The Death of A New Jersey Shopping Mall

The abandoned Wayne Hills mall once throbbed with life

There are about 1,000 malls in the US, and it’s estimated that one in four will close in the next few years as vacancy rates are increasing due to the pandemic, a slowed economy and increased online shopping.

Photographer Phillip Buehler captured the death of the Wayne Hills mall in New Jersey, a mid-sized mall at little over 100,000 square feet (nearby Willowbrook, also in Wayne, spans 1.5 million square feet) that opened its doors in 1973 and shut them for the final time in 2015.

Stores included K-Mart, Toys R’ Us, Burlington Coat Factory, Meyer Brothers, SaveMart Electronics, Pearle Vision Center, Karins Kurtains, Footlocker, Avenue, Payless Shoes, Joyce Leslie, Waldenbooks, The Town Mouse card store, Colorama Photo, and Sam Goody. You coul grab a bite to at Pauly’s Pizza, Quizno’s Subs, TCBY, McDonald’s, and Blimpie.

His work was showcased at the exhibition Malls of America at Footnote in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The caption and photographs by Phillip Buehler


Wayne Hills Mall

Wayne Hills Mall

“Malls killed off many towns’ main streets, and now in turn they are being killed off by online shopping and the bankruptcies of their anchor stores”

– Phillip Buehler


Wayne Hills mall


“I got my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic 110 with flash cubes, when I was eight to photograph the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. In high school, I bought my first 35mm camera, a Nikkormat FTN, in 1972 with money I’d saved from my paper route. By 2014, when the mall closed, billions of photos were being taken with smartphones or digital cameras, and Facebook and Instagram posts became the way these moments were shared.”


Sam Goody store


“The Wayne Hills mall started to die in 2008, when Sam Goody and other stores started closing. The owners put up a blue wall to seal off that part of the mall, and as more stores closed, they would move the wall, until at the end there were just a few stores left. These ghost signs remained for years.

“This Sam Goody opened in 1973, which was a great year for music – the No 1 album on the Billboard chart that year was Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, followed by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It was also the beginning of a new era, as the Beatles released two greatest hits albums while George, Paul, John and Ringo released solo albums. Bowie, Zeppelin, the Who, the Eagles, the Stones, Queen, Dylan, the New York Dolls, even Elvis and Sinatra had albums that year. And of course, Bruce Springsteen’s first two offerings. Albums were only $3.69!”


New Jersey mall


“Here was the architectural center of the mall, a waterfall described in the grand opening newspaper supplement from 1973: ‘Entering the mall, customers will be impressed by the monumental fountain before them. The fountain features a star-shaped dropped ceiling with recessed lighting which creates a cloud-like image through which water will pour, falling into a champagne glass structure and cascading into a two-tier lower pool. The fountain is situated on a brick platform, surrounded by an exquisite Italian terrazzo and marble chip floor.”


payless shoestore


“The closure of this Payless ShoeSource location was a harbinger for the entire discount retail chain, which declared bankruptcy in 2019.”




“Blimpie was founded in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1964 by three friends. After expanding to over 600 franchises, the company had 150 locations in 2019 when the Wayne Hills mall was finally demolished. It is now owned by MTY Group, a Canadian company with over 70 restaurant brands.”


Artworld mall


“The Artworld sign summed up exploring abandoned places for me – I’ve been photographing places like this for over 40 years, since the time this mall opened in 1973. I was living in north Jersey at the time, and the New York area was full of ruins. Nowadays, places around the city don’t stay ruins for long – the land is just too valuable. The only ruins that remain are the ones that cost too much to demolish because the need for asbestos, PCB and lead paint remediation. If I’d made my first trip a week later, I wouldn’t have seen this sign – the crew had already begun to demolish that part of the mall.”


Wayne Hills kmart


“Kmart was the first store to open at the Wayne Hills mall, in 1973. It was also the last original store at the mall before closing down in 2019. Kmart was founded in 1899 and declared bankruptcy in 2002. It later merged with Sears, which was founded in 1893. Together they were the largest retailer in the US, with more than 4,000 locations. Sears declared bankruptcy in 2018 and at the end of 2020 had fewer than 100 stores.”



“The ruins of the Wayne Hills mall were very different than other abandoned malls, which only look devoid of tenants. Although it had only been closed for less than five years, Wayne Hills was a wreck. At some point, metal flashing covering seams in the concrete roof was removed, and water poured in. When I’d photograph there in the winter of 2019, the mall was covered with fallen ceiling tiles and sheets of ice, giving it a very postapocalyptic feel.”


The site Antiquity Echoes “documented the Wayne Hills Mall over several months, and every time we returned less and less of the mall remained to greet us.”



You an see what American malls looked like in their 1980 heydays here.

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