Cozily nestled on the southeastern shores of Lake Michigan, Michigan City is an industrial, working-class city of about 32,000 people. It’s about 60 miles east of downtown Chicago and 40 miles west of South Bend. The dominant features of the landscape are the giant, 600-foot NIPSCO energy cooling tower and Mt. Baldy, a 123 foot sand dune which is part of the beautifully underrated Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Michigan City is also known for its downtown outlet mall and for Blue Chip Casino, Indiana’s largest riverboat.
Aside from the outlet mall downtown, the dominant shopping area in Michigan City is on the south side along Route 421, on which sits Michigan City’s lone enclosed mall at the intersection with Route 20. Marquette Mall opened in 1967, and today it is anchored by Carson Pirie Scott, JCPenney and Sears. In addition to the anchors, the mall also houses a large office tower which seemingly sprouts from the base of the mall behind Carson’s. The Marquette Mall Office Tower, at seven stories, is the tallest building in Michigan City. On our first visit to Marquette Mall in 1999, both Caldor and I noticed the mall’s office tower upon leaving the mall and couldn’t stop laughing at its rather non-sequitur placement behind Carson’s, complete with blue letters reading ”MARQUETTE MALL” at the very top.
Of Marquette Mall’s 500,000 square feet of leasable space, a large portion is vacant. Even though the anchors are filled, the space along the mall’s T-shaped corridors is troubled. For example, the only women’s clothing retailers currently open as of December 2006 are Lady Edge, which appears to be local, and Rainbow Shops, an urban-wear retailer chain. Also, Marquette Mall’s website invites patrons to “stop at one of the Mall’s full-service restaurants such as Applebee’s or Old Country Buffet, or enjoy a quick meal at one of the many quick-food purveyors.” On the current directory, I only count Applebee’s and something called Bingsoo, which I’m hoping is Asian cuisine. Where are the many other quick-food purveyors? And what happened to Old Country Buffet? If they aren’t sticking around, something’s the matter.
It may sound like we’re poking fun at poor Marquette Mall, but we would love to see it succeed. So too would local residents, who don’t want to drive over 30 miles to the shopping mecca surrounding Southlake Mall in Merrillville, or 40 miles to the shopping in South Bend. Someone posted on northwestindiana.com last month and was dismayed about the mall’s offerings, blamed management, and even offered suggestions for stores even lower-tier successful malls have.
So why is Marquette Mall mostly unsuccessful? People don’t want to drive over 30 miles for a regular mall, do they? The area around the mall is full of big-box, restaurants, and strip malls, and is one of Michigan City’s retail meccas. The other retail mecca, however, might be the key stealing away Marquette Mall’s thunder. Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets opened in the mid-1980s in downtown as part of an urban renewal project. The outlets have been very successful ever since, and draw tourists from the Chicago area on their way to Michigan for vacation. Furthermore, their offerings essentially replace the need for a regular mall.
We visited Marquette Mall again in March 2005 and took the pictures below. Share your stories and opinions here.