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Dead malls: You could shop... until they dropped

Once booming, now barren. Let’s take a peek at malls of Asheville’s past — plus hope for the future.

A large, inflatable cow is on a mini stage and holds a Chick-Fil-A sign that says "Eat Mor Chikin." Behind the cow is blue-gren archway with a clock at the top and words that read "Biltmore Square."

Biltmore Square Mall circa 2012, before it was udderly vacant.

Photo by MikeKalasnik via Wikimedia Commons

Shopping malls across America have been left in a state that not even Paul Blart could save, and Asheville is no exception.

Known as “dead malls,” these abandoned, dilapidated, or mostly vacant shopping centers have become a subject of fascination — especially thanks to the online popularity of liminal space aesthetics.

Let’s go to the mall

Innsbruck Mall was once in its heyday.

Originally named Tunnel Road Shopping Center, the mall opened in 1965 and was later renamed in 1977. Locals may recall eating at the original Frank’s Pizza or throwing coins in the mall’s fountain.

Years later, Biltmore Square Mall opened in 1989 as the region’s largest shopping center. During its popularity, shoppers could head to stores like Hess’s and Proffitt’s or to a 13-restaurant food court. In 2007, a Cinebarre movie theater was added. By 2014, however, demolition work had begun to transform the enclosed shopping center into an outdoor outlet mall.

A view down a staircase. A plant sits at the bottom, in front of a set of doors that lead outside. The brick walls on either side of the staircase are painted beige with a teal trim, and the wall above is light pink.

Innsbruck Mall, circa 2012.

Photo by Mike Kalasnik via Flickr

Back to the future

Though purchased by Ingles in 2020, Innsbruck Mall has remained mostly empty for several years, with few tenants remaining on the ground level; some of our readers believe the space could be converted to affordable housing.

Today, the site of the former Biltmore Square Mall is an entirely different shopping experience, with stores ranging from Nike to Coach at the Tanger Outlets Asheville.

Though these malls have changed, Asheville also has a number of other shopping centers or districts where you can make like NSYNC and buy, buy, buy:

  • Asheville Mall | The mall opened in 1973, and while certain parts are defunct (like the old Sears), there are still lots of retailers and great dining options like, Island Pan.
  • Biltmore Park Town Square | This South Asheville shopping center has the works, like 15+ dining options, 10+ shops, a movie theater, and even a pet bakery.

Do you have memories of a local mall from back in the day? Share them with us and we may feature your story in a future newsletter: First date at the food court, trying on prom dresses at the department store, finding your future favorite read at Waldenbooks — we wanna hear it all.

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