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The Horror and Romance of Dead Malls

Somehow, over the holidays, I stumbled over videos about dead malls. It’s an entire genre on YouTube. A lot of things clicked for me. Is there anything more symbolic of a society in decline than an abandoned temple to consumerism or, worse, one that only has a 15%-20% occupancy rate? Enclosed ghost towns with crumbling parking lots, leaking ceilings, and scars where the signs of formerly prosperous anchor store chains once were. Mall have died for a lot of reasons, including the rise of the internet, the decline of the middle class, and stagnant wages leaving people with little or no disposable income.

The work-in-progress was originally conceived as a contemporary Gothic story. My main character is a woman forced to take a job she really doesn’t like. She’s reached her threshold of tolerance for toxic masculinity, even though her life would be easier if she just gave in to it. For the obligatory crumbling architecture, I settled on an old hotel vaguely modeled after the historic Chelsea. It was once a place where writers, artists, and musicians lived. Now, it’s crumbling after decades of neglect. My protagonist was already struggling with student loan debt. She moves into the residence hotel, in what’s now a bad part of town, more out of financial need than for the romance of the location.

The Horror and Romance of Dead Malls

The Century III Mall outside of Pittsburgh in particular caught my attention. It was built over a slag heap, the waste product of another dead boom industry in the United States, steel manufacturing. Building on top of that wasn’t wise because the ground settled, the foundation cracked, and the mall developed serious structural problems. There’s plenty of allegory to play with there.

Having the once-famous hotel become eclipsed by a modern shopping district, which has also fallen, spoke to me. It was once a desirable neighborhood, and now it’s the poor part of town. I based it partially on my own experiences in Albuquerque, where I lived in a formerly thriving Route 66-era motel that had been converted into studio apartments. I was within walking distance of three mall, one abandoned, one dying, and another recently refurbished by struggling. All of which begs to be used in a Gothic tale meant to serve as commentary on the modern world.

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