These photos of eerily vacant shopping centres and parking lots show how the rapid decline of malls has changed the way Americans shop

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These strangely beautiful photos might make you feel nostalgic for hanging out in the mall. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

Growing up in Springfield, Missouri, photographer Jesse Rieser was largely immersed in the American mall experience.

It partly inspired his photo project “The Retail Apocalypse: The Changing Landscape of American Retail.”

The series explores the retail apocalypse in the US, the country’s rapid decline of shopping malls as online retailers are increasingly gaining strides in the retail space.

Rieser’s photos depict abandoned shopping malls, stores, and parking lots with deteriorated signs displaying the names of companies that are now struggling to keep afloat by catering to online-driven consumers.

Business Insider spoke to Rieser about his series. Take a look.


Living in the suburban Midwest, Rieser grew up with shopping and strip malls.

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A store outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

His own personal memories helped inform his photo series.

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A parking lot outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

Going to the mall consisted of “hanging out at food courts and trying to talk to girls, and when that didn’t go so well, always kind of resorting back to the arcade,” Rieser told Business Insider.

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A store outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

It was also a more common way of passing the time back then.

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A store outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“Growing up in the 80s and the 90s, there’s a big part of the American experience as a young person in mall culture,” Rieser said.

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A parking lot outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“That was, for a lot of suburban communities, a focal point of teen interaction,” Rieser said.

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A storefront outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“I remember going with my mum to shop for school clothes at a version of Macy’s in the midwest, Famous Barr,” Rieser said. “Or getting into video games and toys and things, and so you had Toys R Us.”

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A store outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“And then music and electronics when you’re a little older — and that’s Circuit City and Best Buy,” Rieser said.

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A store outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

But over the years, brick-and-mortar spaces have played less of a role in the retail landscape as stores continue to shutter due to retail’s growing online presence.

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A Best Buy outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

Source: Business Insider


Just this year, more than 3,800 stores, like Toys R Us, Macy’s, and Sears, were projected to close, while e-commerce giant Amazon was expected to rake in 5% of all retail sales in 2018.

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A sign outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

Source: Business Insider and Techcrunch


It has prompted Rieser to document some of those closing brick-and-mortar stores.

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A storefront outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

The resulting ongoing project, “The Retail Apocalypse: The Changing Landscape of American Retail,” actually consists of two parts.

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A building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

One half of the series focuses on shuttered stores and the other consists of structures essential to e-commerce, said Rieser.

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A building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

The latter half of the series includes business parks, shipping and fulfillment centres, and server facilities. He began photographing this part of the series in 2015.

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A store outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“They’re faceless, there are no windows, they’re very geometric, there’s a coldness to them, and also very forgettable,” Rieser said about the sprawling business parks he photographed.

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A building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

He said he didn’t start capturing shuttered department stores and malls until early 2016 …

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A store outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

… which is when stores started really re-structuring, closing its doors, and consolidating, he said.

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A parking lot outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“That’s when I started photographing what you see in the first half of the project, where it’s just the Toys R Us and the Macy’s and the malls, Sears, and all these companies that are really struggling,” Rieser said.

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A building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

Rieser is located in Phoenix, Arizona, so he took to areas about two hours outside of the city for his project.

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A parking lot outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

It’s a long way from his Missouri hometown, but he kept his childhood in mind while photographing the series.

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A parking lot outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“For me the project is kind of celebrating these structures, these businesses that somehow kind of reflected my changing interests as a child and then a young man and photographing them almost as these modern-day architectural ruins, if you will,” Rieser said.

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A Best Buy outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

He said the project helped him frame his own feeling of nostalgia for the suburban American experience he was accustomed to.

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A sign outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“It’s interesting to just think of this evolving landscape of retail and what that means,” Rieser said.

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The inside of a building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

He said there’s a social aspect afforded to us historically by physical retail locations.

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A store outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“There are a handful of things that humans need to have a level of happiness, and one of those things is a sense of community,” Rieser said.

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A building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

He said throughout this project he’s thought of how the shift to online will affect those who rely on human interaction when shopping, like his 88-year-old grandmother.

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A parking lot outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“You’ve seen Walmart and Amazon start rolling out their grocery delivery service, and I know that for her, once or twice or three times a week, one of her major social interactions and outlets is to go to the grocery store and talk to people that work there, and they all know her by name,” Rieser said.

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Debris on the ground outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

He believes advancements in automation and technology will only quicken a shift away from that kind of interaction.

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A parking lot outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

Rieser also said that the malls shuttering are typically Class B malls, or malls that are perceived as more blue collar shopping centres.

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A store outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

Rieser said he doesn’t think malls with more of a luxury focus have that same problem currently.

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A storefront outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“These everyman mall type of experiences are closing at a pretty decent pace,” Rieser said. “The ones that have the Bergdorf’s and the Neiman’s and Saks, those are flourishing.”

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A building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

He said that distinction might spur an even wider economic gap in the American shopping arena.

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A parking lot outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

Rieser said he thinks there’s also a generational shift at play here.

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A building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“Young people are consuming less,” Rieser said. “Their motivation is much more experiential and spending money on eating out and travelling.”

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A building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

But he said the absence of shopping mall culture could be a disadvantage for American youths.

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A store outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“Malls were a place that young people got their start of learning values of employment and holding a job and making money,” Rieser said.

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A building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“What happens when that’s really scarce? What happens when young people don’t have a whole lot to do?” Rieser said.

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Buildings outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

Rieser said things are evolving again just as they had in years past.

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A building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“These larger stores were in a sad way putting out the smaller mum-and-pop shops,” Rieser said.

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A building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

But now, he said those same entities are experiencing something similar.

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A parking lot outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“It’s some weird karma thing happening, but also a lot of these companies felt too big to fail with their own arrogance,” Rieser said.

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A store outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“They just failed to mutate and evolve,” Rieser said. “It’s Darwinism in a sense, I suppose.”

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A storefront outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

Just as these larger companies suffocated independently-owned shops, e-commerce leaders are gaining more traction ahead of them now.

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A parking lot outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“It’s easy to point the finger and say Amazon, but it is that,” Rieser said.

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A building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser


The retail giant started as an online bookstore and has since catapulted itself into one of the most powerful roles in the retail industry.

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A wall outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

Source: Business Insider


As a result, many turn to the internet to shop, including Rieser.

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A building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

Source: Business Insider


“The thing is that I’m just like everybody else,” Rieser said. “I love the online shopping, but I think it’s an interesting thing.”

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A store outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“It’s just kind of a shift that’s at play, but it seems like it’s happening super fast,” Rieser said.

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A storefront outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

Rieser said that the closing of brick-and-mortar stores will have a ripple effect in not only the retail industry, but in other areas as well.

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Inside a building outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

“There’s a lot of those types of things that are going to be much more of a broader global conversation about employment and the economic shift in not only how we shop but how we work and communicate,” Rieser said.

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A storefront outside of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jesse Rieser

You can see more of Rieser’s work on his website and Instagram.