For the same reason that I like airport terminals and convention centers—it’s fascinating to me to see the design of large, sprawling buildings that have to manage the flow of people within a lot of constraints—I enjoy exploring indoor shopping malls.
This map started as a simple map I made of Ohio’s malls last year, so that I could see if there were any relatively nearby malls I hadn’t visited. I soon converted it into a Google Earth KMZ map and added Ohio’s neighboring states (Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania). Earlier this year, I decided to add the rest of the United States, and then import that KMZ file into QGIS to create an easier-to-read map.
The mall research turned out to be more difficult than I expected. Wikipedia’s List of shopping malls in the United States was a huge help, but it didn’t have every US mall, so I had to do a lot of tedious exploration with Google Maps and Apple Maps as well. Additionally, since I only wanted to include indoor malls (not strip malls, outdoor malls, or lifestyle centers), the list contained a lot of malls that I didn’t need, and a number where I had to do further research to determine if they were indoor malls or not.
What Counts as an Indoor Mall?
That research was pretty tricky, because “indoor mall” is a matter of degree. Many outdoor outlet malls nonetheless had an indoor food court (and likewise, there were a number of food halls throughout the US)–but a few restaurants sharing some common tables didn’t really feel like a mall to me. On the other hand, I found a lot of places where strip malls had been enclosed by building an indoor connecting hallway along the front (such as Town & Country Shopping Center near me)–which felt like a mall as long as they were big enough.
The definition I eventually settled on for an indoor mall was that it had to be a structure with at least one department store and more than one smaller store (even if any of those were presently vacant) connected with some sort of indoor hallway or atrium–and parking garages didn’t count as “indoors” for that purpose. I don’t love this definition, but I couldn’t come up with a more concise one.
Permanently Closed Malls
I also decided to include on my map malls which I had visited in the past, but which are permanently closed now.
I first started thinking about this when I went to the Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City on 31 October, 2017—though I didn’t know it at the time, it was the mall’s final day before permanently closing. After visiting and seeing how vacant it was, I looked up the mall from my hotel room and discovered that I’d accidentally taken my very last opportunity to see it open.
So when the Upper Valley Mall, a dead mall not too far from my home, announced it would be permanently closed as of 16 June, 2021, I made certain to visit the mall on 15 June.
Though I didn’t visit them on their last days open, there are a number of other malls that I had visited in the past that are no longer open; again, however, this became difficult as “no longer open” is also a matter of degree. A good example of this is the Eastgate Metroplex (formerly the Eastland Mall) in Tulsa. It used to be an indoor mall, but was largely converted to office space; however, the food court still remains and the hallways are still open to the public. For the purposes of my map I did ultimately decide to count it as a still-open mall since it’s still possible to visit it, but I could just as easily see justification for counting it as a permanently closed mall that I’ve visited.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to come up with even a verbose definition for permanently closed mall that covers all the edge cases; there are a lot of malls that are obviously open or obviously closed, but there are a decent number that fall somewhere in between. To some extent (even more so than what counts as an indoor mall), this really is an “I know it when I see it” situation—and I haven’t seen every closed mall in the United States. Since I couldn’t always be sure, I tried to err on the side of counting ambiguously closed malls as open, but I’ve almost certainly got some miscategorized malls on my map.
Number of Malls
As of April 2022, I was able to find a total of 1080 open indoor malls in the United States (including territories), and another 309 closed indoor malls. (Keep in mind, however, the above caveats of “indoor mall” and “open” being somewhat in the eye of the beholder.)
To my knowledge, I’ve visited 203 of these malls as of April 2022.