Death of a Mall

The early years of the century anticipated a huge consumer boom. Malls which came up in every odd corner of Mumbai were full of people on weekends, but there were few buyers for the expensive clothes and shoes which were displayed there. The crowds kept growing, and in months security began to restrict the number of people who could enter at a time. Eventually owners re-discovered the magic formula which would allow the malls to make money: add a food court, lots of stalls for snacks, and a movie multiplex. The optimism was slow to die. But now, two decades later, the rotting carcasses of malls litter the city.

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The photos which you see here come from one such mall. The metal detectors in the entrance lobby are switched off, at night a single light illuminates some of the structures. The deserted central atrium is eerily lit by a strong floodlight. A palm tree still grows inside. I saw that there are a few guards on the property, they probably keep the tree watered. A couple of stalls outside the atrium were open for people who wanted a snack or ice-cream. There were customers to keep the businesses going. Everything looked closed inside the atrium, but on an upper floor a multiplex still did business, running six screens around the day. I wonder how long it will be before structural faults render the place dangerous. But in the meanwhile, it is a wonderful photo op.

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Author: I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

31 thoughts on “Death of a Mall”

    1. I kind of agree, but at the same time I think there may be no alternative. For one thing, I’m not sure that Europe of the mid-20th century, before malls, is a reasonable standard to compare the modern world against. Sure, malls are bad, but in days of decreasing public spending what alternatives exist?

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      1. I have seen already a lot of towns where the city centres are deserted and emptied without any real urban life anymore intown due to shopping malls quite often in the outskirts of the same. Such towns (usually not so big) are dead somehow because their very heart is no longer pulsing.

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  1. This issue should be a cautionary tale for other places, such as in Mexico, where I recently noticed malls popping around like dandelions in spring. Sad and very compelling photos.

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  2. Quite the opposite in Bangalore. Malls are teeming with people. The situation resembles the initial phases you describe. I hope Bangaloreans also find better places to spend their weekends.

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    1. I remember seeing how busy malls were when we were in Bangalore. Sage and I went to Mantri Square to pick up a book and it was packed. What I noticed there as well as with successful malls here is that they are no longer just places for stores. They are spaces for “experiences” – rides for kids, fish pedicures for adults, food for many different budget levels, music and fashion shows. If you have a choice between buying online with no hassle or going to a packed store many will choose to buy online. But if you give them something else fun to do that they can’t get online then they’ll go for that.

      We’re seeing all of the things talked about in the comment thread here here in Canada. There are dying malls with nothing happening in them, and in the US there are lots of completely abandoned ones. But we also have ones being reinvented – and at least for Toronto two of our malls are apparently big tourist draws though I’m not one to go for that. In my neighbourhood our mall doesn’t have high end stores or even experiences but what it does have are a few comfortable chairs and a big food court. People, particularly retirees, go there every day, buy a coffee and meet their friends. This is especially common in the winter.

      And of course in North America we also have the malls that have drawn people from the downtown areas as well. But some of that also comes, no doubt, from the movement of residents from downtown thanks to the message that ‘suburbia is where you go to have a family’ and lack of decent public transit. And so, even before malls and Wal Mart impacted downtown areas, the streets were empty after the workers left because there was little to encourage active street life.

      I think we’ll continue to see reinvention and repurposing of malls here in North America – hopefully malls like this in Mumbai will see the same.

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      1. That’s right, Todd. Mantri is a very happening mall but even the less happening ones have several activities (more than often in very cramped places) and people make a beeline for them. All of these still wouldn’t convince me to spend my time at a mall. Things like the storytelling activity at Ulsoor (which I learnt from Sage) would be so much more appealing. But, that’s me and to each his own. I have friends who are parents to young children and some of them have these mandatory family weekend outings in malls. Often the reason is just lack of a better thing to do. Or, it’s better to hang around in the neighbourhood mall rather than spend all the time and energy in fighting Bangalore traffic and going someplace else.

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  3. A great photo opportunity, indeed. I’ve seen videos on youtube of giant abandoned shopping malls, mostly in USA. I guess it is often due to poor planning and not providing what people really want. Abandoned apartment complexes are even more sad to see.

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      1. Lol It maybe 4 to 1! The buildings usually have a bank branch, a mobile service provider office, ice cream shop and paan wala on the ground floor. And maybe a tuition centre and a restaurant on the top floor. Most shops on first floors are closed or used as godowns.

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  4. Wow!
    Almost every shopping mall in Karachi is the exact opposite of what you’ve shared. People, branded outlets, food courts, kids arena and more are always filled up from opening till closure time.

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