If you’ve ever seen a store go out of business and remove the signage from their old building, then you’ve seen a labelscar. It’s more or less the equivalent of a watch tan – the mark left on a building where the elements didn’t take their toll on the facade. But it’s more than that, too. A labelscar is also a metaphor for the changing world of retailing in general, and a fitting title for this blog.
Launched in May 2006, Labelscar is the culmination of years of research for Jason Damas and Ross Schendel. Since the mid-1990s we have intently researched North American retail development, including retail industry trends, commercial architecture, and retail history. In the process, we’ve visited hundreds of shopping malls and thousands of shopping centers each, in nearly every state and even internationally. We’ve been to stunning, thriving, modern shopping malls and lifestyle centers and we’ve been to some of the most derelict “dead malls” in the country. Together we’ve visited more than two-thirds of the malls in the United States.
Our mission has been to study these centers, and attempt to preserve something of their presence. The enclosed shopping mall, despite still often being considered a dominant scourge that killed downtowns during the middle 20th century, is now in its own slow, drawn-out death spiral, giving way to big box category-killers, open-air lifestyle centers and strip malls. Yet, despite all the controversy surrounding malls in America, they stand as one of the most significant styles of urban development in 20th century America. In many suburbs and small cities, they were (and still are) the de-facto “town center,” a meeting place and local focal point, and for many of us they served as a crucial part of our formative years. Unlike downtowns–which can thrive or die but rarely go away–malls are private property, and thus can be fully redeveloped or removed from the landscape completely.
As such, many of these places that were crucial to many people’s lives are now gone. Similarly, because these suburban white elephants have so long gone unloved, few have bothered to document, in photos or in words, their existence. It’s time for that to change. Ultimately we disagree with those who view shopping centers as a soulless, culturally vacant dot on the landscape and we believe they are dynamic, community-building places of great value. In our postings we will attempt to convey these values, along with specifics surrounding each individual center: the who, the what, the when, the where and the why, in order to gain perspective on these unique cultural centers and their place in our collective history.
In addition, a large portion of this blog is dedicated to you, our readers. Because we can’t be everywhere at once, and because we live in specific parts of the country we have limited access to what’s out there. Do you know of something that would be of interest to us? Maybe there’s abandoned or struggling retail in your area, or conversely something new emerging on the horizon. If this is the case, write to us and we’ll post about it. If you have pictures, that’s even better (but not necessary). Any sort of information is always interesting and greatly appreciated. In addition, feel free to leave topically relevant comments on each blog entry at any time, regardless of when it was posted. In the end, we want to become a collective retail resource and we can only do that with your help.
Labelscar has been featured in the media:
- The Boston Globe
- The Dover Post (Dover, Delaware)
- The Moment, a New York Times blog – interview with Brian Ulrich
- The Wall Street Journal
- The Economist
- Retail Traffic Magazine
- The Minneapolis Star-Tribune (original article is offline, this is a reposting)
- The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut)
- The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)
- The Weekly Dig (Boston, Massachusetts)
- Digital Journal (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
- AOL Daily Finance
- Slate.com Culture Gabfest
Jason Damas (Caldor, email: caldor at labelscar.com, website, twitter) is a search engine marketing executive and a freelance journalist. Jason graduated magna cum laude from Northeastern University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and a minor in Music Industry. He has regularly contributed to The Boston Globe, PopMatters.com, Amplifier Magazine, All Music Guide, and 168 Magazine. Jason also spent two summers during college as a guest relations representative for the Preservation Society of Newport (RI) County, which manages the preservation and tourism efforts of Newport’s fabled Gilded Age mansions. In addition, he was a manager for a Newbury Comics store for over two years. Due to his experience reviewing hundreds of records and concerts and interviewing surly rock musicians, Jason reviews shopping malls the same way he’d review a rock ‘n roll album. Currently, he heads up the search engine optimization program for AKQA, the largest independent interactive marketing agency in the world.. A New England native, he currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Ross Schendel (Prangeway, email: ross.schendel at gmail.com)graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he studied Cartography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). He has always been keenly interested in how people shop and how geography plays a role in shaping the retail landscape, as well as how stores use geography and demographic marketing tools in order to get shoppers in the door. His interests also include thematic maps, geography in general, nature, biking, and travelling extensively throughout the country (48 states down, 2 to go) and abroad (most recently Japan and China). In the past, he has worn many hats – from big box retail employee to map maker to dam inspector. He is currently working in Higher Ed. Administration with the University of Wisconsin System.