Dead Malls: A Comprehensive Guide To Abandoned Malls In 2021

During the 1960s and 1970s, retail trends sent the number of malls in the U.S. skyrocketing. Anchored by major department stores like J.C. Penney and Sears, these vast enclosed shopping centers sprang up in suburbs across the country, with 30,000 malls accounting for half the retail dollars spent in 1975.

Mall construction continued through the next several decades, reaching an indulgent peak with the 1992 opening of the 5.6 million square-foot Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, which dwarfed the 20 existing “supermalls” of 2 million square feet or more. But with malls being built at a rate more than twice the growth of the nation’s population from 1970 to 2015, supply was destined to exceed demand at some point.

Dead malls image by Logan Bush / Shutterstock.com

That tipping point began in the early aughts with the rapid expansion of the internet, and along with several other compounding factors, an epidemic of dead malls and dying malls quickly spread across all 50 states. The results of this epidemic can be seen today in the carcasses that remain, waiting to be razed in favor of large retail warehouses and distribution centers.

The Death and Demise of Retail

As more homes gained access to the internet, retailers began expanding their storefronts to the virtual world—or opting to abandon physical locations altogether. Before it became a global behemoth, Amazon started as an online bookstore that founder Jeff Bezos operated out of his garage in the Seattle suburbs. By 1997, it added music and movies to its online offerings, and within a few years it had added products in virtually all consumer categories. In 2020, the company achieved a mind-blowing $386 billion in sales.

Online shopping offered consumers a number of advantages over brick-and-mortar stores: they could shop 24 hours a day from the comfort of their homes (or from anywhere at all, thanks to the growing ubiquity of smartphones); they could locate and purchase nearly any product they desired, without having to worry about whether it was in stock on local store shelves; and in many cases, they could get the products shipped straight to their doors at no additional cost.

However, the rise in online commerce wasn’t the only factor that contributed to the demise of traditional retail. The Great Recession of 2008 hit retailers hard, with more than 400 bankruptcies at mall mainstays like Sharper Image, Linens ‘n’ Things, Steve and Barry’s and KB Toys.

Dead malls image by David Whitemyer / Shutterstock.com

Additionally, big-box stores like Walmart, Target and Best Buy—which are typically located in stand-alone buildings—have siphoned business away from enclosed malls and their anchor stores. Trends toward outdoor “lifestyle centers” and strip malls have also left old-school malls wanting for customers.

By 2019, average mall vacancy rates approached 10 percent, a threshold considered “troubling” by real estate experts. Though some economists believed malls could survive these headwinds, no one could have foreseen the gale forces that would tear through the country in 2020 and dramatically change consumer behavior in a way that could prove permanent.

COVID-19: The Last Nail in the Coffin

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. with a vengeance. Many states and cities issued stay-at-home orders that effectively shut down malls and other “nonessential” businesses, while others closed temporarily due to lack of customers or an inability to maintain adequate staffing levels.

Though some stores subsequently reopened as restrictions eased and shoppers became more comfortable in public spaces, many already-troubled commercial centers and their retailers were unable to weather the months of mounting revenue losses and their doors stayed closed for good. Major malls that shuttered permanently amidst the pandemic have included Cascade Mall in Burlington, Washington; Northgate Mall in Durham, North Carolina; and the Metrocenter in Phoenix, Arizona.

Economists believe the coronavirus-related shutdowns accelerated the existing trends favoring online shopping, as customers turned to retail giants like Amazon as well as smaller ecommerce companies to procure essentials like groceries, cleaning and personal hygiene products.

Dead malls image by Paiyannoii / Shutterstock.com

Additionally, as people spent more time at home, many turned to “retail therapy” in the form of online shopping for electronics, clothing and other personal luxuries to deal with the anxiety, boredom and isolation of pandemic life. Consumer surveys indicate that for many shoppers, the move to online shopping will be permanent, with nearly three in 10 Americans indicating that they would opt for online over in-person shopping in the future.

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15 Beautiful Dead Malls in the United States

The convergence of these factors—an oversupply of brick-and-mortar retail centers, the trend away from enclosed commercial centers and the dramatic rise in online shopping—has led economists to predict that in the next three to five years, as many as one-quarter of the existing 1,000 malls in the United States could close forever, adding hundreds to the list of already-dead malls across the country.

Though these structures often leave a gaping hole in the aesthetic fabric (and tax revenues) of the communities in which they are located, dead malls can have a beautiful, albeit haunting, allure.

For those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, these dead malls stand frozen in time as nostalgic monuments to their formative years; millions of now-middle-aged Americans spent evenings and weekends strolling the malls’ vast corridors with their friends, stopping at Cinnabon for a sweet treat and scoping out the latest styles at Gap or Abercrombie and Fitch. For younger generations, these dead malls may simply be vast abandoned suburban playgrounds to explore and photograph.

Dead malls image by John Arehart / Shutterstock.com

Regardless of what might draw you to peek inside these defunct retail centers, the list below represents 15 beautiful dead malls across the country that are worth a look before they’re targeted for demolition or redevelopment.

