Shoppers in Columbus once flocked to two malls, Eastland and Westland. Two decades ago, both were thriving retail temples, anchored by department stores, stuffed with windowless shops and served by mediocre food courts.
Today Westland is a “zombie mall,” abandoned by companies and consumers alike. Its final tenant, Sears, moved out this year, part of the iconic American retailer’s long, painful demise. That left the complex vacant, little more than a subject for photographers who find apocalyptic beauty in the desolation.
On the other side of town, Eastland is not faring much better. Most of the big brands have moved out, leaving just a collection of eyebrow salons, discount retailers and off-brand fast-food providers.
The demise of Eastland and Westland is part of a broader story of American retail in decline. In Columbus, retail vacancy rates are on the rise, up to 6.7 percent in the first quarter of this year, according to the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. Rents are soft, too, down to their lowest levels since 2012. And the same story is playing out across the country, as the malls that defined how Americans shopped for much of the last 50 years shut down.
“There are a lot of zombie malls out there,” said Steve Morris, a co-founder of the Asset Strategies Group, a Columbus firms that helps companies manage their real estate holdings. “We’re just over-retailed in the U.S.”
David Gelles, “An Alternate Universe of Shopping”, The New York Times (15 October 2017), BU4.