Dead mall

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Vacant stores at El Con Mall in 2009, a mall in Tucson, Arizona, United States
"Dead" wing of the Shanghai Summit Shopping City in Shanghai, China in 2007
The former Dillard's wing in Tallahassee Mall in Tallahassee, Florida, United States, in 2011
The City View Center is a dead plaza in Cleveland, Ohio.
Heikintori, the first shopping mall in Finland, started dying out in late 2019.

A dead mall [1] (also known as a ghost mall, zombie mall, or abandoned mall) is a shopping mall with a high vacancy rate or a low consumer traffic level, or that is deteriorating in some manner.[2]

Many malls in North America are considered "dead" (for the purposes of leasing) when they have no surviving anchor store or successor that could attract people to the mall.

Without the pedestrian traffic that department stores previously generated, sales volumes decline for almost all stores and rental revenues from those stores can no longer sustain the costly maintenance of the malls. Without good pedestrian access, smaller stores inside malls are difficult to reach.[3][4]

Demographic change[edit]

In many instances, a mall begins dying when its surrounding neighborhoods undergo a demographic change or socio-economic decline.[citation needed]

In the case of the Cloverleaf Mall in Chesterfield, Virginia, which had operated successfully in the 1970s and 1980s; by the 1990s, its best customers, women, began staying away from the mall, fearful of the youth who were beginning to congregate there. A former Cloverleaf manager stated "People started seeing kids with huge baggy pants and chains hanging off their belts, and people were intimidated, and they would say there were gangs".[5]

Changes in the retail climate[edit]

Structural changes in the department-store industry have also made survival of these malls difficult. These changes have contributed to some areas or suburbs having insufficient traditional department stores to fill all the existing larger-lease-area anchor spaces. A few large national chains have replaced many local and regional chains, and some national chains are defunct.

An empty corridor in the South China Mall (previously the New South China Mall) in 2010, one of the symptoms of the Chinese property bubble. The mall was mostly vacant for a decade after opening. However, as of February 2018, it is almost at full occupancy.[7]

In the US and Canada, newer "big box" chains (also referred to as "category killers") such as Walmart, Target Corporation and Best Buy normally prefer purpose-built free-standing buildings rather than using mall-anchor spaces.[5] 21st-century retailing trends favor open air lifestyle centers; which resemble elements of power centers, big box stores, and strip malls; and (most disruptively for storefronts) online shopping over indoor malls.[8] The massive change led Newsweek to declare the indoor mall format obsolete in 2008.[9] The year 2007 marked the first time since the 1950s that no new malls were built in the United States.[5] Most Canadian malls still remain indoors after renovations due to the harsh winter climate throughout most of the country, however the Don Mills Centre was turned into an open-air shopping plaza. Attitudes about malls have also been changing. With changing priorities, people have less time to spend driving to and strolling through malls and, during the Great Recession, specialty stores offered what many shoppers saw as useless luxuries they could no longer afford. In this respect, big box stores and conventional strip malls have a time-saving advantage.[10]

Between early 2013 and November 2017 the Bargate Centre in Southampton, England, was empty.

The number of dead malls has increased significantly because the economic health of malls across the United States has been in decline, with high vacancy rates in many of these malls.[11] From 2006 to 2010, the percentage of malls that are considered to be "dying" by real estate experts (have a vacancy rate of at least 40%), unhealthy (20-40%), or in trouble (10-20%) all increased greatly, and these high vacancy rates only partially decreased from 2010 to 2014.[11] In 2014, nearly 3% of all malls in the United States were considered to be "dying" (40% or higher vacancy rates) and nearly one-fifth of all malls had vacancy rates considered "troubling" (10% or higher).[11]

Some real estate experts say the "fundamental problem" is a glut of malls in many parts of the country creating a market that is "extremely over-retailed".[11] Cowen Research reported that the number of malls in the U.S. grew more than twice as fast as the population between 1970 and 2015; Cowen also reported that shopping center "gross leasable area" in the U.S. is 40 percent more shopping space per capita than Canada and five times more than the U.K.[12]

