The other day I mentioned walking at Dutch Square mall, a place that would hardly be standing any more if not for the movie theater and Burlington Coat Factory.
I can remember when it was new, that one semester I was a student at USC, in the fall of 1971. I never actually visited it then — neither I nor any of my friends had a car (now try to imagine that, boys and girls), so what little shopping I did was limited to Five Points and the Main Street area — but I heard reports that it was really something. And when we moved home to South Carolina in 1987, it was still going strong.
Today, not so much. There’s the two businesses mentioned above, some athletic shoe stores, a fitness emporium, some clothing stores with such names as “Urban Fashion,” a nail salon and some places that deal in gold. And a lot of dead space between some of them.
But it’s hardly alone in that regard. A couple of nights later, we decided to take a walk around Richland Mall, after my wife exchanged something at Belk. Wow. First, some of the mall seems to be inaccessible, at least from the end where we were walking — the occupied part that includes Belk, Barnes & Noble, a LensCrafters and a barber shop. There didn’t seem to be a way to get to the part on the other side of Belk, at least from inside. After a couple of circuits around the part we could get to, we quit walking. It was depressing.
My wife raised a question that hadn’t occurred to me: How do they afford to keep the lights on, and climate control operating? I don’t know. That bill has to be huge, even with parts of the mall closed off.
But for sheer emptiness, I’m not sure even Richland can compete with Inlet Square Mall in Murrells Inlet. That was a fairly hopping place just a few years ago, and now it’s like something that’s begging to be used as a movie set. You ever see Logan’s Run, about an entirely underground society? They could have shot that in Inlet Square, probably with room to spare.
The tipping point for that mall was, near as I can tell, the closing of the K-Mart that anchored one end, followed by the disappearance of Steinmart. The amazing thing is that this mall still has a Belk, and yet seems much more deserted than Dutch Square.
This is our brave new world, with Amazon taking the place of all these public spaces. (I wonder — if I asked Alexa the way to a mall, would she know? Would she tell me?) Over the course of December I made a couple of trips to Columbiana. It’s still thriving — that is to say, it’s still active and busy. But I sense a certain fraying around the edges. Filling the former Sears with the men’s department of Belk was a master stroke of hiding the damage, but how long will it be before this place is largely deserted, too?
Yeah, I know one form of economic activity is being replaced by another that’s just brimming with vitality, but there is something about these deserted spaces that were once so filled with life that gives the impression of a dead or dying civilization. It’s like the Roman Forum after the Visigoths were done with it, or the Acropolis, or some Mayan city overtaken by the jungle. All that infrastructure, so recently vibrant and glittering, left to crumble.
Can anyone think of any other mall in South Carolina that is more deserted than the above, yet still standing and open to the public? If so, I might like to try walking there of a cold evening…