Reinventing Malls

Malls nationwide are attempting to reinvent themselves to stem the losses that have resulted from online shopping. 

This story was originally published July 29, 2017.

The transformative shift by consumers away from shopping malls and toward Amazon and other online retailers is visible across the United States. Major department stores such as J.C. Penney, Sears and Macy's that once anchored America's shopping malls and stood as the pride of local communities are going dark, leaving many of the massive malls built just a few decades ago hollow shells.

Dan Bell is chronicling that decay. His "Dead Mall" documentary series on YouTube casts light on abandoned and dying malls across the country, including several in Pennsylvania. “People who are in the malls, who went to malls, this is the mourning period right now, because we are losing a lot of malls,” Bell told The New York Times. “It’s hard for some people.”

Here's a look at six "dead malls" Bell has chronicled in Pennsylvania.

1. Fairgrounds Square in Berks County

"This parking lot has more potholes than the mall has stores," Bell says. 

In April, WFMZ reported the mall would be closing for good, but "stores like Boscov's, Burlington Coat Factory and the movie theater will stay open, as will places like Planet Fitness, Super Shoes and Quest Diagnostics."

2. Granite Run Mall in Media

This mall opened in 1974 on the former site of a granite quarry. Demolition of the mall began in 2016, but the footage of "sad sights" from inside was capture beforehand. 

3. The Gallery in Philadelphia

This urban mall on Market Street is connected to the train station. "This mall obviously has a lot of problems," Bell says, "and I think with a huge renovation coming up, I don't know if those problems are actually going to go away." 

Demolition began in August 2015 and Billy Penn reports "Fashion District Philadelphia" could open by the end of 2018.

4. Pittsburgh Mills in Tarentum

Says Bell: "This mall never did well. It was never fully occupied even when it opened in 2005. And you can kind of see that there are different store spaces in this mall that appear that they've never been occupied."

5. Columbia Mall in Bloomsburg

This mall opened in 1988. The original anchors were Sears, J.C. Penney, Bon-Ton and Hills. Hills closed in 1999 and was replaced by Ames, which closed in 2002. In 2015, Sears closed. J.C. Penney is closing this year.

6. Coventry Mall in Pottstown

This mall was built as an open-air mall in 1967 and rebuilt in the 1970s. "This is the most generic-looking place I have ever been in," Bell says. "There's no character to this mall whatsoever. The entire place looks like a dentist's office."