The Death and Afterlife of the Mall

The Death and Afterlife of the Mall

It’s like doing a core sample of a tree. If you see the rings, you can see what life was like in the 1980s or 2005
by what these malls look like. We’ve seen Ajo, Arizona, Winters, California, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The story of the mall in America is a story about nostalgia. Nearly 70 years after their big debut they’re all but dead. What does that say
about American values? Flying over the country as we’ve done at low altitude you can really see how the geography has been shaped by different patterns of
commerce and settlement. Meet the Fallows. They’ve spent the last six years touring small American towns in their Cessna plane to report on how communities are
changing. After World War Two there was this misguided ideal of the suburban
goal for American life of people moving away from cities. Malls have been
representations of what a new way of living would be. This new way of living
centered around shopping pleasure palaces. They came from the mind of an
Austrian named Victor Gruen. He’s been called the most influential architect of
the 20th century because he invented the mall. Consumers began to abandon Main
Street in favor of Gruen’s creation: a collection of inward-facing shops
centered around an anchor store. For people who lived fairly near the mall, it was a great addition to their
lives. Everybody would have something to do. Malls expanded across the country and their
design evolved as architects tested different ways to entice consumers.
Terrazzo tiles were introduced in the 80s because developers thought carpet
with slow shoppers down and gradually increased lighting created the illusion
of longer afternoons. In 1992 the Mall of America opened and featured a historic
5.6 million square feet of retail. By the mid-90s malls were being constructed at
a rate of a hundred and forty a year They were seen as a safe place where you
could take your family or even let your kids roam a bit and not worry about them. I remember being dropped off there as a kid, playing in the arcade, going to the food
court. It was a communal space. Pop culture of every decade solidified these
hulking institutions as a symbol of American promise But that was then and this is now. After the Great Recession hit in 2008, malls were seen as a sign of rampant
consumerism gone awry. The whole culture of the mall changed after a while. And that’s where the pressures that had been on malls for a long time suddenly became
unsustainable and you saw clearance sales, everything must go,
you saw vacant malls. The dream of modern life is not a mall-centric, car-centric
dream anymore. Seph Lawless has obsessively photographed dead malls for more than a decade. I could actually smell an abandoned mall
before I’m even inside it, I just know know that smell. It’s like walking into a time
capsule. It’s emotional being in these places sometimes. Do we still need our malls? By 2020 there’s expected to be over two billion digital buyers around
the world. The logistics business which supports
Walmart which supports online stores Amazon and others it’s taking over some
former malls because those malls have a lot of space. They’re near freeways so the
same force that was the malls undoing is now in some places reoccupying some of
the territory. Other abandoned spaces are also getting
a new life. One of the country’s first shopping malls will soon become an NHL training center, and disaster relief agencies regularly use empty stores and
malls to provide assistance after natural disasters. We have a lot of space
but America is really good at creating things in different spaces. America has always swung the needle towards commerce, whatever is economically most efficient.
And if you have problems leave them behind and find some other place and build something new there. This era of America we’re reconsidering both of those impulses.
Efficiency obviously matters but there are other parts of the entire social
package that matter too and you can’t just keep moving to the frontier. Amen. I’ve never heard that from you. Thanks for watching we hope you’ll check out “Our
Towns” on the Atlantic’s website, and we hope you subscribe to the channel

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About the Author: Emmet Marks


  1. Watch James Fallows in a previous Idea File episode. Will America Fall Like Rome?:

  2. I literally remember the mall only five minutes from my house go from thriving, to a hotspot for older crowds, to only the food court and certain stores getting traction, to ghost town, then just getting replaced by Costco.

    Recessions and Amazon has really done a number on them.

  3. The Dead Sea in Chrono Cross predicted the end of Malls. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s an area frozen in time from the future and part of it is a destroyed shopping mall. Some of the enemies in there include mannequins and the pissed off spirits of little girls who were in the theater area performing at the moment of the mall’s destruction.

