Mallghost2.JPG
Campy Draper

[Happy pre-Halloween! All week long the Mercury will be publishing classic tales of local Halloween horror from our archives, as well as brand spankin' new (and creeeepy) pieces... such as this one!—eds]

Looking down on the empty ice rink, an irrational fear grips me. Tears I can’t explain run down my cheeks. Below, surrounded by the darkened maws of a dozen deserted storefronts, a single ice-skater glides, graceful and lonely. The tinny, haunting melodies of top 40 hits from another decade echo through the empty canyons of post-capitalist collapse. I’m no expert on the paranormal, but I know damn well when I’m surrounded by the spirits of the damned.

If Lloyd Center is haunted, Mall 205 is unquestionably haunted as well. Both taken by evil in their own unsettling ways. But which place is more haunted? Before we can quantify their undeath, we must first understand how they died.

The collapse of the American mall has been both faster and more cataclysmic than you probably expect. Remember buying cargo shorts at the Gap? Would it surprise you to learn that there are no Gap stores anywhere within Portland city limits? The Gap we used to “fall into” has become an empty chasm, a massive echoing tomb—and it’s far from alone. It’s been estimated that one-in-four malls that existed in 2017 will be gone by the end of next year. Nine thousand retail stores closed in 2019. Remember 2019? That was BEFORE the pandemic—if you believe such a time even existed. I personally have my doubts.

So-called “experts” claim dead malls (also known as “ghost malls” and “zombie malls”) are caused by more than just the rise of online shopping. Sure, the skeleton-with-skin that is Jeffrey Bezos has an icy grip around the throat of America’s consumer economy, but things like big box stores and rental services such as Rent the Runway, Netflix, and Spotify have carved out their share of the spoils. And looming behind it all is the true mother of all dark curses: the dramatic rise in income inequality. But I know better than some know-it-all economist. I know that something deeper and more sinister than the mere economic forces of the mundane world is at play—these malls are super fucking haunted.

Two weeks ago, I visited Lloyd Center, and a few days later needed to go to the DMV at Mall 205. And I felt the same ethereal chill slide down my spine at both of these abandoned mausoleums. Empty storefronts, distant echoing music, and the hungry, desperate eyes of minimum-wage kiosk workers. I was treading on desecrated grounds.

Perhaps you, reader, seeing the headline of this piece, jumped to the seemingly obvious conclusion: that however eerie Lloyd Center may be, it can’t hold a candelabra to the horrors of Mall 205. I’d have thought the same. But when was the last time you visited Lloyd Center? With the rise of Amazon Prime Day followed by the global pandemic, my guess is it’s been a minute. What was once a destination that occupied whole lively weekend afternoons for my shit-head friends and I back in high school has become the land of the dead.

Each mall is a shadow of what they once were, though Lloyd has fallen from greater heights, a far cry from what it used to be. Mall 205, meanwhile, has stayed largely the same, imbued with the malevolent energy that has been present there in all the time that I’ve been alive.

Mall 205 was built in 1970 on land that was once the location of Morningside Hospital: a dubious psychiatric facility whose owners were accused of using hospital money for personal expenses and vacations, as well as forcing patients to work under the guise of "occupational therapy." If I’ve learned anything from scary movies, it’s that... well… let’s just say: building a mall on top of land with that kind of energy is asking for spooky times.

Mall 205 wasn’t always as sad as it is though. I’m told it once had an Aladdin's Castle video arcade and a movie theater, and hosted a Lego building contest that a friend of mine won back in the ’80s (or so he says). Now it’s the sad home to a DMV office, a magic shop kiosk, and little else. An occult magic shop kiosk? Close-up magic and card trickery is the devil’s domain, and Mall 205 is CLEARLY courting his favor. And the DMV: If ever there was a government agency more akin to the mythic life-draining vampyr, it’s the DMV. And as if to rub its already obvious otherworldly possession in our faces, Mall 205 is the home to a Spirit Halloween store where once a Bed Bath & Beyond stood. More like Bed Bath & Beyond... THE GRAVE. Am I right?

IMG_8548.jpg
Campy Draper

It also has Oregon’s largest Target. Which is nice.

As we all know, if you get a Spirit Halloween, it means your mall is haunted. But if you never get a Spirit Halloween in the first place? That means your mall is cursed. This brings us to the hollow, ritually-salted burial mound that is Lloyd Center.

Lloyd has more going for it than Mall 205 in a commercial sense. Depending on what you’re looking for, one could potentially justify a trip there. But so many stores have left. And even the stores that remain have half-vacant shelves. It’s the starker contrast of what it used to be compared to what it is now that makes the place feel especially haunted.

Lloyd Center was built in 1960 as an open-air mall (you know, like you do when your city is in a rainforest). The mall was later entombed with a roof in the ’90s and that’s when its glory days really began. It had vibrant vitality, multiple anchor stores, an ice rink, a movie theater, and real living human people.

Nowadays the corridors remind me of a strange purgatory. A holding area crafted by beings from beyond to give us a sense of the familiar while we wait for our eternal judgment. Dread filled me as I turned every corner, half-expecting the darkened mall to continue on into oblivion, a never-ending liminal space of vacant shops. It still has the rink, but the few solitary skaters spinning across the ice juxtaposed against the cavernous void around them only served to highlight the unsettling surrealness. Clearly, the eldritch intelligence that made this place did so without understanding we need more than walls, a roof, and the memory of free orange chicken samples—we need the living.

And while we ARE the living, and our mere presence at these doomed charnel houses of capitalism would indicate that some élan vital has returned to them, it’s hard to imagine anything could revitalize these malls back to what they once were. No, it’s hard not to feel like we are the very spirits haunting them, looking back with unfinished business on times when life used to happen there. We would meet up with friends, muster the courage to flirt with strangers, say, “fuck it!” and add a boost to our Jamba Juices. We bought new music and new clothes. We became more of who we are while we were there.

Support The Portland Mercury

Now those experiences happen in isolation, through a screen. And we’re never, ever, going back to things as they were.

Which mall is more haunted? If you’re looking for a definitive answer, then it’s clearly Mall 205. Obviously. Duh.

But the deeper answer is, it doesn’t matter. They’re both haunted. And, what’s worse, so are we.