Retail Archaeology: Man documents the downfall of the American shopping mall
PHOENIX - Major retailers have announced the closure of more than 6,300 stores this year alone. Names like Radio Shack, Payless, Macy's and Sears are closing across the country.
These closures have contributed to a phenomenon called "Dead Malls" and one man is documenting these once busy shopping centers now starving for business.
The mall -- it used to be "the place" to be for many of us growing up, but today, do you even go to the mall?
The death of the American mall is fascinating to many, just ask Erik Pierson.
"Some of my videos have close to 200,000 views. I think my channel total has one million," he said.
Pierson was so interested in these once mighty retail havens going belly up, he started Retail Archaeology, a successful YouTube channel that has been exploring shopping centers in the valley.
"To me, the being in the places, like when I'm in a dead mall, it's super fascinating being there," he said.
Pierson is a valley native, but you wouldn't exactly call him a fashionista or hardcore shopper. His hobby started thanks to a little bit of nostalgia.
"The first thing I filmed was Fiesta Mall, and that's a mall that I used to hang out there quite a bit, and I hadn't been there in like 15 years.. a friend of mine said to me one day, he had just gone there recently, he says you gotta see it, it's weird, it's empty, it's creepy.. it was eerie, it was creepy, it was very empty, I pulled out my phone and started filming it."
And after the Fiesta Mall, it was MetroCenter.
"Fiesta Mall is probably the most kind of famous dead mall in the area, MetroCenter mall," he said.
And from MetroCenter, it was Paradise Valley Mall.
"A lot of these places do look a lot like they did, there may be some different product on the shelves and stuff."
Pierson also recently explored Phoenix's last Kmart store currently in the process of shutting down.
"A Kmart that I just did a video on, it doesn't look like anything's been updated since the 80's, parts of the store were literally crumbling and deteriorating," he said. "So this is like mall vision, yeah basically a lot of the filming is with this."
Armed with a camera phone and some video glasses, Pierson films as much as he can. There are some dangers to the job.
"Walking around Fiesta Mall I was just kind of filming the outside, I was attacked by a feral cat, people ask me do you encounter creepy people, the most dangerous thing was this feral cat.. that was a little scary."
And he's been shut down before, but even though he's exposing the downfalls of malls, he hasn't rubbed many people the wrong way.
"Actually the opposite, I had a mall that I did a video on a while back, Power Square Mall, they had a grand opening and one of the managers asked me to come back."
A retro fan, he collects old video and arcade games. Pierson says the mall concept itself is now retro.
"A lot of people are quick to blame Amazon, the internet, but I don't think it's just that, for example, Amazon is getting in to brick and mortar... overbuilding, we're over-malled basically, failure to see trends ahead of time. Like Sears used to be Amazon before the internet, they had this huge catalog, you would go and order things there."
And one day, people may never know what going to the mall was like.
"I think it's the adventure of it, like you might be going there to get a pair of shoes, but you never know where you'll end up, there's a big merry go round to ride."
But while the big empty buildings remain, Pierson plans to keep documenting what's there -- or really, what used to be there.
"They are going the way of the dinosaur, it's a slow extinction."
With the amount of views he gets, Pierson says he's able to make enough money to reinvest in his videos and soon, he'll be going out side of the valley to look at dead malls in California, Nevada and Texas.