Since the mid-2000s, the traditional shopping mall has been on a steep decline. The most obvious reason for this, as you’ve probably guessed, is the ever-growing popularity of online shopping.
As malls become less busy, they also become a less fun place to congregate. I’m not saying online shopping is the only factor in the decline of shopping centers, but the fact remains that malls are no longer the ultimate hangout for young people like they were during previous decades. A Fortune article from last year estimates that approximately 300 malls will close down by 2025.
The image of a vacant mall is somewhat eerie. Picture a desolate food court with its grimy pastel floor tiles and dilapidated, abandoned ’80s decor. It seems unreal that as little as 10 years ago, that food court could have been a lively, bustling hub for people of all ages and backgrounds to congregate. The modern setting juxtaposing the forsaken state of the building gives off more haunting vibes than some of the creepiest old mansions ever could.
Empty malls have a fascinating quality though, and like many phenomena, they’ve gained a community of enthusiasts. Just type in “dead malls” on Youtube and you get hundreds of thousands of results, many of which feature video tours of America’s forgotten shopping spots. There are even Youtube channels dedicated to this hobby, as well as websites like Deadmalls.com where guests can submit descriptions of their local dead or dying malls.
I wanted to get in on this myself, so I paid a visit to the Ponce De Leon mall off of US-1. However, I was met with this:
Ponce De Leon was never a big mall to begin with, but it brought a significant crowd because of its small Regal theater. Until an Epic Theatres cinema opened in 2010, it was the only traditional movie theater in St. Augustine. I watched countless movies in that little cinema growing up. While the mall was already dying before Epic came along, Epic’s larger movie selection and more luxurious theaters likely made the Ponce De Leon Mall’s closure inevitable. While the heart of the mall is closed off entirely, Penny’s and Belk still reside on either end, while Anchor Faith church occupies the former movie theater.
Many Jacksonville residents have noticed a similarly slow decline with the Regency Square Mall, opened in 1967. The most common explanations for Regency’s plunge are the increased crime rate around the mall and the overwhelming competition from The Avenues, River City Marketplace and the ever-expanding St. John’s Town Center. One of Regency’s main anchor stores, Sears, is set to close down this month, and while several plans for revitalization have been discussed, the future of the mall remains foggy.
While it is a bit sad to see so many malls slumping around the country, hope is definitely not lost for Jacksonville’s shopping centers. The St. John’s Town Center is thriving, with major expansion plans set for the next two years. Locals are highly anticipating the arrival of new retail stores and restaurants in the Town Center Promenade, which is currently under construction. The Avenues still attracts a large crowd too, as it features many stores that the Town Center doesn’t have and is conveniently located near I-95. While a couple local malls may have stumbled, it’s clear that most of Jacksonville’s shopping centers are far from dying … for now.