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 Monty Calvert Photo
A Web site run by Peter Balckbird and Brian Florence, both of Queensbury, keep an eye on dead and dying shopping malls across the country. A clickable map leads viewers to malls in each state
Local man's Web site tracks fallen malls

Fascination with ailing shopping centers goes online

By JOHN GEREAU
gereau@poststar.com

QUEENSBURY -- Peter Blackbird was 10 years old when his curiosity about malls was born.

The year was 1991, and Blackbird spent part of his summer break with his family on vacation in Maine. While he was there, Blackbird said his family stopped by a large, enclosed shopping mall.

Two years later, when the family returned to the same vacation spot, the nearby mall had become "a ghost town," Blackbird said -- a vacant reminder of what is becoming a trend among the nation's older shopping malls.

So Blackbird, now 21, began chronicling the story of similar aging malls to ensure that their place in history doesn't die along with the mammoth concrete buildings they once occupied.

Several years later, Blackbird teamed with a high school buddy and self-taught computer whiz, Brian Florence, 24, and the two friends launched a Web site called deadmalls.com.

A search of the Internet uncovered nothing else like it on the Web, Blackbird said.

"I just wanted to catalogue some of these malls, so there is a history of their existence before they vanish for good," Blackbird said.

Today, the two Queensbury residents schedule vacations around visiting financially struggling malls. Armed with digital cameras, Blackbird and Florence use every opportunity they get to take road trips to record the dying shopping meccas.

"Every time we get the time and money, we hit the road," Blackbird said.

"I spend more time at it than I'm willing to admit."

Florence said both he and Blackbird at one time worked in retail, and while each is now pursuing a different career, they remain committed to deadmalls.com, which they update a minimum of two to four times a year.

 Monty Calvert Photo
Blackbird and Florence check out their Web site at Blackbird's home Friday afternoon

"This is really the brainchild of Pete. It was his hobby and I just kind of embraced it," Florence said.

Although neither Blackbird nor Florence has had any formal education in business or retail analysis, each speaks about the topic with the fluency of a market analyst.

Blackbird was even quoted in a recent Associated Press story about floundering shopping malls after his Web site caught the attention of the national news media (see story, Page B5).

He told the reporter that smaller malls are slowly giving way to so-called "big-box" discount retailers and new giant, open-air shopping malls that offer consumers easier access and an often carnival-like atmosphere with lots of things for the family to do.

Adding to the problem is a glut of retail space, much of which was built during an economic boom in the 1970s and early '80s and no longer serves the needs of today's buying public.

"Twenty years ago, they built too many malls, to a fault," Blackbird said.

"They built 20 when they should have built two."

Not all of the projections on deadmalls.com are pessimistic about the mall's fate. Many of the critiques on the Web site -- such as that of Aviation Mall in Queensbury -- are designed to give avid shoppers a road map of what to expect when they reach a destination, Blackbird and Florence said.

For example, Aviation Mall in Queensbury is highlighted as one of 22 malls throughout New York, but the write-up on the local mall is upbeat and Blackbird's prognosis for the mall is positive. But he said the expansion plan of a few years ago at Aviation Mall was too ambitious.

"They already have a slew of retail space that they struggle to keep filled," he said.

"We just don't have the population base here to support a Crossgates-like mall in Queensbury."


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