Westgate Mall; Madison, Wisconsin

Westgate Mall exterior in Madison, WI 

Located on the bustling west side of beautiful Madison, Wisconsin, Westgate Mall is a small enclosed retail center totalling just over 250,000 square feet in size.  It is located along Whitney Way between Odana Road and Tokay Blvd, near the West Beltline Highway.  Westgate is flanked by anchor stores TJ Maxx, Hancock Fabrics, and Dunhams Sports.  The mall also has a DMV Service Center, Cosmetology School, Art Cinema, several apparel stores, other retail outlets and two fast food establishments.  In addition, the mall contains a great deal of office space for tenants such as healthcare software author Epic Systems (partially in an old Sergio’s Mexican restaurant, no less; see pictures below).  Adjacent to the mall are several large office buildings including the University of Wisconsin Research Park, where stem cell research and biotechnology occur.  Across from Westgate Mall are several other large shopping centers, including a Copp’s grocery store, Marshall’s and several sit-down restaurants.

Westgate is owned by Denver-based real estate investment and management group J. Herzog.  They acquired the property in 1990 and were responsible for the center’s major renovation during the mid to late 1990s. 

The city of Madison is the second largest as well as capital city of Wisconsin with a population of about 220,000 and a metro population of about 500,000.  It is frequently ranked as one of the best places to live in America and boasts one of the better (and larger) state universities in the country, UW-Madison.  Madison currently has four enclosed malls: West Towne Mall, Westgate, and Hilldale mall on the city’s economically bustling west side, and East Towne Mall for the east side.  There was a substantial enclosed mall on the southeast side called South Towne, but it was disenclosed and turned into a strip center in 2000 and currently remains mostly occupied.  Also, there is a lifestyle center in northwest suburban Middleton called Greenway Station, with many upscale shops and restaurants. 

Westgate is our textbook definition of an ancillary enclosed mall.  An ancillary mall is one that lies in the shadow of a larger, often very successful dominant center.  Westgate is about one mile from the Madison area’s most dominant center, West Towne Mall, which was recently renovated and expanded to include Dick’s Sporting Goods, H&M, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and soon J Crew.  Westgate’s success lies in being distinctly ancillary to the retail dominance of West Towne, with off-price and specialty retailers, services, and even a hybrid of office space.

Westgate Mall exterior in Madison, WI

The current decor of the enclosed portion of Westgate Mall is currently rather modern, as it was last renovated in the mid to late 1990s.  The color scheme is predominantly white: white ceiling panels, white walls, and a tiled floor with alternating white and gray tiles.  Westgate’s floorplan is mostly shaped like an L, with a small circular court looping around to the back of the mall near the crux.  Also notable is the fact that a strip mall of stores extends on both sides of the enclosed L-shaped mall, elongating it, with exterior entrances only on those portions. 

I’m not exactly sure when Westgate opened, but I first visited with family in the early to mid 1990s and it had a markedly different and older decor.  There was a lot of wood paneling, darker tile and overall color scheme, and even a B Dalton Bookstore location.

Despite Westgate Mall’s recent success as an ancillary to the West Towne behemoth one mile down the road, there have been a few vacancy issues as of recent.  Radio Shack and several other in-line stores, particularly in the TJ Maxx wing, are vacant, and there’s even a Hit or Miss labelscar.  Also, the back loop of the mall which contains the DMV Express, Cosmetology College, Theatre, and offices, has experienced a loss of the Cost Cutters location recently. 

Hopefully these closures aren’t indicative of a trend and Westgate can continue to retenant the vacancies and further establish itself as an off-price, specialty, service alternative. 

The pictures below were taken August 2006.  If you know anything more about Westgate Mall’s history, stores, or have an anecdote or just a comment to share, feel free to post.

