times I venture inside.
posted by COD at 1:28 PM on June 19


Listen, there's going to need to be a massive realignment of our country's tax and governance structures regardless. Advancing technology coupled with laissez-faire capitalism is going to be a bad ride for almost everyone but the 1%. Between better robotics and expert systems, many many people's jobs are just going to get obsolete. The death of retail is just a symptom of the deeper underlying cause.

I've been hearing this same line of reasoning about various social programs, welfare and about subsidized and affordable housing my whole life - "the economy is realigning, these aren't sustainable, it's bigger than just [thing]". Well yes, it is bigger than [thing], of course, but no one ever says "hey, let's get our ducks in a row and have the jobs/housing/services ready before we axe the old programs". Nope, we're just supposed to accept that the old-version jobs/housing/programs should be allowed to die* and then, somehow, this "realignment" will happen. When what really happens is a lot of people just get more desperate, but we stop paying attention.

Shitty mall jobs versus no jobs? I'll take shitty mall jobs until something better comes along.


*As if it's even natural! State policy at every level sustains all forms of commerce, not some kind of "invisible hand".
posted by Frowner at 1:28 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


I actually didn't know that there were Apple Stores in malls. I've only seen them in neighborhood shopping districts.

Most of the ones I've been to have been in malls -- Portland, Dallas, Seattle, Salt Lake City, all have them in malls. (I think I went to one in an airport, too.) Partly that's because I usually go while traveling (because when else do your crucial electronics die?) and mall locations come with guaranteed parking and easy access, but it's also just where they build them.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:30 PM on June 19


I was born in the seventies, and raised in various suburban places around the U.S. Malls were a definite Thing. They were where my mom and I bought my school clothes, dresses for my dances (the shopping and dresses I still remember. The dances were largely forgettable).

Malls were where your parents could drop you off, and you and your friends could roam "free" for hours. High-end anchor stores were there, but there were also lots of places where a kid with $5.00 could buy random kidsy things and feel a little bit grown-up. Our mall had a place called Natural Wonders that sold various kinds of polished stones (and other, much pricier statues and so on). My friends and I were all about collecting those shiny little rocks.

These aren't unique experiences, surely--not unique to me, to the environment or to the '80s and '90s. So where are people having these kinds of experiences today?
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 1:33 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


They're having different experience that don't necessarily translate onto the framework you're referencing.
posted by Ferreous at 1:35 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


One of the scenes I liked most in Virtual Light takes place in an abandoned shopping mall.

The semi-derelict shopping mall can be a creepy place to visit. There's a mall near my house that was once one of the largest in the area (weren't they all?). It was such a big deal that there was a sign in the expressway medium that said "Welcome to Irondequoit, Home of the Irondequoit Mall." It had 2 levels and a merry-go-round with a big food court.

But that was 25 years ago. When I moved to Irondequoit in 2004, it was more than half-empty. It was an eerie experience to walk through the place looking at all the empty stores.

The last of the anchor stores just closed recently, and the city is having to sue the current owner for back taxes (which he'd gotten excused as part of a sweetheart deal). And the property just sits there, wasting away, as they build a whole new library just a few hundred meters away....
posted by lodurr at 1:37 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


after a while you got to know the rhythm of the place and the various people that worked and shopped there.

I worked at my hometown sububan mall for a couple of Christmases and summers and this was the fun thing about it, in an 80s teen movie kind of way. Also the alliances and/or rivalries that sprang up between your store and others (especially if you worked in a small store). Also also the things you could get away with after hours. The high point of my mall career was riding my bike through the empty food court and out of the mall one night.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:37 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I went to malls when i was in high school but i mostly grew up online.
posted by rebent at 1:38 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


All the teens I know? In the summer, it seems to be:

Netflix
Facetime/internet w/ each other (they all have phones and tablets, etc.)
Educational summer camps/workshops
Family vacations
Friends' houses
Videogames
Music/bullshitting

So...not all that different from what we did. Some do jobs or volunteer work. I spent a LOT of time reading or being bored as a teen. And I worked for my dad in the summer.
posted by emjaybee at 1:40 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I don't understand when people cheer these types of industry declines. It's presumptuous to think that people can buy all their goods online or DIY, or that retail jobs are dead end.
posted by girlmightlive at 1:40 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


yo, smoothvirus - my friends and I (jugglers) got kicked out of the Springfield Mall in 1983 for an impromptu performance. really hard to street perform in the 'burbs.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:42 PM on June 19


(I'll blame it on the small text, but, for a second there, I was like, 'Wait, they had Juggalos in 1983?')
posted by box at 1:48 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I finished high school across the street from this mall, and the last time I was in the area, the mall had grown, like a tumor, to engulf several surrounding acres with standalone restaurants, little strip mall things and some anchor stores like Target.

It's an interesting ploy for keep grabbing money. I mean, back in my HS days (read: 1990), actual busloads of tourists would come to this mall for the express purpose of shopping, and now it's grown to encompass about eight different types of shopping and food experiences.
posted by sobell at 2:01 PM on June 19


This is not the most important comment in this thread, but I would like to point out that Orange Julius products are now available at Dairy Queen.


You're Welcome.
posted by wittgenstein at 2:01 PM on June 19 [8 favorites]


Sometime before they tore down Lakehurst Mall but when it was empty enough that I think everything but one of the anchor stores was still open, I was interviewing for some cruddy consulting job in that area, and given the unpredictability of traffic, and the fact that I was unemployed and had nothing better to do with my morning, I ended up in the area very early.

So not knowing where else to spend the 45 minutes until I could be classified as "promptly early" rather than "possibly can't tell time", I ended up in the parking lot of Lakehurst Mall, and I put the top down on my cute little convertible to soak up some sun (because that was apparently also a thing I did back then) and sat in the almost empty lot with my radio playing.

