CenterPoint MarketPlace; Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Anchored by two department stores, JCPenney and Green Bay-based ShopKo, with space for a third anchor, CenterPoint Mall opened with space for 60 smaller stores under one enclosed roof. The 220,000 square foot mall was never very successful, despite ample parking in the middle of downtown and only a few blocks from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, a campus with over 10,000 students. The mall never filled to capacity, nor attracted the quality of stores present in larger regional malls such as Wausau Center, located just 30 minutes north of Stevens Point in Wausau.

Well, hey.  Remember me?  It’s been a while, I know.  But I’m back, with a new story.

Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is a city of 26,000 located in the center of the state.  Its major exports are college graduates from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, one of 13 public four-year Universities in the state, and beer from Point Brewery, which I’m partial to.  A decent-sized paper mill and a few Insurance companies round out the economy here, among other businesses and services.

And, of course, the Stevens Point area once had a mall.  Heck, there were even two in the area.  Now they have none.  Zero. Zilch. Nada. The big goose egg.

The Stevens Point area’s first mall was located in suburban Plover, a smaller city located just south of Stevens Point, and it opened in 1984.  I missed seeing this one, but the interweb seems to indicate it was very small and later became part of Rainbow Falls Water Park, which itself ultimately closed in the early 2000s.  The mall was apparently demolished in 2003.  It also seemed to have two names: Manufacturers Outlet Mall and Plover Mall.  Anyone know anything about it?  Any photos?  All I could find were some back issues of a local paper with a few advertisements mentioning stores in the mall.

Even before Plover Mall (or whatever it was called) appeared on the scene, a national mall developer (sources indicate Melvin Simon and Associates) had been interested in building a large-scale mall on the edge of Stevens Point, located near the interchange of US 10 and US 51 (later I-39).  This proposal, introduced several years earlier in the late 1970s, was continually blocked by locals and ultimately lost steam as the years progressed.   A few years later, a different developer came up with a different proposal – to build a regional mall in the middle of downtown Stevens Point.  Several blocks of downtown Stevens Point would need to be razed for this development, but the developer marketed this under the careful guise of “urban renewal” because downtown Stevens Point was flagging, as were many cities’ downtowns nationwide.  This proposal won the backing of locals because it meant their downtown, which had lost its luster in recent years, would once again be the vibrant, retail-dominant center they had known in the early and mid 20th century.  Groundbreaking for this downtown mall, named CenterPoint Mall, took place in September 1984, and the mall’s grand opening took place in October 1985.

Anchored by two department stores, JCPenney and Green Bay-based ShopKo, with space for a third anchor, CenterPoint Mall opened with space for 60 smaller stores under one enclosed roof.  The 220,000 square foot mall was never very successful, despite ample parking in the middle of downtown and only a few blocks from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, a campus with over 10,000 students.  The mall never filled to capacity, nor attracted the quality of stores present in larger regional malls such as Wausau Center, located just 30 minutes north of Stevens Point in Wausau.

Its decor was pretty standard for the mid-80s, with terrazzo-tiled floors, wood and brick layered storefronts, lengthy skylights, and many plants and trees poking out from sidewalk-style grates as well as from blocky wooden planters.  At night, the mall really lit up with marquee-style rows of lighting along the skylights, giving its interior a dramatic, lively appearance.  I sort of liked it, even though it was more than half dead for most of its existence.  The layout of the mall was a simple dumbbell with a somewhat narrow main walkway.  Pretty standard stuff for a city this size.

CenterPoint Mall was part of a larger trend and planning convention for urban renewal in cities across the country.  The logic for the convention came from the fact that suburban-style malls had been enjoying incredible success in suburbs and the peripheries of cities, at the expense of downtowns, which had been the vibrant focal point of cities since their inception.  Stores were rapidly leaving downtowns for these malls nationwide, and downtowns across the country were becoming outmoded derelict ghost towns.  Beginning in the 1960s, and through at least the mid-1980s, developers had success convincing cities to tear up their aging, decrepit downtowns to put in typical regional malls.  Many of these, especially in smaller cities, even had the same large, free parking lots shoppers enjoyed in the suburbs.  Cities were quick to give up space to these developments, unfortunately tearing down many historic landmarks in the process.  Ah, the prospect of progress, to make something old new again.

Examples of developments like these took place in Rochester, NY (Midtown Plaza), Salem, OR (Salem Center), White Plains, NY (several malls), Santa Maria, CA (Town Center), Milwaukee, WI (Grand Avenue Mall), Columbus, OH (City Center), and some even closer to Stevens Point in Oshkosh (Park Plaza Mall), Appleton (Avenue Mall), Wisconsin Rapids (Rapids Mall), and Wausau (Wausau Center).  The list obviously goes on, and there are many more examples nationwide. The majority of these developments have struggled through the 1990s into the present, and many have been repurposed, are struggling, or have scaled back considerably.  Interestingly, Wausau Center is an exception, having enjoyed success and helping to create a more vibrant downtown in the process.

The dire implications of many of these developments result from improper positioning, pitting suburban interests against downtown constraints.  The suburban model of retail cannot easily be superimposed on its predecessor (and arguably, its replacement as of late), the downtown.  First, by the time many downtowns were repurposed to house traditional enclosed malls, there was already a sort of competition on the periphery of these cities.  In Stevens Point’s case, several suburban-style retail clusters had already popped up on the north, east, and south sides of the city.  The synergy of collective business, strip malls, and big box stores in these clusters helped them thrive, whereas there was no extra room downtown for these types of stores.  While the mall had free parking, the rest of downtown was still constrained by on-street parking, and by tearing up several blocks of downtown to put in the mall there was even less of a reason to shop at the more traditional streetfront downtown stores.

This leads to the next point – ripping up a downtown grid to put in a huge mall is simply poor planning style.  Several through-streets were truncated at the mall, creating a loss of flow through downtown.  Areas directly north of the mall were suddenly completely cut off from downtown by the several block long development.

As the years went on, Pointers chose to shop at the businesses in the peripheral retail districts, or in nearby Wausau or Appleton rather than their own mall.  As such, the mall was never fully occupied.  More importantly, it was thus never able to attract the kind of destination stores to get people in the doors.  There was never an American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret, Pottery Barn, or the like.

In the late 1990s, a small apparel-oriented department store, Stage, opened as CenterPoint Mall’s third anchor, on the north-facing side in the center.  Unfortunately, Stage was short-lived, and closed after only two years, in 2000.  In 2003, Dunham’s Sports opened in this space, but they too only lasted a few years, moving to the US 10 strip on the east side for a bigger store.

Not long after, the mall began its long, slow spiral into oblivion.  A visit in 2010 yielded a total of five stores open.  In May of that year, JCPenney decided to call it quits and close their store, putting 39 folks out of work.  That same year, the Central Wisconsin Children’s Museum departed as well.  You know your mall is dead when a museum leaves…

Meanwhile, the mall had been in foreclosure, and the remaining handful of tenants began to trickle out.  In May 2011, the city of Stevens Point declared the mall blighted and condemned it.  This outraged Valley Bank of Iowa, who owned the mall in receivership, and they unsuccessfully sued the city to win back the mall.  The city then scored a $750,000 federal block grant to redevelop the mall, and in March 2012, the doors to the mall were permanently closed to the public.  ShopKo is the only store to remain, as its building is technically owned and operated as a separate entity.

I happened to stop by CenterPoint Mall one hot day in June 2012, and took the second set of photos that day.  I was actually unaware the mall was closed to the public, as ShopKo was open and the entrance next to ShopKo was propped open with some activity.  A maintenance man was doing something near the entrance, and a couple girls walked into the mall ahead of me, so I thought nothing of the fact that I shouldn’t have been there.  This changed, however, when I saw that the many fig trees planted in the mall’s main walkway had lost most of their leaves onto the floor, creating a crunchy carpet of green and brown.  I was able to walk the entire length of the mall unquestioned, as the two girls who walked in ahead of me went into a dead store that appeared to be some makeshift community center or charity or something.  They hung out in the store talking and giggling, and I walked the length of the mall full of dead trees.  It was a strange, eerie moment.  I actually only discovered the mall was supposed to be shut when I got to the other end and saw notices on another set of entry doors that said the mall was permanently closed that March.  Whoops.

In all, it was a satisfying but bittersweet visit.  I got a chance to say goodbye to a mall I’d visited several times, and one I was always perplexed by.  Demolition of CenterPoint Marketplace began in August 2012, and today most of the mall is history.  Mid-State Technical College will move into a former portion of the mall in 2013, and ShopKo is open for business as usual.  Third Street was extended through part of the former mall as it had been before the mall opened, almost exactly 27 years ago.  What’s old is now new again, and as downtowns across the nation are experiencing a resurgence, Americans want denser, more urban developments and the organic well-designed community gathering space of a traditional downtown.

Elsewhere on the web:


Photos from March 2001:

Photos from June 2012:

Crestwood Plaza (Crestwood Court); Crestwood, Missouri

Crestwood Court’s latest blow is part of a series of problems for the mall, which opened as a 550,000 square-foot, L-shaped outdoor center in 1957. Back then, Crestwood was on the outskirts of suburban development for St. Louis. The city of St. Louis itself was a booming metropolis with over 800,000 residents, and suburban St. Louis County had half as many residents as today. Things couldn’t have been sunnier for Crestwood Plaza, as it was officially known until the late 1990s, before a series of rebadging efforts due to new ownership changed it to Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood and, finally, Crestwood Court. For our purposes, we’ll just stick with the name Crestwood.

Another one bites the dust.

A few weeks ago, Crestwood Court, a super-regional enclosed shopping mall located in southwest-suburban St. Louis, kicked most of its tenants out amid speculation of forthcoming redevelopment, which has been on hold for several years due to the sluggish economy.

Crestwood Court’s latest blow is part of a series of problems for the mall, which opened as a 550,000 square-foot, L-shaped outdoor center in 1957.  Back then, Crestwood was on the outskirts of suburban development for St. Louis.  The city of St. Louis itself was a booming metropolis with over 800,000 residents, and suburban St. Louis County had half as many residents as today.  Things couldn’t have been sunnier for Crestwood Plaza, as it was officially known until the late 1990s, before a series of rebadging efforts due to new ownership changed it to Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood and, finally, Crestwood Court.  For our purposes, we’ll just stick with the name Crestwood.

Since Crestwood opened 55 years ago, times have changed, shopping patterns have changed, and so too have the dynamics of retail in general.  When Crestwood opened, it was located on the precipice of newer developments heading westward from the city of St. Louis.  In fact, Crestwood was once located directly on the famous and storied Chicago-to-Los-Angeles Route 66 until the section from Chicago to Joplin, Missouri was decommissioned in favor of Interstates 44 and 55 in 1979.

Over time, Crestwood’s location turned from a boon in its favor to an Achilles’ Heel, as it went from having prime Route 66 frontage to being located on a regional secondary side road.  And, unlike several other successful St. Louis-area shopping centers like the Galleria, South County Center, Chesterfield Mall, West County Center, St. Clair Square and Mid Rivers Mall, Crestwood did not have direct access from the Interstate system.  Despite being a mile from Interstates 44 and 270, the exits to access the mall involve making several awkward turns and going through busy intersections.

Crestwood was also a pioneer, establishing retail history firsts for both the St. Louis region as well as trendsetting innovations for retail site design nationwide.  Designed by regional shopping center pioneer Louis Zorensky, Crestwood was the first truly regional mall in the St. Louis area, and also one of the first of such centers with more than one major anchor.  Both Sears and St. Louis-based Scruggs-Vandervoort-Barney anchored the mall, opening in 1957 and 1958, respectively.  A smaller Woolworth also operated on the south end of the center.  It was previously thought in shopping center design school that two anchors in the same mall would hurt, rather than complement, each other.  Zorensky’s Crestwood proved that this was not the case, as the mall had instant success with two competing anchors.  In addition, Crestwood was the first mall with a split-level parking lot, providing access to both levels of the mall.

Interestingly, Zorensky went on to build a bigger and better shopping center in St. Louis. When it opened in 1963, Northwest Plaza was the largest shopping center in the world.  It was finally enclosed in the 1990s, and enjoyed success until around 2000 when it began to slide downhill, eventually closing in 2010.

