It's empty, cavernous and quiet. A pristine shopping center just 30 years ago, the Century III Mall in West Mifflin now lists just 14 stores on its website. But among its vast swath of empty storefronts is also a thriving comics store.
Chip Grossman has managed New Dimension Comics for seven years. Folks often stroll in to check out new releases, shop board and card games and look for lesser-known titles. Others settle into the space next door that’s been annexed for role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.
But those same shoppers, Grossman said, are constantly asking when the mall is closing -- even dedicated customers who he said "should know better.”
“It’s just hard walking and seeing, like, nothing until you get to the store,” employee John Butler said.
Century III's vast swath of empty storefronts aligns with the decline of malls nationwide. Time Magazine reported that by 2022, one out of every four U.S. malls could close. More shoppers are moving online, and malls like Century III have even become the focus of a "dead mall" YouTube trend, racking up hundreds of thousands of views.
“A guy literally stood out in front of the store, pointed his camera away and shot most of his dead mall video,” Grossman said. The man skipped the shot of a busy, brightly colored comics store. “They pretty much just shoot their video to speak their narrative, when nobody ever went out of their way to show what was here.”
According to Grossman, the mall’s ownership hasn't helped. When narratives of ailing businesses prevailed, management failed to respond.
“They weren’t combatting the social media thing that said the mall was dead and closing," he said. "They never fought against that to show the mall was still here and stuff was still happening.”
Moonbeam Capital Investments, who purchased Century III in 2013 for $10.5 million, did not return requests for comment.
Century III, which was valued by the county at $11.5 million in 2018, has dodged multiple sheriff’s sales in the past year. It’s scheduled for another Monday, and employees at New Dimension aren't sure what happens if the property sells.
For now, Butler said he’s optimistic.
“It’s like, 'Oh it’s our nerd haven, and the giant mall is our giant foyer,'" he said. "It’s the world’s biggest comic store.”
Editor's note: This story was updated on 12/5/18 at 9:15 a.m. to clarify that Century III has had multiple sheriff's sales postponed in the past year.