Some once-popular malls have already died and been torn down. But others manage to hang on, as fascinating death-defying zombies. The stores are closed but the doors are still open and the lights are still on, in many cases. Here are the stories of six zombie malls.
1. Forest Fair Mall: Then
Where: Cincinnati suburbs
Forest Fair Mall was a sort of retail eighth wonder of the world at the time of its glitzy 1989 grand opening that featured wacky TV and movie comedian Phyllis Diller.
The place seemed to have EVERYTHING.
The mall's more than 1.5 million square feet included room for seven big anchor stores. There were the usual specialty chains you find in malls, plus luxury retailers, a supermarket, a movie multiplex, a mini golf course, and even a ferris wheel and merry-go-round.
Forest Fair Mall: The decline
Forest Fair was troubled from the start: The developer went bankrupt shortly after the opening, and the shopping center's retail space was always at least one-third vacant.
Anchor stores started dropping out as early as 1990.
The mall has had several owners and multiple makeovers through the years. At one time, it even had a nightclub complex with separate areas playing pop, techno and country music.
Forest Fair Mall: Now
Each facelift would give the mall a new name.
Cincinnati Mills, Cincinnati Mall and Forest Fair Village were all tried — but all failed to create buzz.
Today, a couple of anchors (Kohl's, Bass Pro Shops) are operating on the outside of the mall, but the interior is empty.
Forest Fair Mall: Now
Astonishingly, the doors remain open for mall walkers.
They say the deathly quiet shopping center is a great place for silent meditation and reflection.
Forest Fair Mall is an eerie ghost town, still decorated in the bright colors of the 1980s.
2. Horton Plaza: Then
Where: San Diego
What's now formally known as Westfield Horton Plaza was at one time THE shopping destination in downtown San Diego.
The dazzling, multistory mall covered more than six city blocks with department stores; smaller shops; restaurants, including a Planet Hollywood for many years; a supermarket; and several movie screens.
Horton Plaza was built with public money in the 1980s to help clean up an area that had been known for pornographic movie theaters, peep shows and a large population of street people.
Horton Plaza: The decline
But the homeless would never really leave the area, so shoppers stopped coming to Horton Plaza. The mall steadily lost business and tenants.
To stem the decay, a vacant part of the mall that had once housed a department store and the Planet Hollywood was torn down in 2013 and replaced with a public park. But the park would come to be seen as unsavory.
The mall continued to go downhill and lost its Nordstrom department store in 2016. The following year, one man was shot to death and another was wounded outside a comedy club on one of the upper levels.
Horton Plaza: Now
Today, a Macy's store continues to operate at Horton Plaza, but the rest of the mall is desolate.
One of the remaining tenants filed a lawsuit in May 2018 claiming that the mall's owners were letting the place spiral downward and even stopped decorating for the holidays, the most important season in retail.
More recently, the shopping center was sold to a developer with plans to turn part of the property into office space.
3. St. Louis Outlet Mall: Then
Where: St. Louis suburbs
When it opened in 2003 as St. Louis Mills, what's now the St. Louis Outlet Mall was a kind of retail theme park, divided into different lands that each had its own distinctive decor.
The sports-themed "neighborhood" offered a NASCAR attraction, an ice skating rink and a skate park. The food court was inspired by the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis.
The mall also had eight anchor stores, 200 specialty shops, restaurants, a bowling alley and a movie theater.
St. Louis Outlet Mall: The decline
Eventually, shoppers would decide the massive mall was just too big and too inconvenient.
Business declined, and tenants pulled out one by one.
The NASCAR Speedpark closed in 2014, and while the ice rink has remained open, the St. Louis Blues hockey team recently announced that they'll stop using it for practice.
St. Louis Outlet Mall: Now
Today, the St. Louis Outlet Mall is mostly an empty shell, though still festively decorated in its various themes.
Only a very few stores, believed to number in the single digits, are operating.
The current owner bought the place in a 2016 auction for $4.4 million, just a fraction of the $250 million that went into building the shopping center.
St. Louis Outlet Mall: Now
The mall's 18-screen movie theater hung on until December 2018 but then closed shortly before Christmas, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
The management has been signing on tenants you don't normally see in shopping malls, such as a church.
A developer wants to turn the dead mall into a youth sports complex, and hopes to complete the transformation by Labor Day 2019.
