“After twenty years of struggling to attract shoppers and residents
back to downtown, St. Louis Centre finally closed permanently in
August 2006–ironically just as downtown is experiencing unprecedented
growth in shopping and condominium construction in rehabbed historic
buildings. The Pyramid Companies has purchased the shopping center
from the last slumlord owner and plans to turn it into a luxury
condominium project. There has been talk of turning the old Dillard’s
into a boutique hotel. Famous Barr, which is now a Macy’s, will stay
in business independent of the shuttered mall. Most importantly, the
ugly “skybridge” over Washington Ave will come down; currently there
is a large banner hanging on the west side of the bridge with a
computer generated image of the restored sight lines of the Avenue.
St. Louis Centre ultimately failed because people had the perception
that it wasn’t worth the trouble of traveling downtown to shop. St.
Louis’s downtown is ironically not centrally located anymore; the
population center of the region has shifted west along Highway 40 to
Clayton and the Galleria Mall. Simultaneously, the city of St. Louis
has lost around 100,000 people in the twenty years St. Louis Centre
was open; consequently, the most likely population to shop at the
mall, city residents, has declined.
The belief that St. Louis Centre was dangerous further helped destroy
the prospects of the mall succeeding. The first time my family
visited the mall in 1986, we watched the police arrest a man who
appeared to be high on drugs. This early experience seems to have
foreshadowed the mall’s reputation that developed in the 1990′s that
the mall was crime ridden. The most popular, and completely
unsubstantiated, urban legend painted the mall as the place where gang
members went to “earn their bones” by stabbing innocent white
That perception of crime, coupled with the slow homogenization of
malls in general, left the mall without a major source of shoppers.
Ironically, St. Louis Centre’s close proximity to downtown’s huge
convention center failed to attract out of town conventioneers. My
last visit to the mall before it was closed was depressing and
illustrated how far the beautiful, light filled mall had fallen.
Pretty much the only stores remaining were fly-by-night jewelers
selling cheap “bling-bling;” the vast majority of stores were empty.
The floors were filthy, and when I went up the first flight of
escalators, I was confronted by what looked to be high school students
skipping class. Their cold stares gave me the impression that I was
an unwanted presence, and I proceeded to head back down the escalator
and exited the mall. I actually felt safer on the streets of St.
Louis than inside the mall.
If St. Louis Centre had been built in 2005 instead of 1985, it
probably would have been able to ride the wave of excitement that is
currently fueling a rebirth of downtown. St. Louis Centre failed
because it refused to embrace the urban environment, which is now in
such demand in downtown. Around the corner, the Arcade Building,
which features a ground level, turn of the 20th century mall space, is
now being restored. I suspect that this new, humanly scaled and
street level shopping space will soon take the place of the failed St.
The above text was written for a submission to Dead Malls, but for some reason they’ve never published it, despite saying they liked it.