  4. Well I’m from Metro Atlanta originally, in my lifetime only 3 malls in Georgia have shut down for good including one right after the recession even! 😳 Anyways: The first mall to close for good was the year I was born, Cobb Center Mall in Smyrna, Georgia anchored with Rich’s now modern Macy’s all over Metro Atlanta, Kesslers, Grants, Woolworths, Colonial Supermarket, and etc, Anyways burned down to the ground, so all that was left was the Rich’s Clearance Center and Publix Supermarket, the Rich’s closed in 2004 before the merger in 2005 with Macy’s, then Publix closed down in 2016 long after I moved to PCB, to anybody who is a YouTube user from Metro Atlanta or Panama City Beach please comment what you remember about these malls I’m going to mention! 😁 Next the Avondale Mall in Decatur, Georgia never been to it before, the Sears, Macy’s that used to be Davidson’s back in the day before 1986 when that merger with Macy’s came into fruition, anyways the mall closed in 2001 I believe with no anchors it just was crippled long before the attack of 9/11 that year, so today a Walmart replaced the whole property, where as for Cobb Center a school and now a foreign supermarket including a soccer field replaced the property. 🤔 The final and last mall to close in Georgia in general not including ones in the Non Metro Atlanta region: Union Station Mall in Union City, Georgia anchored originally with Rich’s, Macy’s formerly Davidson’s as well, JCPenney’s, and Sears, Anyways the first anchor to leave was JCPenney’s closed in 2004 and became some entertainment center called Maxx Fun closed right before the mall did, only went this mall once in my lifetime, the really old Macy’s actually left before JCPenney’s did technically which was 1998 surprisingly when the other Macy’s closed in 2003 to consolidate with Rich’s, anyhow the Macy’s that ended up coming back to this mall that replaced Rich’s through a merger closed down for good in 2010, then finally the mall filed for bankruptcy and the owner forgot to pay the bills on time sadly, so that same year the last anchor known as Sears was the first Metro Atlanta location to close down long before Mall at Stonecrest did in the recent times of course, so now the mall closed for good in 2011, so today it is now known as the Atlanta Film Studio! 🧐 Now finally the moment of truth, I saved the best for last, after 4 years living in Panama City Beach Florida, the worst catastrophic hurricane inevitable to hit the United States on Wednesday October 10, 2018 at 11 or 12 something in the afternoon anyways the only shopping mall besides Pier Park, which this mall has been dying for an extremely long time, the Panama City Mall in Panama City, Florida originally anchored by Dillard’s formerly Gayfer’s, JCPenney’s, and Sears and etc, so on that one December day last year the mall closed for good, along with the Chapter 11 Bankruptcy of Sears at that time was planning to close long before the storm however, so as of today part of the former mall has reopened including JCPenney’s, but everything else gone and abandoned including Sears! 😳 So with all of this being said, sadly out of the former malls that closed, Panama City Mall was my favorite, because Cobb Center was apart of my family’s time mostly, Avondale Mall was already ghetto before I ever got to go there, Union Station has turned for the worst after I visited once sadly, and Pc Mall was good because of Fye, and the different choices in the small food court, the former Bennigans, and that’s it mostly, so therefore I agree malls are dying, but the more popular ones including Pier Park Town Center in Panama City Beach Florida are thriving, which it’s properly known as Pier Park, are reasons we still need malls in new forms! 😁

  5. One of the footage is from the mall here in my town…it's struggling to keep business in. Yes it was used during the fire too. It's sad.

  6. This has been an attack against America, Americans, the Middle class and our way of life. Laugh now but soon pay back will be coming to you in ways you cannot imagine or are prepared for.

  7. Some malls are successful, some are not. Flying over them in an airplane doesn't give you a proper perspective on what is really happening. You should go back and do research on why those surviving malls are successful.

  8. One of my childhood malls was demolished earlier this month after being pretty dead for years. I cried. I am 27 but I feel I should have been born 10 years earlier. I love the 80s and 90s mall aesthetic and how they were and and got a small taste of them when I was young. I miss it so much and hate what has happened to commerce with online shopping. Amazon can go to hell.. Steph Lawless is a great inspiration for me as a photographer too! I love taking photos of abandoned spaces.

  9. I live right next to the mall of america.. never even noticed a decline. If anything its busier with all of the crazy new stores

  10. Every time I see this kind of thing, I remember that you would need 4 earths to keep up the American levels of consumption, according to an article in BBC. Every time you stop for a while and consume less is good amount of time you’re adding for the things you consume to properly replenish themselves. So malls closing is actually a pretty good sign.

  11. I'm starting to miss physical stores as a whole. I'd rather see what I'm buying in real life than buying it online. Also, the malls near me are not dead, in fact, they are very lively! For now, though

  12. This is misleading in multiple ways. It's very rare a mall gets repurposed. They are either left to crumble or demolished. Also not all malls are dying. The US was overmalled and only the ones that keep up with the times need to exist.

  13. Imagine returning to human body only to find a couple of baldies handimg you your homework from last year. Now imagine getting the same homework but an animal's body instead. 😁
    The reason why baldies refuse to incarnate. 😁

  14. I miss going to the mall! Grew up in Warrenville, Illinois and would go to Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, worked at Yorktown in Lombard, went to Stratford Mall, as well as others. So sad to see this!

