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Ghosts of American Malls Include Cobb Center and Columbia/Avondale Mall

The inside of a long-dead mall, as photographed by Seph Lawless for his new book "Black Friday."
The inside of a long-dead mall, as photographed by Seph Lawless for his new book "Black Friday."
They’re a blight on America’s suburban landscape: hulking dead shopping malls, many with boarded windows, sagging rooftops and parking lots full of weeds.

The American shopping mall saw its Golden Age from 1956 to 2005, when 1,500 malls were built across the country. But no new enclosed mega-mall has been built since 2006.

And while about 1,200 malls are still standing, many have been abandoned and sit on the outskirts of American cities like strange coffins of commerce. In a new book called Black Friday, the photographer Seph Lawless captures the demise of many of these dead malls in images charged with a kind of haunting beauty.

They include Cobb Center Mall in Smyrna, and the Columbia Mall, which became Avondale Mall, in DeKalb County.

  • Did you shop at Cobb Center or Columbia Mall? Miss them or glad to see them go? Tell us in comments below.
"It’s almost a sense of sadness because you don’t just miss the malls but everything that’s connected to it,” he said. “That was America. It was a more vibrant time for us.”

The website DeadMalls.com maintains a state-by-state list of America’s forlorn shopping meccas. Patch areas like Massachusetts, New Jersey, Georgia, Maryland and California are littered with abandoned malls. In Illinois alone there are twenty-seven.

Experts say a mall is significantly less likely to survive after its anchor store closes. Many American malls were affected by the closing of Sears, which shuttered its flagship earlier this year, and JC Penney, which announced in January that it would close 33 stores nationwide.

Howard Davidowitz, of the national retail consultant and investment banking firm Davidowitz & Associates, predicted half of U.S. malls would close within the next decade.

Some malls though are thriving, like outlet malls. Developers have capitalized on a still-struggling economy and opened 11 new outlet centers in 2013, more than quadruple the number that opened in 2009.

High-end malls, like those with anchor stores such as Nordstrom or Saks Fifth Avenue, are also flourishing, said Ryan McCullough, a real estate economist at CoStar, a commercial real estate research firm. Per square foot, those luxury malls saw a 14.6 percent growth in sales from 2009 to 2013, according to CoStar.

Michael Dart, co-author of the book “The New Rules of Retail,” said traditional shopping malls are failing where these high-end malls are succeeding: providing consumers with something they can’t get on the Internet.
 
Guests can enjoy upscale food courts, fancy interiors and live entertainment. Novelty and exclusivity, he said, lure consumers away from their computers and into these malls.

“The consumer has become satiated enough with the same type of stuff, so it’s become increasingly important to become experiential,” Dart said. In malls where stores have closed shop, vacant space has been converted into religious, medical or school facilities.

For malls that have faced store closures, this is a positive, creative reuse of that space, McCullough said.


David Brown May 12, 2014 at 10:14 AM
My wife and I shopped at the Decatur Walmart Supercenter (formerly Avondale Mall) on Saturday to spend a gift card. We were reminiscing about when Avondale Mall was there, with Macy's and the Avondale 16 movie theater. Drug Emporium was across the street from the mall.
Atl Resident May 12, 2014 at 10:47 AM
Lenox Mall is a Cheesy and Disgusting Mall...
Brian May 12, 2014 at 05:28 PM
It has a mall in CT I used to go to, RIP. It also has one in NY that apparently was already reopened when I was there, so I'm surprised it was on the list. I came to Smyrna after the Cobb Center mall had closed.
OnceWasAnnie May 12, 2014 at 09:07 PM
I worked at Lenox Mall (Starbucks. Ugh!) and hated every second of it. It's a soulless miasma of unchecked greed and avarice and the bathrooms are never cleaned! Haha...malls...maybe when you're a teenager, a mall is someplace cool to hang out and try to impress other teens but I never willingly went to a mall after my early twenties.
David Brown May 16, 2014 at 09:27 AM
More mall news. North DeKalb Mall has been sold. Remodeling is anticipated and there are plans to convert the enclosed portion of the property to an open-air concept. Hopefully, North DeKalb Mall will return to the mall I remember. It is rather moribund now.

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