What happens to shopping malls when shoppers stop coming?

Photographer Seph Lawless captures these ghostly monuments to consumption in his new book.

an abandoned mall near our charlotte marketing agency

Exactly what you expect.  Places that were once filled with bright storefronts, music, loud shoppers and bubbling fountains become transformed into eerily empty halls that suffer from years of neglect and vandalism. We’ve seen it happen here in Charlotte with Eastland Mall, which was once as popular and glamorous as Southpark Mall. (Note: the super sketchy Asian Corner Mall at the intersection of North Tryon and Sugar Creek is still marginally open and — in the opinion of our Charlotte marketing agency — home to the BEST Bahn Mi sandwich in the Queen City).

Of course, most shopping malls are typically bustling with activity, packed during the winter holiday shopping season or teeming with families during the summer break, but the shopping malls captured by photographer Seph Lawless are ghostly monuments to consumption — as they, in turn, are left to be consumed by the elements.

What do these images say about the changing landscape of consumerism and new trends like online shopping?

“There’s nothing more profound and sobering then being inside an abandoned mall,” said Lawless. “It’s a powerful symbol of America’s economic decline. I used to visit these malls often growing up. I remember eating cotton candy underneath the escalator and the sounds of people laughing and feet shuffling as the gentle sounds of falling water from one of the many fountains surrounded me. This was America.”

Lawless is known for exploring abandoned spaces and documenting their imminent collapse. In 2012, he set out across the United States to photograph the “most broken parts of America.” He came back with approximately 3,000 images and 17 hours of video footage. This year, Lawless released his book, Autopsy of America, a culmination of that work.

And while abandoned buildings dot the landscape of the American Rust Belt, photos of these decaying and boarded-up shopping malls,  once iconic cultural phenomena, may seem disturbing. But they shouldn’t be surprising. About 15 percent of U.S. malls will fail or be converted into non-retail space within the next 10 years, according to Green Street Advisors, a real estate and REIT analytics firm, Business Insider reported.

Lawless’ newly published photo book Black Friday – The Collapse of the American Shopping Mall includes these and other abandoned malls around America. You can see more of his work on his personal site, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook. As experts in retail branding, our Charlotte marketing agency finds Lawless’ images to be a fascinating observation on the speed at which things can fall apart. The two Ohio shopping malls seen above and below — Rolling Acres Mall and Randall Park Mall — were both built in the the mid-1970s and abandoned in 2008 and 2009. Both malls, which now feature dead plants, broken glass and crumbling walls, are set to be demolished any day now.

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