I have fond memories of my local mall.
The Schuylkill Mall in Frackville has been around since two years prior to my birth. It was once a location for endless supplies of elderly smoking cigars–amazing to think of how popular the fateful choice of indoor smoking was before it was outlawed across the land.
For those who have never been there, it’s like a giant vast kingdom on top of an enormous mountain.. roads circle around it like you’re entire a palace. The facade, when you finally reach the pinnacle of the moutain, is brown in color .. It looks a bit like a prison. Or a big school. But the signs for SEARS and KMART illustrate you’re about to enter a shopping paradise..
Well… it was a shopping paradise.
Those fond memories of my mall have vanished over the years.
The place where I’d go to get HE-MAN action figures at a toy store are no more.. the book store is gone.. the restaurants are gone, all that remains is a pizza place–with amazing pizza by the way– and a new SUBWAY—seriously, like any human being needs another SUBWAY ..
The Schuylkill Mall seems to be teetering on the brink of something. Logic would dictate the obvious: A building so large in stature cannot sustain the lack of stores to pay it rent. And stores cannot continue operating without patrons. And patrons aren’t there–neither are kids on weekends, they are probably busy living their virtual teenager years cyber bullying someone on Twitter. But then again, the mall is still operating–years after DEADMALLS.COM declared the Frackville mall ‘dead’ .. That’s saying something, at least, right?
I have a few notions of what could succeed–maybe drop rent prices for a year and tell anyone who wants to open a store to try it.. now’s the time, real estate abounds. Or maybe a giant organic farm market would work. However, things seem to be too far gone to try such new and often costly things–I hope I am wrong. I want my son to enjoy the sound of retail at Christmas at a local mall.. but it just looks bleak.
Especially when anchor stores that remain are SEARS and BON TON–stores that nationally are desperate for any light at the end of their very financially dark tunnels, respectively.
So what will happen at the Frackville mall should something dire take place. A book from a photographer Seth Lawless called BLACK FRIDAY-THE COLLAPSE OF THE AMERICAN MALL may give hints. Lawless traveled the country for years to find forgotten treasures and the ghost of retail past. He documented decay in buildings that used to house the sounds of laughter, talking, and cash registers printing. There’s pictures with broken glass.. crumbling walls..
Most of the pictures were taken in Michigan and Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.. These seem to be the locations where most of the malls are dying–and it could be a symptom of the bigger problem.. the fever from the flu of an economic failure on the rust belt and other locations where populations relied on manufacturing. Jobs were sent away.. they ain’t comin’ back. And neither are the malls where Lawless traveled to.
According to Lawless, he cannot easily gain access to closed malls. So instead, he breaks in–and has had arrest warrants issued for him for that very action. Imagine–breaking and entering into dilapidated structures.. I can only imagine the immense feeling of loss within them.
I have been busy reading up on this book and checking out some of the photos that actually have been published online. It’s a tempting book to purchase if ever get an extra infusion of cash to do so.. But I think it may be a monumentally upsetting book, too.
Malls were built on the dreams and aspirations of a generation. The Wikipedia page for the Schuylkill Mall is actually filled with some good history ..
But memories aside, realities prevail.
I fear that as malls die, it will also take the Schuylkill Mall.
Vacant stores are eating up the inside.. Lots of very bored employees flip through their iPhones or laptops looking for something to do, as customers aren’t there busting down doors..
While this article has focused on my own personal surroundings, it’s not just the Steamtown Mall in Scranton, or the Schuylkill Mall in Frackville, and everywhere in between, suffering. Atlantic City is going bust, too, as casinos are shuttered and thousands are losing jobs. Ironically, the Jersey Shore was the prime vacation spot for coal regioners for generations.. Maybe we cursed it.
There is a bigger picture to why malls are declining. It’s not just malls. And it’s not just that people are buying online (though the online purchases are a major factor) .. there’s something else at play, I fear. At least for my own area. Since I have been a kid, I have seen every school with the exception of my college close down. I have seen my local hospital shut down only two years ago.. Car dealerships, grocery stores, local stores, restaurants.. closed. And when that property goes vacant, it gets lifeless. Almost immediately and overgrowth of vines and shrubs take over.. What was once a center of life is now one of decline. The coal region of Pennsylvania is finished. Over. Sadly there is so much potential for it to be amazing–look no further than Jim Thorpe, PA, to see how it should be done. Every little town in this area would have the potential to be the next Jim Thorpe. Missing from the equation: People to make it happen. This area has a lack of positive feelings, and instead, an underbelly of poverty and grief.. The youth move out and the elderly are dying out.. A new population has moved in that never saw the area when it was amazing. There’s no connection to the past, or to history. And quite frankly, there’s no one who has taken up the mantle of creating something amazing again.
And that is why I fear the Seth Lawless photos will soon be taken at a mall near me..
Jobs aren’t coming back.
Neither are stores.
Neither are malls.
Unless there’s an American miracle, this same story and song and dance will play out not only in a town near me, but one near you, too..