Crestwood’s first expansion in 1967 brought a third anchor and a new enclosed retail corridor, featuring St. Louis-based Stix Baer & Fuller, on the mall’s eastern end. Then, in 1969, St. Louis-based Famous-Barr purchased Vandervoort’s, bringing its venerable name into the Crestwood mix.  Meanwhile, in the 1960s and 1970s, St. Louis-area retail developers were busy at work building many new super-regional malls across the metropolitan area, providing competition to Crestwood.  However, Crestwood held its own against these new malls for decades.

Take a look at the massive, hulking Stix structure via the VanishingSTL blog:

dead department store

In 1984, the entirety of Crestwood was fully enclosed due to pressures from competition as well as consumer trends.  Competition included three nearby super-regional malls within 15 minutes: West County Center, South County Center, and Chesterfield Mall. A fourth super-regional mall, St. Louis Galleria, opened in 1986 just 5 miles away from Crestwood, in Richmond Heights, expanding to become the best mall in St. Louis by the early 1990s.

During the 1984 enclosure a basement food court and 5-screen cinema were added to Crestwood between Sears and Famous-Barr, and the short Woolworths wing was demolished and replaced by parking.  That same year, the Stix chain was purchased by Dillard’s and converted.  The food court was a pretty neat design feature at Crestwood. Entrance to the basement food court was accessed via escalators and stairways which went perpendicular from the main mall corridor into the food court area, giving it the vibe of a secret underground space.  The food court, which was gigantic, also had a direct exit to the back of the mall, which is at the same grade. It was one of the mall’s best design features, in addition to the fact that the mall seemed to wrap around Sears on three sides.  Also, the entire mall is cantilevered over a road which leads to the back of the mall between Sears and the former Dillard’s store.  Pretty cool?

Another neat design feature was added in 1992, with the addition of a second cinema behind Dillard’s, (the one in the food court closed soon after and was replaced by an arcade) as well as a short mall corridor expansion which went up and over the top of Dillard’s, resulting in Dillard’s having two separate mall entrances.  After all was said and done, the mall felt even bigger than it was due to all of these features.

Here’s what the layout looked like after all was said and done.  Macy’s was the most recent anchor on the left, and Dillard’s was on the right.  The underground food court, unseen here because it has been permanently closed for a couple years now, is located beneath this level between Sears and the former Macy’s at left:

Crestwood continued to hold its own into the 1990s, even as St. Louis Galleria captured the nuanced glitz and glamor of the St. Louis-area retail scene.  Crestwood was purchased in 1998 along with several other St. Louis-area centers by Australian mall magnate Westfield.  Crestwood was never marketed as upscale, and was always a mid-level everyday suburban shopping mall.  This positioning, which continued during the Westfield-owned years, combined with even more competition and a changing retail marketplace in the 2000s led to Crestwood’s eventual demise. While other nearby centers underwent continuous expansions and renovations, Crestwood did nothing to differentiate itself from its competition and, combined with its less-than-ideal location, proved to be too much to overcome.

In 2000, nearby West County Center embarked on a massive renovation and expansion project, demolishing the entire existing mall except for JCPenney (which was extensively remodeled), adding Nordstrom, Lord and Taylor, a food court, and numerous parking structures.  When the practically brand new mall opened in 2002, it was double the size of the original mall and noticeably more upscale, reflecting the high incomes of its neighboring suburbs.  Crestwood was an aging 1980s mall by that time, and took a major hit from this new competition.

In addition to that, South County Center, which is the same distance from Crestwood as West County Center but in the other direction, began its own renovation and expansion project in 2000, adding a new two-level southwest wing and a giant Sears store.  This repositioning solidified South County’s place on the map.  South County is the most convenient mall to south St. Louis city, as well as the corridor of suburbs along I-55 heading south and also to nearby Illinois suburbs across the Mississippi River.

It wasn’t long after the West County and South County renovations before signs of failure began to appear at Crestwood. The aging center was poorly located, hemmed in between better and glitzier malls as well as lacking direct freeway access from I-270 or I-44.

A 2003 crawl on the Wayback Machine indicated a healthy mix of stores at Crestwood, though it wasn’t long before these stores began to slowly disappear.

In 2005, Famous-Barr considered closing their Crestwood location and moving to a newer lifestyle center development called MainStreet at Sunset, located just a few miles away in the suburb of Sunset Hills at Route 30 and I-270.   However, this development was cancelled and Famous-Barr remained open, changing to Macy’s in the Fall of 2006.

In October 2007, the aging Dillard’s store threw in the towel and closed its 240,000 square-foot mid-century modern behemoth of a store.  Side note: Does anyone remember the frozen-in-time Dillard’s Garden Room restaurant at Crestwood?  It was obviously never renovated, and had this really old-school motif.  I remember walking past it not too many years before the store closed, and it instantly tunneled me back to a place in the not-so-distant-past when shopping was a more formal affair.  I could just see the ladies-who-lunch crowd all done up for a day of serious 1970s shopping.  I guess the Garden Room had other locations too, and were a holdover from the Stix era in St. Louis.  Are any of them still open?

In March 2008, Westfield realized Crestwood was going downhill fast and dumped it off to Centrum Properties, a Chicago-based retail development group in partnership with investment adviser Angelo, Gordon & Co. of New York.  Centrum decided to rebrand the mall as an “arts space”, leasing the increasingly vacant retail stores to community arts groups, dance studios and the like, at insanely cheap below-market rents ($50-$100/month).  This was a novel but obviously temporary solution to the mall’s vacancy problem, like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound, as the remaining traditional retailers flowed out of the center even faster than before. Centrum was well aware that the ArtSpace was temporary.  It became an innovative solution for finding short-term leases while giving back to the community.  Most regular stores wouldn’t accept short-term leases, and Centrum just wanted to fill the space while the economy recovered so it could begin a larger-scale revitalization of the site.

Another brutal blow for Crestwood came in 2009, when Macy’s finally called it quits and closed their store, leaving Sears as the mall’s only anchor. Meanwhile, Centrum’s ArtSpace signed upwards of 70 tenants for their experiment, providing local arts groups the opportunity for a lot of space on the cheap. These groups were told from the beginning that this was a temporary situation while redevelopment was planned; however, the response to the experiment was phenomenal. Crestwood management was quoted as saying if they got a dozen arts tenants, they would have been surprised, but having 70 and leasing out over half the mall was astounding to them.

In December 2011, more bad news came from Crestwood as Sears announced it was closing its store. Sears is having financial difficulties of its own and has announced dozens of store closures nationwide, so it’s not crystal clear whether the Crestwood store would have been closed by a healthy company or not. Either way, Sears’ departure was not anticipated, as redevelopment plans were to be crafted around their store. It’s not clear whether this is a good or bad thing, as perhaps being able to start over completely is a boon to revitalization.

This turn of events seems to have set Centrum into motion, and in February 2012 they announced the ArtSpace tenants would have to move out, and that parts of the center would be closing permanently.  A LensCrafters store and the AMC Movie Theater are still open inside the mall, however.  This appears to be the final death knell for the current incarnation of Crestwood. Maybe renovation plans are coming to fruition, or perhaps Centrum was losing a lot of money keeping the place open.

Tired shoppers (in this case nobody, because the mall is practically devoid of retail stores) can stop for some art libations at the Art Bar, housed in the facade of shuttered Dillard’s:


Either way, it’s a bittersweet end to a 55-year history and a neat place. When it finally closes, it will be the fourth major mall in St. Louis to close, after River Roads in 1995, St. Louis Centre in 2006, and Northwest Plaza in 2010. It’s not clear when Crestwood will permanently close, as the AMC Theaters and a LensCrafters store are still operating.  Are any other stores still open?

We look forward to seeing what’s in store for Crestwood’s redevelopment.  Hopefully it will be something inspired, and not just some bland strip mall.  I’ve visted Crestwood many times over the past decade and a half, and watched it crumble from a perfectly viable B-tier suburban mall to a mostly empty shell.  As always, please share your own stories and reactions in the comments, and let us know when the mall closes for good and what, if any, redevelopments take place on the site.

Elsewhere on the web:

Photos from January 2002, when the mall was still viable:

Photos from March 2010; not so viable.  Interestingly, Gap was one of the last retail stores to stay open, finally closing in August 2011:






Southtown Mall; Fort Wayne, Indiana

Fort Wayne’s first mall, Glenbrook Square, opened in 1966 on the north side of town. Three years later, Indianapolis-based Simon decided that Fort Wayne’s recent and projected growth indicated it could support a second enclosed regional mall. Located on the south side of town, Southtown Mall opened in July 1969. Southtown’s single-level complex debuted with a 100,000 square-foot Montgomery Ward and a 114,000 square-foot Fort Wayne-based Wolf and Dessauer department store, which was acquired that same year by Indianapolis-based L.S. Ayres. When Southtown opened, it had 567,000 square feet of retail space, including the anchors. In addition, G.C. Murphy operated a 60,000 square-foot junior anchor store, and there was a single-screen cinema, which was twinned in 1972 and expanded to a triplex in 1982.

After a long hiatus spending a good chunk of this Summer in Europe, I’ve returned with a treat. The mall featured here has long been one of my personal favorites, so please enjoy.

My very first visit to Fort Wayne, Indiana yielded this mall in June 2001. Gas was just north of a dollar a gallon, and I was a teen with few cares in the world other than driving around and exploring new areas. I had never been to Fort Wayne despite the unlikely kinship that existed between the city and my hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. Located about five hours apart, both cities were General Motors factory towns, and growing up I remember many families who set off to Fort Wayne in search of better jobs when the plant opened there in the late 1980s.  In the end, the ties between the two cities dissolved, as General Motors ceased production in my hometown, abandoning it, though the more modern Fort Wayne facility continues to operate.

Named for Revolutionary War general “Mad” Anthony Wayne, Fort Wayne was established as a frontier trading post for European settlers. The village was platted in 1823, and grew tremendously following the completion of the Wabash and Erie Canal in 1843, which provided a vital shipping passage between the Great Lakes and Ohio River valley, then leading into the Gulf of Mexico.

Today, Fort Wayne is the second largest city in Indiana after Indianapolis. With a population of over 250,000, Fort Wayne is located in the northeast part of the state, near the borders of Ohio and Michigan, and about 2 hours north of Indianapolis.

Fort Wayne’s first mall, Glenbrook Square, opened in 1966 on the north side of town. Three years later, Indianapolis-based Simon decided that Fort Wayne’s recent and projected growth indicated it could support a second enclosed regional mall.  Located on the south side of town, Southtown Mall opened in July 1969.

Southtown’s single-level complex debuted with a 100,000 square-foot Montgomery Ward and a 114,000 square-foot Fort Wayne-based Wolf and Dessauer department store, which was acquired that same year by Indianapolis-based L.S. Ayres.  When Southtown opened, it had 567,000 square feet of retail space, including the anchors.  In addition, G.C. Murphy operated a 60,000 square-foot junior anchor store, and there was a single-screen cinema, which was twinned in 1972 and expanded to a triplex in 1982.

How about a high school art mural from 1995:

Hopefully the Wayne High School Advanced Art Class of 1995 finds this page and is amused to find their mural may have been destroyed, but is saved in perpetuity on the internet.  I would be.  But maybe you’re just in the mood for a case full of plastic oranges at this defunct Orange Julius:

Also in 1982, Simon embarked on a major expansion of Southtown, adding a new southwest wing through recently vacated G.C. Murphy, leading to a new 90,000 square-foot Sears store.  Added in addition was a food court called The Patio, and a Service Merchandise.  After the expansion was complete, Southtown had 858,000 square-feet of total retail space, giving it the designation of Fort Wayne’s second super-regional mall after Glenbrook Square.

Unfortunately and ironically, the completion of the addition was the beginning of the end for Southtown.  The same year the expansion debuted, 1982, was the same year International Harvester dealt a whopping blow to Fort Wayne, eliminating over 10,000 jobs.  Most of these jobs were on the south side of the city, in Southtown’s immediate trade area.

In addition, Glenbrook Square expanded in 1976 and 1981.  Adding to its retail dominance in Fort Wayne, it became the hub of a massive conglomeration of retail strip on the north side of town, which it still is today.  In contrast, the retail offerings to complement Southtown were slim by comparison.

The fallout of Harvester’s Fort Wayne exodus was evident in the departure of Montgomery Ward in 1983.  Fortunately, though, Wisconsin-based Kohl’s stepped in to fill most of the vacant store, with apparel chain Spiece taking the remaining balance.

Southtown continued to soldier on with a full set of anchors, a designation it would keep until the 1990s; however, the newer southwest wing to Sears was never fully leased, and the mall was always thought of as a lower-level ancillary to Glenbrook Square.

In 1992, Southtown lost junior anchors Spiece, Richman Brothers, and Old Mill Pottery. L.S. Ayres also announced plans to shut their store that year, but were convinced to ride out their lease, which didn’t expire until 1997. Kohl’s opened a short-lived outlet venture in the shuttered Spiece space, attached to its regular store, but his proved to be a failed venture, closing after only a few years. I’m not sure Kohl’s has ever attempted this anywhere else since.

Then, in 1997, two major anchors departed, doling Southtown two death blows. Keeping their promise to stay out their lease, L.S. Ayres departed in July 1997, along with JCPenney a month earlier in June. Service Merchandise and MCL Cafeteria also closed around that same time, and the mall began bleeding stores faster than it had prior to these major departures.

In 1998, Simon had enough and unloaded Southtown to infamous mall slumlord Heywood Whichard of North Carolina, whose modus operandi is to buy moribund malls and run them into the ground, forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for the redevelopment. And he did just that – within two years he was already over $200,000 behind on taxes.

By 1999, things were looking grim at Southtown, and Kohl’s finally departed in March for a brand new store at Apple Glen Crossing, a new outdoor power center on the west side of Fort Wayne.  That same year, Southtown was put on the auction block, but no one offered to make a bid, and the whole process soon became confounded by the discovery of asbestos in the structure as well as underground storage tanks that didn’t meet modern regulation standards.

In 2000, some local developers attempted to buy the mall for redevelopment, and even offered to pay the delinquent taxes, but by then the process was tied up in litigation between the mall’s owner and the city of Fort Wayne.  Eventually they lost interest, and it became clear there was no future for redevelopment until the city forced condemnation.

All this time, the mall emptied, and by 2001 only a handful of stores were open, many of them mom-and-pop locals.  I remember an article I found online not long after I visited the mall in 2001, which profiled a retailer in the mall.  Her name was Su Won, and she operated a beauty supply store in the mall.  One of the photos with the article featured Su Won herself, sitting on a bench outside her store in the completely empty mall, staring wistfully into her store.  The photo was priceless, and I wish I could find it again.

In January 2002, Sears finally pulled out of the mall, leaving it with zero anchors and few in-line stores.  The mall limped along for another year like that, finally shuttering completely in February 2003.  The city of Fort Wayne condemned the property that year, so redevelopment could finally move forward on the eyesore behemoth.  Unfortunately, this meant that in August 2004 the whole thing would be torn down.

In 2006, the redevelopment debuted and the new Shoppes at Southtown opened, anchored by a 225,000 square foot Menards, and a 217,000 square-foot Wal-Mart SuperCenter.  In addition, a small strip center opened as well, featuring T-Mobile, Great Clips for Hair, and Star Financial Bank.

I visited Southtown in the Summer of 2001, and was shocked at the condition and size of the mall.  Only a handful of outlets and Sears were open for business, and few people were walking around inside the dated monster mall.  Aside from the Sears wing, where a few stores operated, the rest of the mall was completely devoid of activity. Take a look at the pictures I took that day, and leave your own reactions and anecdotes as well.  Also, what ever happened to Su Won?

Elsewhere on the web:

Pictures from June 2001:




Park Central Shopping Center; Phoenix, Arizona

I promised a few months ago that I went to every single mall in the Phoenix and Tucson areas–and you were all quick to point out at least one omission, at an outlet mall in Mesa–but by and large I think I made it to all of them, and I plan to bring them all to you, one by one. It is happening, I swear! If we’re gonna do this, let’s start with the oldest.

The Park Central Shopping Center opened as Park Central Shopping City in 1957, way back when Phoenix was still a fairly small city of a little over 100,000 people. This was still the early days of air conditioning–the innovation that made places like Phoenix feasible to inhabit–and Phoenix hadn’t yet grown into the desert behemoth that it is today. Park Central Shopping City was initially built by the Burgbacher brothers on the site of a former dairy farm on what was then the edge of town, in a brand new “edge city” 2 miles north of downtown Phoenix (the area would later become known as Midtown Phoenix). At the time, the development was seen as overly speculative and foolish, and located too far from the city’s center of population–a seemingly laughable assumption today.

The mall, which is completely open air and always has been, opened in 1957 with three anchors: a two-level Goldwater’s (founded by the same family as former Republican presidential candidate and modern conservative godfather Barry Goldwater), a two-level Diamond’s, and a J.J. Newberry 5 and dime store. Laying to rest the initial skepticism about the mall’s potential, both Goldwater’s and Diamond’s soon both shuttered their downtown locations in favor of operating the new midtown stores as their main locations, and JCPenney also joined the roster as another anchor. For a time, Park Central was the center of the Phoenix retail scene. During the 1960s, a number of new high-rise office and apartment buildings sprang up in the immediate vicinity of the mall, pulling the city’s center of gravity north and quickly becoming the de facto “city center” of Phoenix.

Phoenix exploded in population in the decades following world war II (and, realistically, continuing until only very recently), causing most development in the low-density, auto-oriented city to fan out for miles and miles in every direction. Due to these patterns, more people moved to far-flung newer regions of the city only partially accessible by freeways, and eventually the Midtown neighborhood came to be seen as slightly tired and inconvenient. During this time, Park Central experienced the normal slate of changes that any major shopping center tends to see, mainly in shifts in tenants: Robinson’s replaced Goldwater’s and Dillard’s replaced Diamond’s, both sometime in the mid-late 1980s. But by the end of the 1980s, Park Central was failing, losing many of its tenants to other, newer locations, and to enclosed, climate-controlled centers. JCPenney and Dillard’s were the last of the anchors to leave, gone from the mall by the mid-1990s.

Despite its failure as a retail center, the mall still sat at the very center of the city’s business district, surrounded by towering modern skyscrapers. Realizing the potential of the property, the mall’s management began to convert the center to a mixed-use, office-focused facility not long after the closure of Dillard’s. The former Diamond’s property became home to Catholic Healthcare West, Banner Health Systems moved into the Goldwater’s, and United HealthCare replaced the former JCPenney space. With so many office workers occupying the mall’s 3 largest spaces, some of the smaller spaces were able to be re-leased to low-level retail tenants, including Starbucks, Qdoba Mexican Grill, The Good Egg, and even a bevy of local businesses (including several small delis and even Kobalt, a gay bar). A Hampton Inn also opened on the corner of the property.

Although Park Central isn’t a mall by any definition now, the center has seen almost no cosmetic changes during its transformation and is completely open for perusing, so it’s a good opportunity to get a glimpse of Phoenix’s oldest retail establishment. It’s a little weirdly quiet now, and there aren’t any traces of old retail storefronts, but the facades on some of the original anchor stores are fairly neat and worth checking out if you’re in the area. Also, the area itself has changed somewhat of late: while the mall failed in part because Phoenix had turned its eyes towards the sprawling suburbs, the city has seen (like many others) a revival in interest in urbanism, and a new light rail opened along Central Avenue in December 2008 giving direct transit access to the mall. Much of the dense and centrally-located Midtown neighborhood has become popular with young, upwardly mobile types who want access to nightlife and restaurants that aren’t just formula-based chains, and much of the city’s alternative culture thrives within blocks of Park Central (hence the mall housing a gay bar), so there’s even some remote chance that someday there will be a newfound interest in dense, pedestrian-oriented retail at the site.

Palm Springs Mall; Palm Springs, California

The Coachella Valley is a desert region in eastern Riverside County, California, stretching through the desert north of the Salton Sea. One of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country (with an estimated 2010 population of around 600,000 permanent residents, plus hundreds of thousands of seasonal residents), the region has been a popular tourist destination since the 1920s when many in Hollywood were drawn to the hot, sunny weather and seclusion. The region’s anchor city and historic heart (though not the largest community) is Palm Springs, at the far western edge of the valley.

Development patterns in the Coachella Valley are more or less what you would expect of a region developed almost entirely in the 20th century (and very significantly in the last few decades). The region is criss-crossed with a network of wide grid-pattern arterials and a sprawling network of low-slung housing developments, many of them resort-style communities for part-time residents. Like most places that have exploded in this manner, there are dozens of strip malls and big box centers scattered across a 25-mile wide swath of the valley stretching from Palm Springs to Coachella. Buried within that mess, there are no less than four enclosed malls, and shopping in air conditioned comfort makes sense when the region is known for it searing heat and blinding sun. However, 3 out of 4 of these malls are dying (and one of the four is shuttered entirely). We posted the Fiesta Mall in Indio, at the eastern end of the valley, about a year ago. Today’s mall is 25 miles to the west: Palm Springs Mall, while technically still open for now, is one of the near-dead.

Located on Tahquitz Canyon Way about 2 miles northeast of downtown Palm Springs, the Palm Springs Mall is a relatively small, T-shaped community center, with an extension on one side that housed a Von’s supermarket and several smaller outdoor-facing stores. Architecturally, the exterior almost looks like a fairly standard strip mall, but the interior still has terra cotta tiles and other trappings of malls from several decades ago. There are also some interesting soaring ceiling features and skylights that clearly date the mall to its original construction in the late 1960s, even if it otherwise appears to have gotten a facelift sometime in the 80s. Until the middle of this past decade, it was relatively successful, with Gottschalks, True Value, Ross Dress For Less, and Office Max all functioning as the mall’s most recent anchor stores.

The Palm Springs Mall opened with San Diego-based Walker-Scott in 1970, who lasted in the space until the entire chain folded in 1987. Long Beach-based Buffums’ replaced them, but they also folded in 1991. Gottschalks took over the space right up to that company’s demise in 2009. The large anchor at the southern end of the mall was for a time a Kmart store, but that space was subdivided into True Value and Ross Dress For Less at some point later. I can’t find if there was a tenant in that space before Kmart, and to add to the confusion many news articles on the internet seem to confuse this mall with another dead mall in Palm Springs, so there is some question as to whether this mall or the other ever had a JCPenney anchor store. Just over the last few months (since these photos were taken in February, even!) the True Value fled the mall for a new location.

Rumors of a redevelopment have been swirling since at least 2007, when the mall was at least still somewhat viable (and still had its main anchor store in Gottschalks). There continue to be rumors of *something* to happen at the property, but in the meantime it continues to bleed tenants. The location is also somewhat strange and off Palm Springs’ main arterials, so it may make more sense to repurpose the property as something other than retail though the empty lots that dot the nearby area seem to indicate there isn’t a ton of demand.

Like a lot of dying malls in growing sun belt cities, we couldn’t find much about the Palm Springs Mall online–there probably aren’t that many current residents who remember much about the glory days. Do you know more about the history? Use the comments section to fill us in.


Orchards Mall; Benton Charter Township, Michigan

The Orchards Mall in Benton Harbor, Michigan opened in October 1979. The mall was built on the site of a former apple orchard, giving it its name. The location of The Orchards Mall is less than a mile from Interstate 94. In 1979, when the mall opened, most of the area surrounding the mall was vacant or farmland. Benton Harbor is located next to the city of St. Joseph, Benton Harbor’s twin city, home of The Whirlpool Corporation.

The following submission came to us from Michael Winford of Michigan.  If you have any questions about his submission or wish to contact him, please email him here.

The Orchards Mall in Benton Harbor, Michigan opened in October 1979. The mall was built on the site of a former apple orchard, giving it its name. The location of The Orchards Mall is less than a mile from Interstate 94. In 1979, when the mall opened, most of the area surrounding the mall was vacant or farmland. Benton Harbor is located next to the city of St. Joseph, Benton Harbor’s twin city, home of The Whirlpool Corporation.

Prior to the opening of The Orchards Mall, locals from Benton Harbor and St. Joseph shopped at Fairplain Plaza. The plaza was located less than a mile away from The Orchards Mall. Fairplain Plaza was the usual open air plaza of the 60’s/70’s era. When The Orchards Mall opened the Plaza was still doing decent, but past its prime. The plaza featured a Woolworth, Goldblatts, as well as a Kroger grocery store, Rite Aid Drug store, a five screen cinema, and a Big Boy restaurant. A good handful of merchants made the move from the plaza to the mall. Other merchants would continue to move from the plaza to the mall in the years to come, leaving the plaza to become a ghost town by the late 1980’s.

When Orchards Mall opened it featured three anchor stores: J.C. Penney, Sears and Walgreen’s. J.C. Penney and Sears both moved from their downtown Benton Harbor locations. Downtown Benton Harbor had been seeing some large economic decline for some time. Also located in the mall was York Steakhouse along with approximately 10 food outlets in the food court. Adjacent to the food court was an arcade.