If you’d like to skip ahead, jump to the relevant dead malls using the following links:

You can also skip ahead to the six outlined zombie malls using these links:

Jamestown Mall, Florissant, Missouri

For more than two decades after it opened in 1973, the Jamestown Mall in this northern St. Louis County suburb was a popular shopping and entertainment destination for residents of the region. Originally anchored by department stores Sears and Stix Baer & Fuller (later acquired by Dillard’s), the center added Famous-Barr (now Macy’s) as a third anchor in 1994 and rounded out its major lineup with the arrival of a JCPenney outlet store in 1996. The complex also included a twin-screen movie theater that was remodeled and expanded to become the Jamestown 14 Cine’ in 1998.

Dead malls image by Katie, adventure_as_one on Instagram

By the turn of the 21st century, Jamestown Mall was beginning to show signs of distress. When then-owner Jacobs Group sold the property to Carlyle Development Group in 2003, the vacancy rate hovered near 30 percent. The Dillard’s store shuttered in 2006, followed by Sears in 2008.

The Carlyle Group attempted to address the mall’s decline with a proposed redevelopment plan to convert the Dillard’s space into offices, but when St. Louis County leadership withdrew its support from the proposal in 2009, the plan was abandoned. At the same time, a county-commissioned study by the Urban Land Institute determined that the mall’s future as a retail center appeared bleak due to significant overlap with other retailers in the region.

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In 2010, a consultant hired by the St. Louis County Council floated a second plan that would demolish the entire structure except the spaces occupied by JCPenney and Macy’s and redevelop the property as a mixed-center. By then, nearly half of the 1.25 million square-foot mall’s storefronts were vacant, with weeds bursting through cracks in the asphalt of the nearly-empty parking lot. However, the property owners failed to move forward on changes to the mall, and it continued to languish.

By late 2013, the JCPenney outlet store—which had been rebranded as JC’s 5 Star Outlet—closed its doors. When the heat to the building was shut off due to nonpayment in November of that year, it was the final straw for Macy’s, which announced its departure in January 2014. The mall limped along without an anchor store for another six months before shuttering completely on July 1, 2014.

Dead Malls image by Zachary McGee, skaterbate on Instagram

By 2017, the St. Louis County Port Authority had taken over the property and began taking steps such as clearing hazardous waste from the building to prepare it for demolition and redevelopment. At public meetings to discuss the mall’s future, video footage showed a shadowy, haunting interior, with center-court landscaping features filled with dead plants and leaves and gaping holes torn in the ceilings. Water damage had left the tile floors and carpeting covered in debris and mildew, and the pipes inside the now-empty fountain were rusted and tarnished.

In the years since, no redevelopment action on the mall has yet begun. In June 2020, local fire and rescue crews responded to multiple fires inside the building that appeared to have been deliberately set, causing further damage to the decaying property.

Staunton Mall, Staunton, Virginia

Just outside the city limits, the open-air Staunton Plaza opened in 1968 with anchor stores J.C. Penney, Montgomery Ward, Safeway and Woolworth. A 1986 expansion project transformed the plaza into a traditional enclosed mall, adding a Leggett department store and replacing the former Safeway—which had closed in 1982 after a dispute with a local labor union—with a Sears Outlet. After the renovations were completed, the 400,000 square-foot space was rechristened Staunton Mall.

Despite its shiny new appearance, the mall saw two major store closures in the next few years. The Sears Outlet closed in 1989 due to poor sales, and the Woolworth store closed in 1995 as the dying brand shrank its national footprint. A second renovation in 1996 relocated the food court closer to the movie theater, expanded available retail space and repainted the mall’s exterior.

Dead malls image by The_original_alex on Reddit

Two years later, the mall sold to Colonial Properties Trust and was renamed Colonial Mall Staunton. The Montgomery Ward store closed in 2001 as the chain filed for bankruptcy and liquidated all of its locations, and the space reopened as a Steve & Barry’s sportswear outlet in 2004 after failed negotiations to replace it with brands like Old Navy, Target and Sears.

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In 1996, Staunton Mall underwent a renovation plan by then-owners Steven D. Bell and Co. Under these plans, the food court was moved closer to the theater, with the previous one, added in the 1986-87 renovations, becoming additional mall space. Also, a fountain was removed in center court, the mall exterior was repainted and received new canopies, and Stone & Thomas opened in the vacated Woolworth.

When the mall was sold again in 2007, the old Staunton Mall name was restored, but its Steve & Barry’s and Books-A-Million stores soon departed. The new ownership group filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and it changed hands three more times by the time Staunton Mall closed for good at the end of 2020. Augusta County has targeted the mall for demolition and redevelopment into a mixed-use residential property, but for now, the shopping center’s vacant shell still stands.

Century III Mall, West Mifflin, Pennsylvania

This shopping center literally evolved from a mountain of industrial waste to become one of the largest commercial endeavors in southwestern Pennsylvania. It started as a 410-acre slag heap created by the U.S. Steel Corporation, which sought to transform the dump into a more lucrative use.

After years of clearing operations, the $100 million Century III Mall opened in 1979 with 75 stores, including two anchors. Subsequent expansions in 1980 added three additional anchor stores—including a two-level Gimbels and two-level Sears—and several dozen new smaller stores, bringing its total footprint to more than 1.6 million square feet.

Dead malls image by Reddit user CraboTheBusmaster

The mall’s prosperity peaked in the mid-1980s, with more than 200 storefronts and food vendors, making it Pittsburgh’s largest enclosed mall. An $8 million renovation project in 1997 included the installation of skylights in common areas to brighten the interior atmosphere, but it was also around this time that external factors began siphoning traffic away from Century III Mall.

