Zombies Are The Only Things Missing: America's Abandoned Shopping Malls

Zombies Are The Only Things Missing: America's Abandoned Shopping Malls

'Lord, please let the Food Court be okay.' Coach, Seph Lawless has something you should see.

Way back in 1978 George Romero's Dawn of the Dead gave us the abandoned American shopping mall as post-apocalyptic metaphor, but when Romero hit zombies with cream pies the mall was still very much a vibrant icon of consumerism. Not so today, as photographer Seph Lawless points out. He's been crawling through abandoned malls, collecting images for his book Black Friday, now out in e-format as well as physical. Take a look at what's left of an American shopping tradition: you won't spot a Hunter sneaking in the shadows, which to my mind makes the whole thing creepier.

"I started taking these a couple years ago," says Lawless, "Because I thought there was a big disconnect between Americans and the reality which surrounds them. I thought Americans lived in a bubble, and I wanted to show some of the most broken and abandoned parts of the country." He started with hospitals and homes, before turning to shopping malls; he wanted to find images that people would really connect with, on a gut level.

The decay of the malls follows the decay of the communities that fed them. Take Akron, once the 'Rubber Capital of the World.' It made car tires, but increased competition and the acquisition of US manufacturers throughout the 1980s and 1990s meant that by the mid-90s only one company, Goodyear, had its headquarters in Akron, and all the plants had shut. Akron's dying on its feet, and its Rolling Acres mall, which once housed 140 stores, is the kind of place you find corpses, not shoppers. The last picture in the gallery is Rolling Acres.

"They're trying to change; they're trying to get different kinds of anchors, discount stores," says retail expert Howard Davidowitz. "[But] what's going on is the customers don't have the fucking money. That's it. This isn't rocket science."

If you're interested in Black Friday the ebook can be had for a little under $10; the landscape size paperback starts at $69, and prices go up and up for the hardcover and premium limited edition.

Source: Seph Lawless
Image Source: Lawless, via Photogrist

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Can you please hire a real web developer to implement a functional image gallery? There are lots of them out there, all free, I can post links if you like.

I remember an old mall that only had about 3 shops still open in it. I think one of the last shops in it was a pet store. It was such a dark & eerie place, always had most of the lights off & never more than a dozen people in the place at a time. Malls are supposed to be vibrant & noisy, but this one was so still & empty. It always gave me the creeps when I was a kid. Place was finally torn down & a new shopping center was put in it's place, which is a very busy place now.

You'd think someone would re-purpose the places into something useful.

Mr Fixit:

You'd think someone would re-purpose the places into something useful.

chances are probable the people who could be inclined to do so may not have the money themselves. for a year or two now we've had an empty husk of a half built hotel sticking out of the historic downtown because the guy who was building it ran out of money. now some other guys picked it up "for when he finishes the hotel he's working on"....but hasn't actually started building yet. so the property and location managers don't even seem like they know what to do half the time at this point, in some places XP

Slegiar Dryke:
snip

Oh yeah I know, it's always about money & I understand that. Makes me wish I had the money to do something with it. I was actually thinking of some more altruistic ideas, like opening them up as homeless shelters & things like that, but it'll never happen because of liability or property value or some other reason. Some probably already break into them & stay until they get kicked out, but to open them up & put in a soup kitchen & things like that would be such a great show of humanity.

I know, way to idealistic of me to think like that.

Mr Fixit:
I remember an old mall that only had about 3 shops still open in it. I think one of the last shops in it was a pet store. It was such a dark & eerie place, always had most of the lights off & never more than a dozen people in the place at a time. Malls are supposed to be vibrant & noisy, but this one was so still & empty. It always gave me the creeps when I was a kid. Place was finally torn down & a new shopping center was put in it's place, which is a very busy place now.

You'd think someone would re-purpose the places into something useful.

That's funny you say that, some of these malls become airsoft arenas. See for yourself:

I dont find these pictures to be creepy, or eerie, at all. I find them sad. My "coming of age" decade was the 80s, where the whole mall thing was a huge freaking deal, and seeing these pictures as well as seeing the same thing happening at the mall in my hometown just saddens me to no end. Its just another reminder of how much financial trouble this country is really in, and why we absolutely have got to figure out a way to fix it. Hint... its not going to be our government that fixes this, but rather the people. What the government needs to do is stop hitting its people below the belt and allow them the breathing room to work our magic again. Man, these pictures really bummed me out. :(

