10 Notable Dead Malls

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In the 1960s, enclosed shopping malls were all the rage. Advertisements touted the benefits of shopping in a climate-controlled setting year-round and purchasing an array of specialty products under one roof. The malls dethroned downtown shopping districts and reigned in the American retail landscape throughout the 1970s and 1980s. But as the turn of the century approached, many malls began losing favor. Open-air town centers are rising in their place as Americans seek more convenience. One by one, once-thriving malls are toppling, their demise hastened by the recession. There are usually several factors behind a mall’s failure: increased competition, changing demographics, safety issues (real or perceived) and poor city planning. Here are 10 so-called dead malls with interesting fates.

10. Brookdale Center Mall (Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, 1962-2010)

One of the first malls in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Brookdale Center flourished for several decades as residents of Brooklyn Center and surrounding communities patronized the four anchor stores and specialty shops. But by the 1990s, Brooklyn Center began undergoing a socioeconomic and demographic shift — a factor that hurt the viability of Brookdale Center. Other malls, including the Mall of America in Bloomington, gained favor. A rapid downward spiral began in 2004 as Brookdale began losing anchor stores. After suffering for five years, Brookdale Center came to an abrupt end in 2009 when the property went into foreclosure. Most of the complex was razed a year later, and a new development that includes a Walmart is taking its place.

 

9. Bannister Mall (Kansas City, Missouri, 1980-2007)

During its heyday in the early 1980s, Bannister Mall was part of a bustling shopping area in Kansas City, and it once held the distinction as the largest shopping mall in the region. But shifting demographics hurt Bannister Mall in the years that followed. Several violent crimes were reported, and longtime residents began migrating to the suburbs. One by one, each of Bannister Mall’s four anchor stores closed, sucking much of the business out of the mall. By 2007, the anchor-less mall was shut down with about 50 retailers hanging on until the end. Bannister Mall was razed in 2009, with plans to build a stadium on the site for Kansas City’s Major League Soccer franchise, but that project fizzled. The site remains vacant.

 

8. Midtown Plaza (Rochester, New York, 1962-2008)

The first indoor shopping mall in a downtown setting, Midtown Plaza was designed in the early 1960s by Victor Gruen, an Austrian-born architect best known as a pioneer of shopping malls. For 20 years, Midtown Plaza drew hearty business, but suburban shopping malls began siphoning off business by the mid-1980s. Rochester’s population began moving outward into the suburbs, leaving pockets of poverty near the venerable mall. After years of declining sales, the owners decided to close Midtown Plaza in 2008. Unlike most dying malls, Midtown Plaza went out in style — complete with a reflective dedication ceremony in the mall’s final holiday shopping season (December 2007) that was well attended. Midtown Plaza was razed in September 2010; the land will be used for corporate headquarters for telecommunications firm Paetec.

 

7. Lake Forest Plaza (New Orleans, Louisiana, 1974-2005)

Considered Louisiana’s largest shopping mall when it was first built, Lake Forest Plaza featured an indoor ice-skating rink and a large swath of restaurants when it first opened. Lake Forest, in fact, is credited with having one of the first mall food courts. The mall, which was located on the eastern end of New Orleans, began falling out of favor in the 1980s with rising crime and deteriorating neighborhoods surrounding the property. By 2005, Lake Forest Plaza was down to one anchor and a small selection of in-line stores. The final blow to the mall, however, came from nature. Lake Forest Plaza was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Already on its last legs before the natural disaster, the ailing mall never reopened and was razed in 2007. A mixed-use development has since taken the mall’s place.

 

6. Randall Park Mall (North Randall, Ohio, 1976-2009)

Located in the small Cleveland suburb of North Randall, Randall Park Mall was such a prominent fixture in the community that the village of North Randall added shopping bags to the community logo when the mall was built. Randall Park succeeded for several decades with a healthy mix of anchor stores, in-line tenants and a movie theater. But at the turn of the century, the mall began losing shoppers in rapid succession. Mall security tangled with vandals and thieves on multiple occasions, and by 2003 the mall had a 50-percent occupancy rate with two anchors — JCPenney and Dillard’s — shuttered. In May 2009, the lights went out — literally — in part because mall ownership fell behind paying taxes. Randall Park still stands vacant, awaiting redevelopment.

