St. Louis area malls go from busy hangouts to ghost towns


Photo by Daniel Matt

Mid Rivers Mall on a Friday afternoon sees few entering stores with many mall walkers getting their daily workout.

Daniel Matt, Reporter

Many St. Louis area malls have seen fewer young adults visit their stores with each passing decade, and generations of mall employees each have a different experience working at their mall because of the diminishing crowds.

Gina Sellers, a former mall employee at the now defunct Jamestown Mall in the 1980s, said her mall was always busy with high school and college students.

“It was fun to go to the mall in the late ’80s and early to mid-’90s,” Sellers said. “They were full of activity, music, people you knew, and a good time.”

Stacy Wilcox, a former Springfield Town Center Mall employee in the 1990s said malls were a highlight in her formative years.

“Malls are definitely not what they used to be,” Wilcox said. “In high school, we used to get dropped off at our mall on weekend evenings and hang out for hours. It was the bomb. The arcade, food court, random stores we favored, maybe even a movie from time to time. The films had it right.”

Mall employees of the ‘80s and ‘90s said their experiences working and going to malls were accurate to their portrayals in movies and television. Heather Patrick, a former mall employee at Mid Rivers Mall in the late-90s and early-2000s, said that malls portrayed in modern television reminded her of her favorite job.

“The mall era is very accurate in film,” Patrick said. “Especially in Stranger Things. The mall used to be the big hang-out spot, very lively and bustling with chatter everywhere. Kids having fun. Now it feels like a ghost town”.

Patrick said the mall is unrecognizable compared to when she worked there nearly 20 years ago.

“I was at the mall last Sunday and the dynamic was very different,” Patrick said. “Mostly older mall walkers, very few teen groups.”

Malls in the St. Louis area have seen store closings every year, with malls like Chesterfield and South County blocking off sections of their malls with walls where popular stores once were. Anna Ormsby, a former employee at Chesterfield Mall in the late-2010s, said she is unable to visit her old store after it closed because the mall walled it off.

“It’s sad I’m not able to go see my old store anymore,” Ormsby said. “It’d be nice to stand at the entrance one last time and relive some memories.”

Sellers said the atmosphere of current malls may be a reason young adults do not visit them like previous generations.

“The malls left are depressing and do not offer the fun atmosphere they used to, resulting in lack of use by teens and college students,” Sellers said. “Also, it seems that teens and college students socialize digitally more than in person.”

Wilcox said she has seen the social aspects of malls fade away through her daughter’s experiences.

“My 15-year-old does get dropped off at the West County Mall in Des Peres sometimes with her friends,” Wilcox said. “But it’s not the same as when I was a teen. They might go for a few hours on a weekend, but during the day, it’s not like their evening’s entertainment.”

Some employees, however, still believe that malls can make a comeback. Jess Webb, a mall employee during the pandemic at several St. Louis malls, said she thinks the pandemic did more to help malls in the short-term, rather than hurt.

“I think malls were dying but the pandemic saved them,” Webb said. “People wanted to get out again and once they were unable to get things in person, they began to value it again. I’m not sure if that is a temporary thing though.”

Webb said malls that try to reinvent themselves may live longer than ones that don’t. She said Chesterfield Mall and South County Mall refuse to update to what current young adults want from a mall experience.

“I think malls that offer more than just shopping also do better,” Webb said. “A lot of events happen at West County Mall, and people are more likely to spend time there because of that. Galleria has a movie theater and events and I know that’s why I went relatively often while I was in college.”

Ormsby said while she believes malls that reinvent and update may do better, it won’t be the same experience as she grew up.

“I think when we were kids, going to a mall was like an adventure,” Ormsby said. “But it would not be the same now.”