UPDATE 12/12/2008:  After years of sliding downhill, a developer wants to breathe new life into Westgate Mall, bringing Iowa grocer Hy-Vee to the south end of the mall.  The proposal indicates a teardown of the existing portion of the mall south of TJMaxx, which mostly consists of stores facing outward to the parking lot in strip-mall style fashion.  It doesn’t look like, as of yet, that the majority of the enclosed portion of the mall would be affected.  However, we think a great idea would be to relocate Dunham’s sporting goods and the other businesses on the south end of the mall to the enclosed portion which has lost several tenants recently, including Epic Systems, the theatre, and the cosmetology school.

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Park Plaza Mall (City Center); Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Park Plaza Mall pylon in Oshkosh, WI

When I was a freshman in college I used to talk to people about their hometowns and through them I learned some interesting things.  One of them was the existence of an enclosed shopping mall in downtown Oshkosh, Wisconsin (population 63,000).  I had always wondered why a city of Oshkosh’s size never seemed to have a mall.  I always assumed that competition in Appleton and Fond du Lac killed a potential mall before it became a possibility.  I was wrong.  Park Plaza Mall opened in the 1970s and was the beginning of a trend of downtown renewal projects across the country, as suburbs began to sprawl up all over with their Big Box stores, huge enclosed malls, and rampant retail strips. 

People realized even then this was sapping downtowns at the expense of suburban development, and in some cases the downtowns were failing completely.  Rather than being faced with unchecked decay and blight, developers sought to resurge the languishing downtowns with destination venues, places that were more unique and offered a reason for people to escape the suburbs and come back downtown.  They realized the traditional downtown with rows of stores and services along a series of main streets was no longer a draw because people were doing this type of shopping in the suburbs where they lived, so they thought long and hard.  Someone came up with the idea of taking what was such a big hit in the suburbs and putting it downtown: enclosed shopping malls.  Thus began the trend of enclosed, traditional malls being erected in downtowns across the country.  Some of them have worked, but most have not.  The logistics of getting downtown, parking, and most notably competition have taken a toll on these centers and made many fail, even after initial success.  Downtown malls in places like Green Bay, Milwaukee, Appleton, Columbus, OH, and Worcester, MA have all failed or languished severely, citing these concerns.

Park Plaza Mall enjoyed a period of success in the 1970s and into the 1980s, and was anchored by Sears, JCPenney, and H.C. Prange Co., a Sheboygan-based department store chain that went bankrupt and was purchased by the Younkers chain in 1992.  The center was over 800,000 square feet in size, including anchors and office space, and included an U-shaped hallway with an impressive multi-level atrium with hanging modern art scupltures, common areas, and large amounts of office space above the mall.  The mall had many of the national chain stores and was a regional draw, bringing in shoppers from Appleton and Neenah-Menasha in the north to Fond du Lac and the surrounding areas to the south.  Appleton already had a downtown mall of its own and two very small, aged enclosed centers on the north and south sides of town, respectively, but they were not as large or as regional a draw as Park Plaza. 

In 1984, Park Plaza Mall experienced its worst blow as the gigantic Fox River Mall opened in Grand Chute (Appleton) along U.S. 41.  Just 15 minutes north of Oshkosh, Fox River Mall immediately became a shopping destination for the entirety of the Fox River Valley region and all of northeast Wisconsin.  Even today, people regularly make weekend shopping trips from several hours away in the Upper Peninsula region of Michigan to Appleton.  Also, U.S. 41 in the entire Fox Valley from Fond du Lac up to Green Bay became the central location for retailers along the corridor, sucking stores out of downtowns in all cities along it.  Fond du Lac’s Forest Mall was a quick 15-20 minute drive down U.S. 41 from Oshkosh, and also sapped shoppers from Park Plaza.  Prime Outlets opened a massive outlet mall on the southwest side of Oshkosh adjacent to U.S. 41, and strip malls and big box stores began sprouting up along U.S. 41 and Koeller Street in Oshkosh.  People once again began to ignore downtown Oshkosh, despite there being a mall there, for competition in Appleton, Fond du Lac, and along Oshkosh’s new main street, U.S. 41. 

