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Dead malls: You could shop... until they dropped

Once booming, now barren. Let’s take a peek at malls of Columbia’s past — plus hope for the future.

A tiled floor with a dark, empty storefront to the right and a pair of escalators surrounded by four large pillars. Surrounding the bottom of one of the escalators is a yellow and red sign blocking the entrance that says "preventative maintenance."

The former Richland Mall is set to transform into a new city park.

Photo by MikeKalasnik via Wikimedia Commons

Shopping malls across America have been left in a state that not even Paul Blart could save, and Columbia is no exception.

Known as “dead malls,” these abandoned, dilapidated, or mostly vacant shopping centers have become a subject of fascination — especially thanks to the online popularity of liminal space aesthetics.

Let’s go to the mall

Teeming with life in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Columbia Place Mall originally opened in 1977 with Belk, JC Penney, and Sears as anchor tenants. Later, Belk was replaced by Dillard’s. Eventually, both Dillard’s and JC Penney left the mall, and now it sits mostly vacant.

Across town, Dutch Square Center opened as Columbia’s first indoor mall in 1970. Throughout the ‘90s, the mall was booming with stores and eateries like Britton’s, Chick-fil-A, Morrison’s Cafeteria, Radio Shack, and Orange-Julius.

Years earlier in 1961, Forest Acres’ Richland Mall started as an open-air shopping center. In the ‘80s, the mall was converted into an indoor center and renamed Richland Fashion Mall. Shoppers may remember Meri’s Record Shops, the Happy Bookseller, and the Richland Mall Theatre.

The top level of a building looking at a dark, empty red brick storefront. In front of the store is an opening with a railing lining it.

This space used to hold Dillard’s and Belk at Columbia Place Mall.

Photo by MikeKalasnik via Wikimedia Commons

Back to the future

Columbia Place is much quieter today, but in 2023, construction began on government buildings at the former site of the mall’s Burlington Coat Factory.

In August 2023, a locally-based church announced plans to purchase and revitalize Dutch Square Center Mall, and readers are likely familiar with plans to turn the former Richland Mall site into a city park and 50,000 sqft of restaurants, a grocery store, and apartments

While these malls have changed, Columbia has a number of other thriving shopping centers or districts where you can make like NSYNC and buy, buy, buy:

  • Columbiana Centre | This popular retail destination is Soda City’s largest mall. It’s anchored by department stores like Belk + Dillard’s and features ~100 other stores like Aldo’s, Bath & Body Works, and Champs Sports. It’s also home to a 60,000-sqft Dave and Buster’s — so pencil in time to play.
  • Village at Sandhill | This outdoor shopping center features a movie theater, restaurants, and stores like Books A Million, GameStop, Journey’s, and JC Penney. New shops continue to boost business here, too.

Do you have memories of a local mall from back in the day? Share them with us and we may feature your story in a future newsletter: First date at the food court, trying on prom dresses at the department store, hitting up Orange Julius before picking up the perfect graphic tee at Hot Topic — we wanna hear it all.

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