Opened in 1968 at a busy intersection a few miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis, Lafayette Square Mall was the first major enclosed mall in the metropolitan area. Although other large outdoor shopping centers existed since the 50s such as Glendale Center, Lafayette Square was the first in a trend of enclosed shopping centers which would be constructed around the area in the 1960s and 1970s.
When it opened, Lafayette Square was a bit smaller than it is today and contained only two anchor stores on each end, JCPenney on the south end and Sears on the north end, with a mall corridor and stores in between them. This basic dumbell design was complemented in 1969 with a William H. Block store in the center of the mall, and in 1974 with an additional smaller wing near Sears which added Ohio-based Lazarus and eight new stores. Then in 1975, another addition came at the expense of grocer Kroger to add anchor L.S. Ayres near the south end of the mall. All of these expansions were due, in part, to competition in the form of newer enclosed malls opening in other parts of the city. Castleton Square, Washington Square, and Greenwood Park Malls opened in the early to mid-1970s, respectively; and each was a large regional center located in the north, east, and south parts of the city, respectively.
Lafayette Square Mall’s location was essential in the dynamic of its success, even as competition emerged in other parts of the city stealing customers away. Being the closest mall to downtown Indianapolis and the neighborhoods surrounding the core of the city allowed the mall to retain those shoppers who didn’t want to go out the far periphery of town where the other malls had opened. In addition, Lafayette Square retained much of the west metro shoppers as well who never got a mall of their own due to Lafayette Square’s presence.
Continuing through the 1980s proved mostly status quo as Indianapolis was balanced with large malls in each cardinal direction of the city. However, a balance shifted in favor of the other malls during the 1990s as both areas around the core of downtown Indianapolis experienced economic troubles at the same time areas of far-north Indianapolis experienced extreme growth and prosperity. In fact, during this period the retail trade area along 86th Street around and between Castleton Square and Fashion Mall became the prime trade area for the whole metropolitan area. During the 1980s and 1990s, the growth of tony suburbs like Carmel and Fishers added to this, because they were even farther north than the northern malls.
An even heavier blow came to Lafayette Square Mall in 1995, when downtown Indianapolis embarked on a rather successful urban redevelopment initiative and opened a large two-level mall downtown called Circle Center, featuring upscale anchors Nordstrom and Parisian. Being that Lafayette Square is the closest mall to downtown Indianapolis and many of its patrons came from the central parts of the city, having Circle Center right there and so much newer and nicer, in addition to the newer sports and entertainment venues which opened around the same time. As downtown Indianapolis cleaned up its image, Lafayette Square started the fight for its life.
So, in 1996, as a response to Circle Center’s opening, Lafayette Square embarked on a major renovation project, the only major facelift it received in its almost 40-year span. A new food court was constructed, and the mall generally looked nice again on the inside. This, however, didn’t woo shoppers as planned, and the mall fell several tiers in spite of the renovations. Many urban wear stores, local discounters, and the like appeared around this time and anchor woes came as well.
All of the anchors at Lafayette Square have changed hands at one point or closed completely, except for Sears at the north end which is an original anchor from 1968. The middle anchor, Block’s, became Lazarus in the late 1970s after Block’s and Lazarus merged. The Lazarus store closed in 2002, before all the other Lazarus stores became Macy’s; today, it is being used for a church. The empty Lazarus store near Sears became Montgomery Ward, until it closed in 1996 and became Burlington Coat Factory, which it is today. The L.S. Ayres anchor near the south end, which opened in a 1975 expansion, remains open today as Macy’s which it was rebranded in 2006. Finally, the southern anchor JCPenney remained until 2004, when it jumped ship to a newer “Lifestyle Center” development called Metropolis Mall further west in Plainfield, a growing suburb.
Today, Lafayette Square continues as a third or even fourth-tier center, catering to a lower-income population and suffering from a significant vacancy rate. Though surprisingly, it has continued on this path for several years and a downward spiral isn’t as apparent as at some beleagured malls, and many predicted the mall’s closure a few years ago. It appears that perhaps Lafayette Square can skate along this way and may have found a niche in this fashion. If it can keep Sears and Macy’s it may do just that, otherwise it could fall down and go the way of the dinosaur.
The pictures here were taken in Spring 2001; newer ones exist, and when we get around to it we’ll upload them. However, the mall hasn’t changed that significantly other than anchor issues. Feel free to post your own comments, observations and experiences about Lafayette Square.
Jay (ftn65) has sent us some vintage photos of Lafayette Square. Judging by the movies listed, I’d say the photos were taken in 1994.
UPDATE 6/10/08: Blog reader Patron Zero has contributed a scan of a vintage Lafayette Square mall directory. I’m not sure exactly when the directory is from, but I’m guessing late 70s. When I was trying to discern the date, I looked at the Wikipedia article which states that Lazarus moved from its original location here to take over the Block’s store sometime during the late 1970s, and Wards took the old Lazarus location. Anyone know? Anyway, thanks for the submission!