WILMINGTON, Del. – Most of the spaces left open in malls across the country are empty boxes, a few light fixtures and maybe shelves left for its next owner to reinvent.
But to fill a vacancy at the Concord Mall in Brandywine Hundred is like stepping back in time. Specifically in 1987, when Burger King opened a store in the middle of Delaware’s oldest mall.
Wooden cabins with sky blue tables and mauve cushions. White wallpaper with light blue, red and purple strokes, reminiscent of the classic design of disposable cups. Some frames with anonymous art. The BK Joe coffee machine. Everything is still there.
The Forgotten Burger King went viral recently after one of the mall vendors posted a photo behind the false wall that blocks it from public view. Concord Mall General Manager Tom Dahlke showed the space to potential tenants. A restaurateur might find their kitchen layout and ventilation useful.
But for now, this is the last fascination of small wonders.
“I never thought we’d do this,” Dahlke said as she walked a reporter through Burger King.
The Burger King has been locked behind a wall since it closed in 2009. Dahlke first set foot in the restaurant in 2020 when Namdar Realty Group purchased the mall from Allied Properties and became its general manager. At the time, Dahlke didn’t think much of it. The cost of removing the built-in cubicles was probably too high, he theorized before moving on to the rest of the mall.
Now he takes calls from magazine reporters across the country. He streamed live from Burger King with New Castle County Manager Matt Meyer. The retro spot was featured on Philadelphia’s Action News.
As the importance of malls and malls has waned, a cottage industry has emerged of people walking through dead or “zombie” malls remembering old hangouts and exploring abandoned spaces. The old Burger King seems to have a similar appeal.
You can imagine customers queuing in the wooden queue staring at the backlit menu boards, receiving a Whopper and fries, and turning to their left to refill a soda. They slip into one of more than a dozen cabins under trapezoidal panels and next to frayed wallpapers.
When they’re done eating, the bins carry a friendly request: “TOSS IT IN.” DROP IT. SLIDE IT OFF THE PLATTER. JUST GET YOUR WASTE HERE ANYWAY.
At around 5,000 square feet, the Burger King is about twice the size of a modern fast food restaurant. Most wouldn’t dare open today without a drive-thru.
But 1987, of course, was a much different time. Burger King advertised jobs starting at $4.50 per hour. The mall’s Pomeroy department store was being transformed into Boscov’s. Almart, the mall’s first store, had just been transformed into the Jefferson Ward. The other main draws were Strawbridge & Clothier and FW Woolworth 5 & 10.
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Burger King lasted 22 years. “Not too bad,” says Dahlke. When it closed in 2009, its neighbors included Claire’s, Disney, FYE, GNC, Hot Topic, Journeys Shoes, KB Toys, Limited Too, Pacific Sunwear, Radio Shack and Sprint.
Strawbridge’s and its home furnishings store was converted to Macy’s in 2006. The original Almart store was demolished in the early 1990s to make way for Sears, which remains vacant after closing in 2020.
Dahlke hopes to turn attention into a renaissance. He feels the momentum has already built. He has signed a dozen tenants since the beginning of the year. At least six of them were from the Tri-State Mall, which is set to be demolished this year and replaced with a logistics warehouse.
Its goal has been to attract local businesses, Dahlke said.
“Adapt or die,” Dahlke said. ” You have to adapt. Adapting means finding new ways to move forward.
The Burger King hasn’t adapted, but it’s not completely dead either. At least not yet.
“We do our best to keep him busy,” Dahlke said.