It’s no secret that ever since the 2000s, several retail chain stores have experienced financial setbacks. These hardships only became worse after the financial crisis of 2008 and the rise of online shopping thanks to Amazon. Today, stores such as Sears, Kmart, Circuit City and Toys R Us have closed most of their locations or gone out of business. The same has also happened to America’s shopping malls leading to the creation of several “dead malls.”

The term “dead mall” is used to refer to a shopping mall that is open but in a state of disrepair and devoid of customers. The phenomenon of dead malls is so popular that it has its own Wikipedia page and has started to become a genre of YouTube videos. I first became interested in the idea of dead malls after watching a YouTube video on the downfall of Circuit City by Bright Sun Films. From watching this video, I discovered that, at the time, there were several Circuit City stores that were just abandoned when the company when out of business.

Over 10 years ago these stores were open and thriving. People were probably walking in to buy the newest Madden or Call of Duty for their PlayStation 2 while also browsing for a computer with Windows Vista as its operating system. Now, those same stores are sitting empty filled with moldy ceilings and graffiti-stained walls. I started to look up more stores whose fates were the same as Circuit City’s and that is where my interest in dead malls started. The first place on YouTube I discovered the phenomenon is without a doubt the best channel for the topic: This is Dan Bell.

Dan Bell is a YouTuber and filmmaker from Baltimore, Maryland and has covered many well-known dead malls during his time on YouTube. The most popular of these malls is the Rolling Acres Mall in Akron, Ohio. Both Dan Bell and Bright Sun Films have done their own videos on the mall and its infamous reputation. At one point, Rolling Acres was a successful shopping mall but due to high crime and decline in customers, it permanently closed in 2008. Even though it had been shut down, people spent the next decade exploring the abandoned mall out of curiosity.

This eventually led to the discovery of a murder victim making people even more interested in visiting the location. Dan Bell is one of those people who actually explored the vacated shopping center. He was forced to leave the premises by local police officers, but I will always be impressed at how massive the mall looks in the video. Just like Circuit City, it is filled with graffiti and mold, and there is just trash and filth everywhere. Ironically, the mall was demolished and is currently being replaced by an Amazon warehouse. When I watch videos and read about these abandoned retail chain stores and dead malls, I can’t help but think of the experience I had working at a “dead store.”

In July 2018, I started working at the last Kmart in Baltimore, Maryland. The store I worked at was one that I used to frequent when I was a kid. I remember going there and my mom buying me things such as “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” on VHS, the “Ant Bully” video game and way too many WWE action figures. My favorite part of the store was always the Kmart café. The food there was always delicious and it was exciting whenever I got the chance to eat it.

After a certain point I, along with thousands of other people, stopped shopping at Kmart. There are several reasons for this but the main reasons are the declining quality of products, the relatively expensive prices and the fact that they were never renovated like their competitors Target and Walmart. My Kmart had definitely looked exactly the same as it had looked since 2001. There was dirt and mice along with disgusting back areas of the store. That is why when I was hired, I knew that it would close down within a year, and I was almost right: It closed in March 2019.

I worked my last shift the day before the store closed. I was sad not only because I was going to miss the money I was paid every two weeks, but I was also going to miss the store itself because of all the nostalgia I had for it. The same store where I used to play video games such as Naruto Clash of the Ninja and Metroid Prime would soon be nothing but an empty husk. For almost my entire shift I spent the day throwing away signs and displays in a dumpster. During one of my trips to the trash I managed to run across someone I joked about meeting ever since I was hired at the store: Dan Bell.

Photograph by Brendan Bell

I actually met him while he was looking at this display TV that was being sold as a part of the store’s liquidation sale. For 10 minutes I talked with him about Kmart’s demise and then I went back to throwing cardboard in a dumpster. A few hours later I clocked out for the last time and went home. The store now sits abandoned and unoccupied and I have only seen it twice since it closed. The last time I saw it was at night. The store was completely dark and spooky looking. Meanwhile, the grocery store on the opposite end of the shopping center Kmart filled with customers and lights.

Extracted from study breaks