The Orchards Mall has always been a mid scale mall, nothing too fancy. No fountains or marble and only one story. The mall used to have quite a bit of live plants and trees indoors, but over the years they have all disappeared, most likely due to cost cutting measures. There are four entrances that lead directly into the mall, with about 60 to 70 retail spaces. The Orchards Mall has always featured a food court, something that didn’t become common in malls until the 1980’s. The mall’s color scheme was the typical 70’s/80’s brown and orange.  I remember my parents taking my brother and I there quite often, especially during back to school time and Christmas. I remember the shiny brown tile on the floor and the orange fabric on the benches. There was also something like a dugout in front of J.C. Penney. This was always a fun place to play as a kid. This dugout area was where they would have special events such as Santa at Christmas time.

The mall remained quite busy throughout the 1980’s. The closest malls are the University Park Mall in Mishawaka, IN located about 40 miles southwest and Crossroads Mall located in Portage, MI about 47 miles east of Benton Harbor. With both malls being so far away, they were not too much of a threat to Orchards. By the late 1980’s the poverty and crime from downtown Benton Harbor started to carry over into the area of the mall. It didn’t become a major problem until the mid to late 1990’s when things really started to take a turn for the worst.

Over the years the mall featured many stores including Gap,County Seat, The Hang Up, Baker Shoes, Fox Jewelers, Carlton Cards, Glamour Shots, Card America, Hallmark, Chess King, Kinney Shoe store, Famous Foot ware, So Fro Fabrics, Jean Nicole, Lerner New York, Banner Books, Foot Locker, Spencer’s, Recordtown, Camelot, FYE, Imperial Sports, Hickory Farms, K B Toys, Gordon’s Jewelry Store, The Original Cookie, Sherman’s Ice Cream, Afterthoughts, Command Performance, Regis, Candy Candy, Foxmoore, Richman’s, Gem Dandy’s,Casual Corner, Shoe Sensation, Factory Brand Shoes, Thom McAn Shoes, The Buckle, Radio Shack, The Great Steak and Potato Company, and Subway.

York Steakhouse went out of business in the mid to late 1980’s. That location sat empty until around 1990 when Bonanza filled that spot. A year or two later Bonanza changed it’s name to Ponderosa Steakhouse. Ponderosa stuck around until the mid 1990’s when they closed their doors. Walgreen’s moved out of the mall in the early 90’s when they built a bigger location about a 1/4 mile down the road from the mall. The former Walgreen’s location remained vacant for quite a few years. In the early 1990’s a few empty store fronts became visible, but the mall was still running at least at a 70/80 percent occupancy rate.

A little hope for The Orchards Mall came when Elder Beerman, a department store from Dayton, Ohio, announced plans to build a store connecting to the mall. Some said Elder Beerman was a bit too upscale for the mall, while others were happy to see a third anchor store moving in. The Elder Beerman store opened in the fall of 1992. The store was much nicer than the J.C. Penney and Sears at Orchards Mall as well as a little bit pricier than the two other anchor stores. Prior to the opening of the Elder Beerman store the mall underwent a major renovation. The mall was completely re tiled in white, mauve, and teal flooring. The dugout areas were filled in to be made level with the rest of the mall’s surface. All the orange fabric benches were removed, and were replaced with oak benches. Palm trees were placed throughout the mall and new tables and chairs were put in the food court. With the remodel complete and 3 anchor stores in the mall it seemed the Orchards Mall was making a bit of a come back, which unfortunately only lasted for a few years.

By the mid to late 1990’s the crime and poverty from downtown made its way into the area of the mall. Robberies in surrounding businesses drove away customers. The Aldi store located on an outlot near the mall was robbed at gun point, and the manager at a Red Lobster located in an outlot right in front of J.C. Penney was murdered. Shortly after the murder at Red Lobster, Darden, the parent company of Red Lobster, chose to close this location, leaving the building empty. All of this was not good business for the mall, and many shoppers started driving to the two other malls which were a ways away but were in better areas, with more stores to offer. There were also a few reports of muggings of mall shoppers in the parking lot. The 3 anchor stores remained through the 1990’s, but many of the smaller stores in the mall closed their doors.

By 2000, the mall was only running at about a 50% occupancy rate, and most of the national chains within the mall had closed their doors for good. One exception was Bath and Body Works, which opened in the mall around the mid 2000’s. In the late 2000’s Jo Ann fabrics moved into the mall, filling the former Walgreen’s space and overflowing into a few of the neighboring vacant stores. It took the mall nearly 15 to 20 years to fill the former Walgreen’s location. For a brief time, The Orchards Mall boasted 4 anchor stores, although many of the stores in the mall remained vacant.

In 2009 Sears announced they would not be renewing their lease and closed their doors, leaving the mall with only 3 anchor stores. The owner of the Sears building was a different owner than the rest of the mall. The owner of the former Sears building decided to donate the building to a local church. The owners of the mall tried to fight it, but they lost the fight and the building was awarded to the church. Because of this situation, there is no hope for the mall to attract another anchor store to that location. The Sears optical and driving school still remain but they moved into empty stores in the mall near J.C. Penney.

The Buckle closed their doors in January 2010 as well as B. Dalton bookstore. As of February 2011 the 3 anchor stores still remain. J.C. Penney is in desperate need of updating, dirty carpet that looks worn out in spots, mismatched linoleum that looks like it has been there since the early 1990’s.

Also, the decor in the mall continues to show its age with a bland color scheme from the 1990’s. All of the live plants are gone, and some of the oak benches look like they have seen better days. The Orchards Mall has not seen any updating in almost two decades. The food court is a very sad site with only one food outlet remaining – a small independent Mexican restaurant and some vending machines placed in front of the former Sherman’s ice cream location. Most of the tables and chairs have been removed, since they are no longer needed.

Beyond the 3 remaining anchor stores the national chains that are still currently located inside the mall are AT&T, GNC, Payless ShoeSource, The Finish Line, Bath and Body Works, Rainbow Fashions, Claire’s, Deb, Zales, and Man Alive. I believe this mall was one of the first locations for The Man Alive mens store chain. That most likely explains why they are still open at this location. Most of the mall storefronts are empty and a handful of the empty locations are now spaces for non for profit organizations to raise awareness for their cause. There are also a few independent retailers in the mall such as a travel agency, a nail boutique, a store called This N That, a store called Odds and Ends, and a cowboy/leather store called Off the Edge, just to give you an idea of what type of interesting independent stores this mall has to offer.

I very rarely go to this mall anymore due to the lack of what they have to offer. I drive about 47 miles in the opposite direction to The Crossroads Mall located in Portage, Michigan. I did, however, make a trip to the Orchards Mall yesterday and that is when the current pictures were taken. It’s sad to see this mall die such a slow and painful death.  I wish there was some type of redevelopment plan in the works, but, no word of that. The future of the mall doesn’t look too bright, with the poverty and crime levels still somewhat high for the Benton Harbor area. Michigan also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. I figure they will just let the mall continue to die with its empty store fronts and 1990’s decor.  As for J.C. Penney, Elder Beerman, and Jo Ann Fabrics, I don’t see them putting much money into these stores in the near future. On the same token, if it wasn’t for these 3 anchor stores I believe this mall would have closed a long time ago. Lucky for the mall, these 3 anchor stores still remain, but who knows for how long?

I have included some pictures of The Orchards Mall, some from the past and some from the present day. I apologize for the glare on a few of the pics but I had to take a picture of pictures of the mall’s past. If anyone has any more info or pics of the mall I’d love to hear from you. I was born in 1981 so I was just a child in the 1980’s. I tried to do some research about this mall but wasn’t able to find much on the Internet. Most of what I have written had to come from memory and from family and friends who were around before the mall’s opening.

Prangeway: I’ve also been to this mall several times.  The first time was over ten years ago when Caldor and I visited together, and we were amazed, even then, at the lackluster offerings.  I haven’t been back in recent years, but from the looks of it the mall has gone downhill fast.  Now that Sears has departed, I fear that the situation here is grim.  One comment on Yelp regarding this mall sums it up pretty succinctly:

“Sorry to be so harsh, but this is the worst mall I’ve ever seen. Only about 40% of the stores are actually occupied, there are shady characters constantly roaming around, and the last time I was there there was a petting zoo with animals peeing all over the floors. Honestly, I will never go back if I can help it.”

What’s most interesting to me about this area are the demographics and the sharp juxtaposition between Benton Harbor and its twin city, St. Joseph.  The two cities are similar in size and located next to one another, on either side of the St. Joseph River, yet otherwise they’re completely different.  St. Joseph is 90% white, and has a vibrant downtown commercial district with many shops and restaurants, and is popular with tourists.  Benton Harbor is 90% black, and while the downtown has experienced a nascent renaissance of sorts, it’s not yet to the level of St. Joseph.  Furthermore, Benton Harbor has been frought with socioeconomic problems and blight.  For such a small city, Benton Harbor has been dealt a fiercely hard blow, especially as the economy of Michigan at large suffers with stagnation and unemployment at a pace greater than the national level.

While The Orchards Mall and its surrounding retail corridor is commonly thought to be in Benton Harbor, it is actually in Benton Charter Township, not in the city itself.  Benton Charter Township is an incorporated township with home-rule advantages, making it as separate from the city of Benton Harbor as can be.  The demographics of Benton Charter Township indicate a 50/50 split between blacks and whites, and the income levels are more favorable.  In addition to the large retail district around the mall, Whirlpool Corporation is also within the township.  If these entities were within Benton Harbor itself, the addition to the tax base would probably help the city recover greatly.

As far as other retail competition, there are the two better malls Michael indicated, both located about 40 miles away near Kalamazoo and South Bend, Indiana.  There’s also another mall in Michigan City, Indiana, also about 40 miles away, but that mall isn’t anything anyone would drive that distance for, and we’ve featured it here.  Michigan City also has a popular outlet mall, though, and both Grand Rapids and Chicago are located an hour to an hour and a half away.  In addition, downtown St. Joseph also has many popular shops and restaurants that attract both locals and tourists alike.

The Orchards Mall also suffers from a small trade area, serving only Berrien County.  With a population of 160,000, Berrien County isn’t large enough to sustain a regional mall anymore, especially as it’s hemmed in on two sides by better malls just 40 minutes away.  Even though super-regional malls like the ones in South Bend and Kalamazoo continue to have success, smaller malls like this one have fallen out of favor on a national level.

As always, feel free to leave your own comments about The Orchards Mall.

Elsewhere on the web:

Vintage photos of Orchards Mall (Taken as photos of photos in March 2011 by Michael Winford):

Photos from March 2011 (Taken by Michael Winford):


Tampa Bay Center; Tampa, Florida

Opened in August 1976, Tampa Bay Center was one of Tampa Bay’s biggest and brightest shopping destinations. Centrally located north of downtown Tampa along Martin Luther King Jr Blvd (called Buffalo Avenue then) east of Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa Bay Center was next to Tampa Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the place to be during the late 1970s and 1980s; but, despite rapid growth in the fruitful Tampa Bay area over the coming years and decades, Tampa Bay Center’s fate was ultimately sealed by far too much competition. When it opened, Tampa Bay Center had over 700,000 square feet of retail space and two anchors: Tampa’s first Burdines store and Sears, which actually opened before the mall did, in March 1976. The two anchors at Tampa Bay Center were arranged at each end of the structure, and a two-level mall corridor connected them.

This one’s long gone, so enjoy.

Opened in August 1976, Tampa Bay Center was one of Tampa Bay’s biggest and brightest shopping destinations.  Centrally located north of downtown Tampa along Martin Luther King Jr Blvd (called Buffalo Avenue then) east of Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa Bay Center was next to Tampa Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  It was the place to be during the late 1970s and 1980s; but, despite rapid growth in the fruitful Tampa Bay area over the coming years and decades, Tampa Bay Center’s fate was ultimately sealed by far too much competition.

When it opened, Tampa Bay Center had over 700,000 square feet of retail space and two anchors: Tampa’s first Burdines store and Sears, which actually opened before the mall did, in March 1976.   The two anchors at Tampa Bay Center were arranged at each end of the structure, and a two-level mall corridor connected them.

Due to the mall’s early success, Montgomery Ward was added as a third anchor near center court in 1980, bringing the center to almost 900,000 square feet.  It was the first and only major addition to the mall during its entire history.

