44 Photos That Capture The Height Of America’s Mall Culture

Published September 13, 2022
Updated September 28, 2023

These pre-Instagram photos will take you back to the colorful shops, the noisy arcade, and the busy food court where you used to spend your Saturdays.

Vintage Mall Photo Of A Food Court
Nickelodeon Section Of Blockbuster
Vintage Mall Photo Of A Kiosk
Vintage Mall Photo In 1992
44 Photos That Capture The Height Of America’s Mall Culture
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In the 1980s and 1990s, the shopping mall was one of the most iconic meeting spots for young Americans. Not only was the mall convenient for one-stop shopping, but it was also a great place to see and be seen.

It was easy to spend an entire day at one of these churches of consumerism. Not only was there a myriad of shops catering to every taste, but there were also restaurants, beverage stands, and entertainment.

Even if you didn't have a single item on your shopping list, you could play Pac-Man at the arcade until you ran out of tokens. Or you could wander down to the theater to catch a new blockbuster flick. Or you could just loiter around the food court until one of your friends bought you a greasy slice of pizza. Even better, all of this was contained in a nice, handy loop that often centered around something memorable, like a fountain or carousel.

There's no question that the shopping mall was once considered a hub of modern civilization in many American cities and towns. But like most popular places, you probably had to beg your parents to drop you off there.

It may be hard for today's kids to imagine that the huge, crumbling building in their town with the parking lot overtaken by weeds was once the place to be. Vintage mall photos like the ones above help keep the memories alive.

How Vintage Mall Photos Reveal A Bygone Era

Vintage Mall Photos

Cheryl Meyer/File Photo/Star Tribune via Getty ImagesThe Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the United States, in 1995. The mall, located near the Twin Cities of Minnesota, remains a popular destination for both locals and tourists today.

Much has been said about how malls have become increasingly abandoned since the early 2000s. In fact, there are a number of websites today that are devoted to chronicling post-apocalyptic-looking "dead malls."

The decline of the mall has been largely attributed to the age of the internet — which of course includes online shopping. Now, there are so many websites to buy items from that it can almost be overwhelming.

But it's still worth celebrating the mall in its heyday. As many of us remember, malls were about more than just shopping. A trip to the mall was often an experience of relaxation and fun. It was also a central place for many youths to build community, a privatized public square of sorts.

Photographer Michael Galinsky recognized malls for what they were back in 1989. That's when he started taking pictures at a Long Island mall for an NYU photography class. Afterward, he toured malls across America — capturing some of the purest candid shots of people interacting in these spaces.

When photo digitization rose in popularity, so did the demand for these vintage mall photos. So Galinsky took his collections of mall pictures and put together books — which sold out quickly. Now, his website Rumur houses some of the best time-capsule shots of the mall era.

These images are sure to bring many '70s and '80s babies back to the colorful stores, the noisy arcades, and the busy food courts of their youths. In a digital age when everyone seems to be glued to their phones, it's hard not to be nostalgic for simpler, pre-Instagram times at the mall.

But this doesn't mean that we should mourn the death of all malls... at least not yet. Some iconic shopping centers, such as the Mall of America, are still going strong today. And according to Refinery 29, some people believe that the shopping mall in general might even be staging a comeback.

"The 'shoptainment' — the entertainment of shopping — is coming back, especially for that younger consumer," explains Tamara Szames, an industry advisor with the trend forecaster NPD Group. She also muses that many of us are craving in-person shopping again after the restrictions on our social lives at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting, "We also can't lose touch that we're human. We like that interaction and that experience."

After looking through these vintage mall photos, check out these abandoned malls that have been reclaimed by nature. Then, discover these pictures from the 1990s that perfectly encapsulate the decade.

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Kelly, Erin. "44 Photos That Capture The Height Of America’s Mall Culture." AllThatsInteresting.com, September 13, 2022, https://allthatsinteresting.com/vintage-mall-photos. Accessed May 23, 2024.