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Dead malls: You could shop... until they dropped

Once booming, now barren. Let’s take a peek at some malls of Madison’s past — plus hope for the future.

The inside of a mall with yellow lighting overhead. One person is walking down the mall towards a store labeled "Steinhafels Furnitire." Pink and orange kiddie carts are seen available for rent to the side.

East Towne Mall’s Steinhafels Furniture location closed in 2017 and gave way to Flix Cinema, which is still operating.

Photo by Corey Coyle via Wikimedia Commons

Shopping malls across America have been left in a state that not even Paul Blart could save, and Madison is no exception.

Known as “dead malls,” these abandoned, dilapidated, or mostly vacant shopping centers have become a subject of fascination — especially thanks to the online popularity of liminal space aesthetics.

Let’s go to the mall

Though not quite dead, much of Madison’s East Towne Mall sits empty. When the mall opened in 1971, however, it was bursting with life — stores like The Record Shop, Sears, and Gimbels department store graced the enclosed mall.

Across town nearly one year prior, Westgate Shopping Center opened to similar fanfare as Madison’s very first mall. Later named Westgate Mall, the 240,000-sqft shopping center underwent major renovations in the ‘90s before eventually declining to the point of near-total vacancy. In 2019, the mall’s few tenants included offices, State Farm Insurance, and T.J. Maxx.

A vacant department store with an empty parking lot in the foreground.JPG

The former location of the Boston Store at the East Towne Mall went up for sale in March 2024.

Photo by 608today

Back to the future

Today, the former Westgate Mall is part of a major mixed-use redevelopment plan to bring in additional housing.

The city recently rezoned parts of the East Towne Mall property to allow for mixed-use developments as well; the now-closed Boston Store site went up for sale in March.

Though these malls have changed, Madison still has a number of thriving shopping centers or districts where you can make like NSYNC and buy, buy, buy:

  • Greenway Station | With well-kept landscaping and design, this shopping center prides itself on its outdoor space. Check out the Greenway Station Farmers’ Market every Thursday May-Sept.
  • Hilldale Shopping Center | Similar to Greenway Station, Hilldale’s indoor/outdoor vibe is a draw for many shoppers. The AMC Movie Theater closed in 2022 and come fall, the 25,000-sqft space will be filled with new retail stores.
  • West Towne Mall | While West Towne has faced similar hardships to East Towne regarding empty storefronts and pandemic woes, the recent addition of Von Mauer has given the mall a much-needed boost.

Do you have memories of a local mall from back in the day? Share them with us, and we may feature your story in a future newsletter: First date at the food court, trying on prom dresses at the department store, hitting up Orange Julius before picking up the perfect graphic tee at Hot Topic — we wanna hear it all.

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