For those that have experienced a Long Island childhood, you come to realize that along with fond memories of hot summer days at the beach and trips to the Italian bakery also include many moments …
For those that have experienced a Long Island childhood, you come to realize that along with fond memories of hot summer days at the beach and trips to the Italian bakery also include many moments spent at malls.
In childhood, it’s where grandma takes you along to buy new slacks for grandpa; in the teen years, it’s a neutral zone to congregate with friends; and in adulthood, it’s where you go to snag all your holiday gifts for the family.
But in recent years, an increasing number of videos have popped up online showcasing the decline of malls and other retail institutions across America. While some urban explorers are drawn to the physical beauty of the decaying structures, others are enamored by reliving the memories these spaces once played host to.
The South Shore’s Sun-Vet Mall, 5801 Sunrise Highway, Holbrook, stands out among the rest, though, as it is caught in an event horizon. Most of the mall’s shops are empty, and with endcaps like Pathmark and A.C. Moore having departed years ago, there is little retail space left to visit.
In 2017, Long Island native Billy Schaefer noticed that the mall had no official social media handle, so he created @sunvetmall on Twitter. Since then, he has watched in some surprise as what was initially a joke among friends grew to collect over 5,000 followers.
Schaefer, who has been visiting the mall since childhood, remembers how important the mall was to his family—whether they were there to buy groceries, rent a movie, or take annual family photos.
And like many of us, there was a feeling of loss in watching these places decline and eventually close. But somehow, the Sun-Vet persevered.
“The Sun-Vet mall will be a sense of nostalgia for us at some point,” he says. “It’s in this in-between phase right now.”
In his posts on Twitter and a new Instagram page, @officialsunvetmall, Schaefer conjures a simultaneously humorous and self-actualizing voice for the mall in the form of two characters.
“[In one voice], the mall knows its time has come, the days are dwindling—maybe it didn’t take advantage of being in their prime, like an aging guy who is still thinking about coming to terms with things,” he explained.
The second voice is younger and more naive, but coming to terms with the reality presented to it.
“I picture them as a 21- or 22-year-old on summer vacation from college—they’re trying to do communications or something in school, and their uncle is the general manager of the mall and tasks them with doing social media,” he said.
Making the best of what the mall does have to offer—double-ply toilet paper in two of five restroom stalls, or a structural pillar named Ethan—is the intern’s desperate attempt to shine a light on the positives. Sometimes, though, the lines are blurred.
“You don’t know if the mall is talking or the person is talking. It seems manic, and a little depressing,” said Schaefer. “We’re not living in some heartwarming movie where there's some fundraiser to save the mall. It will close someday.”
Though fans of the mall’s social media accounts realize this fate, too, they engage with the page, purchase memorabilia crafted by Schaefer, and celebrate what the mall does have left to offer, like an independent pizzeria, a liquor store, and memories that are then sent to Schaefer so he can craft new content for a growing audience.
“It makes me feel like I have to keep going because I haven’t found a satisfying punch line to the joke,” he explained. “I find humor in everything—if there's a joke I can do to amuse myself, I do it.”
With new ideas rolling in and opportunities to share an alternative perspective on the mall, he expects the joke will last for a long time.
“Even though the Sun-Vet Mall is almost closed, it’s still open,” he said. “And it gives you a chance to appreciate it.”