A piece of random trivia: Tampa Bay Center opened one day after another long-gone Tampa mall, Eastlake Square, which was similarly sized and located 6.5 miles away.

Designed by Maryland-based Rouse, Tampa Bay Center featured a tall, latticework trussed ceiling design, flanked on both sides by skylights, which bathed the entire center in natural light during a time when dark, drab colors and drop ceilings were common.  However, the dark tile floors at Tampa Bay Center were more period-appropriate, as were the fountains and the tall trees placed throughout the first level.  In addition, a glass elevator at center court was the mall’s centerpiece, and a unique-for-Florida design included a slope to the property, which meant shoppers could enter either level of the mall directly from the parking lot.

In terms of competition, Tampa Bay Center’s biggest foe was nearby WestShore Plaza, which opened in 1967 as the Tampa Bay area’s first mall and was located only a couple miles away.  WestShore and Tampa Bay Center had complementary anchors and thrived nearly side by side for years; however, WestShore was always the more upscale, more conveniently located counterpart to Tampa Bay Center’s stadium-adjacent austerity.  Eventually, WestShore began to emerge as the winner while Tampa Bay Center slowly spiraled downward.

By the late 1990s, Tampa Bay Center was in serious decline.  WestShore Plaza announced plans for a dramatic expansion, beginning in 1997, which was basically the beginning of the end for Tampa Bay Center.  A larger WestShore, directly on I-275 and centrally located within the Tampa Bay area, would spell disaster for Tampa Bay Center.

In addition to the WestShore expansion, a huge brand new mall, Brandon Town Center, opened in 1995 to serve the fast-growing sprawl in eastern Tampa, and in 1999 another massive mall called Citrus Park Town Center opened to serve Tampa’s north and northwest areas.

Meanwhile, in June 1998, Burdines announced they were leaving Tampa Bay Center, due both to building a new Citrus Park store as well as having a store just a few miles away at WestShore.  For eight years, Burdines had operated stores at both WestShore Plaza and Tampa Bay Center after Burdines took over the Tampa-based Maas Brothers chain in 1991, which had a WestShore location.  In 1999, Burdines closed their Tampa Bay Center store in favor of opening one at the new Citrus Park Town Center.

In late 2000, Montgomery Ward issued Tampa Bay Center another blow, by going out of business nationwide.  With only Sears remaining, stores began leaving in droves, favoring either Citrus Park or WestShore locations.

As if all this competition weren’t enough already, regional mall-developer Taubman swooped in and decided to develop yet another large mall, located adjacent to Tampa’s airport and directly in between Tampa Bay Center and WestShore Plaza – only a mile from each.  Called International Plaza and Bay Street, Tampa’s newest mall to date was another large, two-level behemoth, and with Dillard’s, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Lord and Taylor as anchors, it was proposed to be even more upscale and successful than WestShore.

With International Mall and Bay Street set to open in 2001, Tampa Bay Center faced an incredibly challenging uphill battle.  By early 2001, many stores had already left Tampa Bay Center, and by Summer 2001 the remaining few stores were on month-to-month leases.

The final death knell came in Fall 2001 when Sears, Tampa Bay Center’s final anchor, announced it was leaving.  Recognizing they were underwater in the deluge of competition and no longer under the obligation to maintain the 892,000 square-foot mall after Sears announced its departure, Rouse kicked out the mall walkers and whatever stores were left and closed the interior of the mall in January 2002.  Sears, the final anchor at Tampa Bay Center, closed in September 2002.  Though, with the mall already closed, Sears wasn’t anchoring much.  Sears left due to opportunity: International Plaza lured Dillard’s away from WestShore, WestShore had a vacancy, and Sears saw an opportunity to jump from a sinking (sunken?) ship.

After Sears left, Rouse decided to market the mall for sale, and DeBartolo indicated interest in purchasing the mall to build an open-air retail center, but ultimately declined.  Rouse came to the conclusion the site was no longer viable for retail given so much area competition. Rouse then sold the mall on December 31, 2002 for $22.8 million in cash to the Glazer family, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who intended to turn about half the site into a training facility to complement the neighboring stadium.

Of course, this meant no more mall, and Tampa Bay Center was demolished 2005.  The Bucs moved into the training facility in time for their 2006 season.  The rest of the site became home to an overflow lot for Bucs games, and in 2007 the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit West Tampa Transfer Center opened to wow bus crowds near and far, but probably mostly near?

I visited Tampa Bay Center in May 2001 and took the pictures featured here, a short time before the mall closed permanently – please ignore my teenage mug in one of them.  Tampa Bay Center, while once a successful retail pillar of Tampa, ultimately succumbed to one of the fiercest levels of competition we’ve seen yet.  As usual, feel free to leave your comments and experiences.

Elsewhere on the web:

Photos from May 2001:


Forest Fair Mall / Cincinnati Mills / Cincinnati Mall; Cincinnati, Ohio

The phrase “If you build it, they will come” was coined in the classic 1989 film Field of Dreams, and, for the most part, it holds true to form. A mall can be built in the middle of nowhere and succeed; however, sometimes this is not the case. The infamous Dixie Square Mall was successful for a decade before it went to hell. Forest Fair Mall, located in north-suburban Cincinnati, was never that successful. It had a few moments when it was a decent mall, but ultimately it failed again and again.

Editor’s note:  The following write-up was based on a submission by reader and contributor “Jonah Norason” in December 2010.  It was summarily edited for clarity, and sparingly for content – I added some dates and a few contributory facts where appropriate.  Enjoy it, this is one of my favorites.  The pictures accompanying the post are mine.

The phrase “If you build it, they will come” was coined in the classic 1989 film Field of Dreams, and, for the most part, it holds true to form. A mall can be built in the middle of nowhere and succeed; however, sometimes this is not the case. The infamous Dixie Square Mall was successful for a decade before it went to hell. Forest Fair Mall, located in north-suburban Cincinnati, was never that successful. It had a few moments when it was a decent mall, but ultimately it failed again and again.

The era was the late 1980s. Shopping malls, long past the “climate controlled shopping cities” era of the 1960s, were glorified by TV shows and movies. And of course, value malls were built too, for those who wanted to spend less than at the higher-priced “real malls”. LJ Hooker, an Austrailian company, decided to team up with Cincinnati-based Hyper Shoppes Inc., which had created a new hypermarket called bigg’s and was interested in taking it nationwide. Hypermarkets were a relatively new concept at the time, combining supermarkets (grocery, butcher, bakery, etc.) with general merchandise (clothing, electronics, etc.). Their joint venture (Editor’s note:  How awesome would it have been if, when they teamed up, they called themselves Hyper Hooker?) was to construct a mall in Cincinnati that was both value and mid-range, featuring bigg’s, Dayton-based Elder Beerman, and Higbee’s, a Cleveland-based department store (you’ve probably seen the flagship in A Christmas Story when Ralphie asks Santa for a Red Ryder BB gun) that was to enter the Cincinnati market.

But somehow, along the way, enough just wasn’t enough. During Forest Fair’s planning process, the CEO of LJ Hooker, George Herscu, decided to add upscale tenants Bonwit Teller, Sakowitz, B. Altman and Parisian to the mall, creating a “supermall” template that would feature a larger mixture of tenants, and run the gamut from value-oriented to upscale. Herscu hoped malls like these would be built across the nation. However, there was a snag: the aforementioned upscale department stores Herscu planned didn’t want to locate in Forest Fair Mall, a blue-collar suburb of Cincinnati. In response, Herscu’s solution was to buy controlling shares of them, integrating them into LJ Hooker and forcing them to locate there.  Might makes right, but what results can you expect when you force the market?

Bonwit Teller was a posh New York department store with its flagship store in Trump Tower (the original flagship was demolished). B. Altman was was an old fashioned, established department store, also based in New York on 5th Avenue. Altman’s had a “reputation for gentility and conservatism“. Sakowitz was never even in that area of the United States, as it was based in Houston and had locations from Houston to Phoenix. Unlike B. Altman and Bonwit Teller, it never preferred malls. Parisian was a Birmingham-based store that had other locations in Ohio, but mostly was located in the south. Higbee’s did not show up, as it was bought by Dillard’s and pulled out of the project entirely.

The overzealous mall ran overbudget and was forced to open in phases. bigg’s and a few other stores opened in the eastern corridor in 1988. This was the “value” end of the mall, and shoppers could take shopping carts from store to store. In March 1989, the rest of the mall opened, and oh, what a mall it was! The “Y” shaped two level corridor opened with B. Altman and Parisian anchoring the two variant branches of the “Y”, along with a two-level food court. Elder Beerman rested on one outside corner of the mall, while Time Out rested on the other.  A full-service amusement park, featuring mini-golf, bumper cars, a carousel, a ferris wheel, and space for 200 inline stores rounded out the mall.

In addition, Sakowitz and a two-level store called Sports USA took up in-line space. The center of the Y had a sunken area for an amphitheater, and, on the east end of the lower level, the corridor ended with the Forest Fair 8, an eight-screen movie theater.

According to, Forest Fair Mall was “absolutely ornate… far more so than anything else in Cincinnati. It featured arched copper roofs (still on the mall!), enormous skylights with brass bars running across them featuring a dizzying amount of tiny light bulbs. Also at the time I believe there were many large fountains, and an enormous center court featuring an ornately detailed ceiling”.  The mall also cost $200 million.

Forest Fair’s grand opening extravaganza featured celebrities, including Phyllis Diller and country music group Exile.

Featuring everything from posh hundred-dollar suits to bananas, there was no end to the shopping possibilities at Forest Fair. Or was there?

Despite the visible Interstate-friendly location and optimistic outlook, Forest Fair was doomed before it opened, according to one analyst.

“Retail observers predicted Forest Fair — then Ohio’s second-largest mall — was doomed before it even opened in March 1989. They didn’t like its mix of value retailers in one wing and high-end stores in another. They argued its chi-chi department stores, B. Altman and Bonwit Teller, were too upscale and unfamiliar to the Cincinnati shopper.” —The Cincinnati Enquirer, 1999

Herscu was arrogant about his project, saying people would call him a “damn fool” if he failed. Indeed, within several months the mall lost its upscale anchors, about 50% of its stores, and filed for bankruptcy. How could this happen? For starters, the nearby median income was $36,921: not the demographic who could afford the fine retailers on the west end of the mall.

In addition to arrogance and misjudging the market, competition was another factor in Forest Fair’s failure. Two malls, located close to Forest Fair, launched impressive remodeling and expansion plans, causing a retail surplus in north Cincinnati. Tri-County Mall, located a few miles from Forest Fair along I-275, added a second level and anchor store McAlpin’s to round out a solid retail roster. Northgate Mall, also located just a few miles away from Forest Fair, in the other direction, finished an early 1990s remodel.  Both Northgate and Tri-County were the anchors to larger retail corridors featuring numerous strip malls, restaurants, and big box stores; Forest Fair had far fewer of these complementary stores nearby because it was between the other malls and their established corridors.

In addition, Kenwood Plaza, a strip center in an affluent part of northeast Cincinnati was torn down and rebuilt as a two-level enclosed mall called Kenwood Towne Center between 1987-1988. It had Lazarus, JCPenney, and McAlpin’s, and would become the Cincinnati area’s best mall.

The departure of upscale anchors rattled Forest Fair. Sakowitz closed and was replaced by Parisian. B. Altman closed its Forest Fair store and went out of business. Bonwit Teller was sold to the Pyramid Companies of Syracuse, New York in 1990, and the Forest Fair store closed due to unprofitability.  Parisian disconnected from LJ Hooker and kept the Forest Fair store open.  bigg’s and Elder-Beerman held on as well.

Unfortunately, LJ Hooker plunged into bankruptcy (guess he was a damn fool after all), and Forest Fair was sold in 1991 along with Herscu’s other two malls: Thornton Town Center, a small mall in the Denver area anchored by little more than a bigg’s and a large amusement area, and Richland Fashion Mall of South Carolina. Thornton has been demalled, while Richland Fashion Square has been renamed to Midtown at Forest Acres and is not successful.

The early 1990s were an empty, sad time at Forest Fair, culminating in a restructuring period after the mall was sold. According to, a bizarre chain of events occurred, consisting of marketing twists, gang wars, and a fire in the food court. However, there were some small victories during this period. The Bonwit Teller was gutted for a new concept, The Festivals at Forest Fair, which opened in 1993. The Festivals at Forest Fair opened inside the mall featuring entertainment and nightclubs. With stone tiles imported from India to invoke an “outdoor experience”, the entertainment district offered several bars, nightclubs, and other shops. The two-level section included America Live!, Gator’s Beach Bar, and America’s Original Sports Bar, among other venues.

