In Dead Malls, Movie Theaters Survive

Malls have traditionally been a prime American shopping destination for many decades and black friday one of the busiest days for retail. However, some malls throughout the country have been losing lessees and customers, leading to so-called “dead malls”. In those malls, the few locations left often create an odd environment for customers. 

“I went to two malls on Black Friday – not really with the intention to buy anything, I just like going to stores that open early,” said Tucker, who visited his hometown of St. Louis, MI over Thanksgiving. “The typical morning-shopper crowd was nowhere to be seen, even at the West County Shopping Center which was kind of empty at 5:30am but absolutely packed around noon. The Chesterfield Mall was not so lucky. This is where the image I posted was taken.”

He shared the following image of the largest shopping mall in the St. Louis metropolitan area, Chesterfield Mall. It shows a dressed-up Santa Claus surrounded by large open space, rather than crowds. 

For comparison, this is an image on the mall’s original wikipedia page, taken just three years ago in December of 2016. 

Chesterfield Mall, 2016, Image Credit: Mike Kalasnik
Chesterfield Mall, 2019

“The picture on this article is roughly the same area in which I took the picture. The contrast is astounding. And sad,” he said. 

The condition was caused partly from multiple stores leaving the building since 2016, leaving behind just a few tenants. It’s by en-large not the only example, with many malls sharing a similar image on what is meant to be the busiest day of the year. 

“The mall I grew up going to has been dying for decades. I’m kind of fascinated with this phenomenon and have noticed it happening all over the triangle where I live now,” said Arielle Poll from Rocky Mount, NC, who posted an image of Northgate Mall in Durham, NC online. The image shows a closed-off and empty area that is nevertheless decorated for the holidays. 

Northgate Mall, Durham, NC

“It garnered a lot of chatter, she said. “Apparently a dying mall is something that moves a community, it seems like just as much the end of an era as it does the reflection of a local economy.”

Northgate Mall, like many malls across the country, lost a Sears this year, joining multiple of its lessees in leaving. Just a few months prior the mall was facing foreclosure. 

While post-Thanksgiving crowds no longer show up on Black Friday and holiday decorations serve little purpose, many dead malls continue to draw crowds to their theater multiplexes. 

“When I got to the mall, that’s where the majority, basically all of the cars were parked,” said Tucker of the AMC movie theater at Chesterfield Mall. “It seems like the AMC and the Cheesecake Factory next to it are the only things keeping that mall alive. The anchor store there, VStock, seems to be open only because of the traffic that the theater provides.” 

Poll mirrored those thoughts regarding the dead mall she visited over the holiday. “Apparently the movie theater at Northgate still draws a crowd, probably more than any other individual retailers. I’m not an expert by any means but theaters, GNC’s, Cictoria’s Secrets and Spencer’s gifts seem to be like the cockroaches of dying malls — they’re always the last to go,” she said. 


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