Some malls have maintained profitability, particularly in areas with frequent inclement weather (or otherwise weather undesirable for outdoor activities, such as shopping in an open-air shopping/lifestyle center)[citation needed] or large populations of senior citizens who can partake in mall walking.[13] Combined with lower rents, these factors have led to companies like Simon Malls enjoying high profits and occupancy averages of 92%.[14] Some retailers have also begun to re-evaluate the mall environment, a positive sign for the industry.[15]

A retail apocalypse that started in the 2010s made the dead mall situation even more noticeable, due to the complete closing of several retailers, as well as anchor tenants Macy's and J. C. Penney closing many locations and the sharp decline in Sears Holdings. The trend was particularly noticeable when Pittsburgh Mills, a mall once worth as much as $190 million, was sold at a foreclosure sale for $100, with the mall itself being purchased by lien holder Wells Fargo.[16][17]

COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many issues affecting malls.[18] During the COVID-19 pandemic, many malls closed temporarily due to stay-at-home orders.[19][20] A number of notable retailers filed for bankruptcy during the pandemic including Ascena Retail Group, Brooks Brothers, GNC, JCPenney, Lord & Taylor, and Neiman Marcus.

American malls that have permanently closed citing the pandemic as a precipitating factor include Northgate Mall in Durham, North Carolina, Cascade Mall in Burlington, Washington, and the Metrocenter in Phoenix, Arizona.


Dead malls are occasionally redeveloped. Leasing or management companies may change the architecture, layout, decor, or other component of a shopping center to attract more renters and draw more profits. Several dead malls have been significantly renovated into open-air shopping centers.[21]

Redevelopment can involve a switch from retail usage to office or educational use for a building, such as is the case with Eastgate Metroplex in Tulsa, Oklahoma,[22] Park Central Mall in Phoenix, Eastmont Town Center in Oakland, California, Windsor Park Mall in San Antonio (now the global headquarters of Rackspace), Global Mall at the Crossings in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Coral Springs Mall in Florida. Allegheny Center Mall, a retail mall just north of downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, closed as a retail mall in the early 1990s. The mall was successfully redeveloped into office space, but much of the space was taken by telecommunications carriers, data center operators, and Internet service providers, and is now a major carrier hotel serving southwestern Pennsylvania. Yet another use for a former mall can be seen in Lexington, Kentucky, where Lexington Mall was partially demolished and converted into a satellite worship center for a local megachurch.

Conversion from a shopping mall into an open-air, mixed-use area may entail the demolition of parts of or all of the former shopping mall. An example of this can be seen in Fairfax County, Virginia, where the old Springfield Mall was converted into Springfield Town Center, a mixed-use development that includes a 12-screen movie theatre, shops, and restaurants with outdoor seating and entrances. When the structures are demolished completely, it is known as a greyfield site. In jurisdictions such as Vermont (with a strict permitting process) or in major urban areas (where open fields are long gone), this greyfielding can be much easier and cheaper than building on a greenfield site. An example of this type of redevelopment is Prestonwood Town Center in Dallas and Voorhees Town Center in Voorhees Township, New Jersey.

Amazon, FedEx and DHL have already acquired the sites of some failed malls and converted them to fulfillment centers.[23] A proposal called "Re-Habit"[24] uses portions of struggling malls, particularly vacated big box space, for homeless housing.[25] As an example of this concept, the vacant Macy's in the Landmark Mall of Alexandria, Virginia has been converted into a temporary homeless shelter[26] for the Carpenter's Shelter.[27]

