A ghost town in the middle of Silicon Valley
"It's dead," he said. "It's been dying since I was five." He leaned up against the side of an enormous, empty building. In the 1980s, shoppers would have filled this sidewalk on a Friday evening. Now, the mall's 1.2 million square feet of retail space sit mostly empty -- in the middle of one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country.
Vallco Fashion Park opened in Cupertino, California, in 1976. At the time, Apple was a startup in a nearby garage. By the late 1980s, the mall housed almost two hundred stores, including three large department stores. Its mid-range shops targeted the surrounding sprawling suburbs.
Vallco's troubles began in the 1990s. As the mall grew, so did the tech industry. Apple's headquarters are within walking distance; Google, Netflix, and many other tech giants are also nearby. As Silicon Valley boomed, newly affluent shoppers started preferring higher-end stores in other shopping centers -- or the Internet services that they built.
The mall's troubles intensified in 2016. In April, its last department store closed. (By then, nearly all of the small stores were already gone.) In November, Cupertino voters rejected two initiatives to rebuild the space. Reed Moulds, the property owner's managing director, said:
What this means, in the short term, is that for safety and security reasons we will be winding down mall operations. After that, the future is uncertain. We will not sell the land nor make investments into the current failed asset. In order for us to invest in Vallco we have to be certain it will be a worthwhile investment...
A few months after that announcement, the mall locked its doors. Shoppers can still access a handful of remaining businesses that have their own exterior entrances. "We're still open," an employee at Benihana told me. "We have a long lease that doesn't expire for several more years."
With the mall's closure, a large plot of land in Cupertino now sits unused. Meanwhile, the area's competitive housing market continues to yield sky-high property values. A short walk away, buyers recently paid $1.57M for a 1540 sqft home and $2.23M for a 2000 sqft home in the adjacent neighborhood. With its close proximity to Apple's headquarters, immediate freeway access, and top schools, this dead mall languishes in one of the Bay's priciest areas.