For about 2 minutes until I almost snapped. Fuck dark alleys and stormy nights - there is nothing more terrifying than a huge open paved space on a too quiet, sunny, weekday afternoon. After just sitting there in the nothing-space for a little bit, I was pretty sure I was going to die there if I didn't start the car RIGHT NOW and get the hell out of there.

For sure terror, remember that as I drove away, the radio was probably also playing something like Lifehouse, Train, or Matchbox 20.

Empty malls -- I love them.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:03 PM on June 19 [7 favorites]


*warning: Topeka talk incoming*

There were TWO malls here in Topeka which felt strange to me for a while until our fourth wal-mart started construction. Anyway, during the 80's the only one was called White Lakes, a single floor one. At some point in the very late 80's another mall opened across town. This was a two story mall and the old one died quickly. It was my first experience with a dead mall and I was HOOKED. So eerie, so lonely. One of my favorite memories is going to the arcade that was still there (which, given that it was a Topeka, Kansas arcade in a freaking dying mall, actually had pretty great games) and looking out past the large store front grating that used to be up at this time but was now down and blocking access to the mall proper.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 2:17 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


There's a mall in the St. Louis suburb of Crestwood that's either dying or dead already, but the last time I was in it, four years ago, was the first time I'd ever actually been inside a mall that was clearly on its last legs. Most of the stores were shuttered, the pearl-colored paint was flaking off of the dry indoor fountains, and the speakers that obviously used to play music back when it was a place that people went were silent. What I hadn't realized until then was just how much your typical cavernous mall architecture permits sounds to propagate across long distances, even around L-shaped bends far beyond my line of sight, and in this case the sound that was propagating was the anguished screaming of a distraught child. I'm sure the kid was fine and no ritualistic murders whatsoever were taking place on the far end of the mall but holy gods that was a really terrifying bit of ambience.
posted by invitapriore at 2:17 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


It's not about technology and ZOMG AMAZON SO EFFICIENT UR DOING IT WRONG BRICK AN MORTAR. As the retail consultant says in the article "what’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science."
posted by wuwei at 2:19 PM on June 19 [19 favorites]


Aanother dying mall in the Pittsburgh area is the Northway Mall in Ross Township. The info at deadmalls.com is a bit out of date:
After declining through the late 80's and early 90's, Northway Mall was renovated in the mid 90's. Today the mall is once again in decline, with many of its lots empty. The mall still retains all of its anchor locations however, and hosts such stores as Value City, Dick's Sporting Goods, Borders Books and Music, Old Navy and Marshall's.
So, yeah, not so much. Value City and Old Navy have been gone for many years now. The Borders store went away when that chain was liquidated a few years back, and Dick's just moved to a brand new shopping center a half a mile or so up the road.

Right across the street, The Ross Park Mall seems to be doing okay, seemingly because they shifted their focus to the high-end luxury clientelle with designer stores like Kate Spade and Burberry and such. And that new shopping center seems to be doing fine as well.

I really wish the municipal governments would do something to keep these stores from always wanting to build new instead of leaving behind empty shells of retail space that destroy the character of a town. Big tax breaks for using existing property or something. Surely they must lose a ton in tax revenue as the home values around the abandoned centers decline, right?
posted by tonycpsu at 2:24 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I don't understand when people cheer these types of industry declines. It's presumptuous to think that people can buy all their goods online or DIY, or that retail jobs are dead end.

I can't speak for anyone else, but for me it's because malls are a shitty use of land, killed off too many downtowns to list, contributed to the homogenization of America, aided the cancerous growth of car culture, and promoted a mindless consumer culture.... That's for starters.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:29 PM on June 19 [7 favorites]


As a teenager, malls were incredibly important social spaces, a public space where, alone or with friends, one could go to be without having any particular goal or object or reason for being there. Really, it was the only option for socializing that wasn't home, friend's home, or school - and it beat all of those, because the mall was physically removed from parent or teacher supervision. Malls were incredibly valuable spaces!

And in my experience - and I realize that's a small, warped lens - it's not so much a resurgence in downtowns that's rotting away the malls as it is big box developments and online shopping - both of which remove that feeling of unstructured public space from the equation. And I get that kids today have different desires and needs and social practices than I did in my youth, in the 1990s. But malls will not be unmourned; their passing is not an uncomplicated good.
posted by erlking at 2:36 PM on June 19 [7 favorites]


And the property just sits there, wasting away, as they build a whole new library just a few hundred meters away....

We have a new library branch opening in the old Borders space. It's a great space -- south facing, tons of windows, and a glass elevator.

That's our mall up north. Our more central mall isn't safe after dark, and someone was murdered in the parking lot not too long ago.
posted by mochapickle at 2:40 PM on June 19


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davis_Square

I'll just leave this here.
posted by ocschwar at 2:42 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


It took me a really long time to read that article. Not because it was long or complicated, but because it made me really sad, for some reason.

I'm from the Rust Belt, right, and have shopped pretty extensively at Rolling Hills and Randall Park, as well as half a dozen other now-shuttered malls. I hate malls--they make me claustrophobic and jittery, and I avoid them as much as possible, but it still weirds me out to see people cheering their decline.

I've been poking my feelings about that for a while now, and I've realised that what the article fails to touch on is what replaces those malls. And, in my experience, the answer is nothing. The mall becomes a dead zone, and when you need something, you...drive to another mall that's further away from you. I mean, I avoid the fuck out of malls, and I get why people hate them. But in a lot of places, the mall is what you have. There's not really a downtown for you to go to, and if there is, it sure as hell doesn't have a shoe store and a clothing store and an electronics store and... The other thing that most places don't have is somewhere you can go and hang out with people and not spend money, which is why malls are appealing to teens, young mothers who want to get out of the house, elderly people who go and walk at the fucking mall every morning for exercise, etc.

