Is This the Future Of Your Mall?

The second indoor mall in Indiana was right here in Nowhere, Indiana…er, Anderson Indiana.  Mounds Mall was the first mall ever opened by Simon Property Group.  The mall opened in 1965, just two years after a mall opened in Evansville (and yes, I lived there for a few years, too).  I moved to Anderson in about 2000, and at the time the mall was still thriving.  The mall had a Sears, a Pennys, a CD store, a cafeteria, a bookstore, two jewelry stores, a national haircut store, and a few outbuildings that included a Texas Roadhouse and not one, but two movie theaters.  The mall was busy most of the time with customers wandering around the hallways, and routinely had special events.

Our mall is now a shadow of its former self.  Part of the reason is the racetrack that’s halfway between the mall and the interstate – or, more accurately, the slot machines now set up in something that is inaccurately referred to as a casino.  A lot of construction has taken place between the racetrack and the interstate, and many stores have moved in that direction.

Pennys left a few years ago, and after the large space sat empty for a bit, a new movie theater was built in its place.

Our Sears closed; it was far from the only Sears to go away.  That space is now opened from time to time to use as an anchor for something advertised as “an indoor garage sale.”

The CD store closed up years ago.  A small portion of that store was walled off and still opens to one of the major aisles in the mall.  An accounting service is located there.  The mall offered to rent us the remaining space for our comic and game store the last time we moved.  Due to time pressures (we had less than ten days to move), the mall’s ban on backpacks (how would gamers cope?), and a large number of changes that were necessary to the space we decided to move to a strip center across the street.

There was another space that we considered moving into at the mall.  It had been home to a large flea market-type store that sold mostly used items such as furniture and collectibles.  After that store moved back towards Indianapolis, the space sat empty for awhile, but the mall didn’t want to rent us that space (perhaps because we weren’t upscale enough or didn’t want to be open during all the mall hours).  It was home to a clothing store for a short time and is once again sitting empty.

The cafeteria has been gone for a few years.  I still miss it since there is nowhere else in town where I can quickly get a vegetable plate for lunch.  The large area that housed the cafeteria is mostly empty, but a corner of the large space is now used as a work area for what appears to be a real estate firm of some sort (one that doesn’t seem to be open for business with the public).

One outside movie theater is now a church, and the other is gathering dust and slowly crumbling.

Texas Roadhouse moved to be closer to the interstate, and the building now is vacant and lifeless.

Any sign of new books is long gone (thanks, Amazon).  We do still have one used bookstore.  Books are usually just $1 to $2, and the store is operated by volunteers.  The store sells mostly books that have been donated or traded in and uses the money to support the Madison County Literacy Coalition.

One jewelry store moved closer to the interstate, and the other just closed.  Both of those spaces are now home to two merchants who initially showed up for the indoor garage sales and have since moved in on a more permanent basis.

The national haircut place left a year or so ago, and some independent folks took moved it.  A few months later a second haircut place opened up as well.  Sadly, now they are both gone, and empty chairs are all that’s left.

All but two of the shops in the food court are once again empty after hosting a series of startups.  There are still people who come to the mall just to buy pizza.

At least a half dozen spaces and kiosks are not being used at all right now.  So what is left in the mall?  Here’s a rundown:

  • The one large anchor that remains from the start is Elder-Beerman, a store that seems to specialize in expensive clothing that is perpetually rotating on sale and perfume that is never on sale.  The chain was bought by Won-Ton in 2005 and rebranded to Carson’s in 2012 with no changes to its merchandise.  At least that gives me a place to buy perfume for Bevie when a birthday or Christmas looms.
  • Dr. Tavel, a glasses store that accepts most insurance.
  • Garfield’s Restaurant and Pub, a restaurant that is franchised as part of a small chain.  Lately, it seems to be a lot less busy than in the past.
  • Two national sport shoe chains, Finish Line and Hibbert Sports.
  • A Bath and Body Works.
  • Nirvana, a store that sells specialty t-shirts, dresses, incense, and other stuff that’s in the back that I’ve never gotten far enough into the store to see.
  • Maurices, a national chain store (over 900 locations!) that sells women’s clothing.
  • Claire’s, a store that sells kid’s jewelry and collectibles and ear piercings.
  • Squeeze Play, which sells sports collectibles (not cards) and whatever collectibles Ty is making now that Beenie Babies are done.
  • LA Nails (because apparently there weren’t enough Nail stores in town already!)
  • Beautiful Eyes, a store that does eyebrows and facial threading.
  • Hotheads, a store that sells Peppers and Hot Sauce.
  • A karate training center.
  • A young kids recreation room filled with air-filled plastic climbing and slides fixtures (perfect for birthday parties).
  • Seals Furniture (an independent furniture store).
  • WHBU is an AM radio station that can broadcasts live from the mall (although they don’t seem to be there often anymore).

Two additional notes:

  • For about a week, the music in the mall was missing in action.  The explanation was a problem with the satellite.  It was a huge relief when the music returned because the mall felt even more lifeless with the silence in the hallways.
  • 7 is the new 9.  One of the reasons we decided against moving into the mall was the difficulty of staying open during mall hours.  A lot of the current stores now feel that same pain, and a number of the shops now close at 7 pm instead of 9 pm.

While it may seem like the mall is falling on hard times, the management of the mall is actually doing an excellent job.  While they face the same loss of major anchors that all malls are coping with, they have managed to bring in some small local businesses that are in tiny niches that give them a chance at survival.  The mall also continues to schedule events at least weekly as well as the Easter Bunny, Santa, and other photo opportunities.  There isn’t much anybody can do about the commercial flight to the Internet, but at least our mall is still almost full – even if it’s not full of customers.  As Duncan Sheik might put it, the mall is .

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