New life for old malls

There are too many malls in America, and too many vacancies in them. So city planners are looking for other ways to use all that square-footage. The New York Times has a neat story about some of the different ways derelict shopping malls are being repurposed: As deconstructed residential/retail centers catering to desires for a more "Main Street" environment; as churches and city government offices; and even as community gardens. (Via Dennis Dimick)


  1. Bayshore Mall, north of Milwaukee, is an excellent example of rethinking a long standing enclosed mall. It was poorly designed from the outset and suffered from equally poor additions. By 2000 it was suffering from occupancy issues and low quality retailers. Now it’s mostly an exterior mall with only a small amount enclosed (only to link the anchor stores). It features the “main street” concept along with living space. The retailers are more upscale and there’s an extensive restaurant selection. Even on cold winter days the place is packed, whereas it used to be almost empty outside of the holiday shopping season.

  2. There used to be a small mall in Amherst, NY that essentially just had the DMV and a couple of low-rent stores (a dollar store and things along those lines). As if going to the DMV wasn’t bad enough, it was among the most depressing and dismal places in existence. Now I’m not sure if there’s anything in the building at all, as the DMV moved a couple blocks down the road.

    There’s another one in downtown Buffalo that’s similar – mostly empty except for a dollar store and stuff like that. Except that one has a surprisingly thriving food court, all local one-off restaurants that are pretty decent as far as that kind of restaurant goes. It’s one of only a handful of food places within walking distance of city hall and other downtown office buildings.

  3. There is a small (even fairly small by UK standards) shopping mall in Reading that closed down a few years ago with some plans to redevelop the site that never came to fruition and it was left standing empty for several years. The entire mall has now been taken over as an air-soft arena.

  4. Rydell took his left hand off the wheel, clicked the lights, double-clicked them to high beams. Two cones of light hit into a wall of dead shops, dead signs, dust on plastic. The one in front of the left beam said THE GAP.

    ‘Why’d anybody ever call a store that?’ Rydell said.

    ‘Trying to fuck with my head, Rydell?’

    ‘No,’ Rydell said, ‘it’s just a weird name. Like all those places look like gaps, now. . .’

  5. I’ve always been a big fan of mixed-use development, but I have to admit I didn’t envision a world where people would live, work and die inside a mall. 

    Let’s build prisons in the mall as well; that would provide a kind of completeness to the idea.

    1. I share your instinctive aversion, but what is a mall, really, but a walkable commercial neighborhood with a roof over it? In other contexts (sans roof) such places are generally considered desirable places to live when they become more mixed use. Changing the way we think about malls (as a real neighborhood rather than just a gathering of retail franchises) sounds like a swell idea to me.

    2. I had a friend working on his PhD. in Hong Kong and when I visited for a couple weeks noticed that his place and tons of other places were essentially that.  Apartment complex skyscraper with a mall at the bottom couple floors.  It seemed pretty convenient.  I’m not from the city and haven’t spent a lot of time in many, so maybe that’s pretty common elsewhere as well.

  6. There’s a dying mall near where I live, now roughly half-empty.  Its original anchor store was a Borders.  A couple years ago, one of those touring cadaver shows opened up in a vacant storefront.  They ended up closing early and moving on.  Pretty soon, it won’t be good for anything but shooting zombie movies, and based on previous experience, the uneasy dead will be trying to leave the building.

  7. Back in the early days of Wired magazine, there was an article on repurposing malls after the next collapse.  Guess we’re in that collapse now.

  8. There’s a life cycle for malls.  My home town is a regional retail hub.  A thriving mall was built near the edge of town, on the highway.  The city responded by funding construction of a downtown enclosed mall, covering a couple blocks of city streets, in hopes of keeping downtown retail alive.  Both malls are now ghost towns; as more retail grew on the periphery, people arriving on the highway from out of town would stop closer and closer to the edge of town, in order to avoid traffic… which drove further construction on the periphery.  There’s a new, bustling mall near what is now the edge of town, and there’s a retail dead zone where the edge of town used to be.  It’s not a cyclical thing, with a boom/bust cycle; it’s slash-and-burn retail, growing further and further into the periphery, leaving empty retail space in its wake.

  9. This is exactly the kind of thing that Joel Garreau predicted in his book Edge City (which is worth a read).

  10. I just went to the local zombie mall and discovered that Office Max closed and the nearest one is now 15 miles away.  I believe this now leaves three nail salons and a hardware store as the sole occupants of the entire mall.   Still full of teenagers, though.

    1. Staples just moved away from one of the strip malls near me. That leaves one of six Dollar Trees in a five-mile radius, a Burlington Coat Factory (closing), a Kmart (closing), and a Harbor Freight. And a little under  1,000 parking spaces.


        The Palm Springs Mall on Tahquitz Canyon Way is the perfect example of Functional and Economic Obsolescence. Only two stores remain open inside the mall – GNC & Radio Shack. It’s actually quite creepy to walk the length of the mall and the food court is completely intact with tables and chairs yet not a single food vendor.

  11. It seems like malls are largely a by-product of 20th century suburbanisation; mixed use developments make more sense than retail-only with a big parking lot.

    Sunyvalle, CA bulldozed their entire mixed-use downtown district and replaced it with a mall sometime in the 70’s. By ~1990 all the stores had gone out of business.  A few years ago they bulldozed the mall after coming up with plans to re-build the downtown. Now it’s mostly a big empty lot because the bank foreclosed on the whole mess.  Too bad they didn’t just keep the downtown they had to begin with.

  12. Brainstorming here – wouldn’t a mall be an ideal space for a college?
    One anchor store could be the administrative building, the opposite anchor store could be the gym/auditorium.  All the locals in between are the classrooms, then the food court is… well… the food court.  Another plus is plenty of parking spaces.

  13. Sunyvalle, CA bulldozed their entire mixed-use downtown district and replaced it with a mall sometime in the 70’s. By ~1990 all the stores had gone out of business.

    Sunnyvale was a horrible mall – a bit like the place as a whole really. Soulless, boring, blah. But the mall was still there around the time I left for the (slightly) saner shores of BC, around 2004.  

    There’s a dying mall near where I live

    Sounds like a place with a cluster of care-homes, a few morticians, a funeral parlour, a crematorium. Might even be a viable business plans. Sort of a Twighlight-Hotel-California….

  14. I would like to enter my town for one of  the oldest dead malls  ever — here

    Even these pictures are misleading, as the damaged appearance was actually done by a movie crew to a previous remodel. My mother worked at a store there in the eighties before any significant remodeling was done, and it had a creaky ancient elevator, a moldy health club pool in the basement, and crumbling chunks of the poured concrete it was made of all through the stairwells.

    The last picture looks most like I remember it from then, and that’s the second floor for the stores. It’s now going to become government offices (we have a busybody heritage committee, and a nicely mobbed-up construction industry)

    In its own way, it’s always been beautiful. Nice they were able to keep so much of the original floors and woodwork.


  15. One solution would be to turn them into self-enclosed living spaces with the occupants’  every every need provided by businesses located within the mall. The population could be kept in equilibrium by having the residents voluntarily terminate their lives at a cetain age, say 30 or so. And if someone tries to escape, or “runs”, they could be hunted down by a black-clad police force.

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