A Year In The Life Of A Dying Alabama Mall

 1524426763 
1597767930
A mall Santa waits at the Jasper Mall in Jasper, Alabama
Bradford Thomason

A generation ago the mall was THE place to be. But with the rise of online shopping, many indoor malls have suffered. A documentary playing at the Sidewalk Film Festival later this month looks at one dying mall here in Alabama. It’s called “Jasper Mall” and is named for the shopping center in Walker County, northwest of Birmingham. Co-directors Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb spent a year shooting the film. WBHM’s Andrew Yeager spoke with Thomason.

Seeing the Jasper Mall for the first time:

I was driving back from Nashville one day and saw that the Jasper Mall was right there and just pulled off and walked around for a little while and was immediately taken by how it looked. It hadn’t been remodeled since it opened. The fountain was still intact. Now there’s real plants inside of it. The tile is just like the tile work from the malls of our childhood. I immediately started sending Brett photos of it and said, “Hey, we’ve got to look closer at this this.” Once we met the people inside and started to connect with the stories that we tell in the film, I think we knew we had to make the film.

Shooting the documentary:

There’d be days when (mall caretaker) Mike would contact us and say, “Hey, we’re having a quartet performance in the mall today” or “There’s going to be a carnival here this weekend.” He would alert us to things like that happening. We would also go with no plan. We’d get there. We’d check in with Mike and see if there’s anything going on. If there was, then we’d follow him around a little bit. If there wasn’t, then we would sometimes just sit in the food court with our gear and just wait for stuff to happen, which you can imagine looked kind of strange to have two people with professional camera gear just sitting in the middle of mall [at] 8 p.m. on a Tuesday, but we did it.

How his thoughts on malls have changed:

I have a better understanding of even in a mall that is at 50% capacity or whatever the capacity is at Jasper, people have businesses and have lives. There are stories and there are teenagers coming and going still. There’s a lot of elderly people there. I knew that there were mall walkers, but I didn’t know just how many. I didn’t know how there were regulars. I certainly didn’t know there were men who played dominos in the mall. It takes on a sort of community center vibe, I think. When I see a mall that’s kind of barely hanging on or that’s not what it once was, I reflect a little bit on the fact there’s probably similar stories in all of them.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

More Arts and Culture Coverage

Erasing The Stain: 15,000 Pardoned Of Marijuana Possession Convictions

Mayor Randall Woodfin plans to pardon more than 15,000 Birmingham residents convicted of marijuana possession.

Jefferson County Nears Deal For New Humane Society

The plan is for Jefferson County to purchase lots one and two of the property, which would remain under county ownership. The Greater Birmingham Humane Society would purchase lot three and build an animal hospital and adoption control facility there.

Derek Chauvin Found Guilty Of George Floyd’s Murder

Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, has been found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Past And Present Collide As Community Health Centers Strive To Close Rural Care Gaps In The Pandemic

Many rural health leaders believe community health centers, which were born in the 60s to reach low-income communities of color, were a missing piece in achieving equity in the vaccine rollout.

Birmingham Sets Up Civilian Board to Review Police Misconduct

The five-member board will have the authority to investigate citizen complaints and will have some subpoena powers to aid those investigations.

Big Union Loss At Amazon Warehouse Casts Shadow Over Labor Movement

Last week's overwhelming vote against forming a union at Amazon's Bessemer warehouse was the latest in a string of disappointments for labor unions. Now Amazon employees and union backers are trying to find a way forward.

More Arts and Culture Coverage