There are two malls near me that are slowly dying. Mostly empty with a food court, a few shops, and maybe one anchor store left. About 6-7 years ago, they poured millions into one of them, refurbishing it into a brand new town center, with upscale apartments, outdoor high-end retail space, and more. No one wanted to rent space, and the whole thing turned out to be a giant waste of money. It got so bad that the town hall moved their offices there just to give people a reason to come in. And this mall is in what's considered "rich-people" territory, so if anyone could afford to rent space and spend money there, it's them. Now the second one is considering doing the same thing, and I just shake my head knowing that history is repeating itself.

cojo965:

Mr Fixit:
I remember an old mall that only had about 3 shops still open in it. I think one of the last shops in it was a pet store. It was such a dark & eerie place, always had most of the lights off & never more than a dozen people in the place at a time. Malls are supposed to be vibrant & noisy, but this one was so still & empty. It always gave me the creeps when I was a kid. Place was finally torn down & a new shopping center was put in it's place, which is a very busy place now.

You'd think someone would re-purpose the places into something useful.

That's funny you say that, some of these malls become airsoft arenas. See for yourself:

That thought had crossed my mind, that or paintball, laser tag. Anything like that would be fun.

Mr Fixit:

Oh yeah I know, it's always about money & I understand that. Makes me wish I had the money to do something with it. I was actually thinking of some more altruistic ideas, like opening them up as homeless shelters & things like that, but it'll never happen because of liability or property value or some other reason. Some probably already break into them & stay until they get kicked out, but to open them up & put in a soup kitchen & things like that would be such a great show of humanity.

I know, way to idealistic of me to think like that.

It'd be pretty awesome indeed if it actually happened =) admittedly it still breaks down because its not really a profit puller and that's part(or all?) of how large scale location holders like malls make their money I'd gather......but certainly a nice idea ^^

captcha: "It is certain" hah, captcha, I wish things were XP

Maybe if the malls nowadays were more than "shoes, clothes, shoes, shoes, clothes, GOTHIC shoes and clothes, spencers, fye, and food court" they would have more busin3ss

Seems like the photographer finds this sort of thing quite profound, but I don't share his fascination. Americans still shop at big, decorative malls, they just do it someplace else. Industry moves on, populations migrate, and its more economical to put malls, schools, hospitals and homes where the people need them. Showing an abandoned structure, which I have no emotional connection to, will not provoke an emotional response.

If he wants somebody like me to have an emotional response, he just needs to put pictures of people in front of me, broke, destitute, struggling people. The function of using pictures of buildings is to keep those disconcerting, anxious, depressed feelings at a distance. Its easier to immerse oneself in images that suggest the results of hardship rather than actually showing it. If his purpose was to burst the bubble of American consumerism, he needs to use a sharper needle.

I bet a lot of this is due to the Internet. Not only do a lot of people prefer to do their shopping online nowadays, especially for the sorts of things you used to get at the mall, a lot of the teenagers who used to hang out in malls are doing their hanging out on the Internet as well. I'd hesitate to say "most", though; you still have to be somewhere in order to use the Internet, and I imagine most teenagers would still prefer that somewhere to not be their parents' house.

Mr Fixit:
Oh yeah I know, it's always about money & I understand that. Makes me wish I had the money to do something with it. I was actually thinking of some more altruistic ideas, like opening them up as homeless shelters & things like that, but it'll never happen because of liability or property value or some other reason. Some probably already break into them & stay until they get kicked out, but to open them up & put in a soup kitchen & things like that would be such a great show of humanity.

That would be one heck of a big homeless shelter. Even with the state our economy is in, I'm not sure any of these communities have enough homeless people to fill one of the anchor stores, let alone the whole mall.

Fascinating thing to see, especially as an european where we have a much different structure of our cities and malls are still invading our city centers.
Also, the price policy is great, paper gives a very different form of the pictures and it is an appropriate price, ebook is affordable. Thats the way!

I always think that places like that would be a blast to play laser tag in, or paintball.

cojo965:

That's funny you say that, some of these malls become airsoft arenas. See for yourself:

Yeah, something like that. That would be awesome. There's still a mall in my town, but it is ninety-five percent clothing stores now, plus a single GameStop. Gone are the cool stores, like Natural Wonder, and Sun Coast also left, so now there's nowhere in my town to buy anime, and the Dairy Queen there closed a few months back too, so now I can't even get a blizzard.

I was honestly getting more of a The Last of Us feel from those pictures than Left 4 Dead 2.

Looks like a portent to me.

There's a mall about an hour away from where I live, and it is nearly abandoned, but kept in pristine condition.
It's actually the largest mall in the area (Over 1.5 million square feet, apparently), but the owner refuses to sell it, which I find odd. There is only like 10 or so stores in the entire mall, and maybe a movie theatre? It might have closed, I recall the company being bought out, and they might have closed that branch of it.

