In the suburbs of the Motor City, the mall reigns supreme. So much so, in fact, that the retail hubs in the Detroit area are located completely within the suburban realm. There are no major retail draws in the city of Detroit today, which isn’t surprising because Detroit is largely a vastly depressing urban wasteland. Though urban revival attempts continue, much of the city of Detroit is the most horrific example of rust belt economics and white flight. As factories moved out of the area, taking tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of jobs with them, the city went fallow. Today, large swaths of Detroit remain completely abandoned. Entire city blocks which once had houses and activity have essentially returned to nature as prairie grasses and wilderness has grown up through condemned structures, many of which were arsoned. Poverty is also an issue in Detroit, as over one-quarter of the city is beneath the poverty line.
Despite the condition of the city itself, there is a relatively healthy economy in the Detroit metro area suburbs. In fact, a stark contrast exists as many areas of northern and western Oakland county, along with areas by the St. Clair shores such as the various Grosse Pointes have some of the highest per-capita incomes in the United States.
Livonia, Michigan is a thoroughly blue collar, middle-class suburb directly west of the city of Detroit. With a population of about 100,000, Livonia sprang up from the dust during the post-war building boom. In fact, it ceased growing completely during the 1970s, and has been shrinking ever-so-slightly since as people move farther out to newer and “better” suburbs.
Livonia was home to three enclosed malls until fairly recently. Wonderland Mall, which was enclosed in 1985, closed in 2003 after a protracted period of failure and was finally demolished in 2006 for a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Laurel Park Place, which trends upscale, opened in 1989 in far northwestern Livonia along I-275, and is very successful. Livonia Mall, their third mall, opened in 1964 at 7 Mile Road and Middlebelt. Anchored by Sears, Kresge and Kroger, the mall grew in pieces over the years and decades. A southern wing was added anchored by Detroit-based Crowley’s in 1972. Nine years later in 1981 Mervyn’s arrived with a new northern wing. K-Mart closed Kresge in 1987 with the rest of the Kresge locations, and soon after a Child World/Children’s Palace opened up in the spot which lasted until the early to mid 1990s. In 2000, the Crowley’s chain dissolved and became Crowley’s Value City, which is now just Value City and part of the Columbus, Ohio based chain. In 2006, Mervyns left the north end of the mall as the chain pulled out of Michigan and other regions to focus on their core western and southern markets. Today, only Sears and Value City remain, with a rather ragged roster of in-line tenants.
In terms of decor and design, Livonia Mall is very dark and outdated inside and out. It hasn’t actually been remodeled since it opened, so there are many wooden store facades and ancient signage. A favorite is the Koney Island location near one of the southern entrances, which is clearly a decades-old fixture in the mall and still in operation. Also, the mall features a unique coffee shop-style restaurant right smack dab in the middle of the mall near the northern end. The Child World/Children’s Palace distinctive castle design is also still present at the western end of the mall, which was most recently a paintball facility. Another interesting feature is the way the mall corridor snakes around sears and exits beside it, making the mall significantly larger. Also, several ancient fountains exist within the mall which are great throwbacks to a bygone era of retail aesthetics.
So what’s killied Livonia Mall? Aside from the decor issues and outdatedness, which definitely accounts significantly for the loss of traffic, the mall’s roster and offerings cannot compete with the newer mall across town at Laurel Park Place. In addition, other nearby west suburban malls like Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn and Westland Center in Westland have updated and modernized continuously despite being decades old. Shoppers continue to flock there, and the competition from all of these, as well as super-regional draws in Troy and Novi are sucking traffic away in droves. Livonia Mall might sustain itself and avoid the sinking-ship phenomenon, but only if it repositions itself as a successful ancillary to the larger malls.
In 2006, plans were announced to disenclose the outdated mall and build the ever-popular Lifestyle Center in its place, but they ultimately fell through because negotiations failed with the Sears anchor, which owns its space separate from the mall.
As of May 2007, the mall is still in operation. Many of the in-line stores are increasingly local stores and services, rather than traditional national tenants. Livonia Mall is currently ailing, and our prediction is that the mall will go downhill significantly fast in the near future if rehab isn’t done. We’ll put this one on death watch for now, but at least we can enjoy the pictures.
UPDATE 5/27/08: It’s over; Livonia Mall is closing permanently on 5/31/08. According to one report, most of the mall will be demolished during Summer 2008, aside from Jo-Ann Fabrics and Sears. What’s to come is anyone’s guess, but we’ll keep you posted.
Livonia Mall in April 2001:
Livonia Mall in July 2006: