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

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

A mall with bright lights, tiled floors, and white ceilings that shows a large, empty storefront. Lots of empty space fills the photo, with a handful of people seen walking in the back near a store that is still open.

The inside of Northgate Mall circa 2019.

Photo by MikeKalasnik via Wikimedia Commons

Shopping malls across America have been left in a state that not even Paul Blart could save, and the Raleigh area 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

Cary Village Mall — later Cary Towne Center — was once an ‘80s hot spot; tenants like Time-Out Arcade, Cousin’s Pizza, and even a carousel graced the mall in its heyday. During the 2010s, tenants continued to leave, and the mall slowly became nearly vacant. Epic Games purchased the site in 2020 with plans to turn it into the company’s headquarters.

In Durham, Northgate Mall was once the picture of a quintessential indoor mall with decorations during the holidays, a theater, stores like Sears and Thalhimers, and an outdoor plaza that was added in the mid-2000s. But in 2019, the mall’s final anchor store — Sears — departed, eventually followed by its permanent closure in 2020. The mall has remained vacant since.

The inside of a mall facing the storefront of a Sears Department Store. In front of the Sears is a small seating area, where one person is sitting in a chair. A trash can is pictured in the forefront.

Sears left Northate Mall in 2019.

Photo by MikeKalasnik via Wikimedia Commons

Back to the future

Despite Epic Games’ plans, the former Cary Towne Center now sits mostly demolished without much progress — and no updates from Epic Games itself. Northgate Mall also remains unchanged, with caution tape covering the vacancy inside, through there are plans for redevelopment.

Today, the Triangle still has a number of thriving shopping centers, plus a successful mall redevelopment:

  • Village District | Known as the oldest shopping center in the South, the district celebrated 75 years in 2024. Formerly known as Cameron Village, it was once home to an underground set of shops and a music venue.
  • North Hills | Formerly North Hills Mall, Kane Realty Corporation purchased and redeveloped the strip mall to become the live, work, play community it is today.
  • Crabtree Valley Mall | Home to luxury + specialty stores like Brahmin, Coach, Apple, and Michael Kors, this mall has been in biz since the ‘70s.

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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