A new shopping center known as the Waterfront opened a few miles away in 1999, and South Hills Village, a smaller competing mall about five miles from Century III, completed a major renovation with a massive food court that same year.

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A cascade of store closures began in 1999 as well, including the shuttering of the underperforming Lazarus department store and the closures of TJ Maxx ‘n’ More and Wickes Furniture. By 2003, Century III Mall’s vacancy rate hit around 20 percent, and within a few years, additional retailers filed for bankruptcy and closed their locations at the center.

Simon Property Group put the struggling mall on the market in 2006 but failed to find a buyer. In June 2009, the property’s assessed value had plummeted to $58 million from its peak value of $128 million. A 2009 U.S. News & World Report list of America’s Most Endangered Malls included Century III Mall near the top of its list, noting its 30 percent vacancy rate and recent exodus of major stores.

Dead malls image by Reddit user magicman2552

In 2011, Simon Property Group’s lenders took ownership of the mall after it defaulted on the $78 million loan. Las Vegas-based management group Moonbeam Capital Investments bought the mall in 2013, opening a new double-decker carousel in the center court the following year. Sears closed its store a few months later. The mall’s vacancy rate hit 60 percent in 2015, and Macy’s announced the closure of its Century III location in January 2016.

By the end of 2017, the mall’s vacancy rate had skyrocketed to 90 percent. The mall’s last food tenant, Old Mexico restaurant, closed in spring 2018, and the fancy new carousel was dismantled and relocated to Austin, Texas.

The mall saw a slight increase in activity in April 2018 during a filming session for the Netflix series Mindhunter, but it saw its last real crowds on June 1 when a tour was held to give several hundred former employees and customers a last glimpse of the shopping center before a sheriff’s sale scheduled for September. However, a last-minute bankruptcy filing by Moonbeam Capital postponed the sale.

On February 6, 2019, the West Mifflin government deemed the mall to be in violation of multiple city codes, including a non-functioning sprinkler system and lack of heat to the building. Moonbeam announced the sale of the mall a few days later, and the last two tenants—Dick’s Sporting Goods and JCPenney—received eviction notices on February 16. The mall was boarded up as of June 2019, leaving only the JCPenney store still operational through October 2020.

A redevelopment plan was announced that would repurpose the property as a mixed-use site with retail, dining, entertainment, office and residential occupants, with an anticipated completion date of 2024. Demolition and site remediation were expected to begin in 2020, with the first new buildings constructed by 2022, but that timeline appears to have been delayed, as the vacant mall remains in place for now.

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Burlington Center Mall, Burlington, New Jersey

Opened in 1982, the Burlington Center Mall was credited with spurring a wave of new development in the rural stretch of road spanning Burlington and Mount Holly townships. In 1996, JCPenney joined existing anchor stores Strawbridge’s and Sears, adding a 103,000 square-foot location to the bustling center. The modestly-sized mall peaked around that time, with three anchor stores and 100 supporting stores and food vendors.

Over the decade that followed, the mall saw a mass exodus of national chains, with Macy’s (which had taken over the former Strawbridge’s brand) announcing its departure in January 2010. In 2012, the mall was acquired at auction by Moonbeam Capital Investments for $4.4 million, down more than 50 percent from the price of its previous sale in 1999.

Dead malls image by Reddit user SJDeacon

JCPenney closed in 2014, leaving Sears as the lone anchor at the troubled mall. By late 2017, just a handful of stores remained open, among them Bath & Body Works, Foot Locker, an arcade and a food pantry.

A burst water pipe in January 2018 hastened the mall’s planned closure, although the Sears store on-site remained operational through September of that year. A development group purchased the property from Moonbeam Capital for an astounding $22 million in 2019 with plans to repurpose with several large warehouses, retail offerings, restaurants and 400 to 500 residential units.

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For now, the mall remains boarded-up and abandoned, with thick swaths of weeds and brush dotting the empty parking lot and crowding the former entrances. As far as dead malls go, this is one of the most visited and popular current abandoned malls in the United States.

Hawthorne Plaza Shopping Center, Hawthorne, California

When it opened in 1977, Hawthorne Plaza featured an indoor mall and several freestanding outlets at the southern end of the property. The mall gained immediate popularity with the middle-class residents of Hawthorne, featuring a more affordable mix of stores than the higher-end South Bay Galleria and Manhattan Village shopping centers nearby.

During the 1990s, demographic changes and the decline of the region’s aerospace industry coupled with increased competition from other retail centers hit Hawthorne Plaza hard. From a peak of 130 stores in the late 1980s, the mall’s census dropped to 70 stores by 1998. The last anchor—a Macy’s Clearance Center—closed in 1997, and the tentative plans to convert the mall to an open-air center never materialized.

Dead malls image by Reddit user HumanSockPuppet

The indoor mall component of the center closed in 1999, but the freestanding stores on the south end (including a grocery store, pharmacy and a few restaurants) remained open. The abandoned mall has since been used as a location for a number of popular films, including Minority Report, The Green Hornet and Gone Girl, as well as music videos by artists like Travis Scott, Chris Brown, Taylor Swift and BTS.

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In 2016, the Hawthorne City Council approved a plan to redevelop the property, which included revitalizing the former mall as a “power center” with a small outdoor mall, office complex and retail strip centers with residential housing located on their upper levels. The proposal also included high-end residential developments, office buildings and other commercial outlets, but the property owner has yet to begin construction almost five years later, and the long-shuttered mall continues to languish.