In the early 1990s the bottom fell out at Park Plaza and the stores began to leave in droves.  Sears left in 1993, and returned in 2006 as Sears Grand along the U.S. 41 corridor. Prange’s became Younkers with the buyout of the chain in 1992, but also left soon after.  In perhaps the most telling move of local retailing trends in the 1990s, JCPenney closed their Park Plaza store for a standalone location along U.S. 41 near the outlet mall.  It remains there today.  During the mid-1990s developers realized the mall was transitioning away from a retail destination and allowed it by encouraging specialty stores and services to move into the mall such as a local book store and a kids’ art studio.  More offices moved into the mall and the Park Plaza Hotel continued to be successful operations. 

In July 2000 I visted what was left of the mall on an acquaintance’s tip, and I was impressed.  Even though none of the anchor stores were left and most of the stores were either vacant or converted to office space, it was very apparent it was once a large mall.  Several of the corridors were left mostly untouched as public walkways and retained many labelscars which you can see in the pictures below.  In 2001 the mall was renamed City Center as yet another attempt to revitalize the former mall and Oshkosh’s downtown was underway, though there is no current focus on the center’s retail viability.  More office-type businesses have been wooed to the center since, and there have been talks of renovating and removing most of the mall’s former in-line space for more offices or other non-retail use.  Some of this may have already happened.  Let us know more about Park Plaza Mall!  Leave your personal anecdotes, historical facts, or other comments here. 

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Heritage Village Shops (formerly Beaver Dam Mall); Beaver Dam, Wisconsin


Beaver Dam Mall is a one-story, small enclosed shopping center located at the interchange of Hwy 151 and Business 151 North in Beaver Dam, WI (population: 15,000). Beaver Dam Mall opened in 1980, anchored by Woolco, Minnesota-based Herberger’s, and JCPenney.  It was presumably built as part of the growing national trend for any decent sized city in America to have a shopping mall.  The Hwy 151 bypass around Beaver Dam was slated for completion and the mall would be located on it, spurring a commercial strip along Business 151 leading north from downtown.

In 1983, the entire Woolco chain folded and that anchor closed.  Not long after it was replaced with Wal-Mart.  During the 1990s, Herberger’s was eventually acquired by the same company that operates Boston Store and Younkers.  By the mid-2000s all the stores owned by this company (Boston Store, Carson Pirie Scott, Younkers, Herbergers, Bergners) would brand exactly the same.  In August of 2004, Wal-Mart opened a brand new Supercenter across Highway 151 from the mall and closed their smaller mall store; the mall parcel remains empty today.  In January of 2005, JCPenney decided to throw an axe chop into the efforts to kill the mall and made their swift departure as well.  In the past few years the number of vacancies within the mall have also increased despite the fact that as recently as 2000, there were several ubiquitous mall chains such as Bath and Body Works still operating.  Sadly, I would definitely classify this mall in its current state as almost beyond repair.

The floor plan of Beaver Dam Mall is shaped like a carat(^), with Herberger’s in the middle and JCPenney and Wal-Mart abutting the ends (before they closed).  There are entrances on all sides, but the main entrance is in the middle in front of Herberger’s.  The decor of the mall appears original (ca. 1980) with no large-scale renovations; however, planters and mall seating areas have been more recently updated.  Some stores in the mall, such as Regis Hairstylists, were shockingly still using their early 1980s-era stained wooden storefront and logo.  This Regis was in operation in April 2004.  It has closed since.  Also, the Aurora Pharmacy looked like it was once an Osco Drug, but I’m not certain.

