Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dead Malls

Ugly nondescript grayish mall building in disrepare with trees and weeds growing up all around it
The overgrown Dixie Square Mall in Illinois. From the Center for Land Use Interpretation.

I stumbled across a site called today (via an article on the future of malls on, which I saw listed on BoingBoing). has some interesting features:

  • A list of closed malls by state. Just select Dead Mall Features from the main menu, then click on the the map for any state. And every mall on the list has its own page, giving a history of the mall, how it failed, and pictures if they've got any. It's the Wikipedia of dead malls.
  • An old stores list (remember Ames? How about Bradlees?)
  • A little e-commerce section where you can buy calendars with photos of defunct malls.
Unfortunately, the site is built using frames, which means I can't link right to any of these pages, so you'll have to go click around the site if you're interested.

Personally, I have a dualist perspective on malls. I categorized this post as Bad Technology, and that is my primary point of view. Living in Minnesota, which is home to both the oldest enclosed shopping mall (Southdale -- still in business!) and the largest shopping mall in the U.S., I see plenty of evidence for the draining effect they have on downtowns and older, denser, transit-friendly retail. And I fear the fact that so much of our "public" space is not really public, but is owned by someone who can restrict what happens inside it, including freedom of assembly and speech.

On the other hand, I was a teen in the 1970s, when the mall really came into its own. I can still remember the thrill of going to my first mall (outside Quebec City, believe it or not), and of exploring the mall that soon opened near my small town. It all seemed so new and cool, and meant just for me. Which it was, of course -- since baby boomers were the primary markets for malls.

The allure was very strong, and the amount of judgment on my part severely lacking. And not much has changed since then, except the marketing of consumerism, which has only gotten more astutely tuned to our desires.

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