4. Hawthorne Plaza: Then
Where: Los Angeles suburbs
Hawthorne Plaza Mall was a big deal when it opened in 1977 to help revive downtown Hawthorne, about 16 miles from central Los Angeles.
The mall's more than 130 stores included three big anchors: The Broadway, J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward.
It was a popular place to shop for many years, until the area economy took a downward turn in the 1990s.
Hawthorne Plaza: The decline
Foot traffic at the mall began to peter out, and store closings started coming in waves.
The Montgomery Ward was the first anchor store to shut down, followed by The Broadway and then Penney's.
By 1998, vacancies were around 50% — and stores kept leaving. Eventually, most of the mall was closed and left to decay.
Hawthorne Plaza: Now
Redevelopment proposals have come and gone over the years.
The dilapidated mall is still standing and is now a true "zombie mall": It has served as a backdrop for apocalyptic movies and TV shows. On the premiere episode of HBO's Westworld (above), it was used to portray "cold storage" for the theme park's defective robot hosts.
You also can catch the creepy mall in music videos, including the one for Beyonce's "Superpower."
5. Pittsburgh Mills: Then
Where: Pittsburgh suburbs
Shoppers northeast of Pittsburgh were ecstatic in 2005 when Pennsylvania's second-largest mall landed in their midst.
At the grand opening, one woman was so thrilled she called the developer a "superstar" and was eager to get his autograph.
The sprawling Pittsburgh Mills launched with more than 150 stores and restaurants — including a Pittsburgh Steelers shop — and promised that it would eventually fill 1.1 million square feet of retail space.
Pittsburgh Mills: The decline
The mall's marvels included a mammoth food court, a multiplex theater with a giant IMAX screen, a glow-in-the-dark mini golf course and a high-end bowling alley called Lucky Strike Lanes. Eventually, Pittsburgh Mills would even offer ziplining under its roof.
The excitement didn't last long. Many of the retail spaces were never occupied, and Lucky Strike Lanes closed within roughly a year because of poor business.
The ziplining course would come down, and Starbucks would pull out of the food court.
Pittsburgh Mills: Now
By 2017, the ailing mall that cost $340 million to build was sold in a foreclosure auction — for 100 bucks.
"It's very sad. They never developed all the stuff they said was going to happen," a shopper told KDKA-TV at the time.
Today, a few anchor stores remain open, but the mall is largely a dead zone inside.
Pittsburgh Mills: Now
Eager to fill its empty areas, Pittsburgh Mills has welcomed nontraditional tenants including a church, a for-profit technical school and local government.
A new owner took over in mid-2018, raising hopes that some new life can be breathed into the place.
A nursing school opened at the start of 2019. Students say they like the lunch choices offered by what's left of the food court inside the mall and the free-standing restaurants operating on the outside.
6. Fiesta Mall: Then
Where: Mesa, Arizona
When Fiesta Mall opened in 1979, it was the first major shopping center in the growing suburbs to the southeast of Phoenix.
If you were a teenager in the area during the 1980s, Fiesta Mall was THE place to hang out. A rock concert at the mall in 1983 drew a crowd of 10,000.
In the beginning, the shopping center had three big department store anchors. A fourth opened later, and for a time there was even talk of adding a fifth.
Fiesta Mall: The decline
By the 1990s, Fiesta Mall was so popular that The Arizona Republic reported its sales numbers were better than at least 85% of other regional malls around the U.S.
Then came the competition: A big mall opened 10 miles away, followed by another 6 miles away and another just 3 miles nearby. Fiesta Mall fought back by bringing in native plants and making itself over with a desert theme.
But business declined and stores closed. Police reported an increase in crime at the mall, and a random stabbing killed a man in a food court restroom in 2008.
Fiesta Mall: Now
The mall's Macy's store closed in 2014, and by 2016 a report said Fiesta Mall was about two-thirds vacant.
Sears announced its store would close in January 2018, and the management told the few remaining tenants that the mall itself would shut down, too. Longtime mall walkers who called themselves the Fiesta Mall Buddies lamented the loss of their "home."
Today, the Dillard's department store remains open, though it's now a Dillard's Clearance Center. But the rest of the mall sits empty, awaiting its planned rebirth as a health care and education center.
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