Malls are gross and problematic and emblematic of an unsustainable culture of consumerism. Many of them, with the help of Wal-Mart and other megastores, shut down local businesses. But now they're closing, and people still need to buy things, you know? It doesn't seem right, to me, to be basically cheering that hey, this tract of land was formerly at least of some use is now going to be of no use, and as a bonus I bet you're going to see property values and incomes drop, because (1) no one wants to live by a giant empty shell and (2) lots of people who live by malls work in malls.

Like, the bad things that malls helped produce--consumer culture, shitty land use, architectural blights, etc--those things are done. They're what we have, and they're not going away without massive changes not in where people buy their fucking clothes, but in how we as a society function. Like, maybe if people could consistently afford to pay bills and buy food and occasionally buy a pair of shoes, consumerism would be less of a Big Fucking Deal, because everyone would be occasionally able to buy things. Or maybe if there were reliable public transit that covered whole cities instead of just going from the most heavily populated area to Wal-Mart and the mall, we as a population could support a wider array of freestanding small businesses. Malls were the cause of a lot of problems, but at this point, taking malls away doesn't magically erase those problems--it only creates new ones.
posted by MeghanC at 2:48 PM on June 19 [21 favorites]


I can't speak for anyone else, but for me it's because malls are a shitty use of land, killed off too many downtowns to list, contributed to the homogenization of America, aided the cancerous growth of car culture, and promoted a mindless consumer culture.... That's for starters.

Yes, but I was speaking generally--about retail, rather than malls specifically.
posted by girlmightlive at 2:48 PM on June 19


I think a fair chunk of it can be blamed on years of irrational exuberance on the part of city planners and commercial builders. My hometown, which wasn't nearly as development-mad as some, doubled the size of its walk-in mall and surrounding commercial districts while experiencing only a %30 growth in permanent population. I think one of the most ridiculous parts of that included three chain bookstores in sight of each other with two in the same strip. (Although that city council did have the sense not to approve Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks with a Starbucks stand nearby.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:00 PM on June 19


The departed Latham Circle Mall has a Facebook page that is sublimely brilliant.
posted by dr_dank at 3:01 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


By the time I was a teenager the local mall had been remodeled into a plasticky tiled piece of crap that was totally cookie-cutter and pretty much just resembled a large department store, but when I was a little kid it was a totally amazing place, quite pleasant to be in even if you weren't shopping: all brickwork and brass, a fairly dark and cozy décor except for a few public fountains underneath skylights where you'd see dust motes dancing in sunbeams.

It was so awesome to come inside when it was boiling hot outdoors in the summer... first you'd plunge into the crisp air-conditioned atmosphere, then further in you met a second wave of the dense, liquid cold air coming off of the fountains, sort of like you'd encounter in a public aquarium but without any fishy smell.

For a few months one year there was an exhibit of machinery pulled out of the local century-plus-old textile mills that were being renovated, all giant metal gears and human-sized clockwork mechanisms, a total delight. I was so disappointed for years afterwards that it was all gone when we visited.
posted by XMLicious at 3:08 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


It doesn't seem right, to me, to be basically cheering that hey, this tract of land was formerly at least of some use is now going to be of no use, and as a bonus I bet you're going to see property values and incomes drop, because (1) no one wants to live by a giant empty shell and (2) lots of people who live by malls work in malls.

But didn't you hear? Those jobs are shitty, dead-end jobs. And now that they're finally going away, people can start doing meaningful things with their lives, like being doctors and lawyers. Heck, maybe even computer programmers!
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:09 PM on June 19 [7 favorites]


Lakehurst Mall figures prominently in my memories of learning how to drive. I learned to change lanes on that stretch of Waukegan Road and then practiced parking in the empty parking lot, except it was kind of difficult because you could see many, many sets of faded parking lines on top of each other and, of course, there were no other cars to use as reference. I don't think I even remember Lakehurst Mall as a functioning mall. I remember dropping someone (a friend's brother?) off at Fun Harbor, but I never went in. The last time I was there was 2003 or 2004, but at the shiny new freestanding bowling alley. I think the conversation had gone "Let's go bowling." "Okay, where?" "Lakehurst Mall." "Umm... is there anything still there?" (Turns out, there was a freestanding movie theatre too.)
posted by hoyland at 3:18 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Also, anyone in the north Chicago suburbs, is Deerbrook mall still a going concern? It's been on the brink of death for as long as I can remember, but was still going the last time I was there. (On reflection, it probably started dying when Service Merchandise did.)
posted by hoyland at 3:20 PM on June 19


Tysons 2, I think the rich people just like having a pretty indoor space. You stay at the Ritz, you buy your Lilly Pulitzer, you have dinner at Wildfire, you do not go outdoors. But that place always seems kind of dead by comparison.

I was forced to go to Tysons during the Christmas shopping season this past year and I was shocked at how empty Tysons 2 was in comparison to Tysons 1. It really felt like a sick mall, but perhaps it was just having a bad day (I visited both malls on the same evening, a Thursday). It was only slightly less empty than this photo.
posted by longdaysjourney at 3:33 PM on June 19


Meanwhile in Toronto, lots of malls are expanding.
posted by emeiji at 3:45 PM on June 19


That's a pretty thinly researched article, and it seems to be saying what people feel like should be happening everywhere but in reality isn't. For instance, the author doesn't seem to mind not mentioning that the single largest real estate investment trust in the U.S. is in the business of making and refurbishing malls. Or that successful mall development today moved away from '80s kitsch and into things like mixed use development, transit hub integration, high end retail, and so on.