The theaters also became a dollar theater, which, after a few name changes, remain today.

The Festivals entertainment district wasn’t as successful as planned, and the mall continued to limp along. A stalwart group of existing tenants and new anchors, including the addition of Kohl’s in late 1994 in much of the former B. Altman and a CompUSA in the bigg’s wing, brought the mall to 75% occupancy. It was nowhere near the success it was designed to be in 1989, nor the competition-crushing behemoth it was expected to be.

In 1996, Forest Fair was sold again to Gator Investments Group, a Miami-based company that promised to make it the mall it was designed to be. It was going to be hard work, especially since CompUSA and Parisian pulled out within months of each other in 1998.  However, Guitar Center signed on, and by 1999, Forest Fair Mall had secured a lease with the giant outdoor chain Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, which opened in the former Parisian space. Ambitious plans were drawn, and Gator started signing new tenants for the mall through Glimcher Properties Trust, their leasing agent. There were some significant losses, though, as the Time Out on the Court amusement park closed.

By 2001, the mall was on the slow road to recovery. The food court was nearly full. Media Play, a big-box retailer selling electronics, books, music, videos, video games, and DVDs, opened. Off Fifth, the outlet form of Saks Fifth Avenue, opened. Babies R Us opened (though it was temporarily occupied by Stein Mart Outlet prior to this). Berean Christian Stores signed on as another junior anchor. A nightclub complex opened next to Kohl’s (disconnected from the mall concourse) called Metropolis. It replaced the last Festivals nightclub, Bourbon Street, as the whole Festivals annex was gutted for Burlington Coat Factory, which filled in the rest of the B. Altman space. A large amusement area for children, Namco WonderPark, opened and functionally replaced Time Out. Showcase Cinemas opened in the former spot of the theme park with Ohio’s first Steve & Barry’s University Sportswear below. Moore’s Fitness World opened on the top level of the old food court. The mall was to feature a mix of off-price and mid-line stores; however, only off-price, value-oriented stores showed up.  This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it wasn’t the realized vision promised by Gator Investments.

Finally, by the end of December 2001, things at Forest Fair were looking up. The mall was going to be renamed to “Forest Fair Fashions”, and it was home to Ohio’s first Bass Pro Shops and its first Steve & Barry’s University Sportswear.

“We’re spending almost $15 million renovating almost all of the storefronts and putting in a grand staircase,” said Michael Dunham, senior vice president of leasing and Gator’s top executive at Forest Fair. “We’re putting in giant billboards below the ceiling with fashion graphics. The entire Kohl’s concourse will have hardwood floors.” (Cincinnati Enquirer)

In addition, the amphitheater was backfilled to allow for some cafés in the space.

Gator also hinted they planned to sign Just for Feet and an ice rink, but that never happened, because Gator Corporation lost interest in the mall after a dispute involving Polaris Fashion Place in Columbus. So, the mall got a new owner again.

Enter The Mills Corporation. The Mills built its fortune constructing huge, sprawling mega-malls in large metropolitan areas across the country. They were always branded the same and named [_____] Mills.  The first part of each Mills’ name was the name of the city, suburb, or state it was built in (Katy Mills, Gurnee Mills, Arizona Mills, St. Louis Mills, Grapevine Mills), or even a significant landmark or cultural/historical name (Franklin Mills in Philadelphia, Potomac Mills in Washington DC, or Opry Mills in Tennessee). One, Discover Mills near Atlanta, was even named after a credit card. These malls would often feature a floorplan that resembled a racetrack (with a few exceptions, Sawgrass Mills in Florida, the largest, was originally supposed to resemble an alligator). They all had big theaters, outlet stores, many anchors, entertainment, and one more thing: they were all one story.

The Mills bought Forest Fair Mall in 2002 and decided to convert it to its Mills prototype, giving it an extensive remodel. This was the first (and last) time Mills bought a mall to totally convert it; soon afterward, Mills began buying larger, big-ticket malls, adding their own unique spin of entertainment and dining. Also, rather than peacefully converting Forest Fair, Mills decided it would completely shut Forest Fair in order to gut it and embark on the remodel. Unfortunately, this required giving all interior tenants the heave-ho, including original 1989 charter tenant Nadler Mens Store.

By February 2003, the entire mall closed, save the anchors. Elder Beerman decided not to stick around either, leaving only bigg’s as the last original tenant. bigg’s, Steve and Barry’s University Sportswear, Bass Pro Shops, Wonderpark, Kohl’s, Burlington Coat Factory, Berean Christian Store, Media Play, Off 5th, Babies R Us, and Guitar Center remained for business as usual.

In July 2004, the inside of the mall reopened with great fanfare, as Cincinnati Mills. It opened at 75% occupancy, 93% occupancy by early 2005. It was probably the mall’s biggest success to date. The top level of the old Elder Beerman also became home to Cincinnati’s own Johnny’s Toys.

As with all of the other times reinvention was attempted, problems soon began to befoul Cincinnati Mills. Mills malls were starting to become known as places where trouble-making teenagers would hang out. So, Cincinnati Mills enacted a dress code and enacted a harsh rule of no groups more than three in the mall.

But, as it turned out, The Mills was a terrible manager as well, and major success did not materialize for long. Johnny’s Toys closed down and Steve & Barry’s took the entire former Elder Beerman, while the old Steve & Barry’s was sold to Urban Behavior. Stores began to trickle out. Media Play was the first casualty in 2005 and was not replaced.

Here’s a Cincinnati Mills mall directory from 2005, courtesy

Meanwhile, The Mills itself had problems on its own and was bought by Simon in April 2007. Simon continued to keep The Mills malls as a separate unit, though Mills’ two other projects (Tewksbury Mills in Massachusetts and Candlestick Mills in San Francisco) were cancelled entirely.

The mall was two-thirds full in 2007, but mall officials believed the future was bright.

As always, they were wrong.

By May 2007, things began going south at Cincinnati Mills, beginning with the loss of bigg’s. The 245,000 square foot bigg’s, the largest tenant in the mall, was losing money. The lease was almost up, and bigg’s was not looking to renew it. In addition, the other Midwest hypermarket, Meijer, had opened way too close for comfort, and bigg’s had previously converted to a smaller “outlet” format.

As 2007 ended, the mall began to spin out of control. Wonderpark closed in March 2008 after the manager was discovered paying his employees (who were minors) to pose for sex videos. bigg’s closed in July, leaving the huge space vacant. Simon began discussing selling the mall.

The disappointing holiday sales of 2008 did not fare well for the mall either. Guitar Center and Urban Behavior high-tailed it out of the mall. Steve & Barry’s, which occupied the former Elder Beerman, went out of business as well. The structure once designed for 150 stores was now 40% vacant, emptier than ever.  Not that it looked bad, either. Due to the 2004 remodel, the condition of the mall was great, except for the total lack of stores and shoppers.

Simon dumped Cincinnati Mills in March of 2009, selling it a realty company called North Star Port Authority.  The “Mills” name was officially dropped, having not transferred with the sale of the mall, and the mall was renamed Cincinnati Mall. The new company had non-demolition redevelopment in mind, though some plans did indicate that the bigg’s end would be demolished. They managed to attract totes ›› ISOTONER Warehouse Clearance to the old Urban Behavior a few months later, only to have Off 5th move out a few months later for (get this) an outlet mall!

Cincinnati Mall, as you may expect, did not turn the mall around. The totes ›› ISOTONER Warehouse Clearance closed, Showcase Theaters was bought by Rave Theaters, but it pulled the plug on it before conversion (it closed in March 2010). The bigg’s wing is now closed entirely.

This topic on UrbanOhio
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Wikipedia article, which I helped contribute to prior to this article
Shopping Mall Museum

Editor’s note:  I visited Cincinnati Mall most recently in November 2010.  I arrived slightly after dark, around 6 or 7 at night.  My first assumption was that the mall was closed.  There were no cars in any of the lots nearest the mall entrances, the only cars I saw were located in front of Bass Pro.  Thinking I’d give it a try, I parked at one of the ghostly, empty mall entrances and walked up to the door.  The lights inside the mall appeared to be off, but I approached the doors anyway.  Surprisingly, the mall was unlocked, and I hesitated for a moment before entering.  Was I supposed to be here?  Is it really open?  The regular lights still appeared to be off, but nighttime lights were on, basking the interior of the mall in an eerie moonglow.

As I entered the doors, I noticed a couple people walking around in the dim corridor that approached Bass Pro, whose entrance was closed off to the mall.  I actually wondered if I was supposed to be in there because it was so dark, but I kept going after seeing others.  After walking down the corridor leading from Bass Pro toward center court, I noticed not one store was open except for Babies R Us, an anchor.  Nearing center court, the crux of the Y, I discovered something that gave me pause.  A Claire’s store was open on the lower level, in the dark.  Yes, in the dark.  Look at the photos, I did no camera tricks here; it was really this dark in there while open.  I had never encountered this before, and it was both creepy and alarming.  After reaching center court, there were some normal, brighter lights on, and a few more people milling around.

I continued past center court, and walked toward Kohl’s.  Darkness again.  The Kohl’s wing was just as dark as the Bass Pro wing, and parts of it were sealed off with rope.  Kohl’s had also closed off one of its entrances to the mall.  Coming back from Kohl’s to center court, I saw another store open in the darkness on the lower level, Payless ShoeSource.  Again, I’ve never seen anything like this before!

After reaching center court again, I haded down the third and last corridor which used to go to bigg’s.  I encountered the ‘Picnic on the River’ Food Court area on the lower level, which surprisingly still had Gold Star Chili in operation, but little else.  Auntie Anne’s and Game Stop were still open on the second level.  The info desk on the second level had been abandoned, and the entire upper level of the mall in this wing was fenced off from the former bigg’s store onward. In addition, throughout the mall, large portions of entire wings were sealed off.  Burlington Coat Factory and the Danbarry Dollar Cinemas were still open in addition to Kohl’s and Babies R Us, but I can’t imagine the interior stores in this mall can sustain much longer.

More recently, In January 2011, Cincinnati Mall has turned up in the news again.  According to the Cincinnati Enquirer and Columbus Business Journal, owners of the mall recently presented suggestions to revitalize the site from its current sorry state.  Some of the suggestions included a Candlewood Suites hotel, an agricultural museum (!?), a hockey arena, other entertainment venues, and an indoor mountain bike park.  At this point, the ideas are not solid plans, because none of the ideas carry financing deals.  Locals are probably cautiously optimistic, at best, because the site has changed hands so many times in the past decade.

At any rate, World Properties, the New York-based firm who has owned the mall since March 2010, hopes to have these non-retail entities in mall within the next 2-3 years.  They probably also hope the four current anchors don’t plan on leaving, so they can get retailers back in the mix as well.  The new owners, on paper at least, seem committed to the site and we hope they aren’t just blowing smoke.  After a string of absentee owners and bad decisions, hopefully an eclectic, creative mix of non-retail entities can achieve the balance needed for success here.  I think owners were wise to realize the site is not marketable as retail-only, and also considered the failure of the previous entertainment district, so adding more options is a worth at try, provided they can get financing for it.  We’ll keep an eye on the progress here, and, as always, feel free to leave your comments and reactions.

Elsewhere on the net:

November 2004:

November 2010:

Irondequoit Mall / Medley Centre / Lake Ridge Centre; Irondequoit (Rochester), New York

We round out our Rochester features with the region’s newest mall, Irondequoit Mall. Opened in 1990, Irondequoit Mall was located in Rochester’s northeast suburb of the same name, Irondequoit, a town of 50,000 residents located immediately northeast of the city. When it opened, Irondequoit Mall had three anchors: Sears, JCPenney, and Pittsburgh-based Kaufmann’s. The Kaufmann’s was originally slated to be Rochester-based department store Sibley’s, but May Company decided to consolidate their nameplates and ousted Sibley’s in favor of regional brand Kaufmann’s. This switch took place during Irondequoit Mall’s construction. (Is this correct? A couple sources say that Sibley’s acutally opened here very briefly.)

We round out our Rochester features with the region’s newest mall, Irondequoit Mall.  Opened in 1990, Irondequoit Mall was located in Rochester’s northeast suburb of the same name, Irondequoit, a town of 50,000 residents located immediately northeast of the city.

