The Rust Belt Mallwalker


Jessica Anshutz


special edition, Shopping Malls
Image details

Jessica Anshutz, aka the "Rustbelt Mallwalker" explains what draws her to malls and shares a visual essay of malls she has documented since 2016.

In 2016, I started taking pictures of malls. I picked up my camera after a long hiatus, and started editing and sharing at least one photo a day, to build a photography habit.

I grew up in the nineties, so the mall was always a place of comfort and wonder for me. We spent a lot of time wandering the halls of Rolling Acres Mall in Akron, Ohio, where I also had my first job. By 2016, Rolling Acres had been sitting empty for a long time, and the “dead mall” thing really never resonated with me. So, I started traveling around the Rust Belt, seeing malls in various states of decline and closure. I also tend to visit properties more than once, to keep track of the changes, as well as take some last photos before the mall closes.


My roadtrips have felt like going to calling hours, paying my respects to places that once functioned as a town square. I enjoy exploring the great indoors. When I am choosing malls to visit and document, I am looking for those elements that once defined the mall for me–fountains, skylights, plants, conversation pits.


While malls have been winding down and emptying out, I still enjoy the ritual of going to the mall. I love pacing the tired terrazzo tile, grabbing a pretzel, and sitting on a bench, where I would have once people watched, but now I just find myself wondering where everyone went. Even if malls look different from place to place, the general feel and familiarity of the mall is there.


Also, spending time in a nearly empty but still open shopping mall is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. There’s a bit of that teenage rebellion that kicks in, because it doesn’t feel like you should be able to be in this vast, empty place, especially mostly alone (save for a mall security guy zipping around). It’s also amazing to be able to see the size of these properties, and think about what these places looked like when they were full of life and stores and people. And, through sharing my photos, I learn all about people’s experiences and stories from the malls that I’ve visited.

I share my work on Instagram @flannelkimono and @rustbeltmallwalker, and you can also learn more on my website, . I have also given talks about the decline of malls for local libraries, and for Society for Commercial Archaeology (i’m a member), and continue to work on new projects.  I love to talk about malls, and welcome any stories and photos that you would like to share!

About the Author

Jessica Anshutz is a storyteller, photographer, and genuinely curious observer. She makes her home in Akron, Ohio, and has lived in the shadow of what it used to be ever since she was born. She started to document the decline of shopping malls in 2016. She worked in malls for years, and grew up during the great age of mallrats (the nineties). She would visit malls while traveling, started to uncover more aesthetically intact, but simultaneously nearly completely empty properties, and found herself wanting to see more. She has been sharing photos on Instagram, which can be easily found through the hashtags #rustbeltmallwalker and #mallpreservationsociety. A pop culture nut, she loves to write about the presence of malls in movies, television, and even music. Jessica is a member of the Society for Commercial Archaeology and Docomomo US.