Every now and then, people tend to find something on YouTube that becomes a strange obsession for the next few weeks. Plenty are into videos featuring things like pimple popping or creepy stuff, which are indeed unusually fascinating for various reasons. At one time, I got quite into videos of Slavs being Slav, which I’m still into but am no longer fully obsessed with. As of this writing, what I watch with great frequency are videos of dead malls.
Shopping malls are an institution in modern Filipino culture due to social convention and air conditioning. Filipinos gravitate towards convenience, congregating in public areas, and being momentarily relieved from the tropical heat, which is why the mall has become the urban nexus in this country. The corporations that own the big malls here are riding a seemingly never-ending gravy train courtesy of Filipino mall culture.
That’s why I’m quite fascinated by the decline of shopping malls in America. We got the idea of the mall from them, but it seems like it’s near its end for them. While malls continue to thrive here, they’re practically dying over there. They started to get big during the 70s and propagated through the 80s and 90s, then languished in the 2000s. After economic crises and the advent of e-commerce, they seem to have become relics of the consumerist past.
“What are dead malls?”
The definition of a dead mall is a shopping mall with high vacancy rate and/or foot traffic. It may also seem to be either dated or deteriorating in some manner, most likely a result of poor maintenance and neglect over time. A mall is considered “dead” when it has no anchor stores left (usually a department store) and there is nothing to replace them, which means it’s dead as far as leasing goes.
Without enough foot traffic, stores don’t get customers. Over time, they run out of money and they have to close down. As more stores close, the mall garners a reputation of being a bad place to do business in, and there are less and less businesses willing to rent store space there. This sets a slow but sure chain reaction that renders a mall dead unless management does something to save the mall, which has rarely happened so far.
The same goes for department stores as well. Not all malls and department stores are dead in America, but anything that’s not Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Best Buy, Costco, or so on are known to be at the razor’s edge these days. K-Mart is a good example of this, and JCPenney is another.
There are also malls dying here in the Philippines, but at a much slower rate since any old place can stay up and running as long as they have air conditioning and enough good places to eat and buy things in. As far as old places go, I can think of Makati Cinema Square (the venue of MWF Republika) and Ali Mall (which was named after Muhammad Ali), which are still very much alive.
There was also Ever Gotesco, which took a lot of damage the Asian financial crisis due to the companies overexpansion into other businesses. It’s a story my brother told me long ago to teach me about greed and stepping way past your own boundaries.
China also has dead malls. They even have ghost cities, which should have some awesome urbexing videos. Due to the frenzy of starting businesses and building stuff during China’s economic heydays in the 2000s (it’s starting to slow down now in the 2010s), there have been tons of botches that resulted in a good number of empty buildings. The most notable example of what was considered a dead mall in China recently stopped being dead, but only after extensive renovation.
YouTube Tours of Dead Malls
“Malls always remind me of the Titanic. It’s just because this large, massive thing you never thought could fail is failing and it’s sinking.”
These tours of dead malls are a subset of urban exploration, which cover mostly dilapidated and abandoned locations within cities. Being virtually devoid of foot traffic means freedom for some to explore and discern for themselves stories being told through the wear and tear of structures and the
With malls in particular, what makes their decay fascinating is how such bastions of capitalism eventually become casualties. It rarely happens in a flash—it tends to be over a long period of time, like a chronic disease. Once business start to go downward, it’s like falling dominoes that end with near-empty with only a handful of shops left open. In time, the owner of the declining mall may file for bankruptcy, sell the establishment for cheap, and/or get it demolished. If there are no takers, they simply become abandoned.
Channels Focused on Dead Malls
There are two YouTube channels I follow for tours of dead malls—This is Dan Bell and Retail Archaeology. The former has more variety in content, also putting out videos featuring inspections of cheap accommodations and other urban explorations. The latter is more focused on curating artifacts of the consumerist past, thus the name.
To me, these videos are like let’s play videos of “walking simulators”, but the places actually exist or have existed before. The stories these places tell through their gradual degradation and abandonment happened organically and not created manually or through some algorithm. The basics are usually told by the narrator, and everything else is filled in by the ambience and the viewer’s imagination.
Personally, I favor Dan Bell’s channel due to his personal touch on his videos. A filmmaker, his videos have elements I find commendable, like his use of videos from the 80s and 90s to juxtapose with his dead mall footage, as well as his use of vaporwave music as backdrop. He does seem to have an understanding of vaporwave that perfectly compliments the subject matter.
There are a lot more people out there who are fascinated by the phenomenon of dead malls, so much that there are online communities dedicated to them like r/DeadMalls on Reddit. It’s like trainspotting for Millenials—an attempt at reverse engineering disappointment.
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