Beaver Dam Mall sign in Beaver Dam, WI

Why is Beaver Dam Mall faltering?  I would cite mismanagement along with the national trend away from enclosed malls and toward strip malls with outside-only access.  We already know about that trend, so let’s focus on what’s happening in Beaver Dam specifically.  For one, Beaver Dam was never really large enough to support this type of mall, which is much more typical of a city twice Beaver Dam’s size.  Also, Beaver Dam is about a half hour of the 1 million square foot, recently renovated East Towne Mall and every big box store under the sun in Madison.  Forest Mall and many stores in Fond du Lac are about the same distance.  Beaver Dam Mall could have also attempted to make Kohl’s fill space in the mall vacated by Wal Mart, which left about the same time Kohl’s opened across the street from the mall.  To that tune, they could have also wooed the stores opening in both strip malls attached to the new Wal-Mart and Kohl’s, respectively, to the mall.  

What’s next for Beaver Dam Mall?  In 2006, a Slumberland furniture will open in the former JCPenney space.  However, there are still a very large number of vacancies in the mall as well as the dead Wal-Mart anchor.  It’s obvious that they haven’t scrapped the idea of the mall entirely, allowing an anchor to add onto it, but why did they allow this to happen in the first place?  The law of diminishing returns definitely applies to these types of situations, so does reinvesting in the mall by adding Slumberland as an anchor make any sense?  Is really going to bring the type of traffic to the mall that the few stores that are open need to survive?  The mall still has Herberger’s as its saving grace, but for how long? Only time will tell.  Any updates and additions to the information I’ve posted would be greatly appreciated. 

Photos: April, 2004.  Full list of tenants, April 2004: Wal-Mart, Herberger’s, JCPenney, Aurora Pharmacy, Flamingo Bay, Sterling Optical, Floral Expressions, Regis Hairstylists, Freier’s Fine Jewelry, Wonder Nails, Alexandra Jewelers, Claire’s Boutique, GNC, Emerson’s Hallmark, China Palace, Carlson’s Travel, CR Communications, and many empty spaces.  Tenant list, early 2006: Herbergers, Flamingo Bay, China Palace, Wonder Nails, Floral Expressions, Sterling Optical and Evenson’s Hallmark.

UPDATE 5/29/2008: A few interesting, significant changes have been afoot at the former Beaver Dam Mall since we first posted almost two years ago.  First, the mall has been renamed to Heritage Village Shops and Professional Center.  And, as one of our commenters posted last fall, ownership has changed hands.  The new local ownership, consisting of Dick and Todd Hedberg, Dave Fister and Jeff Kitchen, has begun to woo retailers back to the center.  In addition, the mall has a website for the first time.  The new website for Heritage Village Shops indicates future plans for bringing in a mix of local and national retail chains, dining and recreation destinations, and office-y businesses.  The website also focuses on an area in the mall where comfy chairs and furniture are available for relaxing, the mall walking program, the farmers market, floral shop, the Chinese buffet, and the fact that the mall is climate controlled – a selling point often overlooked for enclosed retail centers in extreme climates. 

We think this is an excellent path for the mall and really the only way it could be reconstituted as viable without major renovations.  Such a small mall in an equally small market can only survive with local ownership who are willing to monitor the mall and be there regularly to work on its progress.  It was said that the former owner, who lived about 5 hours away in Minnesota, did not care about the mall and did little when it lost all its stores over the past several years.  This new ownership, new name and new logo should inject a reinvigoration for the mall, and become an effective metaphor for the new owners and their readiness to fix things up.

Hopefully we will see Heritage Village prosper in time, or at least hold its own by providing an adequate tenant mix to keep people coming inside.  But first, they need to get the ball rolling, because as of right now there are only a small handful of businesses operating inside, including anchors Herberger’s and Slumberland Furniture, which replaced the former JCPenney.  Once one or two tenants are in, others may trickle in as well, like a retail domino effect, and hopefully people in the area won’t need to drive to Madison or Fond du Lac as much for their shopping.

One question I have for someone who has been to the mall recently:  Does the Slumberland have access into the mall or just an exterior entrance?  Is it even open?  The mall’s website has a pdf which shows Slumberland, but the tenant roster does not indicate it at all.  Hmmm.

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