The Slow Death of a Shopping Mall

THX1123

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I wrote this in an email to a friend in November 2019, prior to That Which Cannot Be Named, and before moving away from the area - again.

At lunch I have been going to the McKinley Mall. The mall is close to the college where I work.

McKinley is one of the last 2 malls built in Western New York. It was built in 1985. It is pretty big, but is only one story. It’s interesting to me that it is named after President McKinley – well, the name of the Parkway it is on was named after him, so the mall is too. President McKinley was shot dead here in Buffalo, NY. He was at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. He was shot in the Temple of Music by an “Anarchist.” He died here. Vice President Teddy Roosevelt was then sworn in as President of the United States in downtown Buffalo. I believe he was sworn in in a mansion on Delaware Avenue.

President McKinley was shot twice in the gut. It took him a week to die of gangrene. This mall is nearly bled out, and also gangrenous, but there are still random grim events occasionally happening here. I just found out some lady got stabbed in Sears here at the McKinley Mall last month. She bled to death in there, lying on the floor, in a mostly empty Sears department store. She was being stalked by her ex-boyfriend. I should go in and try to find the spot where she bled out. I bet I could find it by looking for places where the carpet was replaced.

Anyway, the mall is dying slowly also, also bleeding to death and septic, just like President McKinley. Only about 40% of the retail spaces are occupied. The food court has a few places left open. I go in and bring my own lunch and read my Kindle there. There’s a lot of seats and it is quiet. The music playing in the public spaces seems to be frozen around 1989. We used to come here a lot back in the day when I was a Senior in High School as the mall was brand new then. The music and décor is the same. The experience of this place now is both unusually pleasing and mildly unsettling. I like that.

There’s usually a couple short-bus loads of special needs adults there. There must also be some kind of assisted living facility for those individuals with mental illness nearby as well. There are a lot of people mumbling and shuffling around, weeks unshaven, wearing nylon windbreakers, unintentionally bizarre hair cuts, and carrying way too many odd and misshapen bags of random items. One guy stops at the Jewelry store and says something incoherent quite loudly to the clerks in there. They smile weakly and wave.

A cabal of old guys shooting the sh*t in the central food court area are regulars also. I see them nearly every time I come here. I hear the word “card-ee-AAAH-LAAA-gist” repeatedly, it is largely pronounced through the nose, like their nostrils can form words and enunciate. Random bus-rider people with creased bus schedules linger around the entrance, scowling, most staying out of the cold wind. A frail old lady in a leopard skin pattern jacket and glasses that were out of style in 1990 jiggles in one of those coin-operated massage chairs.

Every third person seems to have a limp or unusual gait. What is clearly someone attempting to be a trans person is stomping by in a black mini skirt, Doc Martens, and bright pink hair, all 6’ 2” of him, clearly a male, no attempt to change his/her walk into something more feminine. Some old lady also has similarly pink hair. She is easily 75 years old, and her silver roots have grown out several inches. Her cankles are as big as my thighs, they muffin-top over her absurd running shoes. She walks with a woman in her 30’s who has a shaved head, crack-pipe scabs around her mouth, and a grimy 3-year-old dragging behind her, despondent, like a conscious heavy bag of laundry.

Several Arabic women in those traditional plain blue and black shapeless outfits and head coverings (where do they buy those garments, I wonder to myself) shop in the women’s section of a barely still-open Sears…what will they buy there, and for whom? They have clearly chosen not to wear secular Western clothes…one has a companion, in her 20's, who is dressed similarly, yet more Western. New $150 running shoes poke out of the bottom of her long dress.

I walk a lap of the place after I eat. It takes about 20 minutes to make a circuit. Septuagenarian Mall Walkers make laps with me, their gray, brown, and black Velcro shoes muted against the smooth mall floor. It feels like I am in that Zombie movie that took place in a mall. Two way-too-tanned Italian Grandmas walk by faster than I am walking, both running their mouths loudly at the same time. They raise their arms exaggeratedly high, all elbows high and spandex as**s low, fleece and expensive hairdos and glasses with rhinestones and loud extreme WNY accents. I pass Spencer’s Gifts, Victoria’s Secret, Claire’s Boutique - all in their death throes. The Pretzel shop is still open. A Martial Arts school has taken a large retail space. One store is open for every 2-3 I pass.

