A filmmaker who's travelled to more than 70 dead malls across America reveals the craziest things he's seen, from an eerily foggy food court to a rainstorm indoors

YouTube / Dan BellRolling Acres Mall in Akron, Ohio, was demolished in 2016.
  • The producer and filmmaker Dan Bell has visited more than 70 dead malls across America, uploading video tours to his YouTube channel.
  • He said he’s seen some crazy things over the years, from malls on the verge of demolition to others with roofs so leaky that rainstorms came inside.
  • “These malls are just ending up completely empty and just shells of their former selves,” he told Business Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Dan Bell stood outside the now demolished Rolling Acres Mall in Akron, Ohio, in 2015.

At the time, the infamous mall was abandoned but still standing.

“I asked some kid on a dirt bike, I was like, ‘Is there any way to get in here?'” Bell told Business Insider.

“And this kid pointed out this hole that I could crawl through and get into the mall,” he added.

Once inside, he heard the unexpected, disconcerting sound of a group of frogs singing.

“They were actually living in the pool underneath the elevator, the center court elevator. The water had pooled up in the well of the elevator, and there were frogs living in the pool,” he said. “And … there was a bank of fog in the food court just hanging mid-air.”

“And I said, ‘This is absolutely incredible.'”

A producer and filmmaker with more than 482,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, Bell has documented his visits to more than 70 dead malls across America. He uses what he calls “spy glasses” – sunglasses with a built-in hidden camera – to film most of the videos in order to avoid the attention of mall security guards who don’t have too many open stores to watch over.

Bell defines a dead mall as one that is at least 50% vacant. Some have already been shuttered and abandoned, while others simply lack shoppers of any kind.

As consumer habits have changed to favour online shopping, and foot traffic to stores has declined, the sight of a depressed mall has become all too common in communities across America. More than 7,000 stores are slated to close across the country so far in 2019. Many of those stores are mall-based.

While many of the dead malls Bell visits for his video series still sport charming ’70s-era decor with neon colours and terracotta walls, others are in a more dilapidated condition.

During Bell’s visit to Rolling Acres, for example, he noted graffiti on the walls and broken glass everywhere. That visit ended with a police escort.

At another mall in North Carolina, the air-conditioning system was broken. One of the stores that was still operating, however, didn’t seem to be too affected by the heat because of a clever workaround.

“[The shopkeeper’s] husband had brought her a block of ice and she had a fan blowing on it,” Bell said.

He said he’s seen other malls with dramatically leaky roofs.

“I’ve been to malls where there’s been a thunderstorm, and it’s raining inside of the mall, and there’s some poor maintenance man running around with buckets trying to absorb the water from puddling up on all the floors,” he said.

But Bell’s favourite mall is Sunrise Mall in Corpus Christi, Texas, where the 1985 movie “The Legend of Billie Jean” was filmed. During his visit, he was amazed by how similar it looked to its appearance in the movie that had premiered roughly 30 years before.

“I love the malls that are older, that haven’t been given that generic makeover that all these malls that are doing well now have done,” he said.

Sunrise mall corpus christiYouTube / Dan BellSunrise Mall in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Bell’s videos conjure a strong sense of nostalgia, and that’s no coincidence – he describes himself as a ’90s kid. Back then, young people would use their local mall as the primary place to hang out with their friends.

“It was like Facebook, only you weren’t on the computer. You’d go and run into this person, run into that person,” he said.

And, in all of his visits, the stories have been much the same.

“You read the comments, and it’s the same comments on each video because it’s people in that state who went to that mall, who met their future husband or wife there, who haven’t been to the mall in years, who had no idea it was even still open. The video is sort of like the funeral, almost, of the mall,” he said.

“It’s spreading across America, and these malls are just ending up completely empty and just shells of their former selves,” he added.

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