How Old, Defunct Malls are Making a Comeback

In the eighties and nineties, the mall was the central place for shopping, dining, and the social lives of many American teenagers and young adults. After the new …

In the eighties and nineties, the mall was the central place for shopping, dining, and the social lives of many American teenagers and young adults. After the new millennium, however, with the rise of the Internet and online shopping, shoppers started staying home. Long-time retail anchors and mall department stores started shutting their doors. Once busy dining establishments in the food court struggled to get customers. Small accessories, specialty stores, and fashion shops saw their business decline and ending up closing shop. The mall, which was once a lively and fun shopping experience, became quiet like a ghost town with vacant storefronts and wide, deserted halls.  

For many American cities and communities, the mall era has ended. This presents a problem. Former multi-floor, thriving retail centers now sit mostly empty, some in disrepair. As many old, vacant malls start to decay, they become targets of vandalism, breeding grounds for rodents, and locations of urban archeology or abandoned site photography. Some malls, however, are being primed for revitalization. Communities look to commercial real estate experts like developer Louis Ceruzzi to bring new life to these former shopping meccas. Redevelopment brings new life to these prior retail giants and excitement with new shopping, dining, and entertainment opportunities.   

Saratoga Mall

One former dead mall, previously called the Pyramid Mall in Wilton, New York, was in a slow decline once a competing mall, Wilton Mall, opened up right next door. Shoppers flocked to the newer retail space in droves, leading to massive store closings and empty spaces. After the owners went through several different new unsuccessful concepts for the mall, the property was eventually sold to Starwood Ceruzzi Properties in 1999. The property developers reinvigorated the site by converting it to a center for big box retailers and national discount stores. So, now the newly coined Wilton Square shopping center works in partnership with the adjoining Wilton Mall.   

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Hunt Valley Towne Centre

Hunt Valley Mall, which was located in a Northern Baltimore County, Maryland upscale suburb, was also a victim of the over saturated retail market of the early 2000s. Opened in 1981, this small shopping center never truly developed the large customer following that was found in other, larger malls that had opened in Baltimore County such as Golden Ring Mall or Towson Town Center. Eventually, Hunt Valley Mall sat vacant, an eyesore in the quiet, bedroom community. Ultimately, the mall was chosen for redevelopment in 2000. The original enclosed footprint of the mall was reworked, and it was transformed into the wildly successful Hunt Valley Towne Center, an outdoor, plaza-type shopping center including an upmarket grocery store, a movie theater, shopping, and a variety of dining establishments.

Windsor Park Mall

In the northeast part of San Antonio, Texas, shoppers in the eighties used to flock to the Windsor Park Mall, which boasted strong anchor stores and a large selection of shops and eateries. Unfortunately in the nineties, an increase in crime in the surrounding area kept many shoppers away and started the trend that would lead to the mall’s demise. By 2005, the mall was completely vacant and a site of curiosity for those who had not experienced the peak of the American mall culture. But in 2007, a technology company called Rackspace, which had been looking for its new offices, purchased the property for $27 million. Today, the former mall nicknamed “The Castle,” has experienced an environmentally friendly facelift and has found a new purpose as a corporate headquarters.

The Old Post Office in Washington, D.C.

Built in 1899, The Old Post Office Pavilion in our nation’s capital only served as the city post office until 1914. The building featured a large clock tower and a striking atrium in the courtyard. After that, it mainly housed office buildings for the federal government and survived several demolition proposals. Refurbished in 1983, the former post office was transformed into a retail and dining center. It was often a dramatic backdrop for large groups of tourists and student field trip classes to take a lunch break that could also include some souvenir shopping. Although a popular visitor attraction, the pavilion struggled to make a profit. After several developers came and went, with varying ideas, a new lease was awarded in 2012 to The Trump Organization. Currently, the pavilion is being redeveloped into an international hotel, including a world-class restaurant called The National. Now, visitors from all over the world can continue to enjoy this historical landmark for years to come.   

While the era of the great American mall has ended, many former enclosed shopping centers are finding new life as they get redeveloped into new types of retail centers, change into mixed-use buildings, or serve a completely different purpose. Community leaders are working together with real estate developers to make sure these old retail mammoths don’t sink into decay and become future liabilities, but rather new, rejuvenated commerce centers for the public.


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