Jesse Rieser’s memories of growing up in Springfield, Missouri in the 1990s unfold against a familiar retail backdrop: storming the aisles of Toys R Us with his brother; meeting friends at the mall to flirt with girls and play videogames; hunting new bands in the CD racks of Best Buy.
Now the era of retail that defined Rieser’s youth is waning. He documents the death spiral in Retail Apocalypse, capturing the ruins of big box stores and gutted malls where the scent of pretzels and perfumes has vanished along with the logos.
“When you think of architectural ruins, you think of a civilization or a time that has passed,” Rieser says, “but this wasn’t a previous civilization. It was just a few years ago.”
Shopping malls, discount retailers and big box stores emerged after World War II as middle class folks flocked to freshly built suburbs. The warmth of Main Street, where store clerks knew customers by name, gave way to uninspired strip plazas that delivered bang for buck. Now many are casualties of the same demand for comfort and affordability that spawned them, and that now lets you browse everything from stilettos to cat food in your PJs. Sure, shoppers still make most retail purchases in brick-and-mortar stores. But former staples like Circuit City, Blockbuster, and Toys R Us have shut their…