Dead Malls

The first seeds of Labelscar came from the discovery of something that seemed a bit shocking in the mid-late 1990s: a dead mall. Both of us are children of the 1980s, so we grew up in a period when a trip to the mall was a big deal, and when malls were the social centers for the suburbs we grew up in, and were the backdrop of the era's teen movies.

In 1998 and 1999, on a series of roadtrips mostly in the Northeast and Midwest, we came upon the accidental discovery that a wave of enclosed shopping malls were about to fail. At the time, we couldn't believe that these shiny centers of commerce were deteriorating, and had no idea it was just the beginning of the dead mall trend. The accelerated decline of the American shopping mall is a big part of why we kept making these trips--and why we created Labelscar.com--and it's also a big part of why people come to visit us. As I told Digital Journal in an interview in 2008:

"We wanted to create Labelscar because we saw this happening, and wished we'd saved something from the ones we already missed. Malls did play a major part as a communal gathering space and were a fairly major form of 20th-century development and architecture. It seems a shame to not even bother to save photographs or document their history, even if ultimately many of the individual centers do go away."

The following pages are a compendium of just the "dead malls" on our site--some of these are completely shuttered or demolished, others are left rotting, and others are simply deeply troubled. There is a commonality between most, however; they largely don't have much hope for survival.

CenterPoint MarketPlace; Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Anchored by two department stores, JCPenney and Green Bay-based ShopKo, with space for a third anchor, CenterPoint Mall opened with space for 60 smaller stores under one enclosed roof. The 220,000 square foot mall was never very successful, despite ample parking in the middle of downtown and only a few blocks from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, a campus with over 10,000 students. The mall never filled to capacity, nor attracted the quality of stores present in larger regional malls such as Wausau Center, located just 30 minutes north of Stevens Point in Wausau.

Crestwood Plaza (Crestwood Court); Crestwood, Missouri

Crestwood Court’s latest blow is part of a series of problems for the mall, which opened as a 550,000 square-foot, L-shaped outdoor center in 1957. Back then, Crestwood was on the outskirts of suburban development for St. Louis. The city of St. Louis itself was a booming metropolis with over 800,000 residents, and suburban St. Louis County had half as many residents as today. Things couldn’t have been sunnier for Crestwood Plaza, as it was officially known until the late 1990s, before a series of rebadging efforts due to new ownership changed it to Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood and, finally, Crestwood Court. For our purposes, we’ll just stick with the name Crestwood.

Southtown Mall; Fort Wayne, Indiana

Fort Wayne’s first mall, Glenbrook Square, opened in 1966 on the north side of town. Three years later, Indianapolis-based Simon decided that Fort Wayne’s recent and projected growth indicated it could support a second enclosed regional mall. Located on the south side of town, Southtown Mall opened in July 1969. Southtown’s single-level complex debuted with a 100,000 square-foot Montgomery Ward and a 114,000 square-foot Fort Wayne-based Wolf and Dessauer department store, which was acquired that same year by Indianapolis-based L.S. Ayres. When Southtown opened, it had 567,000 square feet of retail space, including the anchors. In addition, G.C. Murphy operated a 60,000 square-foot junior anchor store, and there was a single-screen cinema, which was twinned in 1972 and expanded to a triplex in 1982.

Park Central Shopping Center; Phoenix, Arizona

I promised a few months ago that I went to every single mall in the Phoenix and Tucson areas–and you were all quick to point out at least one omission, at an outlet mall in Mesa–but by and large I think I made it to all of them, and I plan to bring them all […]

Palm Springs Mall; Palm Springs, California

The Coachella Valley is a desert region in eastern Riverside County, California, stretching through the desert north of the Salton Sea. One of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country (with an estimated 2010 population of around 600,000 permanent residents, plus hundreds of thousands of seasonal residents), the region has been a popular tourist destination […]

Orchards Mall; Benton Charter Township, Michigan

The Orchards Mall in Benton Harbor, Michigan opened in October 1979. The mall was built on the site of a former apple orchard, giving it its name. The location of The Orchards Mall is less than a mile from Interstate 94. In 1979, when the mall opened, most of the area surrounding the mall was vacant or farmland. Benton Harbor is located next to the city of St. Joseph, Benton Harbor’s twin city, home of The Whirlpool Corporation.

Tampa Bay Center; Tampa, Florida

Opened in August 1976, Tampa Bay Center was one of Tampa Bay’s biggest and brightest shopping destinations. Centrally located north of downtown Tampa along Martin Luther King Jr Blvd (called Buffalo Avenue then) east of Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa Bay Center was next to Tampa Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the place to be during the late 1970s and 1980s; but, despite rapid growth in the fruitful Tampa Bay area over the coming years and decades, Tampa Bay Center’s fate was ultimately sealed by far too much competition. When it opened, Tampa Bay Center had over 700,000 square feet of retail space and two anchors: Tampa’s first Burdines store and Sears, which actually opened before the mall did, in March 1976. The two anchors at Tampa Bay Center were arranged at each end of the structure, and a two-level mall corridor connected them.

Forest Fair Mall / Cincinnati Mills / Cincinnati Mall; Cincinnati, Ohio

The phrase “If you build it, they will come” was coined in the classic 1989 film Field of Dreams, and, for the most part, it holds true to form. A mall can be built in the middle of nowhere and succeed; however, sometimes this is not the case. The infamous Dixie Square Mall was successful for a decade before it went to hell. Forest Fair Mall, located in north-suburban Cincinnati, was never that successful. It had a few moments when it was a decent mall, but ultimately it failed again and again.

Irondequoit Mall / Medley Centre / Lake Ridge Centre; Irondequoit (Rochester), New York

We round out our Rochester features with the region’s newest mall, Irondequoit Mall. Opened in 1990, Irondequoit Mall was located in Rochester’s northeast suburb of the same name, Irondequoit, a town of 50,000 residents located immediately northeast of the city. When it opened, Irondequoit Mall had three anchors: Sears, JCPenney, and Pittsburgh-based Kaufmann’s. The Kaufmann’s was originally slated to be Rochester-based department store Sibley’s, but May Company decided to consolidate their nameplates and ousted Sibley’s in favor of regional brand Kaufmann’s. This switch took place during Irondequoit Mall’s construction. (Is this correct? A couple sources say that Sibley’s acutally opened here very briefly.)

Antioch Center To Be Torn Down; Kansas City, Missouri

In 1954, more than 30 years after Country Club Plaza opened, construction began on a new style of suburban shopping center. Located on the north side of Kansas City, in an area known as the Northland, Antioch Center was built on a 42-acre vacant section of land that had just recently been annexed into Kansas City in 1950. Just like The Plaza, Antioch Center was built with the automobile in mind. However, the auto-centric developments of the 1950s trended toward building on the edges of cities, where land was cheap and plentiful. Such a large space could have a retail center located in the middle of the property, with a sea of parking lots surrounding it on all sides for convenience, and more developer control over every facet of the project.