The North Town Mall has always been a favorite hangout of mine, and while this has caused many to question my sanity and shopping sense, it’s hard for me to imagine Springfield without at least one semi-abandoned shopping mall. And yet, my greatest fears may soon become a reality.
The “Retail Historians” at Deadmalls.com have recently updated their page dedicated to the North Town Mall, declaring it officially dead. While I’m hesitant to follow suit, and have vehemently defended the North Town Mall’s honor on numerous occasions (including against the attacks of the aforementioned website), I’m forced to reluctantly agree with them.
Shortly before I left for Massachusetts I paid the mall what I feared might be my final visit, in order to attend the closing sale of Another Comic Shop. ACS was the last store left open in the entire mall (not counting Wal-Mart and Subway, which are only externally attached to the mall proper and do not sport interior entrances), and I assumed that once it was out the mall would close its doors for good (or bad, as the case may be). Fortunately that hasn’t yet come to pass.
BUT - Tragedy strikes! Deadmalls.com cites a News-Leader article, which claims the attached Wal-Mart store (which at present is owner of the entire mall) has taken out a permit to demolish the mall. While this has long been rumored (sources inside Wal-Mart have informed me of the possibility of the land being used for a Supercenter), the idea has never solidified. In fact, Wal-Mart has flip-flopped on this very matter in the past, but this action forces me to believe that they finally mean business.
Quick history lesson: For those who don’t remember, there was once another dead mall in Springfield – the South Oaks Center, which meant the grand total of dead vs living malls stood at 2:1. Yet that ratio no longer stands. And what horrible fate befell the South Oaks Center? It too was enveloped by a parasitic Wal-Mart and converted into a Supercenter.
So, fearing the worst I headed back to the mall shortly after returning home, camera in hand. I was determined to document everything I could while I still had the chance. A lone security guard met me at the door, and seemed overly suspicious of my being there. I explained to him that I just wanted to look around, but understood there were no stores open. He gave me a hard time, reinforcing the fact that nothing was open, but ultimately allowed me passage.
Once inside I met several elderly mall walkers, many of which had heard the bad news and had apparently resigned themselves to the hopelessness of their situation. Oldsters hung out in the food court, commandeering empty tables and even bringing their own picnic lunches and chess sets from home. Homemade “please do not move tables” signs hung on the wall.
Storefronts were draped in chains, and a makeshift stage had been assembled below the burnt-out neon "NT" logo for use in child beauty pageants and bluegrass concerts. All the while the lone security guard stared blankly from his podium between the Branson flier wrack and the abandoned ice cream kiosk.
A large retractable fence blocked off the main corridor, where the mall originally split into three branches and terminated in a large open area complete with fountains, gardens, and sculptures. A skylight hung perilously overhead. My source inside Wal-Mart tells me this area was closed when the seal started to break around the skylight, for fear that some panes would come down on an unsuspecting jogger or retail historian.
The fountain no longer operates and it's once-rotating ornaments have corroded to a standstill, but the plant life seems to be well watered and maintained. Wasted effort? Perhaps, but no more so than the effort it takes to heat, power, and staff an enormous vacant building for 8 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Going back to talk to the security guard, he tells me that the owners had taken out a demolition permit once before, a year prior, but he believed they were serious this time. He had to leave shortly afterward to duct-tape a broken window on the building’s exterior, which gave me a chance to slip into the bowels of the mall. They consisted mostly of one long corridor, doubling as a storm shelter, which runs from one end, past a control room of sorts, and connects to the food court and public restrooms on the other. There’s also a large area in the middle, currently being used as warehouse space.
Stepping outside I encountered a mailman who informed me of some survey crews who were there earlier, taking core samples in the parking lot; another nail in the coffin.
Once the proud home of such establishments as Waldenbooks, Radio Shack, and Dippin’ Dots, the mall’s storefronts later degenerated into host for such places as a thrift store, an RC car race track, and the meeting place for a local quilting club. Today the mall stands at 100% empty, yet the lights, AC, piped-in Muzak and skeleton crew of one cantankerous man remain.
So why is the North Town Mall still open? What purpose does it serve? How long can it possibly survive? Who cares! I think Batteries Not Included said it best:
“The quickest way to end a miracle is to ask it why it is... or what it wants.”
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