Indio, California is a city of over 80,000 people located on the eastern edge of the Coachella Valley, a sub-region of southern California’s massive Inland Empire. The Coachella Valley is home to nearly 600,000 residents, and also includes the famous city of Palm Springs, which is located 25 miles away from Indio on the other side of the valley. Indio is also 125 miles east of Los Angeles.
Indio’s population is over 75 percent Hispanic, and this demographic has grown rapidly in recent years. Many of Indio’s residents work in either agriculture or support services for the Palm Springs resort areas. Indio is also the largest city in the Coachella Valley, having passed Palm Springs in the early 1990s, and is projected to have 130,000 residents sometime this decade. However, the recent economic bust has hurt Indio a lot, pushing the unemployment rate from 5 percent in 2006 to over 20 percent by 2009. As such, many businesses – including Indio’s mall – have suffered, despite numerous renovation and expansion efforts.
Fiesta Mall is Indio’s enclosed shopping mall, and one of three enclosed malls in the Coachella Valley. It was built in 1974 as Indio Fashion Mall, and aside from minor cosmetic updates has the same layout as it did then. Sears and San Bernardino-based Harris were the original anchors, and a small single-level mallway connected them with only 225,000 square feet of total space. Indio was a much smaller city then, with a population under 20,000, and had a caucasian-majority demographic.
Throughout the 1980s, the demographic shift to Hispanics changed the face of Indio Fashion Mall’s offerings, and more stores catering to Hispanics popped up in the small mall. In 1988, an anchor change took place as Harris was sold to Gottschalks and became Harris-Gottschalks. By the time the 1990 census rolled around, Indio and the eastern flank of the Coachella Valley were majority-Hispanic. The city was also rapidly growing, adding tens of thousands of residents every few years, so the mall’s developer began to initiate a proposal to more than double the size of the mall, adding a food court and another anchor in the process. Unfortunately, though, the project was stalled during the early 1990s recession and in part to local political pressures (read: NIMBY-ism). Meanwhile, the most centrally located mall in the Coachella Valley, Westfield Palm Desert, gained foothold as the Valley’s best mall – a designation that still holds true today.
The 2000s were extremely unkind to Indio Fashion Mall. In 2003, plans emerged once again to expand and renovate the tiny center, but were slowed due to the departure of Sears in 2004 for a much larger store at Westfield Palm Desert. Then, during the late 2000s recession, Harris-Gottschalks closed in 2009, leaving the mall anchor-less for the first time in 35 years. More stores began leaving in droves, leaving quite a few vacancies in the mall, as well as more mom-and-pop style stores that mostly cater to a Hispanic clientele.
With the latest stint of decline, management decided to rename the mall from Indio Fashion Mall to Fiesta Mall and give it some cosmetic updates such as a new coat of southwestern-styled paint inside and out. The renaming was probably a wise decision, because calling this place a ‘fashion center’ is a bit misleading. A leasing flyer indicates the mall is located at the busiest intersection in the eastern valley, with over 53,000 cars passing daily, and that one of the former anchor tenants – Gottschalks – is going to become a cinema. The former Sears is up for sub-dividing, and it’s possible the mall’s corridor would continue through the former store if a large enough suitor cannot be found to lease the entire space.
As of June 2010, the only national chain stores in the mall are Anchor Blue, GNC, and Foot Locker. But their days may also be numbered, as the mall continues sans anchors – like a ship without a sail. However, an aggressive marketing campaign, combined with the mall’s location and visibility, should help turn things around. Westfield Palm Desert is 11 miles away along Highway 111, and the 100,000-plus residents in the east valley should be able to support a better mall than this.
We visited Indio’s Fiesta Mall in June 2010 and took the pictures featured here. Feel free to leave your comments, questions, and anecdotes here.