Lincoln Mall, Matteson, Illinois

This mall about 30 miles south of Chicago opened in 1973 with four anchors: Carson Pirie Scott, JCPenney, Montgomery Ward and Wieboldt’s. Though the latter closed in the 1980s, the remaining anchors continued to thrive, and the opening of a Walmart, Sam’s Club and Best Buy near the mall in the early 1990s seemed to draw additional traffic to the shopping center. After a 1993 renovation, Sears moved into the former Wieboldt’s space, returning the mall to its four-anchor full strength.

Dead malls image by Elliott Pepich via Behance

The late 1990s marked the start of the mall’s decline, with Montgomery Ward filing for bankruptcy and closing its store in 1999. JCPenney closed its Lincoln Mall location the following year, and additional stores followed suit.

Property owners began a $115 million redevelopment in 2006, which included the addition of a large movie theater and a new four-lane road linking Cicero Avenue and Lincoln Highway to improve the mall’s accessibility, but the project was never completed. The following year, Target and JCPenney opened new stores on outparcels.

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The mall’s financial troubles reached a boiling point in 2013, after Sears had closed its store and representatives of the City of Matteson sued the property owners and attempted to have the facility shut down due to multiple safety and building code violations, among them exposed wiring, inaccessible fire exits, an inoperable sprinkler system, damaged roof and failing foundation.

Dead malls image by Elliott Pepich via Behance

In 2014, a Cook County judge ordered the mall’s permanent closure by January 2015, with only the separately-owned Carson’s store permitted to remain open. Demolition of the indoor mall commenced in 2017, and both Carson’s and the Target store on the property closed in 2018, leaving JCPenney the only operating retailer on the site. The city has since approved a plan to build a casino on the mostly vacant property, which remains a controversial eyesore in the community.

777 International Mall, Miami, Florida

This historic building originally opened in 1947 as the Miami Theatre, one of several locations owned by the Wolfson-Meyer chain. The three-story structure included a single screen with seating for approximately 1,800 guests as well as Huyler’s Restaurant, a New York-based diner and candy shop. The theater was decorated to look like an aquarium, with brightly-painted murals, textured walls studded with reliefs of sea creatures and shells and dramatic cascading ceilings.

Dead malls image by David Bulit of Abandoned Florida

The theater closed in 1978 and was soon purchased by architect Oscar Sklar, who gutted the interior and reopened it as a mall in the early 1980s, capitalizing on its lucrative location for tourism and commercial activity. Sklar sold the mall to Marlon Avneri in 1998 for a modest $3 million, and Avneri eventually restored the exterior to capture its original design as the Miami Theatre.

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The building sold again in 2014 to developer Moisha Mana as part of Mana’s effort to amass millions of square feet in prime downtown property. By then, the building had become somewhat dilapidated, and he opened it up to local arts organizations to rent space for exhibitions, studios and creative services.

For three years, the location thrived as a critical hub for the city’s underground arts community, but the coronavirus pandemic forced its closure in March 2020 due to county health regulations. At the start of 2021, Mana issued eviction notices to the building’s tenants, citing the need for extensive repairs in order for the center to safely reopen. Given the cost-prohibitive nature of the necessary construction, the historic building’s future remains in serious doubt.

Landmark Mall, Alexandria, Virginia

The Landmark Mall opened to much local fanfare in 1965, with Lt. Gov. Mills Godwin leading the ribbon-cutting ceremony on the Washington, D.C. area’s first mall to include three department stores as anchors: The Hecht Co., Sears and Woodward & Lothrop. The 650,000 square-foot open-air center featured nearly 30 other stores, including Casual Corner, People’s Drugstore, Thom McAn and Waldenbooks, as well as the region’s second S&W Cafeteria.

Dead malls image by Reddit user KnownNormie

Following the trend at the time, the mall was enclosed in 1990, though the mall’s owner later sought to reverse that change in 2006 by restoring it as an open-air “town center”-style destination; however, it never followed through on this ambitious plan, instead selling the property to the Howard Hughes Corporation in 2009. The mall’s Lord & Taylor store, which had replaced the former Woodward & Lothrop, announced its closure the same year.

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Like its predecessor, the Howard Hughes Corporation proposed transforming the mall into an outdoor urban town center with both residential and retail uses, and the Alexandria City Council approved the plan in June of that year.

However, the plan languished until January 2017, when the property owner notified all remaining tenants that they would need to vacate the site by the end of the month to make way for the long-awaited redevelopment. Still, no action was taken on the plan, and the closure of the Sears store on the site in July 2020 finally left the center entirely vacant.

Dead malls image by Reddit user JClementsfan51

Since then, redevelopment plans appear to have changed significantly, as a new mixed-use proposal featuring a relocated Inova Alexandria Hospital was announced in December 2020.

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This two-story shopping center opened as Central City Mall in the heart of downtown San Bernardino in 1972. With three main anchors—The Harris Company, JCPenney and Montgomery Ward—and around 50 smaller stores, the mall was envisioned as the catalyst for revitalizing the downtown area.

However, supporting projects like an elevated monorail and adjacent city park never materialized, and the mall’s downhill trajectory began less than a decade after it opened.  By the end of the 1970s, the mall had become a main gathering place for local gangs, and the property changed owners multiple times.