Or as my commercial real estate developer husband says: movies tell you that malls are about mallrats and broke kids lingering for hours, but economics tells us that women between the ages of 40 and 65 wield the purchasing power in most families. Focusing on attracting suburban youth, then, seems to be pretty far off the mark when any real estate company would tell you that it's the suburbs that are dying, not mall commercialism (and, yes, it's still a mall if it's developed as a streetside pedestrian plaza instead of a monolithic windowless box--the same companies own and lease them as did the dead ones)..
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:46 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


The last indoor mall was built in America in 2006, and their construction was slowing down greatly since then. The concept of the enclosed space shopping seems to mirror "white flight" and the general antipathy towards urban spaces that infested certain parts of American culture in the 1970's, and it's taken almost 40 years for that mentality to finally die out. Outdoor malls, even on cold-weather parts of the country are still being built in more affluent areas. As mentioned above, none of them are a proper substitute for a "market" as one finds in other countries, and Wal-Mart is about the most depressing simulacrum of the market imaginable. I think a big part of this is that unchecked capitalism in the States leaves less room for the little guy; there simply isn't enough profit in well-maintained public areas where locals can set up shop.
posted by cell divide at 3:50 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


This is strange to me. What's happening all over isn't happening here.

I live near one of the oldest malls in the entire country. That place is usually fucking packed. Tuesday night and the weathers shitty? doesn't matter, packed. Super nice out summer weekend day you'd expect people to be at the beach or whatever? fucking packed.

It's usually a shitshow to park. Traffic around it is a shitshow. The stores there must clean up. There's lots of turnover on shops, and sure the stupid shops are usually ghost towns(we called one of them "the plastic dragon riding a harley store", and another the "techno neon flashing jesus store", both shortlived and items i regret not purchasing), but the "bread and butter mall shit" stores like bath and body works are always somewhere between doing steady business and slammed. You'll wait in line at the register basically anywhere, and it's not because they only have one register open.

I mean the high end outdoor mall the apple store is at always seems to be busier, but there's 4 big malls in seattle... and all of them seem to be doing fine.

How's that work?

So, like, what do teenage people DO nowadays? I was a mallrat kid in my teens. I'm told with fewer and fewer of them driving and high gas prices that "driving around aimlessly" isn't as much of a thing, and if mallratting is out, I can't even picture what my free time would've looked like. Is it internet stuff?

When i was high school age in the mid-late 2000s, we basically just played videogames. The people who didn't do that... read a lot i think? Or practiced playing an instrument they wanted to, or did the ridiculous amounts of homework.

Everyone just sat around in their friends houses. The popular kids, the nerds, the stoners, whatever. If you smoked weed, that as a popular activity.

No one had a car. Most people didn't even really want one(and crap, i should have listened to my teenage self, owning a car is a fucking hassle).

We watched a lot of stuff like planet earth. I read a lot of scifi. I wasted a lot of time online. I made music with computer. We all played probably unhealthy amounts of video games. I spent lots of time just zoning out on public transit or in my house to music on my beat up 1st gen(with the wheel that actually rotated!) ipod i bought off a customer at my burger flipping job for $20. I bought a turntable and i'd just listen to records for hours in my room. I went on lots of late night aimless bike rides.

Lots of ennui.

I did spent a lot of time laying in the grass in beautiful parks though if the weather was at all decent, and there's something to be said for that.

There's also the kids who do tons of extracurriculars or whatever, but i didn't really know or even know of more than a couple of those. We were all too precariously middle class-ish to be involved in that stuff.

I guess we also went to the arcade(although those are dead in most places) and hung out at bubble tea shops near the university, but it was mostly the stuff i described above.
posted by emptythought at 3:58 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


juniper: "Those who claim online shopping will soon kill most retail: don't you ever want or need an item THAT VERY DAY?"

Other than tacos or beer, not very often. Plus my experience with physical stores is that they never have what you want anyway. You go though all the hassle of traffic and parking and get to the store just to find out that they have one pair of jeans in your size and they're in a style that you'd never wear.
posted by octothorpe at 4:01 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


Another Lakehurster checking in. I was glad to find that website showing old pics of the place. I've lots of good memories of the place.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:05 PM on June 19


Wow...I worked at Lakehurst in the mid 80s at a record store fittingly called "Record Town." It was really the only place in town other than fast food that hired teenagers with no experience and gave them training and a paycheck. I also gained a second group of friends outside of school and made enough money to buy a car. Which I used to get a job at a "cooler" mall (Hawthorn) that had a BENETTON. Nothing but good memories of working in malls here. Who else hires 15 year olds these days?
posted by Z if for Zillah at 4:06 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Malls always fucked with me mentally. They exhausted me, made me crabby and after long enough, made it so I would have trouble thinking straight at all. So in that context, the sooner they are incinerated, the better.

But as cell divide said, it's not like the destruction of these malls actually means that small towns are going to have their downtowns rise from the ashes. City centers may recover, but the smaller towns, which had all their shops vanish because everyone was going to the mall instead, they're not coming back.

I think the indoor/outdoor mall thing is a simple overhead issue. The people who actually appreciated the indoor aspect of the mall were the people who were not spending that much money. It was the kids with $5 in their pocket, the elderly who were going to walk and eat at the food court, etc. The people who are actually going to spend a larger amount of money, they don't care that they are driving around the mall. And it makes it easier, as you're not backtracking through a quarter mile of bright lights and hellish areas to get back to the parking lot where you will not find your car.

The mall rats and elderly, etc. are not profitable, and given the new direction of the economy, not about the become so. The new malls reflect this.
posted by Hactar at 4:08 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


I bought a turntable and i'd just listen to records for hours in my room. I went on lots of late night aimless bike rides.

Lots of ennui.


Malls or not, the true teenage classics will never go out of style.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:08 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I bought a bunch of tapes at Record Town, Z. I remember exactly where it was.

