Most spaces left open in shopping malls across the country are empty boxes, a few light fixtures and maybe shelves left for its next proprietor to reimagine.
But to step in one vacancy at the Concord Mall in Brandywine Hundred is to step back in time. Specifically to 1987, when Burger King opened shop in the middle of Delaware's oldest shopping mall.
Wooden booths with sky blue tables and mauve cushions. White wallpaper with light blue, red and purple strokes, reminiscent of the classic disposable cup design. A few frames with anonymous art. The BK Joe coffee machine. It's all still there.
The forgotten Burger King went viral this week a few days after one of the mall's vendors posted a photo from behind the false wall that blocks it from public view. Concord Mall General Manager Tom Dahlke has been showing the space to prospective tenants. A restauranteur could find its layout and kitchen ventilation useful.
But for now, it's the latest small wonder fascination.
"I never thought we'd be doing this," Dahlke said as he guided a reporter through the Burger King.
The Burger King has been encased behind a wall since it closed in 2009. Dahlke first set foot in the restaurant in 2020 when Namdar Realty Group bought the mall from Allied Properties and he became general manager. At the time, Dahlke didn't think much of it. The cost of ripping out the built-in booths was probably too high, he theorized before moving on to the rest of the mall.
Now, he's fielding calls from magazine reporters across the country. He broadcasted live from the Burger King with New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer. The retro spot was featured on Philadelphia's Action News.
As the prominence of malls and shopping centers has diminished, a cottage industry has emerged of people who walk dead or "zombie" malls remembering old hangout spots and exploring abandoned spaces. The former Burger King seems to hold a similar appeal.
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You can imagine customers lining up in the wooden queue gazing up at the backlit menu boards, receiving a Whopper and fries and turning to their left to fill up a soda. They slide into one of more than a dozen booths below trapezoid paneling and next to fraying wallpaper.
When they're done eating, the trash bins bear a friendly request, "TOSS IT IN. DROP IT IN. SLIDE IT IN OFF THE TRAY. JUST GET YOUR TRASH IN HERE SOME WAY."
At about 5,000 square feet, the Burger King is about double 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 job openings starting at $4.50 an hour. The mall's Pomeroy's department store was being turned into a Boscov's. Almart, the mall's first store, had just been changed to a Jefferson Ward. The other main draws were Strawbridge & Clothier and F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10.
Burger King had a 22-year run. "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 furniture store were converted to Macy's in 2006. The original Almart store was demolished in the early 1990s to make way for Sears, which remains vacant having closed in 2020.
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Dahlke is hoping to parlay the attention into a renaissance. He feels the momentum has already been building. He has signed a dozen tenants since the beginning of the year. At least six of them came from the Tri-State Mall, which is slated to be demolished this year and replaced with a logistics warehouse.
His focus has been on attracting local businesses, Dahlke said.
"Adapt or die," Dahlke said. “You have to adapt. Adapting means finding new ways to move forward.”
The Burger King didn't adapt, but it's also not completely dead. At least not yet.
"We’re doing our best to get it occupied," Dahlke said.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Burger King at Concord Mall goes viral 13 years after closing