Dead malls image grabbed from screenshot of video by Trevor Costelloe

In an effort to shed the shopping center’s shady reputation, the mall was rebranded in 1991 as Carousel Mall, with a new carousel and brightly-colored interior meant to attract families and repel gang activity. The community clearly wasn’t convinced much had changed, and it continued to hurt for customers through the end of the decade. Meanwhile, the nearby Inland Center Mall siphoned potential shoppers with its popular mix of anchor stores and proximity to the I-215/I-10 interchange.

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By 2003, all of Carousel Mall’s anchor stores had departed, leaving fewer than two dozen smaller stores inside the cavernous facility. New ownership planned to redevelop the property as a high-density residential and commercial district, but abandoned its plans and sold the mall again just two years later. For nearly a decade, the mall’s main tenant was the County of San Bernardino, which located as many as 300 employees in retail space that was converted to offices.

The mall finally closed completely in 2017. Challenging economic conditions statewide and the recent bankruptcy of the City of San Bernardino have further complicated the property’s future. As of late 2020, the San Bernardino City Council was still soliciting proposals from developers, but no formal action has been taken, leaving the mall another vacant eyesore in a struggling urban center.

ShoppingTown Mall, Dewitt, New York

Originally built as an open-air retail center in 1954, the ShoppingTown Mall was enclosed two decades later in keeping with the trends of the time. In its earliest days, major tenants included Woolworth, JCPenney, Walgreens, Acme Markets and Kinney Shoes, most of which were still in place when the facility began its transformation into an enclosed “all-climate mall” in the early 1970s.

Business at the mall hummed along until 1991, when a $53 million renovation added a new wing with a food court and additional retail space. Despite the major facelift, the mall lost anchor stores Addis & Dey and Woolworth shortly afterward, and the TJ Maxx store on-site relocated to the nearby Fayetteville Mall. Still, the mall managed to attract new tenants Bon-Ton in 1994 and Old Navy and Dick’s Sporting Goods in 2000, although the first two would close their ShoppingTown locations in early 2006.

Dead malls image by Reddit user bigxlettuce

In 2007, mall owner Macerich announced a plan to demolish a wing of the center to allow for construction of an open-air plaza with new tenants, but never followed through on the vision. After Macerich abandoned the mall in 2011, it went to bankruptcy auction, where zombie mall collector Moonbeam Capital Investments snatched it up for $14.3 million.

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The mall saw the closure of Macy’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods in 2015, JCPenney in 2016 and Sears in 2018, leaving it without a single anchor. The mall closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 and never reopened, with Moonbeam issuing eviction notices to all remaining tenants in September 2020. The empty shell of a mall has since been acquired by Onondaga County.

Cortana Mall, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Cortana Mall opened in 1976 with four anchor stores: Maison Blanche, Dillard’s, JCPenney and Sears. The 1.2 million square-foot center also featured a three-screen cinema and was the largest shopping mall in the southern U.S. Over the next decade, it added two additional anchors and peaked with about 140 stores, though the theater closed in 1988.  

Dead malls image by Reddit user akemiali

The mall saw major interior renovations in 1991, followed by an exterior facelift and rebranding as the Mall at Cortana in 1997. The same year, the Mall of Louisiana opened in South Baton Rouge and began poaching customers from the older complex. Business continued to decline when Towne Center at Cedar Lodge opened in 2005 with many of the same store brands as Cortana, resulting in many of the stores opting to close their Cortana locations.

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The Mervyns anchor store closed in 2006, followed by Steve & Barry’s in 2009, although the latter was eventually replaced with the Baton Rouge campus of Virginia College. A cascade of closures ensued over the next decade, including Macy’s in 2016 and Sears, Foot Locker and JCPenney in 2017. Virginia College closed its mall campus in 2018, leaving only the Dillard’s Clearance Center and about four dozen smaller stores.

Dead malls image by Reddit user southernSLP

By the middle of 2019, the only remaining businesses included three jewelry stores, a hair salon, a church, a medical clinic, a USPS branch and a Bath & Body Works store, which shuttered several months later. The center was closed to mall walkers in September 2019, and the remaining retailers were put on notice to vacate the property.

The Dillard’s Clearance Center remained accessible through an exterior entrance, but it too has announced plans to close by spring 2021, making way for a reported takeover of the property for an Amazon distribution center.

Knoxville Center, North Knoxville, Tennessee

This shopping center originally opened as East Towne Mall in 1984 and enjoyed nearly two decades of prosperity thanks to a quickly-growing neighborhood and proximity to I-640. When Simon Property Group took ownership of the mall in 1997, its interior was renovated to include a Tennessee mountain theme, and the center was rebranded as Knoxville Center.

Dead malls image by Reddit user tiedyeladyland

The mall lost its first major tenant in 2008 with the departure of Dillard’s. The mall was sold to Knoxville Partners LLC in 2016, and within the next two years both JCPenney and Sears had closed. By fall 2019, Belk announced its imminent closure, leaving only a dozen smaller stores, a dentist’s office, an event center and two restaurants. On Halloween 2019, the ownership group declared its intention to shutter the mall completely, and the Regal Cinema on site suddenly closed its doors that very day. Knoxville Center’s last day in operation was January 31, 2020.

