The Seattle-based internet book seller Amazon just announced plans to open an enormous fulfilment centre in the North Randall, Ohio. This is a big deal for the small community, which has suffered greatly since the Randall Park Mall, once the largest in America, shut down due to retail sales moving online. Amazon is actually building its new warehouse on the same land where the mall once stood.
Photo: Seph Lawless
The irony of this is lost on no one.
The life and death of the American shopping centre is a familiar story by now. A few decades ago, these shrines to consumerism dotted suburbia, only to be denied relevance by a push back towards city centres. But few images express the scale of this trend as much as those in Black Friday. The Collapse of the American Mall.
Symbolism aside, folks in North Randall seem excited about this development. Amazon says the new fulfilment centre will create some 2000 jobs "with benefits and opportunities to engage with Amazon Robotics in a highly technological workplace". This is a big deal for a village, where the colossal shopping centre used to be one of the biggest local employers.
Amazon also touted its benefits package in a press release about the new facility, though reports of dismal working conditions have been circulating for years. Regardless, the leaders of this struggling village sound absolutely thrilled.
"Words cannot begin to express what Amazon's commitment to the development of its fulfillment center means for the Village of North Randall," said Mayor David Smith. "This is a generational project that not only redefines the future of our community but the future of more than 2,000 Cuyahoga County residents who will be employed at the facility."
A rendering of the new Amazon fulfillment center in North Randall (Image: Port of Cleveland)
Like the shopping centre before it, the new warehouse will be huge at 260,604m². Amazon says workers there "will pick, pack and ship smaller customer items such as electronics, toys and books." Put differently, the new pickers will be filling Amazon-branded boxes with the exact same sorts of goods that were once sold at the Randall Park Mall. The shopping centre closed in 2009, after over three decades of success, and a demolition crew finally destroyed what remained of the cavernous structure in 2014. A piece of North Randall's identity was lost along with the structure.
In the years before it was reduced to piles of rubble and a cloud of dust, the Randall Park Mall was a popular destination for ruin porn enthusiasts. Gizmodo actually published a number of images taken by photographer Seph Lawless just a few months before the shopping centre's demolition.
At that point in time, local leaders were still scrambling to bring in new employers to keep the village from plunging into a depression. The Randall Park Mall was such an important part of the community and local economy that the North Randall's seal actually has shopping bags on it.
The new fulfillment center overlaid onto an old satellite image of the Randall Park Mall (Image: Port of Cleveland)
And now, along comes Amazon. The company will spend $US177 ($223) million to build the new fulfilment centre, and job listings will start appearing six to 10 weeks before the facility opens. Mayor Smith hopes that the new warehouse will also lead to growth around the edges of the properties where restaurants and small business can take advantage of the new traffic created by the Amazon workers.
Heck, any growth at all would be a big improvement for this once tragic plot of land. The shopping centres won't be coming back to America, but at least this one time, the jobs did.