Yes, Hawthorne was more upscale and catered to a much wealthier clientele. Last I heard it was still doing ok.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:12 PM on June 19


Monroeville Mall was the first American mall I ever saw. Coming from Singapore (shopping central!) it was a bit of a "meh" but such a source of pride and joy to the residents. What struck me was how much homogeneity there was among malls, I could never really distinguish one from the other. Almost like cookie cutter retail experiences with few unique or 'particular to that location' stores to draw anyone.

This is an interesting evolution, I wonder what's next for mainstream consumer culture...
posted by infini at 4:22 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I wonder what's next for mainstream consumer culture...

Amazon fulfillment center
posted by bukvich at 5:09 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


the extreme south suburbs of DC, Fredericksburg, seems to be doing just fine. They built an outdoor "towne center"

I suspect it's very much like the Pentagon City Town Center and the Rockville Town Center, which I was recently disoriented to discover have almost all the same shops. It's just another form of mall.

And having visited both Tysons Corner and the Houston Galleria, I'm pritnear certain upscale shopping ain't going nowhere.
posted by psoas at 5:24 PM on June 19


I live just a few miles away from Rolling Acres, the mall mentioned in the initial post. It was our family mall for much of my childhood. I can still remember going there to shop and getting my picture taken with Santa. Unfortunately, many of those memories have been overshadowed by those of the mall's decline.

I still drive through the area every week or so, and it seems like a ghost town - especially at night. A few businesses across the street from the mall have hung on, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what will succeed and what will not. For example, they opened a brand-new Taco Bell last year (the old one is still standing, boarded up), yet they demolished the McDonald's and built a new one about a half-mile away, right off of I-77.

There's been talk of turning the mall into a mixed-use development, but nothing's come to fruition. For now, it stands, abandoned, as a reminder of "better" days.
posted by DRoll at 5:32 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Thanks, smackfu, for the link to turning a mall into apartments. I've been wondering for a while if it wouldn't be possible to turn dead malls into retirement communities. Big anchor stores become apartment complexes, and all the little stores in between stay stores, clinics, hairdressers, restaurants, cinemas and other things that mobility-limited seniors would love to walk or scooter to (all out of the weather). Other stores turn into dance halls, bingo halls, fenced pet areas, private meeting rooms, offices, rooms you and your family can rent for a special occasion, sport courts, libraries, hell, plant some grass and flowers in some of them and pipe in bird noises.

I have to assume it's too depressing to actually pull off, or else someone would have. At least smackfu's link shows me I'm not the only one this occurred to.
posted by jermsplan at 7:04 PM on June 19 [8 favorites]


Those who claim online shopping will soon kill most retail: don't you ever want or need an item THAT VERY DAY?

If I do, the mall almost never has it. I mean, non-clothes things are covered by other places pretty well (Target, hardware store) and shopping for clothes at the mall is a hellish trudge through floor after floor of poorly-labeled overpriced goods and you can never find the damn fitting room and then it doesn't fit when you do.

(I say this as a woman; men might do better at mall shopping. But department stores are just fucking awful to shop in if you want x garment in x size and x color. You are going to have to walk through the entire damn store because of how they display things).

Yes, malls brought jobs, and if we could keep them open just to give people jobs, I'd be good with that. But as a shopping place, they kind of suck.

I was a suburban 80s kid and we didn't hang out at the mall. We went to the park or the library or each other's houses, because our parents saw no reason to either drive our broke asses to the mall or give us money (did we think they were made of money???) to hang out there. Probably there would be hoodlums and "punk kids" there, who knew? You just go do your homework young lady!

Anyway, even after I got a car, we'd go to some fastfood place that had infinite refills on the sodas and buy a small and hang out and talk till they gave us the stinkeye. Then we'd go sit in the car of whoever drove and talk some more. Then it was probably curfew.
posted by emjaybee at 8:03 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


So I wasn't around for teen mall culture, and I've always wondered what y'all would actually do there. Would teens actually have money to buy things there regularly? Were malls the only places with theaters? Would kids actually just wander around stores not buying things for hours on end, day after day?

That whole world is mind boggling.
posted by graphnerd at 8:48 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Well I will miss my teenage years of working at the food court and being able to trade DQ/OJ for anything I wanted to eat besides Chinese food. Not that Sbarro was ever really food, but it made me feel pretty boss as a 16 year old.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:56 PM on June 19


I avoided malls and mall culture like the plague. I still do. The tackiness, the piped-in pop "music", the blinding fluorescent lights, the slow walkers, the crowds, the sheer noise of it, the irritating ads everywhere I looked... it was worse than the dystopia of suburbia. I found them collectively a claustophobic, tacky, overpriced and overrated nightmare. I would literally rather live on the streets than work in a mall. I can say this honestly because I honestly did as a teenager.
posted by quiet earth at 9:24 PM on June 19


Would teens actually have money to buy things there regularly?

Yup. My parents used to give me an allowance. Most kids had at least that, or paper-route money or something.

Were malls the only places with theaters?

There were theaters in our old down-town area, but going down-town was like running a gauntlet of junkies and alcoholics and nobody went to the theater balcony or the basement bathroom for any good reason. Down-town was dead by then.

Would kids actually just wander around stores not buying things for hours on end, day after day?

Yup. For hours. In small groups.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:32 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]



"There's a mall in the St. Louis suburb of Crestwood ..."

Yow, nostalgia spurt! I saw "Star Wars" at the cinema there in '77 and "Eyes of Laura Mars"
there in '78. The air conditioning of that mall saved lives (I firmly believe) in that hottest
and humid-est of midwest suburbia.
posted by Chitownfats at 10:05 PM on June 19


If you were to guess where this mall was, where would you think?

It's a few blocks down from this market in Santa Ana, El Salvador. When I was there, the mall was empty and the market was filled with people. It was really bizarre to see a slice of midwestern suburbia, with nicely paved roads, huge parking lots, a food court, and starbucks, like blocks away from extreme poverty and dirt roads.
posted by empath at 10:26 PM on June 19


turning a mall into apartments

They are effectively doing that in many places, only they do it by tearing the structure down and then rebuilding a new one. The 20+ year old buildings don't convert to residential that easily, and so the sites are worth more with the old malls razed than with them standing.