When it opened, Irondequoit Mall had three anchors: Sears, JCPenney, and Pittsburgh-based Kaufmann’s.  The Kaufmann’s was originally slated to be Rochester-based department store Sibley’s, but May Company decided to consolidate their nameplates and ousted Sibley’s in favor of regional brand Kaufmann’s.  This switch took place during Irondequoit Mall’s construction. (Is this correct? A couple sources say that Sibley’s acutally opened here very briefly.)

Irondequoit Mall’s design was a modified U shape, with Kaufmann’s as the west anchor, JCPenney in the middle, and Sears on the north end.  The mall was two level, had two main courts, and contained space for 125 stores.  The food court was located on the upper level of the mall, in a court formed by the intersection of 3 hallways.  JCPenney had the best access of any of the anchor stores, having two exits into the mall: one at center court, and one to a hallway leading directly to the food court.  A scanned directory of the mall is located here.

Irondequoit Mall was built by Rochester-based retail developer Wilmorite, the same firm that developed three other malls in the Rochester market: Greece Towne Mall in Greece (1967), Eastview Mall in Victor (1971), and Marketplace Mall in Henrietta (1982).  Irondequoit Mall was built in 1990 to complete a geographic trapezoid of sorts consisting of malls around the perimiter of the Rochester area, with downtown stalwart Midtown Plaza at the apex.

While only 2 miles from downtown Rochester, Irondequoit Mall was built with the intention to draw shoppers from middle and upper-middle suburban areas north and east of the city, like Irondequoit, Webster, East Rochester, Pittsford and Fairport.  Instead, Irondequoit Mall failed and ultimately succumbed to an unintended set of circumstances.  However, its story is interesting and still in progress, and definitely worth sharing.

Irondequoit Mall enjoyed early success in its first years and even embarked on an expansion in 1993, adding Rochester-based McCurdy’s as a fourth anchor.  This store didn’t last very long, however, and was replaced with Bon Ton in 1994.  May Company, which already owned the Kaufmann’s anchor in the mall, purchased the McCurdy’s chain and didn’t want to operate two stores in the same mall, so they divested McCurdy’s to Bon Ton.

The biggest changes for Irondequoit Mall came after 1995, and didn’t even occur there at all.  That year, two other Rochester-area malls expanded dramatically.  Eastview Mall, located 15 miles away in Victor, added two anchors and upscaled to become the Rochester area’s best mall.  Greece Ridge Mall, located 7 miles away in Greece, was a new mall created that year by sewing together 2 smaller adjacent malls, Long Ridge Mall and Greece Towne Center.  Ironically, both of these projects were Wilmorite’s, the same company that built Irondequoit Mall only 5 years earlier.  The competition from these two expansions, combined with a perception of crime and dab of racism, would soon slide Irondequoit Mall into obsolescence.

During the mid-90s, about the same time Eastview expanded and Greece Ridge opened, Rochester’s inner-city mall, Midtown Plaza, began to die.  Shoppers who used to go downtown began to shift their preferences toward suburban malls, and Irondequoit Mall was the closest mall to most of the city of Rochester.  Many residents of the city of Rochester, especially the area closest to Irondequoit Mall, are low income and minority.  In typical ‘white flight’ fashion, the more affluent suburban shoppers Irondequoit Mall so desperately wished to court began to avoid the mall, citing a perception of crime that ironically wasn’t really there.  A whisper campaign about the mall and its shoppers began among the sheltered, white suburbanites in eastern Monroe County, despite the fact that the perception of crime was mostly untrue, blown wildly out of proportion.

With the writing on the wall, Irondequoit Mall quickly began to lose retailers.  After the Eastview expansion was complete, shoppers in Fairport, Pittsford, and East Rochester had no reason to go up to Irondequoit at all.  Eastview was much better, and much closer to them.  In fact, Eastview quickly became super-regional, drawing shoppers from not only its home trade area, but from beyond the region as well.  Other Rochester malls retained shoppers for other reasons.  Greece Ridge held on mostly due to largesse and a unique mix of big box and traditional anchors, and Marketplace Mall’s success hinged on its location near Rochester’s undergraduate population of over 50,000 students.

By 2000, Irondequoit Mall was only 10 years old and already in dire straits.  The beautiful, modern, glassy two-level mall began to lose national chain stores, first at a trickle and then as a flood.

The first anchor to leave the mall was JCPenney in 2003, but by this time the mall’s staggering 20 percent occupancy rate made it already a lost cause.

Rumors even began to surface about a new mall to be constructed in Webster, the next town east of Irondequoit.  This would have certainly been a terrible idea, but I guess the idea was to keep the minority riff-raff from the city of Rochester out of the mix in order to retain wealthy white shoppers.  Not cool, but at least it never happened.

In 2005, Wilmorite finally threw in the towel on their dwindling investment and put Irondequoit Mall up for sale.  Their divestiture of Irondequoit was tantamount to an admission of failure, as their own efforts expanding Eastview and building Greece Ridge were probably the biggest reasons Irondequoit failed, combined with changing shopper demographics and a misinformed perception of crime due to racism.

That same year, Adam Bersin, a Syracuse developer, purchased Irondequoit Mall for just $5 million and a wheelbarrow of tax incentives from the town of Irondequoit, whose coffers had been dry ever since the mall went downhill.  Bersin re-christened the mall with a new name, Medley Centre, and new promises, along with a new logo indicating the mall was “New York’s Shopping Spree”.

One of Bersin’s first changes was to install an anchor to the former JCPenney space, which he did by attracting fast-expanding fly-by-night retailer Steve and Barrys, a warehouse of cut-rate, low-quality clothing, which opened in 2005.

In 2006, Bersin brought a large-scale Halloween event to Medley Centre, which attracted a healthy crowd and filled an entire wing of the mall, but who knows how many of them stayed to shop in the mostly empty mall.  On October 8, 2006, Target opened outside in the mall’s parking lot, but it isn’t clear if Target helped the mall or just ciphoned from it, driving it even more into the ground.  If Target had opened IN the mall where Steve and Barry’s was, using the former JCPenney anchor, it might have helped more.  That fall, another anchor change occurred as Kaufmann’s became Macy’s when Macy’s parent, Federated, purchased Kaufmann’s parent, May, and consolidated all of the regional nameplates under the Macy’s banner.

Despite the small victories in landing Target and Steve and Barry’s, Bersin’s tenure as Medley Centre’s owner wasn’t very successful overall.  Mall directories were woefully out of date, still displaying advertisements that were several years old and listing stores that had long departed; however, some progress occurred in the right direction, as the mall’s upkeep became visible through rebuilt entrances, healthy plants, cosmetic repairs, and general maintenance.  Bersin also expanded the MedleyKids soft play area, so that it encompassed a huge space in the mall’s western court, underneath the food court.

Mall occupancy, however, remained woefully low.  Most of the chain stores left, leaving a weird, eclectic mix of mom-and-pop stores and non-retail entities.  Some of the parcels in the mall were given over to a dog obedience school, an english-as-a-second-language institute, a summer camp, and a town meeting space.  One former store became home to a model train track, and another store was used as a combination travel agency and security guard training school.  So, after you were done riding the HO-scale rails, you could be sure you were extremely safe while planning your trip to Cancun.

Along with the cosmetic updates at Medley Centre, Bersin made a controversial decision regarding the mall’s patrons, issuing a divisive edict regarding who was welcome there.  Signs were posted throughout the mall, especially near the food court area, indicating that cards and chess games were prohibited, which was considered a low blow by many.  I saw the signs when I visited the mall in December 2007, and was puzzled by them, especially considering there wasn’t anybody in the large food court area at all.

Here’s a photo of the rules.  These were posted throughout the mall.

Ever since the mall opened, the food court had been a gathering place for local seniors, who regularly got breakfast and loitered in the mall, using it as a social gathering place to chat and play games.  Bersin’s new rules removed them in order to establish a “family-friendly” atmosphere in the mall.  They asserted the group of seniors, who played games and socialized, actively discouraged others from being there, which I find patently ridiculous.  The new rules created deep-seated resentment from a large customer base, and was probably not the greatest decision.  Who’s to say these seniors didn’t also shop at the mall?  I’m sure many patronized at least Sears and Bon Ton?  Seniors are a strange group to alienate, considering their loyalty and purchasing power, and the grapevine effect probably alienated more people than Bersin expected.  Also, what if some of the food court vendors relied upon this group for breakfast or lunch revenues?

In addition to alienating seniors, mall security also became more vigilant against groups of kids in the mall, banning those who frequently loitered and were seen as a nuisance to regular shoppers.  Mall walkers were still welcome, because they weren’t seen as intrusive to shoppers.  What shoppers?  Many saw these measures as extreme and unnecessary, and questioned whether they would further harm the mall rather than help it.

I agree with policing groups of minors who get out of hand, and this is a big problem at every mall, but ousting seniors from their regular breakfast gathering spot seems brutal and short-sighted.  Seeing a completely empty food court and empty corridors is certainly less inviting than an active mall with people conversing and enjoying each other, even if they aren’t necessarily buying.  To me, an active mall is a continuous feedback loop of success, and welcoming benign groups such as seniors promotes more activity.  Rather than discouraging people from coming, management should have become more creative and proactive in seeking better marketing solutions to reach these people.  At the very least, the presence of people in a mall makes it more welcoming and encourages visiting longer, while an empty mall is creepy and alarming.  Malls should tread lightly on restricting access to benign social gathering, and realize that their role as a social place mostly helps, rather than harms.

Check out these ads in the mall that I photographed in December 2007.  Keep in mind the mall had changed its name in 2005 from Irondequoit Mall to Medley Centre.

In 2007, Medley Centre met even more challenges, with the departure of both anchor Bon Ton and also Adam Bersin as the mall’s owner.  Bersin tacitly gave up on Medley Centre, and sold it to Scott Congel, a former developer from Syracuse’s Pyramid Companies, in March 2007.  Congel paid $4.7 million for the mall, slightly less than the $5.4 million Bersin paid just two years prior.  Pyramid is the Syracuse counterpart to Rochester’s Wilmorite, and has also developed malls throughout the northeast.  Bersin initially remained to manage the property during the transitional phase of changing ownership, but has since left the project completely.

At first, Congel remained tight-lipped about his plans, or lack thereof, for Medley Centre, until rumors surfaced in April 2008 of a deal between the mall and Regal Cinemas.  A Memorandum of Lease was filed with Monroe County on April 22 of that year, citing a lease agreement between the mall and Regal to develop a 66,000 square-foot 16-auditorium theater complex on two levels, using the former Bon Ton space.  The document also leaked Congel’s longer-term plans for the site, indicating a mixed-use project consisting of retail, residential, restaurant, entertainment, office space, and other venues.

Congel’s plans were initially vague, though, and the vaguery led to questions.  Would Congel demolish the mall as part of his master plan?  What was the scope of the project?  How did he expect to succeed with a mixed-use development in a mall that was the newest in town and already failed?  Meanwhile, Steve and Barry’s departed the mall in May 2008, likely a decision made following a March 2008 visit by Steve and Barry themselves, who must have said something like “WTF? Why do we have a store here?”  They promptly moved to a “better” location at a nearby strip mall, West Gates Shopping Center.  Shortly thereafter, though, the entire Steve and Barry’s chain went out of business, so in the end their early departure was moot concerning the mall’s success.

In November 2008, Congel finally released more information regarding his plans to redevelop Medley Centre.  The aforementioned Regal Cinemas would go where the former Bon Ton store was, along with 194,000 square feet of office space, a 421-room, 30-story hotel as the centerpiece of the development (wow!), 330 residential units, and 1.2 million square feet of retail and restaurant space.

In her response to the plan, Irondequoit Town Supervisor Mary Ellen Heyman called it “sketchy”, which we couldn’t have said any better.  Why would 1.2 million square feet of retail and restaurant space succeed here?  The problem this development doesn’t address is that Rochester massively overbuilt its retail options.  The region isn’t in the Sun Belt – it’s not growing that fast, and the problem wasn’t with the structure.  Built in 1990, it’s a bright, glassy, modern looking mall and one of the newest in the state of New York.  Also, I’m not sure a 30-story hotel is needed here either, as most of the area’s hotels are clustered elsewhere, logically clustered near major businesses and the universities.  Residential might work, but I really think that the developer is a little wide-eyed at the possibilites for the site, and should consider down-scaling to a neighborhood center rather than constructing something super-regional, which will ultimately just ciphon from other businesses in the area.  On the taxpayers’ dime, no less.

