Living at the Mall


I work in a very old shopping mall that has been converted from commercial to a mixed use mall with a great deal of the space converted to office space. A great number of the stores have left the mall leaving a former anchor space that was occupied by Home Express as office space for Caltrans. At one time Caltrans had an additional office space on the second floor that housed the environmental division.  The Longs Drugs that we frequented for years has left and been replaced by solid walls housing a Department of Motor Vehicles call center. Former anchor tenant Gottschalks has gone out of business leaving a huge two story space empty for many years. Throughout the mall there are many empty spaces that have been empty for a very long time.

I have been fascinated by the hulking, empty, under-utilized, and floundering mall for some time now. I spend 40 to 50 hours a week there so it is no surprise that I am fascinated by the place. The mall is almost 60 years old and shows quite a bit of age. I have nicknamed it the zombie mall because it is actually dead and does not realize it. As the mall stumbles forward day after day and year after year defying all predictions of eminent death, I notice that many of the people are there every day. This is the home for many. Yes us that work there and wander out into the mall for exercise and breaks are part of the permanent fixtures. I see some of the same elderly there every day. There is a senior center on the second floor that provides some services. I see some sole proprietor shop owners that work all day every day. They have a small apartment set up in the back of the shop. In the summer, free air conditioning must seem priceless. Several of the regulars know where all the working unprotected electrical outlets are. The free wireless internet provided by the food court has to be a great perk. The drinking fountains work and the bathrooms while not spotless are cleaned every day.

I began to wonder about the regulars that are in the mall at seven in the morning when I show up and often times still at the mall well into the night. Starbucks closes at 11, but it is not in the mall proper. The movie theater is also located out in the parking lot. The mall itself closes at 8PM and everyone should be out of the mall by that time. I began to wonder if there are nooks and crannies in the mall that the regulars know about and security does not seem to check. Is it possible that they live in the mall hidden in unknown forgotten spaces? Does the gate code for the parking garage work 24 hours a day? Probably does. Does the security code for the elevator coming up from the parking garage also work all night long? If you work late can you take the elevator down to the garage? I wonder how it all works. How secure is the mall at night? How many creatures of the night are living inside the mall?

As I was thinking about the possibility of people living inside the mall out of sight from the rest of society, I heard about a teenage boy who was camping out inside a 24 hour Walmart for four days before anyone found his camping spots. I decided to do a little research and see if there have been others who lived in malls for greater periods of time without being caught.

Stories of people hiding out and blending in on college campuses seem to be quite regular tales of urban legend. I have known people to stow away for long periods but it usually involves an assist from a friend or two. I also have a friend who has been rather homeless for years and while living in Las Vegas playing poker for a living had found an unlocked closet in a major casino and slept there for weeks before being discovered. There are other stories of people at large hospitals just blending in and staying for weeks without being discovered and asked to leave.

While all the stories of people living undetected in public spaces are interesting and quite wild, most are told by the person committing the trespass and the length of stay is often exaggerated. There is however one story that is well documented and probably the greatest example of somebody living in the mall. In Rhode Island, a man built a 750 square foot apartment inside the Providence Place Mall. This guy with some help from friends built a block wall and installed a door. He had an entire apartment set up for four years before security caught him. He did not stay every night in the apartment, but he had an apartment with a bed, couch, television, microwave, and furniture.


I think this was a really great answer to my initial premise that people could be living in the mall.


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