Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dead malls.

Have you ever been to a dead mall? Wandering around these foundering hulks of commerce is a sort of reverse-Romero experience. The shoppers (what there are of them) are living and breathing, but the building in which they're milling about is a member of the undead.

Like the movie zombie, the dead mall shows signs usually attributed to life. There are still stores open, and they'll happily take your money for what they're selling, but it's all imitation. Empty stores - mainly marked as being part of national chains that have pulled out, leaving the local merchants to compete for the reduced pool of dollars coming in - stare out at you from behind permanently closed shutters. The buzz of retail has a leaden feel to it, like the synapses of a decaying brain snapping almost at random to produce another stiff-legged, lurching step aimed at getting through to the end of the day.

I've been to a few of the places on the above website's list. Some when they were still alive and thriving, and others when they were just on the verge of succumbing to market forces. A mall dies by a thousand cuts, but the unkindest cut of all is the loss of an anchor store, those big name retailers like J.C. Penney's or Kohl's that bring in shoppers on the power of their own name brands. A mall that loses one of those has lost a major organ, leaving the smaller cells to gradually die off as people stop coming.

I suppose there's a lesson contained within these places ("if you build it, they won't necessarily come"?), but I'm more inclined to simply accept the fact of these places and remember that sometimes the American Dream is accompanied by a rather nasty wake-up call.

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