Doomsday for shopping malls

A closed and empty Sears store: A sign of the times?
A closed and empty Sears store: A sign of the times?
A closed and empty Sears store: A sign of the times?

In the 1980s and 90s, Amy and I enjoyed a “yuppie” existence, two young “professionals” in the nation’s Capitol: a life among the powerful and an income that provided travel and extravagance.

Times, of course, have changed for us and for the nation.  A story in today’s Washington Post, along with others in papers like The York Times, show a collection of eyesores that mark the decline — dead shopping malls.

According to the stories — and a web site called — once prominent shopping malls are falling out of favor and out of business.

Shopping centers we once frequented — White Flint Mall and Owings Mills in Maryland, Seven Corners in Falls Church, Virginia and others — are gone, along with the upscale stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and I.Magnin in those locations. also reports that locations we frequented during our time in Alton, Illinois, are now shells of their former selves.  Alton Square Mall and Northwest Plaza near St. Louis are mostly ghost malls.

When we left the National Capital Region to relocate in Floyd County, I found that Tanglewood Mall, Roanoke’s primary mall, overshadowed by Valley View and is floundering, and Crossroads Mall is not home of Advance Auto’s corporate offices and not much else.

In Washington, we shopped at Garfinkles, now gone.  During my days at The Roanoke Times from 1965-69, I bought clothes at Heironimus and flirted with Betsy Kay Tobias, the young and attractive “youth coordinator,” at the store.  Miller & Rhodes is another store that’s gone.

The space that Sears once occupied in New River Valley Mall is empty and a satellite of Northern Virginia Community College now sits where the movie theaters once flourished.

Back in the 90s, a business magazine hired me to shoot a photo essay on shopping malls around the country.  As I sorted the photos, I realized that most malls looked the same with the same stores, same designs and a monotony of fountains and lookalike “food courts.”  The photo story became a “name the location of this mall’ story.

Strip malls anchored by WalMarts are more common now than indoor malls with department stores anchors and national retail outlets.  In both Roanoke and Christiansburg, the Best Buy stores occupy strips that include stories like Old Navy, Staples and other such locations.

In Roanoke and Christiansburg, bookstore readers can sit in comfortable chairs and browse books, then return the books to their shelves and go home to order the books they want as a discount from Amazon.

Those who want the latest electronic gadget can try them out at Best Buy and then head home to order the gizmo for less on line, often without having to pay sales tax.

Amy and I seldom visit a shopping mall.  We hit Macy’s once last year.  We shop local in and around Floyd, which means no malls.

A far cry from out days in Washington where a short trip on the Acela high speed train to Manhattan meant shopping and dining.

Do we miss malls?  Not really.  The extravagance of youth was time neither well spent or useful.  We had a good life and lived well.  We live differently now, but we also live better.

Demolition of White Flint Mall in Bethesda, Maryland
Demolition of White Flint Mall in Bethesda, Maryland

2 thoughts on “Doomsday for shopping malls”

  1. You’ll be happy to know that Alton Square Mall in Alton, IL is doing well. Ross Dress for Less is currently under construction (opening later this year), as well as Hibbett Sports (Looking at an April opening). Things are going very well!

  2. It occurred to me as I read this that my generation (I was born in 1970) was the last one to see Roanoke’s great downtown stores like Heironimus and Grand Piano. Ah well.

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