ODN Item of the Week: Photograph of Royce Shoes in the Middletown Mall

Have you ever heard the term ‘dead mall’? A dead mall is a shopping mall that’s either been completely abandoned or has a very low occupancy rate and no ‘anchor’ stores.

Shopping malls cropped up all over the United States in the 1960s and 70s, and many of us remember spending teenage days at them through the 80s and even 90s. But when American retail habits changed, many malls were not able to adapt and were left vacant. Documenting dead malls is hobby that you’ll find in the corners of today’s blogs and photo or video sharing sites, and it can raise some good discussion about economics and culture in the U.S.

Many of these malls were reduced to skeletons of their former greatness, and have continued to sit empty in the middle or even the outskirts of otherwise populated areas. One mall that avoided this fate while still falling into decline was the Middletown Mall, in Middletown, Ohio. Middletown received some federal funding in the late 60s and early 70s that allowed the city to close off some of its major downtown streets to vehicular traffic, in an attempt to make the area more of a pedestrian-friendly hub. Within a few years, the roads had been roofed over and a shopping mall was built. First called the Middletown Mall, then City Centre Mart, and finally City Centre Mall, the center struggled from the start.

Photograph of Royce Shoes in the Middletown Mall, Middletown, Ohio, 1977 March 1
Courtesy MidPointe Digital Archive

Newer shopping centers with more stores had opened in more convenient locations, and some of the stores committed to Middletown Mall were out of business shortly after it opened. By the 90s, the city was paying upkeep on a mostly vacant space in the heart of downtown, and something had to be done. The city decided to demolish the mall and open the downtown roads back up to the public, in order to create a new vision of downtown Middletown. If you visit today, you might never know that there was a shopping center on the site where you were standing. Thanks to MidPointe Digital Archives, we can see several photos of the mall right now on DPLA.