EDIT: Woah, apparently a lot of malls are dying according to comments. The one I posted about has been in this state sense the late 1990s, and sense then only one mall around me is going downhill (Primarily due to the fact that it is pretty far away from anything, and there is a commercial center somewhat close to it that is more convenient for people to reach). Odd. (There is also one I vaguely remember as a child that no longer exists. The weird thing is I can't find any information on it. The only candidate would have closed down when I was 2, and I don't think I could have such fluent memories of it being that young... spoopy.)

I was actually just talking about this not to long ago. Malls aren't going out of business because America is poor. They are going out of business for 2 reasons.

1. They compete with themselves. How many clothing and shoe stores are in your local mall? Quite a lot I bet. All of these stores compete for the exact same customers. This means each business will struggle and go out until you are left with only a few stores.

2. There is virtually no reason to go to the mall anymore. The items sold in malls (Mostly books and clothes) are more convenient and cheap to buy online.

We need to see more of a reason to go to malls. Put an auto shop in one. If you are getting work done on your car chances are youd spend the day at the mall while your car gets its repairs. Put a bowling alley in there. Get fucking creative. Make people actually want to come out.

Most importantly. Limit the store types. You only need a 1 or 2 clothes stores, 1 or 2 shoe stores, and 1 or 2 jewelry stores. Same goes for the food court. How many asian type places do you need in one place? Put something that people wouldnt normally be used to like greek which has been growing rapidly the past few years.

Ragnar47183:

We need to see more of a reason to go to malls. Put an auto shop in one. If you are getting work done on your car chances are youd spend the day at the mall while your car gets its repairs. Put a bowling alley in there. Get fucking creative. Make people actually want to come.

That's not a thing in the US? In Australia the vast majority of shopping malls have at least one auto shop, sometimes more if they specialise in something.

We have our share of abandoned malls too, but they're often because someone thought it would be a good idea to build a second one in a small town or charge too much in rent.

That Hyena Bloke:

Ragnar47183:

We need to see more of a reason to go to malls. Put an auto shop in one. If you are getting work done on your car chances are youd spend the day at the mall while your car gets its repairs. Put a bowling alley in there. Get fucking creative. Make people actually want to come.

That's not a thing in the US? In Australia the vast majority of shopping malls have at least one auto shop, sometimes more if they specialise in something.

We have our share of abandoned malls too, but they're often because someone thought it would be a good idea to build a second one in a small town or charge too much in rent.

Not to my knowledge. The only stores in the majority of the malls here are clothing shops and shoe shops. Also usually the only food in the food court is the same generic asian food, and pizza place, and a chick-fil-a.

In fact there is a mall near me that just went bankrupt and is on the verge of closing. There are maybe 5 shops in the whole place.

Awww... Where's the high quality versions of these photos?

I could swear one of those pics looks like the mall used in Kevin Smith's Mallrats but then most malls have that samey look. I remember when malls were the big hangout for kids and young adults (hell I haunted a few myself for about a year). Now though I prefer not to bother unless I've no other choice in the matter... I've become somewhat (insert whatever that psychosis is for hating large crowds) and can't stand to be in a mall for more than 10 minutes. Maybe I just dislike being around people in general more as I get older.

I don't know why, but pictures of abandoned buildings and urban decay excites me more than porn. Not in a sexual way, I might add, but just in terms of interest and aesthetic appeal.

One use for these malls would be those expensive "zombie experience" weekends people do for team-building and stag events - pay 50+ students to dress as zombies and let a group of survivors try to last a couple of days hiding, scavenging for food and using limited supplies of Airsoft ammo...

Makes me think of this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiPauZw06fo
Urban decay, ho!

There's currently two malls in the area where I work.

One is bigger and fancier looking, and has a movie theater. Aside from that, though, it only has maybe 10 stores in it (including an anchor store), which is pretty depressing. Growing up in the 90's, that was considered the better, flashier mall. But at this rate, if that movie theater ever goes, so will the rest of the mall.

The other is a bit smaller, but it actually seems to be one of the few malls around that's doing well. It has a food court, a couple fountains, an arcade (was closed for a while, but a new one opened recently), and pretty much every store space is filled and active. As for why it's doing better, I'm guessing it's because it's in a very good location. It's near the intersection of two big US routes, and the area in general is a thriving commercial office and retail center.

There used to be three malls in my town. Now there's 2, although it's more like 2 halves of a mall. One has a couple decent anchors, and the other went the discount store route.

