March first brought us news about the death of an old friend here in Anderson, Indiana: our only mall is closing effective April first. Sure, there may be a Wal-Mart and a Meiers and a lot of strip centers lining the road between the interstate and the Race Track/Casino, but closing the mall leaves a wound that I’m not sure can be healed.
The mall apparently already owes over $400,000 in unpaid property taxes, and the loss of its last major anchor (Carsons) meant that it probably didn’t have enough rental income to even cover the expenses of salaries, security, and utilities. There has been an announcement that the mall will examine options to repurpose the mall. A large number of malls all over the country have already faced similar problems and either closed or changed how their space was being used due to the rapidly decreasing utilization of shopping malls by shoppers. We all know the internet is at least partly to blame.
While Anderson may have a downtown area, there isn’t much in the way of shopping there. And parking downtown is still a nightmare.
The closest the town gets to a having center was found in the mall. This month the mall is quickly closing down, but it is still playing host to a student art exhibit and the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby, two events that will be hard-pressed to find a home in the future. Any given month there were nearly a dozen such events taking place that will now move into hiding in smaller, hidden, less accessible locations.
Every morning the mall has been host to countless mall walkers, elderly residents of the town who come down to get a small amount of exercise in a safe place that is heated or cooled for their comfort. They seemed to need to bring their own coffee and donuts due to the lack of any food for sale in the early morning, but the food court tables and chairs gave them a place to sit and socialize before and/or after their walks.
Tony’s pizza has been a fixture in the mall under multiple names for decades, and now it will simply pack up and leave. While a sister store in Muncie will still be open, many customers have already complained that the food just isn’t the same.
For a few months around Christmas every year the mall has been host to a stream of pop-up small businesses, some of which eventually opened small stores in the mall. Anybody wishing to do that this year will have to fight for aisle space in the Muncie Mall.
Our only local radio station has a broadcast studio in the mall, and it is likely they will simply close up and move any operations back to their main office in Daleville. They already seemed to be moving the organ that was used in live shows this morning.
A ring of buildings around the mall has been home to a constantly-changing lineup of restaurants and specialty stores. Several of them have already relocated closer to the interstate, but the significantly higher rents prevent that from being an option for most of the small businesses dotting the perimeter…or inside the mall. The bank outside the mall has not announced plans to leave, but the decrease in traffic in the mall area may affect them as well.
The movie theater has announced plans to stay open after moving the ticket office to a new or different outside entrance. It is worrisome that the theater no longer advertises movie times in the local newspaper or has a phone number you can call for movie times, and instead requires customers to check online. Worse still, no movies appear to be starting after 7 or 8 pm. The loss of casual customers from the mall may prove too much of a challenge for the theater (two movie theaters outside the mall have already failed and closed).
The Doctor Tavel that has eye exams and sells eyeglasses in the mall will remain open for now because it has an outside entrance. They may need some new construction because the inside entrance to the store is closed by a chain fence rather than a wall, and if the mall cuts off heating and cooling a new wall will have to be put in place.
The strip center that our store (Reader Copies) is located in is across the street from the mall and has a lot of empty spaces, but rents are higher here than in the mall. Even worse, the owners seem reluctant to charge the lower rents that most small businesses need to survive, so it doesn’t look like a good place to move mall stores into. Many of the chain stores in the mall will transfer their inventory to other stores in the chain instead of relocating.
The loss of a central gathering place in Anderson already seems like a near-fatal blow to the town. The population in Anderson has already dropped 10% in recent years, and without new jobs in the area, things may continue to spiral downward. We can only hope that creation of the proposed Greenway Project comes to fruition and helps revitalize our little corner of Indiana.
We aren’t the first town to suffer from unwelcome changes. Cashman, Pistilli and West wrote and sang and produced a number of hit records that were released by various groups. Terry Cashman wrote American City Suite about his perceptions of the slow decline of the city he lived in, and the sad recording was a near-hit record for Cashman and West in 1972. The town he was singing about? New York City.