As others have mentioned, the popular thing to do currently is "mixed use" development, which I tend to think is a whole lot nicer than the old suburban single-use-zoning model that prevailed when most giant malls were built. Instead of a 1- or 2-level mall that's 100% retail, you have a taller building that's perhaps 20% retail, 20% offices, and 60% residential (condos or apartments). E.g. in a 5-level building you'd have retail on the ground floor, offices on the second floor, and apartments/condos on 3 through 5. The retail mix is often different because it caters to the residents (e.g. there's almost always a grocery store, which you don't typically find in big malls).

But what's driving all this is that residential space right now is in demand. It's financially a lot better (it seems) to have a mid-rise apartment complex than a shopping mall, and my guess is that 20 or 30 years ago that was not the case at all.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:43 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I really can't say enough nice things about that Mosaic development.

Just really well put together, with green areas that are full of people, apartments, lots of restaurants, etc. It's just a lovely place to go and hang out. They even have free outdoor movies, right outside a movie theater. If there were a place like that closer to where I worked, I'd move there in a heartbeat. I can't say I've ever said that about moving close to a mall.
posted by empath at 2:58 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


CBrachyrhynchos: I think a fair chunk of it can be blamed on years of irrational exuberance on the part of city planners and commercial builders.

It was entirely rational exuberance, from the perspective of the kind of people and corporations who were doing mall development, because most of the developers had figured out a way to profit regardless of the outcome. Most of them, like Pyramid corporation, were explicitly structured from the get-go to ensure that they never lost money on a project, regardless of whether it was successful. As a result, a lot of malls got built in places where they couldn't thrive, and a lot of that was made possible by public money in the form of tax breaks, cheap loans, municipal bonds, or even grants.

Not that any of this has really stopped, it just gets moved around. And of course this tactic is not limited to shopping malls. These lawful con-artists are all over the place -- there are Lyle Lanleys (or more often corporate bodies filling his shoes) showing up in significant metropolitan areas continually with happy stories about how their [shopping mall, office park, trolley line, lake ferry, urban canal, waterfront condos, {insert implausible publicly-subsidized local economy booster}]* is going to save the local economy. And they usually are able to find plenty of local dreamers to buy into it.

It's all part and parcel of the ethosystem that evolved to afford opportunities for harvesting revenue at more and different parts of social processes. Here they've found a way to essentially farm localities for money. But it's a robber crop that leaves empty buildings on ruined land in its wake.

Unless someone is able to do something productive with the buildings afterward. Sometimes they are and when they can, I love that. I actually get excited about it. The big thing in this region -- and I think we're probably not unique -- is converting old schools to office buildings or apartments. Nobody's done that to a mall around here, but I know a lot of people have been advocating to do that to the one I mentioned up-thread. Nobody listens, though, because there's no Lyle Lanley interested in harvesting revenue from that process.


--
*All examples touted loudly in my metro area within the last 10 years
posted by lodurr at 3:01 AM on June 20 [3 favorites]


In my mid-size-town-in-the-midwest experience, what's really killing-off the mall has been the rise of the big-box store. Wal*Mart, Meijer, Super-Target, etc. They're all like going to a small mall in themselves.

I've switched to almost exclusively made-to-measure websites for my shirts. No need to worry about sales, sizing, returns, etc. Quality is a hundred times better and the price isn't much higher.

That probably says more about your personal level of income than it does about the utility of buying clothes online for the masses. I rarely spend more than $10-12 on a shirt at a big-box store. Can I get made-to-measure for that price, including shipping? What's the return policy on a custom-made shirt? I can bring my big-box shirt back for a cash refund a month after I bought it.

Honestly, buying clothes online is a terribly inefficient process.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:01 AM on June 20


Honestly, buying clothes online is a terribly inefficient process.

This has always been my gut reaction to online in general, but I don't have an analysis to back it up. I have a good friend (who's a smart guy, a polymathic retired engineer with many patents) who insists it's way more cost effective.

I usually shake my head and ask if he's sure he's considered the scale of the infrastructure and the level of waste involved in online. He counters by questioning whether I've considered the level of waste involved in maintaining stock levels and building stores.

Not that I necessarily expect you to have an answer, but if you do....
posted by lodurr at 3:07 AM on June 20


As others have mentioned, the popular thing to do currently is "mixed use" development

Yep. They're trying to put a little of the downtown resilience back into malls.

In Gdansk, we are right now in the middle of building big shopping malls that look pretty much like the 100-percent retail shopping malls being torn down in the US, though most do have a large grocery store, and they are more downtown than green field.

I wonder whether differences like that are sufficient for developers to think their malls can avoid the same fate as US malls, or whether they just don't care as long as they can squeeze a certain amount of money out of a certain amount of real estate and move on? One mall that did start to die early has filled the empty stores with offices, language schools, a branch of the public library, etc.
posted by pracowity at 3:09 AM on June 20


About online clothes shopping: that will take off when someone starts a measuring service whereby you are measured head to toe and given an online virtual body that you can offer up to online retailers. It is then up to the retailers to sell you an off-the-rack garment that fits well enough (and show you a simulation of how it will fit you), or to create a custom garment that fits your virtual body exactly.
posted by pracowity at 3:14 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


Not that I necessarily expect you to have an answer, but if you do....

It's inefficient for me as a consumer to shop for clothes online. I suspect your friend is looking at it entirely from the manufacturing and retail side of the equation.

I can go to a store, see and touch the actual products, try-on and compare multiple pieces at one time, and walk out with my purchase the same day. There is nothing about online shopping that even tries to match that. At least, not without requiring the consumer to pay an added fee for, at the very least, faster shipping.

