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Making the most of dead malls

Animated illustration of a neon sign with a "Sorry We're Closed" flickering on and off.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Arcade Providence, which, when it opened 188 years ago, was America's first shopping mall. Today, its a collection of 48 apartments, restaurants, a coffee shop and a salon.

"If you've got a dead mall, look at that as an opportunity," says Ellen Dunham-Jones, a professor of urban design at Georgia Tech who is tracking more than 1000 mall carcasses across the U.S.

She shared a few favorites:

  • Cleaning up the environment: A shuttered mall in Ohio was turned into a water treatment plant to clean up the nearby lake.
  • A doctor's office: The top floor of a struggling, two-story mall in Nashville was turned into a clinic. Instead of flipping through old magazines while waiting for the doctor, patients can check in with the doctor upstairs and then head downstairs to shop.
  • A college campus: Abandoned strip malls in east Austin have been transformed into satellite campuses for Austin Community College.

Still, there are far more ghost-town malls than there are retrofitted ones, she says.

"I wish there were more really great examples of down and out communities finding a silver bullet in dead retail."
— Ellen Dunham-Jones, Georgia Tech

Special report: The future of retail

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