  15. in our town in SA in 1980s a mini mall opened and 2000s a big mall opened and in 2014/2015 a medium sized mall was built and new areas are still being built today.

  16. Isn't quite curious that this video show seven decades of malls without a single black person? And that black people just appears in a glimpse, when the approach is about the disaster reliefs?

    Malls are quite dead because…well, because white people now choose Amazon

  17. I’m sure malls will still be around for years to come just not the insane amount of malls we once had. From what I read a problem was over saturation of too many being too close together and the shops not really being something shoppers would really spend time driving too. Shopping has changed and it’s nice that we can move on and try something new. The past will always be there and just be a pleasant memory.

  18. The one thing not mentioned is the fact that malls are a magnet for gangs. It's like putting a school of sharks in a swimming pool.

  19. Really shows you how unimportant material things really are.. We aren't taking ANY of it with us when we go! No need to hoard. Just be sure everyone has what they need while their here(this fact is lost on the world).. We leave with nothing but our Love, Faith in God, and hope! Nothing more and nothing less.. Future generations I HOPE, will see where we went terribly wrong. Allowing the beast system to take over a land that didn't belong to any of them.. Consequences are real.. There will be judgement..

  20. I think the decline of malls is largely self-inflicted by mall "management". I guess I'm being an unreasonable sob to insist upon a clean, relatively quiet and gang-free mall. If a mall fails in any of these three areas, I simply do not return.

  21. The nature of retail is changing.
    Brick and mortar stores are dying because it's expensive to operate one and profit margins are thin.
    Companies like Amazon are the new way of shopping. Couple that with 24 to 48 hr door to door delivery and it puts the squeeze on malls and their antiquated way of doing business.

  22. The only reason I ever went was because it had the skating rink where you could play recreational hockey. Still would if I were there.

  23. I believe the mall concept will return some day but maybe with a different focus. People Like to go out and physically touch cloths and meet friends, this is something online just doesn’t have,
    Both malls in my area are doing really well so it’s hard to watch these but also hard to not watch them. Very interesting!

  24. The death of American malls is due to many factors, chief among them being the rise of internet shopping coupled with the continued skrinking of a middle class burdened by a draconian tax system and a tanking economy.

  25. I really miss malls the way they use to be. It was like your own Disneyland going there. If your mall was tiny and in a suburban town far away; it was like your sneak peak into what the rest of the country was doing. Physical shopping is better. I'm not against online shopping but I think physical shopping is still needed.

  26. When I lived in Delaware near the tristate border I was initially thrilled by the sheer number of malls, but disappointed by how few of them would let you shop naked. Americans are such prudes.

  27. Am I the only one who remembers that song that goes ”let’s go to the mall everybody, come on Jessica come on tory let’s go to the mall you won’t be sorry”

  28. Malls in Los Angeles are not dead. I just got back from Las Vegas, the malls their are not dead. Malls are dead in places where there are no longer any jobs. i.e middle America

  29. Malls are well and good in the UK as there usually integrated into the local high street. So you can go round local shops and big brands seamlessly.

  30. Sure, online shopping hurts malls. But what kills malls? Groups of what are euphemistically called 'youths' and 'teens' rioting in malls. It's happening all over the country and people won't go to the mall if it's not safe.

  31. Went to my local mall a few Weeks ago. Barley a single person. Very few employees. It felt like an alternate dimension. I had to leave bc it was so depressing to be in

  32. Malls sucked then and they still suck. I have walked through a mall and have just been disappoinment all around. From food to what I'm looking for. The clothes and shoes I want to buy have all went to the internet store front…

  33. As somebody who lives in Nairobi, and in the construction industry, I'm afraid this is what the future of malls look like here. I tell investors to build community sports complexes (at the same budget of malls) but investors want that fast ROI. Joke's on them. A new mall comes up every 6 months, and consumers mall-hop. And again online shopping is closing down stores but nobody wants to see this. In the next 5 years Kenya will have many abandoned malls like the ones in the video.

  34. The stagnant wages and the disappearing middle class is a big factor. Many retailers target the middle class able to afford the prices above the discount big box stores. The most affluent malls are doing fine. Also malls targeting the Asian and Hispanic clientele.
    Crime being another factor. Ghetto black youth is a big contributor terrorizing malls once the bus route or section 8 housing is built causing thefts, shouting, fights, and gunshots. Shoppers and tenants flee and the surrounding areas become ghetto. Chris Rock quoted there's two malls. One where white people go and one where white people used to go.

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