What’s a Labelscar?

This is a labelscar

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; it’s the mark left on a building, where weather and the elements didn’t take their toll on the facade because it was once covered by signage for the occupants of the building, but is no more.

It’s a fitting title for this blog. Labelscar seeks to be the culmination of years of research for myself, Jason Damas and Ross Schendel. Since the mid-1990s we have intently researched American and Canadian retail development, visiting hundreds of shopping malls and thousands of shopping centers each, across nearly every state. 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.

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 kills our downtowns, is now in its own slow, drawn-out death spiral, giving way to big box centers and an increasingly diminishing pool of major, category-killer retailers. Yet, despite all the controversy that’s always surrounded malls, they stand as one of the most significant styles of urban development in 20th century America. In many suburbs, they were 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 can be fully redeveloped or removed from the landscape with the whim of an individual. 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.

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