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In September 2020, developers requested rezoning for the 78-acre site in order to demolish the empty mall and build a 219,000 square-foot fulfillment center for an unnamed online retailer. Knoxville City Council approved the request in November, paving the way for the property’s second life.

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Forest Fair Village, Cincinnati, Ohio

Built in phases between 1988 and 1989, Forest Fair Mall opened as the second-largest mall in Ohio but almost immediately faced financial challenges. Three of its anchor stores closed within a year of the mall’s opening, and the property owner also went into bankruptcy in less than a year. Still, the mall survived its rocky beginning, and it drew crowds to attractions like the eight-screen Super Saver movie theater and 100,000 square-foot Time Out entertainment complex, which featured a carousel and miniature golf course.

Dead malls image by Reddit user jarules17

The mall’s new ownership group revealed a new concept for the center in 1992, rebranding it as The Shops at Forest Fair and redecorating each wing according to a different theme. Anchored by upscale department stores, the southwestern wing was called “The Fashions at Forest Fair,” while the northwestern wing focused on home décor and entertainment vendors as “The Lifestyles at Forest Fair.” Under this structure, the mall remained roughly 90 percent leased, except for the struggling Lifestyle wing, which maintained a vacancy rate near 75 percent.  

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After another ownership change in 1996, renovations to the property drew new tenants like Bass Pro Shops, Burlington Coat Factory and Stein Mart. Mills Corporation bought the mall and continued its transformation in 2002, renaming it Cincinnati Mills and completely overhauling the interior with family-friendly amenities. The mall managed to reach 90 percent occupancy in 2005, but the glory days didn’t last long due to competition with the nearby Northgate and Tri-County malls and the closure of several popular stores.

Dead malls image by Reddit user jarules17

In 2009, North Star Realty purchased the mall, renamed it Cincinnati Mall and proposed converting sections into office space, call centers and other non-retail uses. The exodus of stores continued, with Steve & Barry’s, Off 5th, Guess, Lane Bryant and Dress Barn closing their locations over the next year.

Yet another ownership group took over in 2013, and the struggling mall was christened Forest Fair Village. Saddled with a delinquent tax bill, the new owners found it impossible to move forward on redevelopment plans for the property, and by 2017 the only businesses still in operation were Bass Pro Shops, Kohl’s, a children’s entertainment complex and an arcade. Since then, Kohl’s has announced plans to relocate by spring 2021. Though Bass Pro Shop is still open for now, it’s not hard to see the writing on the wall for the ill-fated mall.  

Hampton Towne Centre, Essexville, Michigan

The Hampton Square Mall opened in Essexville in 1975, anchored by Kmart, Michigan-based retailer William C. Wiechmann Company and an A&P grocery store. For years, the enclosed shopping center drew customers from all over the “thumb” region of Michigan, but vacancy rates began to rise in the early 1990s when the Bay City Mall opened just across the Saginaw River.

With the 2002 closure of Kmart—the last remaining anchor store—the balance of uses on the property shifted away from retail, with the main tenants consisting of the Michigan Department of Human Services, the Bay-Arenac Intermediate School District and the annual Bay County Library book sale.

Go far beyond dead malls in your urban exploration pursuits in Michigan. See our full guide to the best abandoned places in Michigan.

The mall officially closed to shoppers in 2010 and was subsequently purchased by Bay City developer Art Dore, who announced plans to renovate the 350,000 square-foot space and resurrect it as a mixed-use property with offices and retail. However, Dore did little to progress his vision until 2017, when he finally began a concerted effort to draw new tenants into the aging mall by offering the first year free on a five-year lease.

To date, his efforts appear to have been unsuccessful, as the Bay-Arsenac ISD, Department of Human Services and the Cat’s Meow Thrift Store are still the only occupants of the hauntingly empty former retail center.

Top 6 Zombie Malls: Not Quite Dead Malls

Before they close their doors completely, many malls manage to survive in a comatose state for years, with just a handful of retailers offering their goods and services to an ever-dwindling trickle of customers. The six shopping centers below fall into the category of “zombie malls”—not quite dead, but unlikely to ever be restored to life, despite heroic efforts by foolishly optimistic developers.  

Charlestowne Mall, St. Charles, Illinois

When it opened in 1991, the two-story Charlestowne Mall featured anchor stores JCPenney, Sears, Carson Pirie Scott and Kohl’s, as well as a movie theater.

The mall’s challenges started relatively early in its lifespan. JCPenney closed its Charlestowne location in 2001, citing underperforming sales, but the space was later filled by department store Von Maur. By 2007, the mall’s vacancy rate had reached 40 percent; a year later, that figure had nearly doubled.

It was acquired by a California-based development group in 2010, but the new owners failed to move forward on plans to renovate and revitalize the beleaguered retail center with an indoor ice rink and massive sushi and seafood buffet restaurant. The Sears store closed the following year.

Go far beyond dead malls in your urban exploration pursuits in Illinois. See our full guide to the best abandoned places in Illinois (Chicago Area).

In 2013, the mall was purchased by the Krausz Companies and rebranded as The Quad St. Charles. The new owners planned to demolish the wing where the Sears had been and create a combination indoor/outdoor “lifestyle center” with patio dining, a welcome center with a fireplace and abundant natural light throughout the complex.

