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:






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.



Northwest Plaza; St. Ann, Missouri


Located in the solidly middle class north county suburbs of St. Louis, Northwest Plaza has had a very rich and interesting history.  Its ups and downs can be tied to popular trends in retailing, from open air center to enclosed mall; and now, with an uncertain future and new owners, Northwest Plaza is failing again.  But why is this?  We can point to competition and demographics for some clues as to what happened to Northwest Plaza, the largest mall in the St. Louis metropolitan area. 

Northwest Plaza opened in 1963 as an open-air shopping center very close to the airport, along the busy Lindbergh Blvd. (US 67) and also very close to the intersection of I-70 and I-270.  It immediately became the largest shopping center in the St. Louis area, and was also the first to feature four anchors: Stix Baer & Fuller, JCPenney, Famous Barr, and Sears.  Boyd’s, Walgreens, and Woolworth were junior anchors which also opened with the center, and there is also a 12-story office tower at the south end of the mall.  Northwest Plaza soldiered on for two decades as an open-air center, but eventually fell victim to competition.  By the mid-1980s, while Northwest Plaza was a twenty-year-old open air mall, other more popular enclosed malls sprung up in the area stealing its thunder.  In 1976, a large two-story mall opened in west-suburban Chesterfield.  In 1984, the massively popular and upscale St. Louis Galleria opened in centrally located Richmond Heights.  And in 1987, a large shiny new center opened along I-70 about 10 miles past Northwest Plaza in St. Peters

Northwest Plaza Office Tower in St. Ann, MOIn response to this area competition, Northwest Plaza was sold in 1984 to Paramount Group, who enclosed and expanded the mall in 1989.  This expansion added about 200,000 square feet of in-line retail space, as well as a new food court with a new cinema stacked on top of it and a family entertainment center beneath it.  The total square footage in Northwest Plaza after the enclosure and expansion was 1.8 million square feet, with 1.2 million square feet in anchor space and 600,000 feet in smaller stores.  Kids R Us was added soon after the enclosure, and the large two-level Woolworths closed and was replaced by Phar-Mor and smaller in-line store space.  Oshman’s SuperSports USA moved into the former Boyd’s location, but by the mid-1990s both Oshman’s and Phar-Mor had closed and the mall was experiencing more vacancies than ever before.  Apparently the 1989 enclosure and expansion had not stood up to the test of competition from other more dominant centers, which surround Northwest Plaza.

In 1997 Westfield America purchased Northwest Plaza, adding it to its growing portfolio of malls across the nation.  Westfield breathed life into the ailing mall, and under its tenure several national retailers opened in Northwest Plaza, such as Bath and Body Works, American Eagle, Disney Store, and even the Gap which had closed a couple years earlier citing poor sales.  Westfield apparently looked into the future and employed tactics widely used today with failing retail relics, breathing life into them by diversifying retail tenants and changing some retail to mixed uses.  Westfield touted that the mall’s “layers of convenience” pleased a wide range of shoppers, from the upper class female who shops for designer labels at the department stores to budget-oriented families looking for bargains at Family Dollar.  Office Max even opened in the mall, which was one of the first Office Max stores in an enclosed mall.  In addition, services such as a Post Office, dry cleaners, and medical offices were available at the mall and its adjoining 12-story office tower.  Northwest Plaza enjoyed a great deal of success, bringing occupancy up to a maximum of 96 percent during the late 90s and through the turn of the century.

Northwest Plaza Macy's court in St. Ann, MOHowever, Northwest Plaza’s fortunes changed dramatically for the worse beginning around 2002, when everything began to slowly unravel.  The slowdown of the economy, ever-increasing competition, and some failed renovation efforts have sent the mall into a downward spiral, and today it is a hulking shell of its former self with an alarming vacancy rate.  Despite Westfield’s efforts which sustained and even raised the mall’s clout in the late 1990s, stores began leaving en masse.  Several planned renovations failed, including one which was to feature St. Louis’ first Ikea store and certainly would have saved the mall.  JCPenney announced they were closing in 2002, vacating 200,000 square feet of space.  Also in 2002, West County Center was rebuilt as an upscale enclosed mall just 10 minutes to the south along I-270.  Then, in 2003, both Office Max and Burlington Coat Factory closed, the latter jumping ship for the massive St. Louis Mills mall which is about 10 minutes away in Bridgeton and opened the same year.  In 2004, the vacancy rate was just over 20 percent, and in 2005 the movie theatre above the food court closed.  The lone reprieve to the mall’s spiral of death has been the appearance of Steve & Barry’s University Sportswear, which has moved into vacant retail spaces in enclosed malls across the country.  It replaced the vacant JCPenney in 2004, and at the time was the largest store in the chain.

Today, Northwest Plaza is alarmingly vacant.  The Gap, American Eagle, Bath and Body Works, and many other in-line stores have jumped ship very recently.  Several corridors are completely without stores.  The food court, which in 2002 was nearly full, has only three outlets.  Westfield realized the mall was a sinking ship and unloaded it in 2006 to Somera Capital Management with General Growth acting as manager.  Famous Barr also became Macy’s in 2006.  Interestingly, because Westfield owns its own rather generic signage, once the mall was sold all the signage on the outside and inside had to be changed immediately.  A sign currently sits at the food court entrance apologizing for how terrible the mall is, and gives a rather vague promise to do something about that.  We’ll see.

Northwest Plaza directory in St. Ann, MOI first visited Northwest Plaza on a family vacation in 1993, which was not long after its enclosure and expansion.  The mall did seem new to me, and amazingly impressive.  Caldor and I visited the mall together in 1999, and I’ve been back several times since.  The decor and layout of Northwest Plaza is five-star amazing, with three separate, gigantic center court areas with VERY tall ceilings and mall corridors zig-zagging between them, and also long side-hallways with many more stores.  The office tower and south end of the mall also has several stores such as Family Dollar that appear to be mostly predicated on outside access, and the food court featured a sunken entertainment area featuring a Tilt! Family Entertainment Center, which has also since closed.  The food court also had large windows which faced out on this sunken area, and several sit-down restaurants also lined the sunken area with outside seating.  These have all closed, save for a St. Louis Bread Company which should look familiar to most of you since it is really just Panera Bread in disguise.  Finally, here’s what it looks like from space

It seems Northwest Plaza has fallen victim to other modern successful malls with staying power like Mid Rivers Mall, Chesterfield Mall and St. Louis Galleria, and also extensively renovated malls like West County Center.  In addition, the solidly blue collar demographics of the immediate area have not helped it position itself with upscale stores, as the upscale areas around the mall probably shop at West County, the Galleria, or even Plaza Frontenac which is not far away.  Those in St. Charles and St. Charles County, which is just a few minutes from Northwest Plaza, definitely shop at Mid Rivers and the massive strip of boxes around it, and ignore this older area around the airport.  Despite the 1989 enclosure and expansion, and being the largest mall in Missouri, Northwest Plaza will have to reposition itself even further in the future to remain viable at all.

Here are some pictures from January 2002 when the mall was at the end of its period of Westfield success:

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Pictures from June 2007 with many vacancies and new exterior signage:

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Blue Ridge Mall; Kansas City, Missouri

Blue Ridge Mall Jones Store exterior in Kansas City, MO

Opened in 1958 at the corner of U.S. 40 and I-70 in east Kansas City, Blue Ridge Mall was a major shopping center anchored by The Jones Store, JCPenney, and Montgomery Ward.  Once the fourth largest mall in the Kansas City area, Blue Ridge Mall slid into a quick decline and today is nothing more than a Wal-Mart Supercenter with a few outparcels.  The story is interesting and even somewhat controversial, so read on.  

The mall was enclosed in the 1970s following a national trend to enclose large, existing open-air centers in North America, and it also expanded as JCPenney moved into a new location.  The newly enclosed mall was well received, despite competition from both nearby Independence Center in the mid-1970s and Bannister Mall, which opened in 1980.  Success at Blue Ridge Mall during the 1970s and 1980s was at least partly due to its highly visible location with impressive frontage on I-70.

However, the fate of Blue Ridge changed dramatically during the 1990s.  The changing demographics of the area surrounding the mall combined with a general trend favoring only large, super-regional centers left Blue Ridge with more vacancies than ever before.  One of the worst blows occurred in 1997 with the closure of the largely popular Woolworth’s store as that chain folded.  According to a submittal, by 1999 the mall had lost many stores; however, all three anchor stores remained open by 2000.

Although Blue Ridge Mall declined dramatically during the 1990s, the first few years of the new millenium proved to seal its fate.  In late 2000, Montgomery Ward closed up shop around the same time the entire chain closed.  Then, in 2001, JCPenney closed, prompting mall management to think about massive renovations to save the troubled center.  MBS Mall Investor-98 LLC, who owned the mall since 1998, contracted plans for the renovation.  It was to feature a hybridized enclosed-outdoor combination, retaining most of the old enclosed space but complementing it with new exterior frontage facing I-70, where 216,000 cars pass daily.  During the planning process, they also added non-traditional tenants to the mall, including a 97-table dinner theatre and a 91,000 square-foot antique mall.  That’s a lot of antiques.  In addition, they eagerly announced a national sporting goods and outdoor-supply chain were both interested in space at the renovated Blue Ridge Mall.

Blue Ridge Mall JCPenney in Kansas City, MO

Sadly (and rather mysteriously), the ambitious renovation plans disappeared completely after being announced in 2001, which is very similar to what happened at nearby Bannister Mall.  This caused many more stores to become frustrated and leave.  Finally, The Jones Store called it quits in 2003, leaving Blue Ridge Mall anchorless.  Like a car without wheels, the future of Blue Ridge by this point was rather grim, with only Applebee’s and a few stores hanging on. 

The following year, in 2004, Blue Ridge Mall’s owners got in bed with Wal-Mart and announced they were going to demolish the entire mall and build a shiny new Wal-Mart Supercenter, while developing some of the outparcels and the whole shebang.  But they would only do this once they secured a TIF from Kansas City to redevelop the blighted property.  Hmm.  And so it goes, I guess.

And so it went.  In February 2005, they got their TIF and demolition began in Fall 2005.  By early 2006, the former mall was a pile of rubble (with a huge rat problem), and the new Wal-Mart was up and running in January 2007.  At least it’s a “green” Wal-Mart, meaning the urinals don’t waste water and the store uses renewable energy, creates less waste and sells products that sustain our resources and environment.  That makes me feel better about the tons of diesel fuel they use every day, among other things…

At any rate, the mall is gone now, but lucky for y’all we’ve preserved it here on the interweb for future posterity.  The pictures were taken in April 2001.  Check out the decor, including the awesome vintage Jones Store scripted logo.  The middle of the mall was renovated at some point, probably during the late 80s or early 90s, but the outside of the mall was as old as ever.  Also, check out Rod Shelley’s cool demolition pictures.  As always, feel free to add your own opinions and if possible, more information about the mall itself. 

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Bannister Mall; Kansas City, Missouri

Bannister Mall in Kansas City, MO

The fountains here are still running, but for how much longer? 

UPDATE 5/31/07:  The mall has closed permanently.

Our first post from Kansas City focuses on a one-million square-foot behemoth of broken dreams.  Opened in 1980, the two-level Bannister Mall is located at the interchange between I-435 and Bannister Road in southeast Kansas City.  Once a poster mall for success and the center of retailing for the whole area, Bannister quickly slid into trouble and today is on life support.  While many respectable retailers remain, the majority of them are local and some are transient.  Most importantly, the last anchor at Bannister left the beleagured center in March 2006.  As we attempt to interrogate why this occurred, we can start with understanding the history of the mall.

The decor and layout of Bannister Mall feature a virtually unchanged design from the mall’s opening in 1980.  There are many wooden adornments such as the railings, and the floor and fountains sport brownish-red tiles.  There are also numerous trees and planters throughout the mall, flanked with wood trim.  Also unique to Bannister are several modern art-like sculptures at the two “center court” areas throughout the long, two-level corridor connecting the former Sears on the south end to the former Jones Store on the north.  Speaking of the Jones Store, Bannister’s location featured an old cursive logo with a wooden store facade which is still visible in labelscar form.  Finally, there is a large, mostly vacant food court on the upper level near the Jones Store on the west side.  Check out the pictures for more decor detail. 

Bannister Mall fountain in Kansas City, MOWhen Bannister Mall debuted in 1980, the Kansas City Star featured several full-page advertisements inviting would-be patrons to join in the opening festivities.  Bannister was the first KC Metro mall which had four anchors: Jones Store, Macy’s, Sears, and JCPenney.  In 1986, Macy’s became Dillards as Macy’s left the Kansas City market, but it affected the mall little.  Bannister soldiered on successful through the balance of the 1980s, but the 1990s brought a long, arduous decline.  According to an article on, some in-line stores at Bannister during its success included: Petland, KB Toys, Musicland, Pretzel Time, Saturday Matinee, Kinder Photo, Tiny Treasures (a store for little girls), Things Remembered, Mr. Bulky’s (candy), Lady Foot Locker, Foot Locker, two Claires locations, several Jewelry stores, Kids Foot Locker, Waldenbooks and B Dalton.  

Although Bannister’s decline began in the early 1990s, it didn’t reach severity until later in the decade, culminating in the departure of many in-line retailers and finally JCPenney during the Summer of 2000.  As early as February 1998 there were as many as 15 empty storefronts at Bannister Mall.  Then, the movie theatres closed because of too many fights.  In addition, more crimes were reported including petty larceny, grand theft auto, and even armed robbery.  In 2001, TIAA-CREF eked out a deal for redevelopment between Bass Pro Shops and Bannister Mall which would place one of the outlet’s glorified bait shops within the declining mall.  Hopes of resurrection envigorated the outlook of Bannister, but by the end of 2004 the deal collapsed and the store relocated to Independence.  Also, in 2002, Dillards closed, leaving Bannister with only two anchors: Sears and Jones Store.

Following the Bass Pro debacle, in 2003 exasperated owner TIAA-CREF sold Bannister Mall to a Texas businessman by the name of Stanley Spigel.  Around the same time, local government officials developed a plan to locate a massive mass-transit center near the mall.  The same year, Spigel bought both the vacant Dillards and JCPenney stores, and promised to donate the vacant JCPenney space to a non-profit organization and even to give it windows.  There was hope for Bannister yet, even if it became a hybridized retail/office conglomeration.  However, as with most attempts at salvaging a dying mall by adding non-retail components, this plan has failed or at least has yet to come to fruition.  In early 2005, the Jones Store closed and in March 2006 Sears finally closed, leaving Bannister Mall anchorless, essentially a car without wheels. 

Bannister Mall food court in Kansas City, MOToday, Bannister Mall is a forgotten jewel in a depressed landscape.  In 2006, around 3000 jobs left the Bannister area as the federal government relocated them elsewhere in Kansas City.  Many strip malls around Bannister are troubled as well, and in August 2006 Wal-Mart Supercenter closed its location near Bannister Mall to relocate at the former site of Blue Ridge Mall, several miles north.  The decline of this once-prosperous retail neighborhood is extensive, as people continue to shop in Lee’s Summit, Independence, or in Kansas and ignore the Bannister area. 

Despite these problems, there are still several dozen in-line merchants still operating inside Bannister Mall.  With some exceptions, most of the stores inside Bannister today are local and transient, and many keep nonstandard hours.  There is also a flea market operating in the former Dillards/Macys location; the stores in the mall would certainly fare better if an actual anchor existded.  In addition, Bannister Mall has been renamed according to one article in the Kansas City Business Journal – to Three Trails Village, signifying the three wagon trails which converged here during pioneer days, including the famed Oregon Trail.

What do you think will become of Bannister Mall?  Will it remain fallow until it eventually closes for good with no redevelopment initiative, or will something save it?  Leave your experiences and general comments here.  The pictures here were taken in 2001 and 2006.   


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Case Study: Kansas City Metro

Map of Kansas City Metropolitan Area.  Click on map to enlarge.

Situated smack dab in the middle of the good ol’ U.S. of A., Kansas City is a rich tapestry of Americana and the result of many different historical and regional influences.  What originally began literally as a cowtown predicated upon the spread of agriculture and the railroad became a center for housing livestock and manufacturing amid a boom of industrialization.  As such, postwar growth allowed Kansas City to grow exponentially, virtually unchecked, with sprawl as far as the eye can see.  Today, the Kansas City area is home to over two million residents.

Much of this sprawl which occurred during the latter half of the 20th century included suburban retail growth.  While Kansas City, in many ways, pioneered the suburban lifestyle center with the 1920s opening and continued success of Country Club Plaza, explosive retail growth and enclosed malls in the suburbs also flourished for a time.  But eventually, problems arose around the turn of the millenium.

Kansas City, Missouri Kansas City, Missouri 

It appeared that Kansas City may have overmalled itself.  Of the 16 major centers in the metro area, only two of them are successful enclosed malls today, and they are on opposite sides of the metro area: Oak Park Mall in Overland Park and Independence Center in Independence.  Two malls have been de-malled completely in 2005 and 2006, respectively: Blue Ridge Mall in Kansas City and Mission Center in Mission.  The remaining 7 enclosed centers are in varying condition, from just barely making it to being almost completely unviable.  In fact, the idea for this case study is especially prescient.   In late 2006, plans were unveiled to de-mall three more enclosed malls: Metcalf South in Overland Park, Antioch Center Mall in Antioch and Metro North in Kansas City.  If those plans go through, that would bring the total to four enclosed malls which bit the dust in only a few years’ time, and that’s pretty substantial.  Featured below are all of the major shopping centers in the Kansas City metro area.  Lastly, we chose to include the mall in St. Joseph because it really is an extension of the northern KC Metro and less than half an hour from KCI Airport.

  • 1. East Hills Shopping Center, St. Joseph – Anchored by Dillard’s, JCPenney, and Sears, this mid-tier mall serves all of northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas.  It is fairly well tenanted yet dated, and sits high atop a hill.
  • 2. Leavenworth Plaza, Leavenworth – Once a small, local enclosed mall serving the immediate Leavenworth area and anchored by Sears, JCPenney, and Ace Hardware, this mall has fallen on hard times recently, losing both JCPenney and Sears.  The JCPenney space was retenanted to a gym, but the Sears space remains vacant.
  • 3. Zona Rosa, Kansas City, MO – KC’s latest foray into what they perceive as New Urbanism, Zona Rosa shines as a popular mixed-use lifestyle center.  It opened in May 2004 and features several Big Box anchors surrounded by trendy restaurants and chain stores typically found in malls.
  • 4. Metro North Mall, Kansas City, MO – Once the premier mall for the Northland, this two-level mall has fallen out of favor due to its dated decor and competition from nearby Zona Rosa.  Anchored by Macy’s, Dillards, and JCPenney, the mall features a very 1970s-themed center court with large balloons which float up and down.  Currently, plans are under way for a major redevelopment, which most certainly calls for de-malling.
  • 5. Antioch Center, Kansas City, MO – Originally an open-air center opened in 1956, Antioch Center was enclosed in 1978.  Currently operating with only two anchors and the rest of the mall sealed, the 800,000 square-foot enclosed mall will be razed in 2010 and replaced with who-knows-what. 
  • 6. Indian Springs Mall, Kansas City, KS – This musty old two-level relic really died about a decade ago, but has lived on catering to the local hispanic community.  In addition, some local government offices have also taken some space, but the mall remains largely untouched.  All of the anchors are vacant as well.
  • 7. Blue Ridge Mall, Kansas City, MO – Another dated, wonderful retail relic of days gone by, Blue Ridge Mall closed in 2004 and was demolished in 2005.  It originally opened in 1958 and was anchored by The Jones Store, Montgomery Ward, and JCPenney.
  • 8. Legends at Village West, Kansas City, KS – The newest of the KC Metro’s major shopping destinations, this open-air center is home to JCPenney, Target, Nebraska Furniture Mart, Cabela’s, and many typical mall stores.
  • 9. Independence Center, Independence – One of two very successful, top-tier enclosed facilities in the KC Metro.  Anchored by Dillards, Macy’s, and Sears, the two level Independence Center wins points for a wide open floorplan and a subterranean food court.  
  • 10. Mission Center, Mission – This smaller, 50-store two-level mall anchored by Dillards and…Dillards was mostly leased when it was closed and demolished in 2006 for a mixed use development called The Gateway.  Strangely, the website still exists even though the mall no longer does. 
  • 11. Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, MO – Opened in 1922 as one of the first open-air shopping centers, this is where upscale KC goes to shop, see, and be seen.  The Plaza is an example of a pedestrian friendly, well done open-air center. 
  • 12. Oak Park Mall, Overland Park – The other of two very successful enclosed centers in the KC Metro, and is anchored by JCPenney, Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Dillards.  It is two levels and recently expanded to add the Nordstrom and more in-line space. 
  • 13. Metcalf South Shopping Center, Overland Park – The backstory behind this aging tri-level center with an awesome floorplan is almost as interesting as the dated decor and almost completely abandoned in-line space at this mall anchored by Macy’s and Sears, just one mile away from the majorly successful Oak Park Mall.
  • 14. Bannister Mall, Kansas City, MO – The last of the anchors at this long, aging two-story mall was Sears and it closed in March 2006.  The rest of the mall is currently hanging on by a thread and filled with mostly local, urban-wear establishments.  Many of the national retailers moved out long ago, but at least the fountains still run.  Plans have been made to renovate the mall several times, but have not panned out. 
  • 15. Great Mall of the Great Plains, Olathe – This large, sprawling outlet mall opened in the 1990s and was an attempt to capitalize off the successes of the Mills centers which were popular at the time.  Unfortunately, this mall shot for the stars and got less than the moon as major success never really materialized.  It is, however, far from defunct.
  • 16. Town Center, Leawood – This open-air center opened in 1996 and predates the lifestyle center craze as of late.  It features many upscale stores, including Dean & Deluca.
  • 17. Ward Parkway Center, Kansas City, MO – This recently renovated enclosed mall retained most of the enclosed space upon renovation and features anchor stores Dillards, Target, and AMC Theatres, as well as big box stalwarts Dick’s, PetSmart, Old Navy, and others.  Prior to the renovation Ward Parkway Center was aging and in decline, and the renovation repositioned it into a neighborhood ancillary to more successful centers like Oak Park and The Plaza. 