But, of course, what's best for business will be the model that wins in the end, the consumer be damned.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:29 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


I know my size and basically always buy the same clothes so shopping online works fine for me but I can see how some people do want to see clothing before they buy it. Personally I'm perfectly happy to never see the inside of a department store again.
posted by octothorpe at 5:08 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


It's inefficient for me as a consumer to shop for clothes online.

It probably matters what sort of shopper you are. I don't care much about clothes or fashion. As much as possible given availability, I dress now the way I dressed thirty years ago. Only the sizes change. If I like a shirt now, I will like it thirty years from now, assuming I live that long. I dress for comfort and to avoid being arrested.

I would buy the same pair of shoes from now until I die if they were available, and I would gladly do it online rather than go to a shoe store if I knew they were selling me the same shoes with the same fit every time. I would subscribe to those shoes (send me a new pair every year and bill me automatically) if they offered the right price. It would be the same with socks, shirts, underwear, etc., if I could register an online body image that I could update as needed (assuming I might gain or lose weight, lose a leg in a unicycle accident, whatever). That's how much I dislike wasting my time shopping for clothes.
posted by pracowity at 5:10 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


So I wasn't around for teen mall culture, and I've always wondered what y'all would actually do there

I was never a big on malls, but basically you cruised the mall in much the same way the teens in the 50s (at least on TV) would cruise town in their hot rods. You walk around, run into various friends doing the same thing, maybe get something to eat, flirt with the cute girl that's bored at the cash register at some store, etc.
posted by COD at 5:37 AM on June 20


As others have mentioned, the popular thing to do currently is "mixed use" development,

I hope that they will learn from the story of the Natick Mall. They wanted more moola, so they tried to transform an average mall into something upscale. They renamed it "The Natick Collection." They added a wing of luxury stores (Prada, Coach, etc.). They built some luxury condos next door, and then sold only less than half of them at ridiculous prices (the owners later successfully sued the developers for some of their money back).

They later quietly renamed it back again to just the Natick Mall.

Nice to know that greed doesn't always win.
posted by Melismata at 5:47 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


I hung out at the mall a fair amount as a teenager. We used to ride our bikes to the mall. Sometimes we could get somebody's mom to drop us off. I rarely had much extra money so I would just walk around the mall with my friends. Maybe we bought a soda. We just hung out.
posted by interplanetjanet at 5:53 AM on June 20


Average mall trip when I was young involved getting something at the food court and occupying a table for minimum 45 minutes. Then commence wandering. My friends and I were all bookworms and there were two book stores in our mall, so we'd spend a lot of time browsing there. Then, because music is so vital to the expression of teen identity, we'd wander to both of the music stores to browse CDs. If there was a film we wanted to see, well, the only movie theatre was in the mall, so we'd see it. It was unusual to go into clothing shops. Then back to the food court to wait for either a ride from a parent or the bus.

As a teenager I taught piano lessons, which is a well-paying gig if you don't have to pay for groceries or rent, so I had a fair amount of pocket money. This may provide a rose tint to my consumerist adolescent memories.

How many times during those mall visits did I find a Tori Amos CD single with unfamiliar b-sides and snap it up? Many times. Even later, in my undergraduate years, the mall CD store was my main access to music. I have a vibrant memory of buying Bjork's Medulla on the day of its release, ripping off the shrink wrap, putting it into my rickety Discman, and walking through the mall listening to it, holding the Discman like a holy offering because any deviation from a horizontal plane would make it skip.
posted by erlking at 6:11 AM on June 20 [3 favorites]


As a teenager living in an overly strict home, going to the mall was a small taste of freedom. I'd go with or meet a friend there and we would hang out and walk around for hours. At the time, arcades were still present and we wasted many dollars playing X-Men. Maybe catch a movie, or wander over to the in-mall McDonald's if my girlfriend was working her shift.

At some point I crossed over into being a grouchy old man. Malls now represent crowds and annoying people who stand in the middle of the walkway. I try not to go to one unless I absolutely need to try on clothing. Once I've determined a size that fits me, I order online for future purchases of similar items.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:47 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


The thing that's going to effectively change clothes shopping is the automation of the garment industry, right now the best printers can just shoot felt on things but in the future where it becomes entirely possible to weave up clothes by robots in a lights out factory somewhere, your don't really need clothes stores except to display examples and take measurements.
posted by The Whelk at 6:50 AM on June 20


I was never a big on malls, but basically you cruised the mall in much the same way the teens in the 50s (at least on TV) would cruise town in their hot rods.

And at least in Myville (southeastern USA), 80's kids actually drove around the mall on weekend nights. Just around and around and around. Under the watchful eyes of the cops, of course, but it's a mark of how much more fearful/security-conscious we've become that it seems strange that such a thing was permitted at all.

In my town, there was an indie record store and a couple of indie paperback exchanges and a cool indie bike shop and none of my favorite theaters were at the mall, so I was never a huge mallrat. By high school my nerdy, bookish friends and I hung out elsewhere. But the mall was still a big chunk of my early teens, mostly the arcade. (The arcade scenes in this video? That kid could be me.)
posted by octobersurprise at 7:15 AM on June 20


It probably matters what sort of shopper you are. I don't care much about clothes or fashion.

I'm not a fashionista by any stretch. What matters to me is how it fits. I'm one of those people who are perpetually in-between sizes on almost everything, so it's important that I try stuff on before buying. It's part of why I only shop once or twice a year. Even the same size in the same model will fit differently on me. There's just no way I'm going to buy several items online, wait for them to be shipped to me, try them on, and maybe have to ship all of them back.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:51 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I really can't say enough nice things about that Mosaic development.

