Thursday, November 05, 2009

Miscellany: "It's A Dead Place"

Inside the JCPenney at the Palm Beach Mall, the Christmas displays are already up. Big, enticing red sales signs, holiday music, the whole smash. There is a part of this JCPenney that's out of the ordinary, though - the store's mall entrance is closed. Through the clear windows of the closed sliding doors, you see this:

JCPenney, along with Sears, is one of the last anchor stores in the nearly-deserted Palm Beach Mall. In its heyday in the 1980s, the mall was a fairly popular spot for those living in the northern parts of the county. Fierce competition from the Palm Beach Gardens Mall chipped away at its customer base in the '90s, but it wasn't until the brutal, well-publicized murder of a Chick-Fil-A manager in 1999 that the mall really started to tank.

From there the end was inevitable. Even a renovation in 2000 couldn't wash away the stain of violence from the mall, which drove out the upper-middle class shoppers most malls rely on to survive. I visited the Palm Beach Mall recently to see just how bad things have become (if you must go, be sure to bring protection - I suggest a Trojan).

Walking the Palm Beach Mall was a surreal experience - almost like being in a post-apocalyptic zombie movie. Since the building is in foreclosure, every single cost-saving measure has been rolled out. The air conditioning has been turned down in the building, so it's actually fairly warm inside, at least for a mall. The central water fountain's been bone-dry for ages. Many of the ceiling lights have been turned off, giving the place a dungeon-like atmosphere. The restrooms are, predictably, out of order.

Oddly enough, there are a few brave souls still trying to operate stores in this place - there's a GNC, a Foot Locker, and a smattering of independent booths and stalls. If you ever visit, I hope you like Subway, because it's the only place that's still open in the food court. Like you might expect, most of the salespeople are just hanging on, riding it out until the end of their leases.

I did buy something from Sears - two pairs of clearance shorts for $10 (cheaper than Goodwill). The friendly old saleslady's voice was dour, with a distinct Welsh brogue. She said that Sears was closing in January, and that the building might be demolished soon after that. I didn't say it, but I thought it while I was walking out: "I hope they tear this place down sooner rather than later."

[The post title comes from the opening scenes of "Day of the Dead"]


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