Despite a groundbreaking ceremony being held in 2014, construction was never completed on the new design, and most of the few remaining retailers (including Kohl’s, Carson’s and LensCrafters) closed over the next several years. The vast majority of the mall interior was closed and locked in late 2017, leaving only Von Maur, Classic Cinemas and Power Athletics still in operation.

Regency Square Mall, Jacksonville, Florida

In the years following its 1967 opening, Regency Square Mall became one of the most profitable retail outlets in the country, with annual sales more than double the national average. It featured three anchor stores (Furchgott’s, JCPenney and May-Cohen’s) as well as a single-screen movie theater, Picadilly Cafeteria and Annie Tique’s restaurant and bar. In addition to drawing thousands of shoppers each month, the mall hosted a variety of social events, including art shows, scholastic science fairs and botanical exhibits.

Dead malls image by Killer Urbex owner John Bourscheid

The mall nearly doubled in square footage in 1981 with a $30 million expansion, incorporating a food court and six-screen theater as well as two additional department store anchors, Sears and Ivey’s. A second $30 million expansion in 1998 quadrupled the size of the AMC theater and saw the addition of Belk and Montgomery Ward.

Go far beyond dead malls in your urban exploration pursuits in Jacksonville. See our full guide to the best abandoned places in Jacksonville.

As new shopping centers went up around Jacksonville—including the Avenues Mall in 1990, St. Johns Town Center in 2005 and River City Marketplace in 2006—traffic at Regency steadily declined. Its occupancy rate dropped to 75 percent in 2011 and plummeted to 38 percent in 2013. Gang activity and crime also played a role in the mall’s deterioration, with more than 1,000 incidents reported in 2004. In 2008, a suspected shoplifter was killed by an off-duty police officer after shooting the officer four times during his attempt to flee the scene.

Dead malls image by Killer Urbex owner John Bourscheid

Over the last decade, Regency lost several major retailers, including Belk and Sears, leaving JCPenney and Dillard’s Clearance Center as the lone anchors, alongside a handful of smaller stores, several food court vendors, a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office substation and Impact Church, which moved into the former Belk space.

Macon Mall, Macon, Georgia

With nearly three-quarters of its 1.5 million square feet now vacant, Macon Mall is just a shadow of the vibrant shopping center that made its debut in 1975 with anchors Belk, Davison’s, JCPenney and Sears. Its first renovation was completed in 1983, followed by the addition of a food court in 1986.

A second renovation and expansion in 1997 nearly doubled the mall’s footprint and added two new upscale anchors, Dillard’s and Parisian, as well as another 40 inline stores. For two years, Macon Mall enjoyed the title of Georgia’s largest mall until Mall of Georgia opened in 1999.

Macon Mall remained the regional retail powerhouse for several more years, but as the 21st century dawned, new players entered the market and began siphoning traffic—and anchor stores—away from the older shopping center. Belk bought Parisian and shuttered its location there in 2007, followed by Dillard’s in 2008.

Go far beyond dead malls in your urban exploration pursuits in Georgia. See our full guide to the best abandoned places in Georgia.

The same year, the mall went into foreclosure, prompting a cascade of departures that included Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor Loft, Eddie Bauer, Hollister, Gap, Charlotte Russe, GameStop, New York & Company, The Limited, Lane Bryant, Wolf Camera, Wet Seal, LensCrafters, Starbucks and Ruby Tuesday, many of which relocated to the new Shoppes at River Crossing commercial center.

New owners took over the property in 2010 and moved all remaining stores to the mall’s west wing to allow for demolition of the east wing. Some, like American Eagle Outfitters, Sunglass Hut and Victoria’s Secret, opted to close their stores rather than relocate.

Demolition was completed the following year, and the remaining structure was renovated with new skylights, ceilings, restrooms, carpeting and the removal of an existing carousel. Even after the facelift, the mall continued to hemorrhage tenants, losing Sears, The Children’s Place, Radio Shack, Kirkland’s, Justice and Aeropostale over the next two years.

The mall did manage to attract Burlington Coat Factory in 2015, which moved into the upper level of the former Sears space, but after JCPenney closed in 2017 and Macy’s followed in 2020, Burlington became the center’s only anchor store. Other remaining tenants include about two dozen smaller retailers as well as a police substation and U.S. Armed Forces recruiting center.

Great Northern Mall, Clay, New York

Located in a suburb of Syracuse, Great Northern Mall opened in 1988 as the primary retail center in Onondaga County. With roughly 80 storefronts, the mall’s anchors included Sears, Bon-Ton and Macy’s. as well as a 10-screen Regal Cinemas theater. In the decades that followed, the mall lost most of its tenants as customer preferences shifted to open-air shopping centers and online retailers.

Go far beyond dead malls in your urban exploration pursuits in New York. See our full guide to the best abandoned places in New York.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck in early 2020, just over two dozen stores remained in operation, with Dick’s Sporting Goods as its only anchor. Nearly half of those vendors have yet to reopen, and the Regal Cinemas closed permanently in October 2020. Dick’s also plans to relocate by the end of 2021.

The mall’s current property manager has taken an unconventional approach to filling the empty spaces, recruiting a self-storage company to occupy the former Bon-Ton location and encouraging doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals to consider locating their offices in the sprawling commercial development.  

Crystal River Mall, Crystal River, Florida

Located along Florida’s Gulf Coast north of the river for which it is named, Crystal River Mall opened in 1990 with three anchor stores—Belk, Kmart and Sears—and a distinctive 65-foot high peaked fabric roof over the central food court. JCPenney moved in as a fourth anchor in 1992, followed by a Regal Cinemas movie theater in 1998.