Nonetheless, in March 2009, Congel received approval for tax abatement from Monroe County, which included the consent of the Town of Irondequoit and the East Irondequoit School District.   After clearing regulatory hurdles, including changing the zoning for the site, Congel kicked the remaining 20 or so tenants out of the mall in January 2009, and sealed the mall.  This left only Macy’s and Sears as the remaining tenants, and they remain open as of December 2010.  The name of the mall was also changed in 2009 to signify its rebirth, from Medley Centre to Lake Ridge Centre.  Apparently third time’s a charm.

With the redevelopment project ready to begin, the only problem became obtaining financing.  Unfortunately, with the economic slowdown of recent, this proved to be extremely difficult, especially as banks are still relatively new to financing mixed-use developments and don’t quite have the process or metrics down to a science like they had for traditional businesses, like enclosed shopping malls.

Meanwhile, in November 2009, the Rochester Broadway Theatre League (RBTL) chose the mall’s redevelopment as a possible site for a new, 3,000 seat Broadway-style theatre.  The new theater would have some on-street parking and a two-level parking garage adjacent to it, and would also include 6,000 square feet of rehearsal or meeting space and a smaller event space for up to 200 guests.  Shortly after being elected, Irondequoit’s Supervisor-Elect Mary Joyce D’Aurizio initially vocalized dissent for the theatre’s location, hoping that it went to downtown Rochester in order to help that area sustain its own renaissance rather than locating it in the suburbs.  However, within a few months she changed her tune, recanted those thoughts and expressed support of it being located in Irondequoit.  Flip flop.

In April 2010, nothing was going on at the site, which at this point was becoming an eyesore, and Congel met with D’Aurizio to chat with her about repositioning some of the tenants in order to reduce remodeling costs, which will in turn make it easier to acquire financing to begin the project.  Congel also had to reapply for demolition and other permits that he already purchased but had lapsed.  Oops, but fair enough.

Then, during Summer 2010, the only major development regarding Lake Ridge Centre was a blow for it: the RBTL theater was awarded to the former Midtown Plaza in downtown Rochester.  This was a boon for that development, though, and for downtown Rochester.

As of December 2010, no work has yet begun on the redevelopment, and the mall sits empty except for Sears and Macy’s, who are still open for business as usual.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the only other recent news is also ominous.  A lawsuit filed in 2009 by the snow removal contract company the mall hired to remove its snow (and Rochester gets a ton of snow) was settled a few days ago for almost $50,000, because the mall refused to pay the company.  Oops again.

Ultimately, this development is a terrible gamble and a lose-lose situation for metro Rochester.  I don’t wish failure on many businesses, and I don’t wish failure on this one, either, but it’s either greediness or short-sightedness, or both, that leads otherwise intelligent government officials to give tax breaks to projects that carry a lot of risk and will add nothing to the region’s economic development.  If Congel fails, and Lake Ridge Center fails, it’ll just be another publicly-financed eyesore on the landscape.

Even if Congel succeeds, and the development is ultimately a success, it will only steal business from elsewhere in the region.  The retail development will cause a dearth at other malls, the hotel will take business from a hotel somewhere else, and the other businesses will steal from businesses elsewhere in town.  Greater Rochester doesn’t need more retail.  There are plenty of underused and dead shopping plazas littered across town, and Midtown Plaza, a large mall downtown, closed in 2008 after over 40 years in business.  Rochester isn’t growing by any significant measure, so any new business is just going to steal from existing development. So what gives?  The only people to benefit from this development are those involved in the development itself, and possibly the Town of Irondequoit if it can improve their tax base and add some jobs there.  From a big-picture regional planning standpoint, it is only going to harm Rochester as a whole.

We visited Medley Centre in December 2007.  Steve and Barry’s was still in business there, and the mall had about 25/125 stores,  feeling very empty.  Some interesting highlights included the fully-intact signage on many dead stores, and the McCurdy’s labelscar that appeared after the Bon Ton sign was removed.  Check it out, and feel free to leave your own comments and experiences.

Antioch Center To Be Torn Down; Kansas City, Missouri

In 1954, more than 30 years after Country Club Plaza opened, construction began on a new style of suburban shopping center. Located on the north side of Kansas City, in an area known as the Northland, Antioch Center was built on a 42-acre vacant section of land that had just recently been annexed into Kansas City in 1950. Just like The Plaza, Antioch Center was built with the automobile in mind. However, the auto-centric developments of the 1950s trended toward building on the edges of cities, where land was cheap and plentiful. Such a large space could have a retail center located in the middle of the property, with a sea of parking lots surrounding it on all sides for convenience, and more developer control over every facet of the project.

Back in 2007, we published a case study of malls in the Kansas City area. In doing so, we discovered one of the most extreme examples of retail overbuilding in the country.  Of the region’s once 15 enclosed malls, only two remain viable as regional or super-regional draws:  Independence Center, located in east-suburban Independence, and Oak Park Mall, located in southwest-suburban Overland Park.  The rest have been marginalized to ancillary status, like Ward Parkway Center in south Kansas City, and many others are either underutilized, on life support, or have closed completely since we posted the case study. One of the malls we profiled, Antioch Center, was still on life support when we originally published our case study, but has since closed and as of late 2010 is pending demolition.

Born in 1956 as an outdoor plaza with almost 500,000 square feet, Antioch Center was the second major shopping center in Kansas City, and was the first major suburban-style center in the region.

But first, an aside and caveat of sorts.  The first shopping center in Kansas City was the storied Country Club Plaza, located 4 miles south of downtown.  Country Club Plaza was an innovator in shopping center design, and although it was not the first shopping center to be constructed outside of a city’s downtown/central business district, it is generally accepted to be the first shopping center to be constructed with the automobile in mind.  Designed to look like a neighborhood in Seville, Spain, The Plaza opened in 1923 to immediate and lasting success.  Over time, the Plaza has upscaled its offerings and is currently the best shopping district in Kansas City.

Country Club Plaza (wikipedia):

However, despite The Plaza’s innovative success, a distinction has to be made between The Plaza and the suburban shopping centers it predated, such as Antioch Center, and all the enclosed malls which came many decades later.  The Plaza is designed as a traditional neighborhood, and its streets are intertwined into Kansas City’s normal grid.  There are no parking lots surrounding the development, and no standalone buildings like a mall would have.  The entirety of The Plaza consists of regular streetfront retail, mostly justified to the sidewalk, causing The Plaza to behave as a distinct neighborhood rather than the more modern shopping centers we’re more familiar with.  If anything, it’s the precursor to many of the modern “lifestyle centers” and fake neighborhood main street things popping up all over today.

In 1954, more than 30 years after Country Club Plaza opened, construction began on a new style of suburban shopping center.  Located on the north side of Kansas City, in an area known as the Northland, Antioch Center was built on a 42-acre vacant section of land that had just recently been annexed into Kansas City in 1950.  Just like The Plaza, Antioch Center was built with the automobile in mind.  However, the auto-centric developments of the 1950s trended toward building on the edges of cities, where land was cheap and plentiful.  Such a large space could have a retail center located in the middle of the property, with a sea of parking lots surrounding it on all sides for convenience, and more developer control over every facet of the project.

Antioch Center opened in 1956 as a 481,600 square-foot open-air center, anchored by a two-level, 102,000 square-foot Macy’s Kansas City on the north end, and was joined by junior anchors Woolworth and W.T. Grant.  According to mall-hall-of-fame, the open-air mall complex was two levels, with a basement level facing the parking lot.

It wasn’t long before the first competition came for Antioch Center.  In 1958, another open-air center, Blue Ridge Mall, opened just east of downtown Kansas City.  Blue Ridge, anchored by JCPenney and Montgomery Ward, was about the same size as Antioch Center and had a similar selection of in-line stores.  Antioch Center was mostly unfettered by this competition, though, because its trade area consisted mostly of the rapidly growing Northland area of Kansas City.  Blue Ridge served the growing eastern section of town, and Country Club Plaza served everybody in a separate league altogether.

A year after Blue Ridge arrived on the scene, in 1959, another outdoor mall debuted in south Kansas City: Ward Parkway Center, anchored by Montgomery Ward.  Ward Parkway was similar to the two outdoor malls before it.

In the 1960s, Antioch Center, Country Club Plaza, Ward Parkway Center and Blue Ridge Mall were the four main shopping centers in Kansas City until local developer Sherman Dreiseszun decided to develop two new enclosed malls in the region.  The first was East Hills Mall, located about 50 miles north of Kansas City in St. Joseph, and the second was Metcalf South, a mall we’ve featured on this site, which opened in Overland Park in 1967.  Metcalf South was the first enclosed mall in Kansas City, balking and changing the trend of the outdoor centers that previously dominated the market.

The 1970s provided much more serious and brutal competition for Antioch Center, as many more regional and super-regional malls were constructed in the region.  In 1971, Indian Springs Center opened in Kansas City, Kansas to serve the western side of the region, and between 1974 and 1976 three regional powerhouse malls opened – Independence Center, Metro North Mall, and Oak Park Mall.

Meanwhile, the 1970s brought change to Antioch Center as well.  In 1973-74, a 185,000 square foot wing was added to the north end of the mall, ending at a 100,000 square-foot Sears anchor.  In response to all the new competition and the swinging trend toward enclosed, climate-controlled malls, both Blue Ridge Mall and Antioch Center were fully enclosed by 1978.

Enclosure brought success and bought time for Antioch Center as it grappled to compete with all of Kansas City’s new enclosed behemoths.  Metro North Mall was Antioch Center’s biggest competitor with 1.3 million square feet of retail space, compared to Antioch’s post-expansion total of 667,000 square feet.  The sum total of the rest of the new malls also ensured that Antioch Center was no longer a regional draw, and only drew from locals in the Northland who couldn’t be bothered to go to Metro North Mall, effectively making Antioch an ancillary to Metro North.

In the 1980s, Antioch Center rode the modicum of post-expansion express train as it settled into its new position as an ancillary, neighborhood mall.  Incidently, the very first Showbiz Pizza opened at Antioch Center in 1980, the same year that yet another behemoth mall, Bannister Mall, was constructed across town.

In 1986, anchor changes at Antioch Center began, with the closure of Macy’s as they left the Kansas City area.  Dillards, a rapidly expanding chain from neighboring Arkansas, quickly snatched up the anchor for a new store.

Any success Antioch Center had came to an end during the 1990s, even despite an exterior renovation of the mall in 1993, and a store expansion by Sears in 1997-98.  Dillards also closed after a short 6-year stint at the mall, but its store was quickly snatched up by Burlington Coat Factory.  Also at some point, Woolworths became Payless Cashways, a home improvement box.  Stores began leaving the mall as shoppers eschewed stopping here in favor of all of the others Kansas City built for them.

For a period, beginning the late 1990s, Antioch Center was marketed as a value-oriented mall, but after the turn of the millenium it was clear that didn’t work, either.  Payless Cashways went out of business in 2001, and the food court became increasingly barren thereafter.  Many stores exited the mall in droves, leaving vacancies in their wake.

The tides had turned into an irreversable downward spiral, and the mall was sold to a group of investors from Toronto in 2002.  They put together plans for a total renovation in 2004, which involved tearing down most of the mall sans Sears and BCF, and replacing it with a lifestyle center of sorts, paid for by tax abatements.  Unfortunately, the project met numerous delays and setbacks, including the economic downturn, causing the investors from Toronto to walk away from the project in 2010, turning it over to M&I Bank.

Meanwhile, the remaining stores in the interior corridor of the mall have closed, and the mall was permanently sealed.  Sears and BCF remain committed to the mall and its renovation, and have stated that they will remain open no matter what.

In September of 2010, a group of local investors who call themselves Antioch Redevelopment Partners bought the mall from the bank and hoped to get the ball rolling again.  They are the same investors who redeveloped the troubled Blue Ridge Mall into a Wal-Mart, and locals are optimistic when leveraging their “success” on that project.  They plan to start razing the mall by January 2011, but also may need more TIF money from the city.  We’ll see what happens.  The title of this article could have remained the same since 2004, yet nothing has happened.

Since the mall no longer exists as such, I went on and stole the mall’s most recent directory as well as its logo, featured above.  I hope nobody cares.

We’ve visited Antioch Mall several times, beginning in the early 2000s, noting the visible downward spiral of the mall.  Take a look at the pictures and leave some comments and let us know what you think.