Vintage photos from the 1980s show America's shopping malls in their heyday

Stephen Di RadoRemember the good old days.
  • Photographer Stephen DiRado spent two and a half years visiting shopping malls in Massachusetts in the 1980s documenting everyday life.
  • The photos that have emerged present unique time capsule of both the decade and a time when shopping malls were at their peak.
  • The photos are a stark contrast to the photos we see today of empty and dying shopping malls in middle America.

As an emerging photographer in the 1980s, Stephen DiRado began exploring malls in and around his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts, as a means of exploring his own middle-class upbringing.

At the time, shopping malls had become the meeting place for America’s youth, as teens of every different stripe milled about the food courts, smoked cigarettes, and went from chain store to chain store in search of temporary employment.

For two and a half years, DiRado visited malls in Worcester and all over Massachusetts for nearly 18 hours a week to document mall-goers and the strange world that American capitalism gave birth to.

DiRado shared a selection of the photos with us here, but you can check out the rest at his website.

DiRado was born in the late 1950s, just as malls were starting to be built to serve the growing middle class.

As a young kid in the 1960s, DiRado and his friends met up at the neighbourhood “five and dime” stores to hang out, drink sodas, and buy snacks.

The owners of the neighbourhood “five and dime” stores were well-known members of the community.

By his teens, malls became popular and the neighbourhood stores closed down. DiRado considers his generation to be the first wave of mall-goers.

“As teens, we would drive fifty miles to go visit a new one,” he said.

DiRado frequently visited the mall with his family in his youth, but by his 20s, he had soured on them and hated going.

In his mid-20s, DiRado began shooting at the Worcester Galleria in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts.

When it was built in the 1970s, the Galleria was considered “one of the finest malls in New England,” says DiRado.

By the time that DiRado started photographing the malls in the 1980s, the original malls suffered a serious decline, as shoppers stopped going and stores closed down.

The malls were still the main meeting place for teenagers, however, who were less interested in buying clothes than finding a place to smoke cigarettes and hang out.

When DiRado was photographing his malls series, it was a fad for teenagers to work through as many mall jobs as they could either by quitting or getting fired.

Many teens told him of going from one mall job to the next, boasting that they could work their way through five establishments within a year or less.

The period that DiRado captured was especially unique because of the numerous subcultures popular amongst teens at the time.

At any given time, DiRado says there were goth, heavy metal, and punk kids.

DiRado made sure to photograph window displays, prices on items, and food courts, knowing that with time, these subjects would gain added significance.

“I knew during my tenure documenting the mall, we were clearly in a unique time in our history. I was not shy to capture on film as much of it as I could,” DiRado said.

The photos present a unique time capsule of regular life during a decade of immense change.

The photos show just how different things from then: from fashion and culture to prices.

And yet, they show how many things stay the same.

For many, the photos are nostalgic. For those not young enough to remember the 1980s, they are a window to a time long since past.

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