During the 2000s, the mall began to struggle due to its isolation from the rest of the city’s retail development, which is located south of the Crystal River. As of 2011, vacancy had reached 77 percent, making it among the lowest-performing malls operated by commercial juggernaut Simon Property Group.

Go far beyond dead malls in your urban exploration pursuits in Florida. See our full guide to the best abandoned places in Florida.

Plagued by a leaking roof and other maintenance issues, the mall went into foreclosure later that year and was purchased by Texas-based Boxer Properties. A rapid succession of store closures followed, with Sears closing its doors in 2012, JCPenney in 2013 and Belk in 2014. Though farm and home store Rural King moved into the vacant Sears space in 2014, it became the only surviving anchor when Kmart closed in 2017.

Today, the anemic shopping center features mostly food and entertainment vendors, including Just Amuse Me, which offers axe-throwing, arcade games and mini golf. The movie theater and a few local shops continue to operate, and some of the vacant space has been dedicated to the Citrus Executive HUB, a coworking facility with meeting rooms and a podcast studio.

Exton Square Mall, Exton, Pennsylvania

Compared to its fellow zombie malls on this list, Exton Square Mall probably has the best chance of survival, thanks to the continued operation of familiar retailers like American Eagle Outfitters, Foot Locker, Kay Jewelers and Ann Taylor Loft. But this shopping center on the western edge of the Philadelphia metro area has fallen far from the glory days of its early existence.

Built in 1973, the square-shaped mall featured a single anchor space, held by Strawbridge & Clothier, flanked by smaller stores on three sides. The state’s first Chick-Fil-A restaurant opened here the same year and remains in operation.

In the early 1990s, the aging mall was beginning to lose customers, prompting plans to double its footprint to make space for several new anchor stores, a new food court, two parking garages and four dozen additional inline shops. Boscov’s, JCPenney and Sears signed leases as part of the expansion, which was completed in May 2000 at a cost of $125 million.

Go far beyond dead malls in your urban exploration pursuits in Pennsylvania. See our full guide to the best abandoned places in Pennsylvania.

In 2003, The Rouse Company sold a sizable chunk of its commercial portfolio, including Exton Square Mall, to PREIT, which still owns the mall. The Strawbridge’s anchor was converted to a Macy’s store in 2006, and after the closure of JCPenney in 2014 and Sears in 2019, became one of two remaining anchors (the other being Boscov’s). The former Kmart outparcel was demolished in 2015 to make way for construction of a Whole Foods Market.

The mall’s vacancy rate has been on the rise in recent years, largely due to competition from the King of Prussia Mall, a larger, newer development located 14 miles from Exton. Despite the opening of a 32,000 square-foot Main Line Health facility in 2014, the vacancy rate hit 35 percent in 2019, with much of the mall’s space dedicated to non-retail tenants like professional offices, a chess club, an art studio and gallery and a branch of the Chester County Library.

Safety Precautions To Take Before Exploring A Dead Mall

As with any type of urban exploration, it’s important to take appropriate safety measures before entering a dead mall, especially if it has been closed for a significant length of time. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes or boots, and consider wearing long pants and gloves to further protect yourself from potential injury.

Always carry a working flashlight and mobile phone. Go with a friend if at all possible, and make sure someone not with you knows where you’ll be and when you expect to return.

Dead malls image by Perfect Lazybones / Shutterstock.com

When exploring dead malls and other vacant buildings, be on the lookout for these possible safety hazards:

  • Collapsing roofs or ceilings: Water damage and extreme temperatures can compromise the structural integrity of roofs and ceilings. Use extreme caution in areas with visible water damage and avoid walking under places where a roof or ceiling has already begun to fail.
  • Unstable floors: Be especially mindful of wood floors, which are prone to rotting and could collapse beneath your feet. Watch out for broken tile and crumbling cement surfaces as well.
  • Exposure to chemicals and other toxic substances: Older structures may contain asbestos and lead paint, while buildings with water damage may be contaminated with black mold. If possible, bring an N-95 or other fine particle-filtration mask in case conditions warrant its use.
  • Broken glass and other sharp objects: Damage caused by vandals or natural deterioration may have left shards of glass, metal or wood on floors or other surfaces. Wearing solid shoes and gloves—and maintaining constant awareness of your surroundings—can help protect you from cuts and puncture wounds.
  • Live electricity: Never touch exposed electrical wiring, electrical panels or other electronic equipment.
  • Other people: Abandoned malls and buildings often attract graffiti artists, squatters and drug dealers. While they may not be hostile, it’s best to leave if you see anyone else already inside the structure.  

Our Last Word on Dead Malls

As shoppers’ preferences continue to shift toward online purchases and retail trends favor outdoor commercial developments, it’s likely that dead malls will remain a common feature of the landscape in many communities.

Though these abandoned cathedrals of capitalism represent lost jobs and tax revenue, they can also be a hauntingly beautiful monument to the past, evoking memories of childhoods and adolescence spent strolling their corridors with friends. As long as dead malls remain standing, there will be people drawn to the nostalgic charm of these vast vacant spaces.

For more about obtaining permission to explore dead malls and other abandoned places, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.

Additional Urban Exploration Resources