Karleen Smith used to work at the Macy’s in Landmark Mall in Alexandria, Virginia, putting price tags on summer dresses, housewares and the latest styles of shoes.
Last weekend, Smith, 57, returned to her former store, not as an employer or a customer, but as a resident.
The former Macy’s in the ailing shopping mall outside Washington D.C. has been transformed into a homeless shelter, which could launch a new trend, The New York Times reports.
“It’s weird to be moving into this building. I used to work here,” Smith says, inside the shelter’s common room, which was once the men’s department. “It’s called survival.”
As shopping malls struggle to stay alive in the era of Amazon, communities are looking for new uses for all the retail space. Some empty stores are finding another life as trampoline parks, offices, college classrooms and churches.
At the vacant Macy’s in Alexandria, the Carpenter’s Shelter, a nonprofit group, moved into its temporary home last weekend, 15 months after the last shopper rang out. The former store now provides 60 beds, hot meals and showers for families and for single men and women who are having trouble finding a place to live in a city with a scarcity of affordable housing.
The accommodations are sparse and some residents could not hide their disappointment that the bedrooms do not have windows. A hand-painted sign on the wall quoted Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can with what you have, where you are.”