Shop 'Til It Drops: Take a Virtual Tour of a Dead Mall

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Prange Way First U.S. manufacturing collapsed, under pressure from low-wage labor overseas, leaving the American landscape dotted with hallowed-out plants and gutted factories. Now, assailed by a variety of adverse factors, from Internet shopping to economic downturn, the retail sector has been suffering too, bequeathing to the country an increasing number of abandoned -- some say dead -- malls.

DailyFinance has partnered with retail history blog Labelscar to bring you an inside look at one of these shuttered shopping centers. Our featured dead mall is -- or was -- called Northwest Plaza. "Located in the solidly middle class north county suburbs of St. Louis," Labelscar writes, "Northwest Plaza opened in 1963 as an open-air shopping center very close to the airport, along the busy Lindbergh Blvd. (US 67) and also very close to the intersection of I-70 and I-270. It immediately became the largest shopping center in the St. Louis area."

And not only there -- according to The Riverfront Times, a St. Louis weekly, Northwest Plaza "was the largest shopping center in the world" when it opened, boasting "five anchor department stores and 185 smaller shops, restaurants and boutiques." Anchors included Famous-Barr -- later Macy's (M) -- J.C. Penney (JCP), and Sears (SHLD). One of "the area's biggest employers," the plaza drew "kids from all over St. Louis County" to gather at its main fountain.

But by the mid-1980s, Labelscar says, when Northwest Plaza, fashions in retail architecture had left the 20-year-old, open-air mall behind: Enclosed malls were now the order of the day. With other, more popular shopping centers springing up around it, Northwest Plaza was sold in 1984 to Paramount Group, which enclosed and expanded it 1989.

Post-renovation, the total area of Northwest Plaza was 1.8 million square feet. New additions included Kids R Us and a nine-screen cinema, described at the time by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a "futuristic" three-level entertainment complex "where customers can see showtimes and theater seating information on lighted signs flanking the computerized ticket booth."

The mid-1990s saw something of a slump for Northwest Plaza, as occupancy dropped to 86%. By 1997, however, "an untraditional approach to leasing" -- including the opening of a 24,000 square-foot OfficeMax (OMX), the chain's first mall location -- had turned things around, filling the plaza to 96% occupancy. That year, the mall was sold again, this time for $111 million, to Westfield America, the largest retail landlord in the St. Louis metropolitan area.

At first, the mall flourished under Westfield, which filled it with new retailers. But "Northwest Plaza's fortunes changed dramatically for the worse beginning around 2002," said Labelscar: "The slowdown of the economy, ever-increasing competition, and failed renovation efforts sent the mall into a downward spiral." Today, after an agonizing decline -- at one point there was a sign at the food court entrance apologizing for the mall's sorry state -- including another change of ownership and a foreclosure, Northwest Plaza stands empty, a hulking shell of its vibrant former self. Its future remains uncertain, though demolition seems likely.

Click through the gallery below for a glimpse inside the eerily empty Northwest Plaza, and head over to Labelscar for much more on dead malls and the history of retail in America.





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516 Comments

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Wayne Bradshaw

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May 05 2012 at 11:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pm0501

This story has been running for almost rwo weeks now. Isn't it about time for something a little more topical?

March 22 2012 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marilyn

my friend's ex-wife made $20145 the prior weekshe is making an income on the computer and moved in a $406200 home. All she did was get fortunate and apply the instructions explained on this web site LazyCash27.comONLY......

March 22 2012 at 3:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marilyn

my friend's ex-wife made $20145 the prior weekshe is making an income on the computer and moved in a $406200 home. All she did was get fortunate and apply the instructions explained on this web site LazyCash27.comONLY......

March 22 2012 at 3:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Artie

Based on a lot of the observations and testimony of people living in that St. Louis area, it would seem that there were a variety of contributing factors to the death of THIS mall. Not the least of these factors was the personal safety and comfort of the mall's patrons. This would appear to be the result of changing demographics. No one wants to shop in a mall where they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. This includes those malls used as hang outs by gangs and other low-life scum bags regardless of their racial profile. Of course, the broader reasons would probably include the general down turn in the economy and just the over-abundance of these malls in general. How many shopping malls does any area really need? Some places just overbuilt these shopping areas and/or overestimated the growth and need for so many of them. These big shopping malls become redundant as they have the same exact stores and may be too close to one another. There is no question that the ability to shop on the internet can affect these stores, as well. However, there are still plenty of items that people want to see and touch before buying, as well as folks who simply enjoy shopping and browsing. There is still a place for the brick and mortar stores along with shopping on-line. We just don't need so many of these physical places all featuring the same stuff.

March 21 2012 at 2:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
littlecats3

We in STL all know WHY and WHO caused Northwest Plaza to die.......the neighborhood declined.

March 20 2012 at 10:17 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to littlecats3's comment
pm0501

The culture that rode in on Obama's shirt tails?

March 22 2012 at 4:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
littlecats3

We all know WHY the mall fell ....certain people moved in the area.

March 20 2012 at 10:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tony

Tin foil hats, who writes this crap. Its aluminum foil idiots.

March 20 2012 at 12:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
AlwaysRight

You can blame the internet or the economy or pretend that anything other than the obvious happened here. It's the same phenomena that eventually happens to ALL malls - clientele! It's the same story with every mall in America....sooner or later, they will come, and they will destroy it. It's just a matter of time.

March 19 2012 at 11:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
GoldLions

Dead malls = low income apts of the future?

March 18 2012 at 10:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply