The Houston, Texas metropolitan area is both massive and diverse. In terms of population, at over 5 million people, it’s in the top 10 in the United States. In spatial extent, the Houston area stretches over 60 miles from Katy in the west to Baytown in the east, and over 100 miles from Conroe in the north to Galveston in the south. Everything’s bigger in Texas, it seems.
In terms of retail destinations, the Houston area has many ancillary or neighborhood malls with varying degrees of success, several successful super-regional malls and one dominant mega-regional, The Galleria, which draws from a local as well as visitor base.
For our purposes, we’ll start at the bottom. Mall of the Mainland is the Houston area’s southernmost mall, located at I-45, TX 1764, and Mall of the Mainland Parkway. It opened in the mid-1990s, functionally replacing the failed Galvez Mall in Galveston which closed in 1996.
Mall of the Mainland’s location plays an important role in its success, or rather lack thereof. It is the southernmost of 4 shopping malls on the 50-mile stretch of I-45 between downtown Houston and Galveston, which lies on the Gulf of Mexico. Mall of the Mainland is the first mall along this route coming from the south, approximately 10 miles north of Galveston and less than 10 miles south of the immensely successful super-regional Baybrook Mall in far southeast Houston. Due to this positioning, the mall really only serves Galveston, Texas City, La Marque, Santa Fe, and the immediate area. Anyone to the north would go to the more popular Baybrook Mall, and it’s also pretty obvious that people from the area around Mall of the Mainland go up to Baybrook and the rest of Houston to shop, because Mall of the Mainland is suffering.
The design of Mall of the Mainland is a basic dumbbell connecting Sears and Dillards with a long corridor in between. Along the corridor are Macy’s, Palais Royal, and a 12-screen movie theatre with a food court near the middle of the mall. Unfortunately, however, the interior of the mall is only about 20 percent occupied and has never enjoyed more than a 75 percent occupancy. JCPenney also operated at the mall but closed in 2006, favoring a location up the road at Baybrook Mall.
The majority of stores in the mall are located near the middle of the corridor by the food court and movie theatres, with a dearth in the radial wings. In fact, many of the stores are boarded up with temporary plaster while they decide what to do next. Rather humorously, some of the plasterboard features advertisements for the mall such as “Where shopping’s a vacation!” and others which caught my eye. Reading like a postcard between two ladies, Nikki and Gloria, who clearly share delusional shopping values, the text emphatically promotes the mall being ‘in the middle of everything’ and having ‘so much to do’ – even promoting mini-concerts and car shows. Hmmm. We’ll have to take their opinions with a grain of salt, judging by the relatively spartan shopping amenities. At the opposite wing of the mall near Dillard’s, fake stores were actually painted onto the plasterboard to give the appearance of actual tenants. Now, this has to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, and for that we love Mall of the Mainland. Of the rather cartoon-like faux stores featured are a bike shop, camera store, and a sailing supply shop. We hope that the fake stores aren’t confusing any shoppers, most notably Nikki and Gloria who seem to think there’s so much to see and do here. We’re guessing they might not get out much.
Jokes aside, the mall was built too big for its britches and cannot fill all its space due to competition from the super-regional Baybrook Mall less than 10 minutes up the road, as well as a lower-income residential base in Texas City and Galveston. The people of Galveston and Texas City alone cannot support this large a mall and those who could prefer to drive a short distance farther to shop at Baybrook and further afield. The pictures featured here were taken in April 2007.