I think a lot of "Superstores" like Walmart are stealing the mall's thunder nowadays, although they're clearly not suited to be cool hangouts for teenagers.

There are lots of reasons that malls are failing, but not all of them are doom and gloom. Most of it is a simple shift of shopping patterns, development priorities and working habits. The ones most related to economic miscalculation were the ones coming into being during the height of the financial crash, since even if they did get finished before the financing dried up, they found themselves with a shortage of tenants.

It looks like most of these featured malls are older, disused ones. I live in Dallas, and I have to think the DFW metroplex has always had a glut of malls. But the older, less used ones either got torn down entirely or reworked into new concepts.

Of course, one of the oldest is still one of the best, NorthPark Center right down the street from me. It's essentially a mall and an art museum in one, built around a park.

http://www.northparkcenter.com/

I'm just puzzled that the cities where these malls are located aren't using them. Perfectly good large-scale buildings with plenty of separation and all the amenities built-in? Why aren't we seeing city halls and other bureaucracies gobble them up?

My hometown saw the main branch of the library move into a half of a dying mall dead square in downtown with nary a squeak. They love the massive amounts of storage space for books and archives. As well, because the city owns it now, no astronomical rent requirements or headaches when they want to knock down a wall or restructure the plumbing. You know who bought the other half? A telemarketing firm. We're talking about a building that takes up an entire city block with underground parking. If a business who's sole source of income is talking to people over the phone got half of this, these places cannot be that expensive. Hell, if they're half as burnt out as Seph Lawless indicates, the city could probably have them condemned and confiscate them. Zero cash outlay, massive infrastructure acquired.

Think of it: A way to make the red tape of city living easier for everyone to deal with. Have all the licensing bureaus in one place with stacks of free parking and clear signage. Move City Hall out of its cramped building (you know, the one they're always having to renovate to make more room for the files and wheelchair ramp) and into a spacious and airy building that can easily be reached by all and serve as both a place for the public to speak to its representatives (imagine a Town Hall Meeting in an anchor store. You could put in an amphitheatre and still have enough room to give the politicians space to practice their speeches) and enough room to hang on to the voluminous records that running a city creates.

Or to take another tack, push Steve and Mr. Fixit's idea one step further: a clearinghouse for all local social services, not just the homeless. From a battered women's shelter where the department store used to be to a soup kitchen in the food court to employment agencies, teen recreation centres, food banks, counseling drop-in centres, addiction services, helplines and medical walk-in clinics taking up the shops and booths. All of these services are evergreen; they never see a drop in usage and often get overrun when they do open up in a community where there is nobody to provide these services.

The biggest hindrance to practically any social service existing tends to be "How much space can we afford while still offering a quality service?" If cities were to buy back these dying white elephants in their cores and clean them up (hint: Get the high schools in on this. Community service + class credit = clean mall), you've got easily accessed, centrally located space that doesn't ask, "How much can we afford?" but instead asks, "How big do we want to be?"

We of Pittburgh are proud of our zombie-less malls. It is proof of our zombie-killing dedication and badass nature.

I've watched some malls, mostly the smaller or older ones, gradually, slowly die off as shops and anchors go out of business, until there's a sparse few outlets struggling to hold on. In the last few days it's downright surreal. Store faces are blank and empty, but services still run while there's a store or two still active in the complex.

There's something vaguely disquieting about escalators running at minimal power in a huge building with only three active stores and almost no shoppers while almost every other shop is stripped down to the bare walls. I can only compare it to the Langoliers and the feeling that somehow the past will come crumbling down any moment now.

Riff Moonraker:
I dont find these pictures to be creepy, or eerie, at all. I find them sad. My "coming of age" decade was the 80s, where the whole mall thing was a huge freaking deal, and seeing these pictures as well as seeing the same thing happening at the mall in my hometown just saddens me to no end. Its just another reminder of how much financial trouble this country is really in, and why we absolutely have got to figure out a way to fix it. Hint... its not going to be our government that fixes this, but rather the people. What the government needs to do is stop hitting its people below the belt and allow them the breathing room to work our magic again. Man, these pictures really bummed me out. :(

Well, there is a lot more to it than what's being presented here. A lot of the urban blight has been caused by the "Big Box" stores like Wal*Mart and their few competitors (K-Mart, Target). Basically Malls succeeded by playing home to specialty stores where each store would focus in one product, or type of product, and be able to provide lower prices than department stores (which pre-dated them) by buying the products in larger bulk and then being able to lower the price per unit and undercut the competition. Wal*Mart was pretty much the department store striking back, learning lessons from how the originals died, and instead buying EVERYTHING in bulk and having enough stores to distribute it, and then undercutting what even specialty stores could do. Wal*Mart also engaged in predatory pricing where it was willing to take a loss in the short term to undercut competition in each area until everything was out of business. People commented on this as it was going on, and the malls were getting hammered, people were warned about the blight this would bring, but all they cared about was that it was $1 less on a product. Not to mention of course that as big as they are, your typical "superbox" is still a smaller area than a mall, and as a result people have to walk less to get what they need, not to mention only having to check out once (as opposed to visiting half a dozen different stores, waiting and checking out in each one, and of course they might be in radically different sections of a mall involving a lot of walking and moving up and down between levels).