Kansas City, MissouriLook for detailed posts soon on several of these malls, and use this case study to gain perspective and a general overview.  Overall, we feel that Kansas City is possibly one of the most extreme fringes of a national trend favoring mixed-use, lifestyle centers and strip malls to their enclosed counterparts.  As people in Kansas City dictate place-making policy for their shopping and entertainment purposes, they are increasingly choosing to reject the community-building places enclosed malls have provided and are instead selecting centers of convenience in a sea of parking lots.

Take a look at the list above of the major malls and shopping areas of Kansas City and the corresponding map (click on it to enlarge).  Have we left anything out?  Is anything incorrect?  Let us know, along with your general comments.

River Roads Mall; Jennings, Missouri

River Roads Mall in Jennings, MO

I’m not really sure I knew of the “dead mall” phenomenon until 1998 or 1999, which seems to be when the first generation of these retail elephants started to drop. That was also around the time that I lived in the midwest, and my blogging pal Prangeway and I would troll around a seven-state area looking at all kinds of malls and shopping centers. At the time, we were technically more interested in finding the good malls–you know, the ones with 5 anchors and 200 stores and all the “cool” places to shop. We found something entirely different than what we’d expected, and those trips really opened our eyes to the phenomenon of dying malls, making us realize that many of these centers (and perhaps the enclosed mall in general) is in the twilight of its life. It was a far more dramatic revelation than any Abercrombie-kid packed malls could offer.

As a result of a ridiculously wrong turn, we found this gem, tucked away in the suburbs north of St. Louis. Somewhat hilariously, we parked outside of a wig store that had occupied one of the store shells at the time, hoping to cut through the wig store (seen here, in much worse shape than in 1999) into the then-long-dead River Roads Mall. I can’t believe we actually expected it to be open–it pretty much looked like this when we were there seven years ago.

1988 photo of Woolworth’s store inside of River Roads Mall:

Former Woolworth's store at River Roads Mall in October 1988

I guess River Roads Mall bit it sometime in the mid-1990s, and has long been scheduled to be redeveloped into a mixed-use complex with a heavy residential component. If it ever gets off the ground, it’ll hopefully help the area a bit. It seemed like it had fallen into pretty severe decline (at least in 1999…). Apparently demolition began very recently, and this blog has some great River Roads Mall demolition photos up from just this past week.

I didn’t carry a camera back then, but I found these dramatic photos of River Roads Mall online. They’re really cool because it’s quite a rarity to find interior shots of a mall that’s been closed up for so long. They were taken in 2004 by Michael Allen for his website, Ecology of Absence, which chronicles all kinds of structural dead things (including tons of non-retail stuff) and is well worth checking out if you’re curious about urban decay, especially in the St. Louis area. Also check out Toby Weiss’ fantastic site, which includes a lot of great, black and white, artsy shots of forlorn retail establishments, and really captures the sadness in the buildings. There are also more pictures where these came from. And as usual, for more history from people who have some familiarity with the place, check out dead malls.

Despite the sadly advanced state of decay that’s evident in these shots, it seemed that one point in time this mall might’ve had some really snazzy mid-60s decor: check out that blue-tiled wall just barely visible at the left side of the photo above, or the groovy, greenish blue exterior of that one anchor store (the former Stix Bar & Fuller.)

Former Stix Bar & Fuller, in October 1988:

Former Stix, Baer, & Fuller store at River Roads Mall in October 1988

2004 Michael Allen photos:

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