Dead Malls and Renewing Malls

After I moved back to Iowa in 2010 I got a job working as a sales associate for Younkers, a department store that anchored the local shopping mall. The department I frequently worked in was housewares, which was great for me because I love housewares and that was a department where I could learn from customers about what they think is great or figure out what products I liked simply by fixing the displays or folding towels.

The joy of working at Younkers was that I rarely had to go into the mall. Whenever I had to work the accessories’ department or help out in the men’s department I would look out through the mall entrance and notice how dark and dreary the mall looked even at 3 or 4 p.m., a stark contrast to the bright cheery nature of the atmosphere of Younkers. The odd thing about this is that the mall featured skylights in the walking area of the mall, which by all means on a sunny day should have made it seem much brighter, but failed to.

At one point, College Square Mall undertook a renovation process and after that the amount of stores seemed to shrink. Some left because the parent companies decided to close the entire chain, like B. Dalton. Others left for reasons I still do not know, such as Hot Topic and Eddie Bauer. A simple glance at the listing of mall stores reveals that other than the anchor stores and the movie theater there is really no reason to visit College Square Mall.

It does have the benefit of still having its anchor stores: Scheels All Sports, Younkers and Von Maur. Technically, I think the Hy-Vee counts as an anchor store, but there is no entrance to Hy-Vee from the actual mall. There is also the problem that with the movie theater it is easy to enter the mall from the theater, but not enter the movie theater from the mall.

At this rate, College Square Mall is a dead mall. Among the more recent stores that are listed on their directory are stores that last I knew were on Main Street in Cedar Falls, including a store that specializes in counterfeit purses. The problem with College Square Mall is that if you are going into the anchor stores, there rarely is a reason to enter the actual mall.

The other mall in this area is Crossroads Center. At one point, Crossroads was like College Square Mall, but then magically turned around. Maybe it was the giant carousel that they really didn’t have room for in the first place, but something caused Crossroads to seem like a viable place to shop. It’s possible that College Square Mall could turn around like Crossroads did, but I doubt that. Since I left Iowa, Crossroads has managed to attract stores like Justice and The Children’s Place, which are national chains for children’s clothing. Turnarounds are always nice, even if they seem out of the blue.

Then there is the renovation of Southridge Mall in Greendale, Wisc., which is close enough to where I currently am that I could check in on FourSquare and not raise a red flag. There are four major malls in the Milwaukee area: Southridge, Bayshore in Glendale, Mayfair in Wauwatosa and Brookfield Square in Brookfield. Generally, I view Bayshore as The-Place-That-Has-Trader-Joe’s because that’s really the only thing I go to Bayshore for.

Of the two malls, I tend to shop at either Southridge and Mayfair because of proximity and the types of shops the malls have. Prior to the opening of a new Macy’s at Southridge, I preferred to shop at Mayfair because of its size and amount of stores I wanted to shop.

The Southridge renovation seemed very much like a clear, well thought attempt by Simon Malls and the mall manager to bring back the customers it lost to Mayfair, Bayshore and Brookfield Square. Every time I enter the mall, which tends to be once every two or three months, the renovations have made the mall look even nicer than before. There are new exterior entrances that have given the mall a facelift and the new Macy’s is so bright and shiny that it feels like a dream.

The mall also has the benefit of having a new H&M that feels larger than the stores in Chicago and is tidier than any of the stores in Chicago. As a result, I prefer to shop at the H&M in Greenfield because I can actually find nice dresses for low prices. When you have a store that is nicer than one in Chicago, you have done something right.

The interesting thing is that judging from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, Southridge had planned for this, even figuring out what customers it wanted to bring back to the mall. The Macy’s does not have the same selection as the Mayfair store, but it feels larger because of the open architecture of the store and seems more inviting with the new staff. It’s still underway, but it’s an example of how a mall decided to reinvent themselves before ever going the way of its former sister store, Northridge.

If only College Square had planned better after its renovation.