Daily Archives: April 3, 2017

Repurposing dead malls?

A reader who uses the name “Compare Decide” shared this rather interesting compilation on the issue of failing malls in America. I’m sharing the email in full.

There was an interesting debate on your blog between a commenter who asserted that retail space can be repurposed into residential spaces, and a commenter who said that transforming retail space into residential is not really an option.

So I googled “repurposed malls”. ….

The future of malls

It seems that malls can be repurposed to new uses, in particular, office space, medical facilities and educational institutions (e.g., charter schools). But there is little mention of abandoned malls being turned into residences.


Online shopping, the recession and demographic shifts are some of the factors killing shopping malls. And as these changes leave behind huge concrete carcasses, they're being "reimagined" into everything from medical centers to hockey rinks. First of all, a 'dead mall' is not an abandoned mall. There is a specialized terminology that the mall business uses that is explained here. A 'sealed' or 'shuttered' mall is what we think of when we think of an empty, abandoned mall.


Dead Mall: A mall with a high vacancy rate, low consumer traffic level, or is dated or deteriorating in some manner. For purposes of inclusion on this site, Deadmalls.com defines a dead mall as one having a occupancy rate in slow or steady decline of 70% or less.

Mall Categories:

first class mall…. regular operating mall
second class mall… high vacancy, or non-traditional store occupancy
third class mall… areas or entire mall sealed from public
fourth class mall… shuttered or slated for demolition
fifth class mall… redevelopment has begun, or is completed

Here’s a list of dead malls.

It is interesting that Alabama has eight dead malls, and California has only 12 dead malls.

Also, New York has a ton of dead malls, but they don’t seem to be in New York City.

Maine has only one dead mall. Compare that to Ohio, which has 27 dead malls.

I am reminded of the pre-election maps of the US, which showed strong support for President Trump in the southeast and the midwestern and northeastern ‘rust belt’. But New England and the western US did not favor Trump. After the election, the maps showed that rural areas all over US, even places that did not like Trump, voted for Trump anyway.

The places with a plague of dead malls seem like a mirror image of Trump Land, even upstate New York.

What is going on?

From 2014, photographs and commentary by the artist Seph Lawless of defunct shopping malls.

“It’s a powerful symbol of America’s economic decline,” said Lawless. “I used to visit these malls often growing up. I remember eating cotton candy underneath the escalator and the sounds of people laughing and feet shuffling as the gentle sounds of falling water from one of the many fountains surrounded me. This was America.”

Two years later, Lawless has more photos, but with a change in perspective.

He said the story of Metro North is more about the change in American society than its economic demise. For one thing, the wrecking ball is sparing the Macy’s (M) anchor store. And rather than leaving the ruins to the rats, city developers are rebuilding the site as an open-air shopping center.

Lawless said the area around the mall is thriving with neighboring stores and businesses, and developers believe that shoppers want a retail space open to the elements, not the enclosed mall that used to be hallmark of American society.

“Their communal space is social media,” he said. “They don’t need to go to a mall where they can walk around, meet with people. There’s no need for that large enclosed space.”

But many of the other dead malls that Lawless has photographed are casualties of economic malaise in depressed regions of the Rust Belt that were once thriving.

“I’ve watched it grow. I’ve watched these large spaces become abandoned, he said. “It’s a depressing journey. It’s been a sober journey.”

He said that people who lived in those areas felt ignored and cut off from the rest of America, which is why many of them voted for Donald Trump for president: They felt he was listening to them.

“The country has definitely changed drastically in parts, and it’s an important thing for people to see,” Lawless said. “People see [dead malls] as America thriving at one point, and people what that kind of America back.”

The US is not in decline, rural areas are in decline.

But this has been going on for some time.

In the 19th century, Americans were farmers; by the 1930s, Americans were factory workers; by the 1970s, they were office workers; today, they are … truck drivers.

So today’s economy is reflected in TV shows like “The King of Queens”, where the husband is a FedEx deliveryman and his wife is an executive secretary. But they don’t live in a small town, they live in Queens, NY.

See also: “Is commercial real estate going to drive the next financial crisis?