Auctioning Off a Useless Mall

PHOENIX – The body parts are surprising, even if you expect them to, when they are the only things that are left behind.

When a mall is closed – its stores are closed due to a recession, new spending habits, or a deadly virus – the mannequins sometimes stay. They are stripped and dismembered, their severed legs leaning against bare walls and severed hands thrown into abandoned back rooms. The mall has become a “dead mall” that has been stripped of people and their products.

But not everything is gone; There are still things that are nailed down, like counters and display cases, or scattered, like the fake body parts.

Before a dead mall can be reborn – renovated as a senior housing or office complex as developers recently attempted – these remains must be removed. And because shopping malls are temples of consumption, these items are increasingly being sold to the highest bidder.

Although this is a relatively new phenomenon, public liquidation auctions of shopping malls are becoming more common. The coronavirus has gutted retail sales, but malls were already in trouble. In the United States, 25 percent of closed malls (of which there are 1,200) could close in the next five years.

Two weeks ago the auction began in Phoenix in the empty Metrocenter mall, which was closed in June and will continue weekly until January. Until then, the auctioneers expect around 1,000 lots.

So far, her catalog contained a collection of 37 fire extinguishers (available for $ 140); a neon Wetzel pretzel sign ($ 750); a large mall ($ 275); A security system with cages so large that they can only be called multi-human size ($ 325). Upcoming items include 25 food court tables; the plexiglass containers that were used to keep sweets in a candy store; the contents of an empty Victoria’s Secret; many nine mannequin torsos (six women, three men).

While the majority of buyers at these auctions are surplus buyers and may be more interested in things like lights and racks, EJs Auction and Appraisal, who cleans up the Metrocenter, estimates that about 30 percent are collectors.

“There is a very, very strong market for signage: everything that is neon and retro, but also the newer products have value in the collector’s market,” said Erik Hoyer, CEO of the company.

When the Metrocenter opened in 1973, it was Arizona’s largest mall, a symbol of new prosperity in a suburban desert. Inside, families were skating on an ice rink; Outside, teenagers cruised around the parking lot (and were inspired to cruising again as adults – “one last cruise!” – when they heard the Metrocenter was closing).

Mr. Hoyer, 55, was one of those teenagers “who would cause trouble and do what teenagers did,” he said. “And so we knew that some of the articles would pique the interest of people my age. There’s a lot of nostalgia there. “


Apr. 16, 2020, 7:32 am ET

But it’s not nostalgia for individual malls attracting national interest in these auctions: like Omaha this fall; in Knoxville, Tenn., last December; or in the suburbs of Detroit and Chicago in 2015. It’s nostalgia for malls themselves.

Large communities have formed online to discover and document dead shopping malls. Groups of people gather to discuss them on Reddit, YouTube, and Facebook, fascinated by the emptiness and decay. Most of these enthusiasts are old enough to remember having spent part of their youth in a busy mall (so at least 30 years old).

Now they realize that they can own parts of the corpse.

In late 2019, Paul Shore placed a bid for a wooden bookcase to be used in the offices of the Knoxville Center Mall in suburban Tennessee. He couldn’t examine the shelves closely, but the disorganized selection of content was part of the deal. He won the lot for $ 60.

Later, when sorting the cargo, Mr. Shore kept all of the Mall brand souvenirs, including a box of pink nail files and individually wrapped hand mirrors. He kept several stuffed cow ornaments from Chick-fil-A and a map that was used in the mall office to mark sound system zones. His best find, however, was a series of laminated marketing posters advertising potential tenants to the mall.

“They were kind of unique,” he said.

In addition to the bookshelf, Mr. Shore won several other auction items: a large metal sign pointing to JC Penney ($ 29) and a collection of 30 Mall-branded cloth bags ($ 52). After collecting the last of his winnings in May, Mr. Shore drove back to his Georgia home for more than three hours.

Mr Shore, 35, said he was “intrigued” by abandoned retail spaces, which include shopping malls but also large stores like Kmart. Acquiring their memorabilia is just a more tangible version of what he does on his RetailWorld YouTube channel: collecting new and old footage that he hopes will hold some malls memories. (His last video about the Knoxville Mall was over 16 minutes long.)

“I only think for myself and other people I know they want the same thing. We want to hold onto this piece of history and have a memento or memory of things in the past from their previous glory,” he said. “To collect something to remember a past time and place.”

His nostalgia is rooted in his Florida childhood when his parents took him to the mall every Friday, he said. Today he tries to shop in malls whenever he can. “I don’t want malls to go away,” said Mr. Shore.

In some corridors of Metrocenter, the recently disbanded shopping mall in Phoenix, floors are covered in plastic BBs from a recent airsoft game that resembles paintball (with no paint) and simulates military combat. At an auction preview last week, little white balls crunched underfoot.

Somewhere in the mall a radio was playing the “linger” of the cranberries, which echoed eerily from the walls and stretched as far as possible over 1.3 million square meters. While most Metrocenter stores were stripped of anything but lights and displays (and those mannequins), their back rooms look searched as if they were quickly vacated.

Documents were thrown on the floor or left forgotten on a desk. Here was someone’s résumé: a 2014 graduate whose skills included self-motivation and graphic design. There was a letter from the corporate commission informing a jewelry store that its organizational item had been approved.

“It can be a little creepy out there,” said Mr. Hoyer. He recently watched “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” which was partially filmed at the Metrocenter, to see if he could see any devices that were still there. He could not. The mall has had too many lives. And deaths.

Erik Pierson, 39, a dead Arizona mall enthusiast, attended the first auction preview and plans to visit more visitors even though he has not yet placed a bid. Most of the time, he enjoyed the experience of seeing the mall in its final, eerie form.

“I went there as a kid and obviously covered it pretty extensively on my YouTube channel,” he said. “But that was the first time I’ve been there since it was closed. And it was bizarre. It was kind of bittersweet because I love this mall. “

Some people remember the ice rink. Others remember the huge fountain that put on timed shows, spitting water up and down, as high as the second floor, before crashing onto tiles with loud splashes. The well was covered years ago.

The mall’s ongoing closure has inspired people to share memories like this one almost endlessly. Everyone has a story about Metrocenter (or put the name of a local mall here). But stories don’t keep malls alive.

“I think a lot of people just forgot,” said Pierson, who predicts that more property owners will turn to auctions as closings accelerate. “And now it’s gone.”

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