 

5. Regency Mall (Augusta, Georgia, 1978-2002)

By the 1970s, the wanderlust for enclosed shopping malls had migrated south. Augusta, Georgia, welcomed two enclosed shopping malls within a week of each other in 1978. Regency Mall outdid its rival Augusta Mall by a week with a grand opening celebration in July 1978. After a decade-and-a-half of moderate success, Regency Mall began deteriorating because of a number of factors, including the realization the Augusta market was not large enough to maintain two enclosed shopping malls. Several high-profile crimes led to safety concerns; a poor location away from major expressways eventually led to the mall’s demise after 24 years in business. A number of redevelopment projects have been proposed, but a decade after its closure, Regency Mall is still dormant. Despite opening a week later, Augusta Mall clearly came out the champion in the two-way race.

 

4. Northridge Mall (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1973-2003)

Built within the up-and-coming northwest side of Milwaukee — the “last frontier” of the city’s corporate limits — in the early 1970s, Northridge Mall was a successful regional shopping mall for two of its three decades. Circumstances changed precipitously in the early to mid-1990s as the socioeconomic area surrounding the mall changed. Racial fears were inflamed during a famous murder near the mall in 1992. Jesse Anderson stabbed his wife, Barbara, to death outside a restaurant near the mall. Anderson, who was beaten to death in prison in 1994 alongside infamous killer Jeffrey Dahmer, initially blamed the incident on a group of African American men. Although Anderson’s lies came to light, the mall never overcame the negative publicity. From 1998 to 2002, Northridge went from an 85 percent occupancy rate to dwindling to a small handful of retailers and then closing for good. One of the mall’s four anchor stores, Boston Store, hung on through early 2003. Most of Northridge still stands — empty and awaiting future development. A plan to open a Chinese-themed mall within Northridge was abandoned in late 2011.

 

3. Cinderella City Mall (Englewood, Colorado, 1968-1997)

One of the most unique malls throughout its nearly 30 years in operation, Cinderella City was a sprawling development that at one time was touted as the largest enclosed shopping mall west of the Mississippi River. It featured four inter-connected sections: Cinder Alley, Gold Mall, Rose Mall and Shamrock Mall. With its novel design and attractive location, Cinderella City enjoyed great popularity early in its life, with parking at a premium and retailers placed on a waiting list. While Cinderella City underwent a renovation early in the 1980s, the mall had difficulty competing with other shopping complexes as time wore on. Structural problems with the facility only exacerbated the mall’s challenges, and by the mid-1990s retailers left the mall in droves. Cinderella City was razed in 1998 and 1999 and has since been replaced by big-box stores and government buildings for the city of Englewood. (Note on the accompanying video: Cinderella City is the first mall featured, but the video producer has gone to great lengths to feature dozens of vintage American malls. An interesting view.)

 

2. Mall of Memphis (Memphis, Tennessee, 1981-2003)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ph_-uygQII

Known for its ice chalet, the Mall of Memphis boasted 160 stores — three of them anchors — in its heyday. While the complex prospered during its first decade in operation, Mall of Memphis began its downward spiral in the early 1990s after several robberies and fatal shootings occurred in the mall’s parking lot. The complex was given the unenviable nickname, “The Mall of Murder” as the socioeconomic situation near the mall began to shift rapidly. Mall management underwent one last-ditch effort to revitalize the site with an extensive remodeling project, but a mass exodus of stores — including all three anchors — left the owners with little choice but to close the struggling complex after 22 years in operation. Mall of Memphis was demolished in 2004.

 

1. Dixie Square Mall (Harvey, Illinois, 1966-1979)

While shopping malls began closing down around the turn of the century, Dixie Square stands out from the pack for a number of reasons. It closed in the heyday of the enclosed mall — a result of increased competition in the south suburban Chicago area (where Harvey is located), a number of high-profile crimes near the property and an imploding local economy. Although it was successful for a few years, Dixie Square’s downward spiral raged on throughout the 1970s with a mass exodus of retailers. Anchors Montgomery Ward and JCPenney closed in 1976 and 1978, respectively, and the interior of the mall shut down soon after. Two stores with outside entrances, Jewel and Walgreens, hung around until early 1979. After the doors closed, the mall entered a new, albeit brief, chapter in its storied life as a prop in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers. While fleeing from Illinois state troopers, Jake and Elwood Blues crash through a shopping mall — Dixie Square, dressed up to look like a vibrant shopping mecca once again — and go on a wild chase as shoppers (stunt people) dive out of the way. More than 30 years later, Dixie Square continues to stand, decayed, scavenged and a symbol of numerous failed ideas and promises for redevelopment that have not materialized. The mall could finally see the wrecking ball in 2012, but only time will tell.

Written by

Dave Fidlin is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and journalist. He has contributed to a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites throughout his career. He grew up glued to his family's TV set and has been enthralled with the medium ever since.