The Mall Shut Down And So Did The Town. Then came Amazon.

North Randall Ohio had drug problems and couldn’t afford police service. The media and labor unions didn’t care until they found a way to ridicule Jeff Bezos.

“You came, you shopped, you dressed nice — you went to the mall,” remembered Seph Lawless, a photographer who grew up hanging out in malls and now photographs their dying exoskeletons. His photo below is of the vandalized Olympic swimming pool in Randall Park Mall, once the crown jewel of America’s 1500 malls dotting the suburban landscape.

The pool in the North Randall Mall, 2006 (photo: Seth Lawless)

Things Change

Then twenty years later people didn’t want everything anymore. What they really liked was shopping in quaint downtown villages that looked like the Cotswolds or, alternatively, buying toothpaste in packs of fifteen at Costco. As consumer tastes shifted in the ’90s, malls went from luxury emporia to white elephants. Then the jobs disappeared. When a mall shuts down, it craters an entire ecosystem. The hotels close, buildings are vandalized, and petty crime and assaults rise.

Crossed Paths

The chance that James Talley, 36, and Guy Wills, III, 41, would meet each other seems fated, in retrospect. In 2004, Wills was an unemployed heroin and cocaine addict and paid for his habit by shoplifting at the mall. Talley was a Maple Heights policeman moonlighting as a Dillard’s security guard. Both men were African American. Talley was watching the closed-circuit security camera when he noticed Wills sticking something under his coat. It turned out to be a $159 leather jacket.

Town Hall Meeting North Randall

The challenge with dead malls is removing them. For that, a private-sector partner is needed. But it also requires the town to clean up its books because the town has to underwrite the demolition. It is a catch 22, you can’t do a teardown unless you can afford to pay the bill.

North Randall Mayor Dave Smith


Two words the 850 residents of North Randall didn’t want to hear was “jobless recovery.” To lower income folks, the phrase sounds like the kind of recovery that skips your neighborhood. They know instinctively that without meaningful jobs there is chaos, opioid addiction, family distress, illness, and crime because they see it first hand around the neighborhood.

Indomitable Spirit

2400 miles away in Seattle, vice president Sanjay Shah was concluding his review for the Ohio warehouse. He said, “the company takes into account many factors in making their final choice because our ability to expand is dependent on incredible customers and an outstanding workforce.”

Fact Checking

North Randall isn’t on the list of 50 best places to visit. It is flyover country, the phrase journalists like to use to describe a place that doesn’t have a Starbucks or a “Joe and the Juice” bar.

The Payoff

Amazon fulfillment center in North Randall Ohio

Professor of Leadership. Extraordinary Lives Project. Author “Be Somebody” (2021); 2019 Telly Award; ex-publisher Forbes

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