Randall Park Mall
It’s hard to believe that Randall Park Mall, once the largest mall in the world, is no more. A massive monument to shopping that encompassed nearly 2.2 million square feet of space and reportedly cost $175 million to build, Randall Park Mall was deemed such a colossal miscalculation that it closed after only 33 years in operation and was demolished before it would reach forty years old. Many of the places I’ve photographed are relics of different eras, but few are so close to my own. I grew up with the blossoming concept of the indoor mall and spent a significant part of my youth in their arcades and book stores, food courts and theaters. In many ways it wasn’t a part of someone else’s past that I was watching fade away at Randall Park Mall, but a part of my own.
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment when a place like Randall Park Mall begins to decline, but once it starts sliding downhill the momentum picks up rapidly. The entire phenomenon of indoor shopping mega malls faltered relatively quickly compared to the strip malls they replaced. They lacked the flexibility that smaller developments had, rebranding was much more difficult if their image suffered, and security always seemed to be an issue - particularly in gargantuan parking lots. If the surrounding area wasn’t well managed, or competition became too fierce, regaining a desirable status among fickle shoppers was nearly impossible. Once stores start to close, the dead zones created by their absence are difficult to hide and a clear indicator that the management is struggling. Consumer culture is driven by novelty. When a mall loses that but is too big to adapt, its very size works against it. Utility and tax bills pile up, and options dwindle.
Whichard Real Estate, who purchased the mall in 2006 for $6 million, was $200,000 behind on property taxes in 2008 and had multiple mortgages on the mall. The next February, Sears announced it was closing its Randall Park location, and with that the mall’s last anchor was gone. The few struggling stores inside the mall, many of which were owned by small business people doing their best to keep the mall afloat, were vacated a month later in March of 2009. The power was shut off in May, and save for the dusty sunbeams streaking through the skylights on sunny afternoons, the mall went dark.
If you'd like to learn more about the Randall Park Mall, the full chapter is in my new Abandoned America book Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online booksellers across the globe. For more information on where to get it or how to purchase a signed copy follow this link. Photographs and unattributed text by Matthew Christopher. For more images click the thumbnails below.