I smell Bed Bath & Beyond 50 yards before I get there. An older woman and a flouncy young man mug at each other in their aprons and name tags just inside. Clerks are slouched at counters looking down at cell phones in most stores. I pass Best Buy. The security guy at the entrance is clearly fighting falling asleep, his matrix screen of 9 rotating cameras show no customers. Some guy in front of an empty storefront is attempting to busk. He is juggling. No one stops or looks. He has set up so the mall walkers have to go around him. I avoid eye contact. I don’t like his goofy cap. Plus he is a crummy juggler.

I go into Barnes and Noble. This I like. It is empty except for some old men sitting in armchairs, mooching, reading the magazines for free. I find some British magazines I like - Motorsport and Mojo - and I buy them. The clerks are still being forced to wearily and robotically ask me if I want to join their frequent buyer card program. I have genuine sympathy for them for having to pantomime the corporate line.

I notice that there’s about 200 little big-headed figurines in the book store. They take up a large area in front. They are called Funko-Pop. They have them for all kinds of movies, shows, musicians. I look for a Jesus Christ one. There isn’t one. Further research shows they don’t make one, but later a Jesus Christ bobble head is then found and purchased on Amazon.

On my way out to the car I pass the spot where in 1986 we tore the bumper off a car in my friend's '72 Charger. People stared, gaping, as we sped away from the scene. Back in the day this place was a major social and retail center, and was always super busy. We were seriously blazed, and the guy blindly backed out of his spot. His bumper was sticking straight up after the heavy Mopar ripped it away from the cheesy late 80's unibody. We tore out of there as fast as the 318 would allow us, paranoid the whole way home.

On my way farther out of the mall parking lot I passed the movie theaters. We used to come in here in my friend's old Dodge station wagon to see midnight Zombie movies back in the day also. Before we went in to the movie we would pound lukewarm beers, blaze, and then siphon enough gas from cars parked in the shadows, at least enough to get yet another old 318 the 20 miles back home.

2021 update: The McKinley Mall lost Sears, Penneys, and most of its national chain stores and local stores in 2020 and 2021. The food court is now entirely abandoned. It was sold in July of 2021 for 8.5 Million US dollars to a sketchy company that specializes in buying troubled mall properties. They own now about 50 malls. Locals questioned the sale price and sale process...
 

Peegoo

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Two local malls are fairly dead here. Both have leased out the large mall-end "anchor store" spaces, e.g., Penney's, Macy's, etc., to data warehouse companies to plant server farms.
 

imwjl

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It's not all bad. Malls are what started the deteriorating downtowns and some are coming back. Some malls are becoming residential mixed use and other commerce. With near death of two major malls by me we see better land use and better neighborhoods.

With that we still have the good America vs broken America problems. We have homes in one each of those. I don't think there's much salvation for areas where the skills, resources and planning are not where the whole world will pay a living wage or much for what the areas offer. Especially so when you consider are state of record low unemployment in economy still influenced by the can't talk about it here.
 

BigDaddyLH

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Do an image goog on "abandoned shopping malls". There is beauty...

untitled-35-4.jpg


There are walk-thrus on YouTube.

 

JL_LI

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Near me, Sears has closed down. The building will be demolished and replaced with high density housing that will be (long) walking distance from The Long Island Railroad. Trains are half full except for a few of them because of the unmentionable plague but railroad employees are still working unmonitored overtime. The mall across from what was Sears is slowly bleeding out, saved only by Target and Chick•FIL•a. Who can eat that stuff? There’s always a line of cars because no one will dare go inside. Amazon is building a distribution center on a contaminated industrial site that would have been a mall except for pathological NIMBY. So the rot’s not just upstate. It’s everywhere.

Not ten miles from the rot, retail is doing well. A mall with a Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, and a Neiman Marcus is doing well. It borders a wealthy community and is near enough to not so wealthy communities to provide cheap labor.

What’s happening is that the middle class is slipping down the ladder. A growing degreed professional class that hasn’t learned the discipline of holding onto wealth is taking their place. Their ranks are being added to by recent immigrants who’ve left their homeland with their money before they lose it. Recent immigrants who arrived with nothing keep wages low.

