By JOE LUETKEHANS– Stains line the drooping ceiling tiles. Nestled in between gated storefronts are small oases of civilization under dimly lit signs flickering with the words “SHOE DEPT.” and “SPENCERS.” The stench of salted pretzels and cleaning supplies fills the air. Residents of Indiana are likely well-accustomed to the atmosphere of the local mall; it seems like it’s always been the best place in town to find suggestive trinkets and catch the newest films.
To many, it may feel like it’s always been ever so slightly run down, dirty, and loveable at the same time. Perhaps that’s part of the appeal. However, between the death of some of its most popular stores and the worsening condition of its appearance, one cannot help but think that it won’t be around for much longer.
Obviously, our own Indiana Mall has not been immune to degradation. Starting with the death of Finish Line several years ago, a local shoe and sports supplies store, each year has seen a handful of annual store closings. The GameStop came next, then the Aeropostale, followed by the FYE, and etc.. This has continued until today when the last few months saw the announcement of the deaths of both K-Mart, and most recently Sears, two of the largest and originally most prominent stores Indiana Mall had to offer. One cannot help but think: How long will it be before the entire mall is nothing but an empty, grey shell of a once-great social hub?
This has not gone unnoticed. Youtube channel Ace’s Adventures, who explores abandoned businesses around the country, traveled to Indiana in June of 2016 to document the local mall. The owner of the channel has stated “My goal is to see every ‘dead mall’ in the country. Somehow, some way…” The channel was started that same year but has since documented dozens of businesses nationwide. While stalking the empty halls, the narrator notes the appearance of the K-Mart and same-y layout to other malls around the region as the markings of the company who built the building.
This company, Zamias Services, Inc., is based in Johnstown and owns retail property such as Pittsburgh Mills Mall, Northern Lights Shopping Center, and the DuBois mall, all of which have the same run-down level of upkeep.
Pittsburgh Mills is a notorious example of this, seeing as it closed within just over a decade of existence. Simply put, nobody wanted another mall in the Pittsburgh area. Today, the property is worth nearly nothing. This is the problem. Americans stopped visiting malls at the same time that they kept being built. The turnover rate has become all too fast, leading to more dead malls than live ones.
This pattern of run-down malls has stricken most of the north and middle eastern regions of the country, with dead malls becoming commonplace in states such as Virginia as well.
The state of the mall is reflective of most locals’ opinion on the building and malls in general. Sophomore Katie Wachob enjoys the feeling of shopping in stores, but when it comes to option, she states that she prefers to leave town. “I love the food courts, the options, malls are great… but not Indiana Mall. That’s not good.”
Larger shopping centers such as the Westmoreland Mall and Ross Park Mall are much more popular among students for their better level of maintenance, better selection of stores, and more chic feeling.
According to analysis in a BBC piece on the death of the American mall, the heyday of such lifestyle centers peaked in the 1970s and 1980s. Eager gen-Xers would hit the mall after school or on weekends, creating the now-decrepit stereotype of the “mall rat.”
As the decades carried on and entered the 1990s, malls began to take a hit. From that point onwards, malls slowly became less and less crowded due to a variety of factors, such as the internet and new kinds of malls themselves.
Unsurprisingly, the shrinking reliance of malls partly has to do with the booming rise of online shopping, with sites such as Amazon and eBay taking millions of customers who once populated their halls. Before this, the explosive birth of the strip mall stripped people of their will to take a day trip across town to the megamall, instead offering the convenience of a few key stores in an easy-to-access open location.
Indiana students have taken advantage of these conveniences. Senior Allison Ream detests the idea of local shopping. “It’s stressful… you have to see people. I prefer to shop online.” Ream, along with many others, prefers the convenience of online stores. “…you can compare prices, find better deals, and spend money better. You can do it all from your PJs!”
Ben Bianco, a senior and self-professed online entrepreneur, has found nothing but joy in online shopping. “I don’t really go to malls. It’s just so much easier to shop online.” This sentiment makes sense for many Indiana students. Since the newest and most popular items can’t be found locally, the next best place to turn is the internet.
This shrinkage can be labeled as dramatic, even in the last 10 years. According to real-estate research firm Cushman and Wakefield, there was a 50% decrease in mall foot traffic nationwide from around of 35 million visits to 17 million in the time span between 2010 and 2013- only 3 years.
So what is the future? Will physical shopping centers eventually have to foreclose in defeat? The future of the mall is in the hands of the consumer, and only time will tell.
[Photo by Joe Luetkehans]
Photo Caption: Junior Joey Bujdos shops on Amazon, unknowingly contributing to the death of retail.