Muscatine, Iowa, which bills itself the ‘Pearl of the Mississippi’, is a small city of about 25,000 residents which lies between the Quad Cities and Iowa City and about 15 miles south of I-80. Like many small upper Mississippi river towns, Muscatine has a rich manufacturing heritage, and is also chock full of scenic beauty and traditional Americana.
The main shopping area of Muscatine, including the mall, is located near the intersection of Park Avenue (Business 61) and the US 61 Bypass on the north side of town. I suspect, though, that many people from Muscatine and the surrounding areas also shop in Iowa City at Coral Ridge Mall and at both Northpark and Southpark Malls in the Quad Cities, all of which are regional/super regional malls and no more than 30-45 minutes away. Muscatine Mall opened in 1971, predating the enclosed malls in the Quad Cities by several years and Coral Ridge Mall near Iowa City by 27 years. In fact, Muscatine Mall enjoyed relative success well after all of the competition emerged, not going downhill until around 2002.
We’re missing some information about the earlier years of Muscatine Mall, but we know it was anchored by Wal Mart, Von Maur, and JCPenney by the late-1980s. Ancillary stores around that time included B. Dalton, Walgreens, Musicland, Radio Shack, and Foot Locker, around 50 stores in all.
Big changes came in the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, beginning with the departure of the north anchor, Wal-Mart, in 1997. However, in 1998, Menards swooped in and took the empty space, making Muscatine Mall one of the few malls anchored by a home improvement retailer. Soon after, Von Maur left the south anchor spot vacant, only to be replaced by Staples. In 1999, a redevelopment plan was announced by Landau & Heyman, Muscatine Mall’s owners, which would flip the inside out and remove the enclosed portion of the mall. However, this never happened. By the year 2000, the mall had transitioned from traditional to non-traditional, with an uncertain future. In 2002, both Staples and Walgreens called it quits and the south anchor once again became vacant, only to be replaced by Elder-Beerman in 2003.
Unfortunately, having 3 solid anchors was not enough to sustain Muscatine Mall’s success, and stores began exiting en masse around the same time Staples pulled out. Today, Muscatine Mall is home to only a handful of stores, most of which have exterior entrances only. The enclosed corridor is barren except for the Plaza Theaters, a Time Out arcade, GNC, a Christian book store, a few other stores and the entrance into JCPenney, which is at the back of the mall. The frustration from locals is evident even from teens who don’t wish to drive to Iowa City or to Davenport to shop and hang out at the mall.
In July 2006 Landau & Heyman sold the mall to a group of local businessmen, and in December 2006 minutes from a Muscatine City Council meeting indicated they were seeking to create a TIF for the mall redevelopment. As of February 2007, work is underway on the north entrance of the mall near Menards, and it is currently closed off. Mall owners claim several national retailers are interested in the mall post-renovation. Also, Menards is leaving the mall for newer digs nearby in 2008. What will become of Muscatine Mall? Will plans for redevelopment some 8 years in the making finally come to light and save the mall? Unlike many dead malls, it’s certainly possible. Leave your comments and messages concerning Muscatine Mall below. The photos were taken February 18, 2007.