This is where I grew up but it isn’t really. Riches and rot grow side by side while the working class shrinks. Folks struggling are angry with each other but are powerless to change it. So we’ll continue to knock down failed retail and build housing until we can’t. What then? I won’t be around to worry about it. My grandkids are in California where unbridled growth will grind everything to a halt.
 

scottser

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Some crummy shopping mall owners ended up buying a controlling in interest in my favourite football club. Then they made the club take out a 500m debt to buy the remaining shares. Now they drain the club of cash to service the debts on the their crummy malls and there's not a thing anyone can do about it.
 

Blrfl

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Both have leased out the large mall-end "anchor store" spaces, e.g., Penney's, Macy's, etc., to data warehouse companies to plant server farms.

Any mall like that whose name ends in Center can rename itself, e.g., West Valley Center becomes West Valley Data Center.
 

RoscoeElegante

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TooFarFromCanada
I wrote this in an email to a friend in November 2019, prior to That Which Cannot Be Named, and before moving away from the area - again.

At lunch I have been going to the McKinley Mall. The mall is close to the college where I work.

McKinley is one of the last 2 malls built in Western New York. It was built in 1985. It is pretty big, but is only one story. It’s interesting to me that it is named after President McKinley – well, the name of the Parkway it is on was named after him, so the mall is too. President McKinley was shot dead here in Buffalo, NY. He was at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. He was shot in the Temple of Music by an “Anarchist.” He died here. Vice President Teddy Roosevelt was then sworn in as President of the United States in downtown Buffalo. I believe he was sworn in in a mansion on Delaware Avenue.

President McKinley was shot twice in the gut. It took him a week to die of gangrene. This mall is nearly bled out, and also gangrenous, but there are still random grim events occasionally happening here. I just found out some lady got stabbed in Sears here at the McKinley Mall last month. She bled to death in there, lying on the floor, in a mostly empty Sears department store. She was being stalked by her ex-boyfriend. I should go in and try to find the spot where she bled out. I bet I could find it by looking for places where the carpet was replaced.

Anyway, the mall is dying slowly also, also bleeding to death and septic, just like President McKinley. Only about 40% of the retail spaces are occupied. The food court has a few places left open. I go in and bring my own lunch and read my Kindle there. There’s a lot of seats and it is quiet. The music playing in the public spaces seems to be frozen around 1989. We used to come here a lot back in the day when I was a Senior in High School as the mall was brand new then. The music and décor is the same. The experience of this place now is both unusually pleasing and mildly unsettling. I like that.

There’s usually a couple short-bus loads of special needs adults there. There must also be some kind of assisted living facility for those individuals with mental illness nearby as well. There are a lot of people mumbling and shuffling around, weeks unshaven, wearing nylon windbreakers, unintentionally bizarre hair cuts, and carrying way too many odd and misshapen bags of random items. One guy stops at the Jewelry store and says something incoherent quite loudly to the clerks in there. They smile weakly and wave.

A cabal of old guys shooting the sh*t in the central food court area are regulars also. I see them nearly every time I come here. I hear the word “card-ee-AAAH-LAAA-gist” repeatedly, it is largely pronounced through the nose, like their nostrils can form words and enunciate. Random bus-rider people with creased bus schedules linger around the entrance, scowling, most staying out of the cold wind. A frail old lady in a leopard skin pattern jacket and glasses that were out of style in 1990 jiggles in one of those coin-operated massage chairs.

Every third person seems to have a limp or unusual gait. What is clearly someone attempting to be a trans person is stomping by in a black mini skirt, Doc Martens, and bright pink hair, all 6’ 2” of him, clearly a male, no attempt to change his/her walk into something more feminine. Some old lady also has similarly pink hair. She is easily 75 years old, and her silver roots have grown out several inches. Her cankles are as big as my thighs, they muffin-top over her absurd running shoes. She walks with a woman in her 30’s who has a shaved head, crack-pipe scabs around her mouth, and a grimy 3-year-old dragging behind her, despondent, like a conscious heavy bag of laundry.

Several Arabic women in those traditional plain blue and black shapeless outfits and head coverings (where do they buy those garments, I wonder to myself) shop in the women’s section of a barely still-open Sears…what will they buy there, and for whom? They have clearly chosen not to wear secular Western clothes…one has a companion, in her 20's, who is dressed similarly, yet more Western. New $150 running shoes poke out of the bottom of her long dress.

