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‘Jasper Mall’ presents the last act of a small town mall

Al Urbanski
The new documentary is being streamed on Amazon Prime.

In an America where enclosed malls give way to entertainment and food-driven town centers, malls that served as community hubs in the 80s struggle to survive in the 20s.

“Jasper Mall,” a new documentary from Window Pictures available on Amazon Prime, is subtitled, “A year in the life of a dying shopping mall.” It sketches out the sad circumstance of one such retail outpost in Jasper, Ala., a town of 14,000 people 40 miles north of Birmingham. Its J. C. Penney and Kmart anchors have closed and, as a shopper says in one scene, “If Belk goes, we are in deep woo-woo.”

The real-life but nameless cast is led by a general manager-cum-security chief-cum-maintenance man who wears a mall t-shirt and camo cargo pants, resembling a shopping center version of Crocodile Dundee. He owned a zoo that housed lions and leopards, but turned to the mall when animal rights activists shut him down.

In one of his saddest moments, he’s on the phone pleading with a town leader to help him get a new deli into Jasper Mall. Both Grady’s Sandwich Shop and Subway have closed. “The tenants don’t like to leave the mall and now they have nowhere to eat lunch,” he tells him. “I left a zoo and now I’m in a jungle.”

The owner of a jewelry repair shop who’s relocating in town—where municipal leaders are leading a resurgence—has his new address painted on the window of his mall store. “I’ve had a 16-dollar day, I’ve had a 24-dollar day…you just can’t live on that,” he said.

One of Jasper Mall’s fixtures is quartet of retired men who daily inhabit the same table in the concourse and play dominos. A jocular 80-year-old member of the group in a wheelchair fitted with an oxygen tank holds that he doesn’t fear death. “I’ve been pronounced dead three times,” he said. “From what I saw the last time I was dead, I know what heaven looks like, so I’m looking forward to it.”

In the movie’s final scene, the mall manager tells filmmakers Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb that his domino players hadn’t been around for a number of weeks because their good friend did, indeed, make his way into heaven.

“But they came back,” he said. “They found another player and came back.”

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