The big question of course is whether specialty stores will in turn go through an era of striking back, at which point the smaller stores will of course want to organize into malls and such again.

E-business has also had a huge effect as well, the simple convenience of ordering through something like "Amazon" and just having it delivered. Given that the big online retailers also buy in huge bulk like "Wal*Mart" they can set similar prices. Not to mention that with the rising prices of gas and such, it actually becomes more efficient this way because you might spend more on gas to travel to and from a store (depending on where you are) than you'll spend in shipping and waiting a day or two.

In short, while the US economy is a mess, it should be noted that a lot of this is also due to the way business is done changing radically. Whether it's for the better or not is debatable. I myself as a child of the 80s and 90s mourn for the mall, as well as other institutions like the video store (I used to love browsing a video store, grabbing a couple of movies and some Chinese Takeout and heading home). Of course at the same time when you look back with nostalgia you tend to forget how much time you spent waiting in lines, trying to find a table at a food court, or all about how much of a pain in the arse it was to take your movies back to Blockbuster where they had something of a god complex.

Therumancer:

Riff Moonraker:
I dont find these pictures to be creepy, or eerie, at all. I find them sad. My "coming of age" decade was the 80s, where the whole mall thing was a huge freaking deal, and seeing these pictures as well as seeing the same thing happening at the mall in my hometown just saddens me to no end. Its just another reminder of how much financial trouble this country is really in, and why we absolutely have got to figure out a way to fix it. Hint... its not going to be our government that fixes this, but rather the people. What the government needs to do is stop hitting its people below the belt and allow them the breathing room to work our magic again. Man, these pictures really bummed me out. :(

Well, there is a lot more to it than what's being presented here. A lot of the urban blight has been caused by the "Big Box" stores like Wal*Mart and their few competitors (K-Mart, Target). Basically Malls succeeded by playing home to specialty stores where each store would focus in one product, or type of product, and be able to provide lower prices than department stores (which pre-dated them) by buying the products in larger bulk and then being able to lower the price per unit and undercut the competition. Wal*Mart was pretty much the department store striking back, learning lessons from how the originals died, and instead buying EVERYTHING in bulk and having enough stores to distribute it, and then undercutting what even specialty stores could do. Wal*Mart also engaged in predatory pricing where it was willing to take a loss in the short term to undercut competition in each area until everything was out of business. People commented on this as it was going on, and the malls were getting hammered, people were warned about the blight this would bring, but all they cared about was that it was $1 less on a product. Not to mention of course that as big as they are, your typical "superbox" is still a smaller area than a mall, and as a result people have to walk less to get what they need, not to mention only having to check out once (as opposed to visiting half a dozen different stores, waiting and checking out in each one, and of course they might be in radically different sections of a mall involving a lot of walking and moving up and down between levels).

The big question of course is whether specialty stores will in turn go through an era of striking back, at which point the smaller stores will of course want to organize into malls and such again.

E-business has also had a huge effect as well, the simple convenience of ordering through something like "Amazon" and just having it delivered. Given that the big online retailers also buy in huge bulk like "Wal*Mart" they can set similar prices. Not to mention that with the rising prices of gas and such, it actually becomes more efficient this way because you might spend more on gas to travel to and from a store (depending on where you are) than you'll spend in shipping and waiting a day or two.

In short, while the US economy is a mess, it should be noted that a lot of this is also due to the way business is done changing radically. Whether it's for the better or not is debatable. I myself as a child of the 80s and 90s mourn for the mall, as well as other institutions like the video store (I used to love browsing a video store, grabbing a couple of movies and some Chinese Takeout and heading home). Of course at the same time when you look back with nostalgia you tend to forget how much time you spent waiting in lines, trying to find a table at a food court, or all about how much of a pain in the arse it was to take your movies back to Blockbuster where they had something of a god complex.

I didnt even think about the Wal-Mart thing, good point. I cant help but grin as well, when I read about heading home with Chinese food, and a new movie to watch (on the VCR)... ah, the good ole days. :)

 

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