I walk a lap of the place after I eat. It takes about 20 minutes to make a circuit. Septuagenarian Mall Walkers make laps with me, their gray, brown, and black Velcro shoes muted against the smooth mall floor. It feels like I am in that Zombie movie that took place in a mall. Two way-too-tanned Italian Grandmas walk by faster than I am walking, both running their mouths loudly at the same time. They raise their arms exaggeratedly high, all elbows high and spandex as**s low, fleece and expensive hairdos and glasses with rhinestones and loud extreme WNY accents. I pass Spencer’s Gifts, Victoria’s Secret, Claire’s Boutique - all in their death throes. The Pretzel shop is still open. A Martial Arts school has taken a large retail space. One store is open for every 2-3 I pass.

I smell Bed Bath & Beyond 50 yards before I get there. An older woman and a flouncy young man mug at each other in their aprons and name tags just inside. Clerks are slouched at counters looking down at cell phones in most stores. I pass Best Buy. The security guy at the entrance is clearly fighting falling asleep, his matrix screen of 9 rotating cameras show no customers. Some guy in front of an empty storefront is attempting to busk. He is juggling. No one stops or looks. He has set up so the mall walkers have to go around him. I avoid eye contact. I don’t like his goofy cap. Plus he is a crummy juggler.

I go into Barnes and Noble. This I like. It is empty except for some old men sitting in armchairs, mooching, reading the magazines for free. I find some British magazines I like - Motorsport and Mojo - and I buy them. The clerks are still being forced to wearily and robotically ask me if I want to join their frequent buyer card program. I have genuine sympathy for them for having to pantomime the corporate line.

I notice that there’s about 200 little big-headed figurines in the book store. They take up a large area in front. They are called Funko-Pop. They have them for all kinds of movies, shows, musicians. I look for a Jesus Christ one. There isn’t one. Further research shows they don’t make one, but later a Jesus Christ bobble head is then found and purchased on Amazon.

On my way out to the car I pass the spot where in 1986 we tore the bumper off a car in my friend's '72 Charger. People stared, gaping, as we sped away from the scene. Back in the day this place was a major social and retail center, and was always super busy. We were seriously blazed, and the guy blindly backed out of his spot. His bumper was sticking straight up after the heavy Mopar ripped it away from the cheesy late 80's unibody. We tore out of there as fast as the 318 would allow us, paranoid the whole way home.

On my way farther out of the mall parking lot I passed the movie theaters. We used to come in here in my friend's old Dodge station wagon to see midnight Zombie movies back in the day also. Before we went in to the movie we would pound lukewarm beers, blaze, and then siphon enough gas from cars parked in the shadows, at least enough to get yet another old 318 the 20 miles back home.

2021 update: The McKinley Mall lost Sears, Penneys, and most of its national chain stores and local stores in 2020 and 2021. The food court is now entirely abandoned. It was sold in July of 2021 for 8.5 Million US dollars to a sketchy company that specializes in buying troubled mall properties. They own now about 50 malls. Locals questioned the sale price and sale process...

Thanks for that painfully precise account. Very well-written, if you don't mind a college English teacher saying so. Sounds like Bill Bryson's descriptive skills synergizing Thomas Pynchon's a-culture-eating-itself allegorizing. I grew up in and around Buffalo, and as near as East Aurora to that mall, so this makes it all especially apt.

Or as a real Western New Yorker would nasally put it, "EHHhpt."

Two summers ago, I took my sons up to the area to show 'em Dad's old haunts. (No Mopar 318 escape stories per se, but in '75, I think, my friends and I did escape one police car looking for us by hanging onto its back bumper and crouching down for a free pogey, as we called it, in the snowy road, as the officer wondered where those damn kids had disappeared to.) When my sons were swimming in Lake Erie, near Fredonia, where we stayed in a great B-&-B, I almost wept. When I was their age, Lake Erie was foul and tragic, but/because the industrial jobs were still there, even if ol' Buffalo was already too dangerous to live in, in many places. Now, the Lake is clean enough (sorta) to swim in, but/because the industrial jobs are all gone, the invasive mussels have soaked up much of the yuck, and the city is...still pretty dangerous, and sad, and, like the mall walkers, staggering onward.