Agreed, I think the Mosaic development (I think its official name is the "Mosaic District", which seems a bit much, but that's marketing) seems at least so far to be a pretty good example of mixed-use done right. They've got housing, groceries, both quick-serve and sit-down restaurants, a big box store (Target) located above ground level, the movie theater, and all the parking is in garages rather than in surface lots, so it feels ... downtown-y. Sure, it's a pretty synthetic downtown experience, but less so than a mall. And it seems to be very popular.

I know a couple of people who have either moved there or are thinking pretty seriously about it. It's not cheap, but it's not outrageously priced for the DC/NOVA area either (at least, not more outrageously than the area as a whole).

The saving grace of that particular project is probably that it's walking-distance (admittedly a bit of a walk, but certainly doable) to Metro. I'm a little more skeptical of mixed-use projects that are way out in the 100% car-centric suburbs, like some of the ones way out beyond Fair Lakes. But a place that has good public transportation and also lets you walk to stores and restaurants and for groceries? I can totally see the appeal of that.

I'm not sure you can achieve anything similar by converting an existing mall structure, though, or just by building apartments next to an existing mall. I'm not sure I'd want to live "above a mall" or "next to the mall", looking out over acres of asphalt parking lot. The mixed-use projects at least do a better job with the parking problem.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:54 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


You all should just go to the mall on a weekday during work hours. Due to the jobs I've had, I've always had at least a couple of hours free during an 8-5 weekday, and I would say those are the ideal state for a mall: less crowds, the LEGO store isn't filled with kids, the Apple Store is reasonable, sales people are less stressed, get some exercise with a nice leisurely walk...Oh, my gosh, I sound like an old person.
posted by FJT at 10:43 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


The last indoor mall was built in America in 2006, and their construction was slowing down greatly since then.

The Xanadu American Dream Mall in the Meadowlands will be done real soon now.
posted by octothorpe at 10:51 AM on June 20


The Xanadu American Dream Mall in the Meadowlands will be done real soon now.

" . . . the still unfinished Xanadu. Cost -- No man can say."
 
posted by Herodios at 11:21 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


It did seem like a poor name choice.
posted by octothorpe at 12:39 PM on June 20


I understand why the name choice is a bad idea, but once they've done it, they should have stuck with it, and certainly they shouldn't have changed it to what

Not that I'm driving through the Meadowlands often, but if I was, Xanadu is a mall I'm pulling over for while the American Dream Mall sounds like some sort of Cold War-era PSYOP that I'm staying well away from.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:01 PM on June 20


The sad/amusing/appalling thing is that they'll probably finish the darn thing and then after a big hype, it'll go bankrupt and then sit there again for a decade.
posted by octothorpe at 1:26 PM on June 20


octothorpe: "I actually didn't know that there were Apple Stores in malls. I've only seen them in neighborhood shopping districts."

In our area, octothorpe, there is one at Ross Park Mall and one at South Hills Village Mall.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:28 PM on June 20


I was in Ross park about five years ago but it was xmas and I got out as fast as I could and I don't think that I've ever been to South Hills Village.
posted by octothorpe at 1:45 PM on June 20


Where do old malls go when they're retired?
posted by infini at 2:29 PM on June 20


I'm not sure you can achieve anything similar by converting an existing mall structure, though, or just by building apartments next to an existing mall. I'm not sure I'd want to live "above a mall" or "next to the mall", looking out over acres of asphalt parking lot. The mixed-use projects at least do a better job with the parking problem.

They tried this in seattle, it's fucking hilarious. Because no, you can't. They basically built the apartments, theater, and restaurants... and just stopped. It looks about like those photos shown, but minus a lot of the green area. They also built a bunch of townhouse things in a curve on one side surrounded by greenery. Which seems nice... except that it's all below grade, so behind the trees is a HUGE hill that goes up to a road and it all looks like it's down in a big ravine or like, gravel pit with bark on top. Oh, and there's a fake "creek" down there(or possibly it's real and was just in a tunnel before in this area? but it's cheesy as fuck either way)

It's flanked on one side by the old, acres of asphalt mall and on the other by the ugliest metro station known to man.

I mean i guess part of the appeal is that the transit is right there, like you don't even need to use a lit crosswalk to get to it. But the views out the windows always just seem soooo depressing to me, and it's also literally one block off I5 and surrounded by busy streets on every side, so it's loud and you can never open the windows without just inhaling tons of exhaust.

I've gone there a couple times to see a movie, and i'm always just so befuddled by why anyone would want to live there or who thought it was a good idea. Original though, amusingly, it was just more parking for the mall at grade.
posted by emptythought at 3:32 PM on June 20


CBrachyrhynchos: "Although that city council did have the sense not to approve Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks with a Starbucks stand nearby."

Related: "...or the Starbucks or the Starbucks or the Starbucks...."
posted by Chrysostom at 6:46 PM on June 20


If malls are only still doing well in wealthy areas, is it really online shopping that's killing them, or is it Wal-Mart?
posted by Fleeno at 9:09 PM on June 20 [3 favorites]


Other than tacos or beer, not very often. Plus my experience with physical stores is that they never have what you want anyway. You go though all the hassle of traffic and parking and get to the store just to find out that they have one pair of jeans in your size and they're in a style that you'd never wear

On some level, online shopping has taught me that I can wait for any consumer good. I can then avoid washing the car if I'm out of wax applicator pads...
posted by evilensky at 12:11 PM on June 21


Fleeno, it's not Walmart killing them -- malls were never about obtaining the cheapest goods. What is killing them is the same thing that is driving the decline of middle-class retailers as expensive ones boom: the death of the middle class. There is no longer money to buy the sort of small luxuries that malls thrived on supplying. So the malls in the richest areas and aimed at the upper class continue to do well while those in middle and working class areas die off.
posted by tavella at 2:08 PM on June 21 [10 favorites]


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