OT: Century III Mall, not quite a dead mall, but sure heading that way

Century III Mall is an ailing enclosed shopping mall located in the southern Pittsburgh suburb of West Mifflin, Pennsylvania.

I lived nearby this mall, and this was definitely “our” mall for kids like me growing up in the 1980s and 1990s. I visited the mall in July 2017 because I had heard it wasn’t doing so well, and here are my thoughts and observations.

Approaching the mall and the exterior

As you approach Century III from on top of the hill, the first thing you notice is everything in the general area is run-down
  • The stop lights feel like they are 20 years old. Just old infrastructure. I suppose I never knew that there was such a direct correlation between how the businesses in the area were doing, and how updated the surrounds would actually be.
  • The roads have a ton of potholes, and it’s clear that no one has put money into the approach areas in quite some time.
  • Some car entrances are blocked off with Jersey barriers, and have gone completely overgrown vegetation
  • Many of the signs are weathered or just contain outdated information
  • Some of the pedestrian Entrances to the physical building are closed, papered, with lease signs up.
  • The parking lots, covered parking spaces, are just old and deteriorated. If this was clean,and new, I’m not sure I would have noticed, but definitely notice the opposite
  • The actual buildings themselves are old and filthy, and just need a good cleaning.
  • There were a half dozen crew of workers outside taking care of the very limited external greenery.

Interior

  • Only certain entrances are accessible. Dick’s looks like the best of them.
  • The overall appearance inside is dated, but relatively clean.
  • While there were stains visible on the carpets, they were clean. They didn’t bother me.
  • There was some excessive wear on the carpeted steps.
  • There were essentially no customers anywhere. I don’t see how this place can subsist on this small amount of foot traffic.

Some highlights

  • Not all of the inside lighting was on, or turned up.
  • Despite this, the natural lighting was really nice inside the mall. I loved the way the sun shone through the skylights. This place really used to be something, and I can still feel the potential of the building.
  • The fountain was really very nice, but it’s been shut off and drained.
  • The two-story carousel was really awesome, and seemed to be one of the busiest places. Besides my own, there were easily 6-8 kids riding that thing. That was more customers than I saw in most of the other stores.
  • Dick’s was by far the most modern store there, and everything inside that store was as it should be
  • The elevator looked and worked fine.

Other notable things

  • Italian Village Pizza shut down on Friday June 30th. It was definitely closed on Saturday. This was the last food place open in the food court.
  • Many of the tables and chairs were put away in the food court.
  • Auntie Anne’s Pretzels are still being made fresh every day, and their lemonade is still tasty!
  • The food court area and beyond is one of the desolate places in the mall, there’s simply nothing happening over there. I will say that I absolutely love all the nooks/crannies/ramps/steps in that general area. Radio Shack and AT&T Wireless was over in that general area, if memory serves me correctly.
  • While I can’t quite place it, there is something quite compelling about the wooden top railings used all over the mall. They feel very unique to me. I was so glad to see that they survived any remodeling.

Video Panning Tour

Thee and half minutes of no audio, with simply panning of the camera to show different areas of the mall. Some slow walking video. It’s boring, but does give you a sense of the place a little better than still images. You’ve been warned.

While my online ordering habits and general hatred of crowds have likely contributed in some infinitesimally small way to this place’s demise, I can’t help but think it’s a darn shame that places like this have to die. During the summers of 5th through 8th grade, Century III mall was my stomping ground. My younger sister and I played endlessly there. My mom worked there for a time. We did our Christmas shopping there. We bought at least two of my earlier computers from JC Penny’s and Radio Shack. These computers were the ones that helped shaped who I am today.
I have a fair number of foreign visitors to the site, and I’m not sure how much they can relate. In America, our malls were our cultural centers. Despite being reachable by public transportation, the malls were a close, short drive. Plenty of free parking. We did everything there — we shopped, we ate, we met our friends, we played in the Videogame Arcades — before the world wide web, if you wanted to go learn about a new video game, or a new console, or a new computer —- you did it at the mall. I bought my first modem from the Radio Shack at the mall.  They were climate controlled cool place to go during a hot summer. While I didn’t, you might have kissed your first girlfriend at the mall, maybe in the theater at the mall.
Parents would drop their kids off at the mall. We kept a quarter in our pockets to call home and ask for a ride back.
The memories of running around that place with my kid sister are so tangible, I can still remember it as though it was yesterday. It was 30 years ago.
I can’t help but wonder if this is just an artifact of getting older. The people you knew, the places you went, the things you did as “youngsters” — slowly fade away. You talk about how “things used to be.” And hear stories from your parents about what used to be in that parking lot, or where you rode your bikes.
Because I heard about the Italian Village Pizza closing, I took my two under-10 kids to the mall. I asked them what they thought about this faded relic? They thought it was a great place. The worn carpet they noticed, but they loved the Merry-Go-Round and they too, thought it was shame to be closing.
I have no information about when or if the whole mall is going to close. Given the state and lack of foot traffic, it sure feels like the end is near.

This is an off-topic post for my blog, but I felt it was important enough to post. Future posts will resume with retro electronics goodness!

About the author

keith

Amateur Electronics Design Engineer and Hacker

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