I sure hope that this country can find a healthy way or two forward. Maybe malls' deaths can actually help downtowns' renewals.....
 
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imwjl

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My mom's basement.
Some crummy shopping mall owners ended up buying a controlling in interest in my favourite football club. Then they made the club take out a 500m debt to buy the remaining shares. Now they drain the club of cash to service the debts on the their crummy malls and there's not a thing anyone can do about it.

Here your style and our style of football are both warped versions of welfare with many addicted to it. Same for a lot of real estate development. Thus, I think you describe a relationship that makes sense.

:)
 

schmee

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YEP, malls are history. Unable to change with the times PLUS, online ordering is far far easier.
Malls could have done better if they would cater also to people who just need to 'Quick Stop' and get something. But NOOOOO, they want you to walk 1/4-1/2 a mile every time you go!
PUT OUTSIDE DOORS ON EVERY STORE AROUND THE PERIMETER ALSO! Then you can just park quick, dip into Radio Shack and get a resistor! OH... wait... there ain't no Radio Shack!

Even at Christmas, I can spend 1 hour on line and buy all of Christmas. I used to spend 2-4 hours and still not get it done!
 

maxvintage

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I'm glad malls are dying. They were step one in a process that killed small towns and cities. The OP could have written nearly the exact same post about the local downtown five years after the mall was built.

They were overbuilt and people got tired of them: they always had the same stores no matter where you went.

And yes it's a pita to drive to the mall, find a parking space, find the door, and walk 1/2 a mile to find that one thing you want.
 
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nojazzhere

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Near me, Sears has closed down. The building will be demolished and replaced with high density housing that will be (long) walking distance from The Long Island Railroad. Trains are half full except for a few of them because of the unmentionable plague but railroad employees are still working unmonitored overtime. The mall across from what was Sears is slowly bleeding out, saved only by Target and Chick•FIL•a. Who can eat that stuff? There’s always a line of cars because no one will dare go inside. Amazon is building a distribution center on a contaminated industrial site that would have been a mall except for pathological NIMBY. So the rot’s not just upstate. It’s everywhere.

Not ten miles from the rot, retail is doing well. A mall with a Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, and a Neiman Marcus is doing well. It borders a wealthy community and is near enough to not so wealthy communities to provide cheap labor.

What’s happening is that the middle class is slipping down the ladder. A growing degreed professional class that hasn’t learned the discipline of holding onto wealth is taking their place. Their ranks are being added to by recent immigrants who’ve left their homeland with their money before they lose it. Recent immigrants who arrived with nothing keep wages low.

This is where I grew up but it isn’t really. Riches and rot grow side by side while the working class shrinks. Folks struggling are angry with each other but are powerless to change it. So we’ll continue to knock down failed retail and build housing until we can’t. What then? I won’t be around to worry about it. My grandkids are in California where unbridled growth will grind everything to a halt.
Some very insightful observations there, Jeff. We have several shopping malls here that are hanging on by a thread or two, but their ends will come eventually.
A lot of folks here love to boast about our thriving local housing market, and how we're constantly tearing down existing structures to put up nice new ones. The issue they always ignore is that when they demolish "lower-income" housing, there's no place for those displaced families (and they ARE families, people, with children) have nowhere to go. We're building proverbial McMansions for people coming here from the East and West coasts, and running out folks who have lived here all their lives. It used to seem like our town had areas that suited EVERY class and life-style, but now everything seems to cater to only the wealthy segments of people.
Your comment about "holding onto wealth" (and actually acquiring it in the first place) is a whole subject worth exploring.....but not here.
 

rghill

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In a city with a metro population of nearly 5 million, there are probably two malls that are still going. There was about a dozen a few short years ago.

The decline of the shopping mall started long before the events of the past year or two, and are driven by changes to the way people shop and the the failure of the old stores to change to the new rules. Without the anchor stores, the malls collapse.

Kind of sad - Metrocenter was a huge mall here when I was growing up, and was even the filming location for Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. If you recall the scenes at the mall were pretty much normal day to day for the time the film was made. Last time I was in there there were practically no stores left open. Walmart opened at one end, but decided to not provide an opening into the mall, pretty much dooming it to closure.
 




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