Some major healthcare systems such as Vanderbilt Health and the University of Rochester (UR) Health have converted several dying malls into new "health malls" or "mall to medicine." The large spaces allow for the easy conversion of space-intensive activities such as ambulatory surgical centers, while the multiple storefronts facilitate "one stop shopping" for all your health related needs, with specialists co-located with primary care, laboratories, pharmacies and more. Roughly half of 100 Oaks Mall in Nashville, TN is now dedicated to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.[28] Following in Vanderbilt's successful model, it is expanding to other dead or dying malls throughout its region,[29] while University of Rochester Medical Center is converting roughly one-third of The Marketplace Mall in Henrietta, NY.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Greyfields and Ghostboxes Evolving Real Estate Challenges". Archived from the original on 2009-05-26. Retrieved 2009-07-16.
  2. ^ "Recession Turns Malls Into Ghost Towns -". 2009-05-22. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
  3. ^ Rosenbloom, Stephanie (10 July 2009). "Malls See Plenty of Action, but Less of It Is Shopping". The New York Times.
  4. ^ Newman, Rick (2009-06-26). "How To Tell When a Mall Is In Trouble". Retrieved 2009-07-16.
  5. ^ a b c Glancey, Jonathan (2014-04-11). "The death of the US shopping mall". BBC. Retrieved 2020-01-23.
  6. ^ Kopun, Francine (22 January 2015). "Target Canada owes more than $5-billion to creditors".
  7. ^ Keegan, Matthew (31 January 2018). "World's Biggest Shopping Mall in China Is No Longer a 'Ghost Mall'". Culture Trip.
  8. ^ Greg Guenthner (2016-12-20). "Amazon is crushing shopping malls". Business Insider.
  9. ^ Dokoupil, Tony (2008-11-12). "Is the American Shopping Mall Dead?". Newsweek. Retrieved 2009-10-24.
  10. ^ "The vanishing shopping mall". The Week. 2009-03-26. Retrieved 2009-10-24.
  11. ^ a b c d Schwartz, Nelson D. (3 January 2015). "The Economics (and Nostalgia) of Dead Malls". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Thompson, Derek (10 April 2017). "What in the World Is Causing the Retail Meltdown of 2017?". The Atlantic.
  13. ^ "Mall Walking". 2013-07-17. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
  14. ^ Cory Schouten. "General Growth deal would extend Simon's mall dominance | Indianapolis Business Journal". Retrieved 2013-09-08.
  15. ^ Melissa Regennitter (2010-05-29). "Leading the charge to bring back the mall". Retrieved 2013-09-08.
  16. ^ "Foreclosed mall once valued at $190M is auctioned for $100". WTOP. 2017-01-18. Archived from the original on 2017-01-26. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  17. ^ Anderson, Tom (2017-01-21). "Entire Pittsburgh mall sells for $100—all 1.1 million square feet of it". CNBC. Retrieved 2017-01-25.
  18. ^ Maheshwari, Sapna (5 July 2020). "With Department Stores Disappearing, Malls Could Be Next". The New York Times.
  19. ^ "Chicago-area malls and stores shut down by COVID-19". WIFR-LD. March 18, 2020.
  20. ^ "Mall of America reopens, with only 150 of 500 stores open Wednesday". Star Tribune. June 10, 2020.
  21. ^ "Visions of the Future?". National Real Estate Investor. 2003-05-01. Retrieved 2020-02-05.
  22. ^ "From Retail to Revamped: Eastgate Metroplex Fills Up Its Biggest Spaces". Tulsa World. 2016-02-18. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  23. ^ Fung, Esther; Herrera, Sebastian (2020-08-09). "Amazon and mall operator look at turning Sears, JC Penney stores into fulfillment centers". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2020-08-09 – via Fox Business.
  24. ^ Re-Habit KTGY Architecture + Planning
  25. ^ Goss, Joe (5 October 2018). "Efforts To House Homeless In Empty Big-Box Stores Move Forward". Forbes. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  26. ^ Hickman, Matt (29 August 2018). "Can vacant mall stores alleviate homelessness?". Mother Nature Network. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
  27. ^ Carpenter's Shelter About Page
  28. ^ Mall-to-medicine transitions make health care more convenient for suburban patients.
  29. ^ VUMC wants to take mall-to-medicine concept to Antioch. It helped turn 100 Oaks Mall around.
  30. ^ 1 year later: UR making progress on orthopedic campus at Marketplace Mall.

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