I’m not really sure I knew of the “dead mall” phenomenon until 1998 or 1999, which seems to be when the first generation of these retail elephants started to drop. That was also around the time that I lived in the midwest, and my blogging pal Prangeway and I would troll around a seven-state area looking at all kinds of malls and shopping centers. At the time, we were technically more interested in finding the good malls–you know, the ones with 5 anchors and 200 stores and all the “cool” places to shop. We found something entirely different than what we’d expected, and those trips really opened our eyes to the phenomenon of dying malls, making us realize that many of these centers (and perhaps the enclosed mall in general) is in the twilight of its life. It was a far more dramatic revelation than any Abercrombie-kid packed malls could offer.
As a result of a ridiculously wrong turn, we found this gem, tucked away in the suburbs north of St. Louis. Somewhat hilariously, we parked outside of a wig store that had occupied one of the store shells at the time, hoping to cut through the wig store (seen here, in much worse shape than in 1999) into the then-long-dead River Roads Mall. I can’t believe we actually expected it to be open–it pretty much looked like this when we were there seven years ago.
1988 photo of Woolworth’s store inside of River Roads Mall:
I guess River Roads Mall bit it sometime in the mid-1990s, and has long been scheduled to be redeveloped into a mixed-use complex with a heavy residential component. If it ever gets off the ground, it’ll hopefully help the area a bit. It seemed like it had fallen into pretty severe decline (at least in 1999…). Apparently demolition began very recently, and this blog has some great River Roads Mall demolition photos up from just this past week.
I didn’t carry a camera back then, but I found these dramatic photos of River Roads Mall online. They’re really cool because it’s quite a rarity to find interior shots of a mall that’s been closed up for so long. They were taken in 2004 by Michael Allen for his website, Ecology of Absence, which chronicles all kinds of structural dead things (including tons of non-retail stuff) and is well worth checking out if you’re curious about urban decay, especially in the St. Louis area. Also check out Toby Weiss’ fantastic site, which includes a lot of great, black and white, artsy shots of forlorn retail establishments, and really captures the sadness in the buildings. There are also more pictures where these came from. And as usual, for more history from people who have some familiarity with the place, check out dead malls.
Despite the sadly advanced state of decay that’s evident in these shots, it seemed that one point in time this mall might’ve had some really snazzy mid-60s decor: check out that blue-tiled wall just barely visible at the left side of the photo above, or the groovy, greenish blue exterior of that one anchor store (the former Stix Bar & Fuller.)
Former Stix Bar & Fuller, in October 1988:
2004 Michael Allen photos: