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.

Packing/Moving Update #1

I have a tendency to become very tense when I have to pack anything by a set date. It could be my clothes for an overnight trip I’m taking or it could be my personal belongings.

To help overcome this problem, I decided to begin packing about a week in advance.

The first items I packed were my plays and books about theater, which do occupy their own box simply because I really do own that many plays and books. Although, the two largest books are my leather bound copy of the complete works of William Shakespeare (with notes from Yale scholars!) and my first edition copy of Curtains by Kenneth Tynan. The other box of books couldn’t be taped shut until I picked up my copy of Frank Bruni’s memoir Born Round at the Waterloo Barnes and Noble. Although, I then started reading it in Barnes and Noble, and then I read it while waiting at Applebees to keep my mind off of the large crowds and, therefore, avert a possible panic attack. I finished it the next day at 1 p.m. and, yes, I did sleep at some point.

I then moved on to packing my CDs and DVDs, although I’m now regretting that since I feel like watching “All About Eve” and “Moulin Rouge.” I’ll just have to find the time to watch them after I move and unpack everything. Maybe as a nice hey-Monica-you-moved-and-you-didn’t-become-a-nervous-wreck-in-the-process celebration. Although, you really don’t need a reason to watch “All About Eve,” in my opinion.

Then came the photograph of leaves that a my Very Talented Friend of mine took and I purchased at an art show and the photograph of my dad and I that sat prominently on my dresser. With those also went some storage things I had purchased at Target and some knickknacks that also sat on my dresser with the photograph of my dad and I. Oh, and my Sideshow Bob action figure. Packed those and they’re ready to go.

Presently, I’m spending more time in the sunroom of my house than in my bedroom, which is where I used to spend most of my time. The sole reason is that my bedroom feels less roomy with the absence of my copy of the complete works of Shakespeare, a couple of photographs and some drawing mannequins. But I doubt that most people would consider the sunroom to be homey. This is what it currently looks like:

Photo 8

But the chairs in the sunroom in my house happen to be very comfy and it’s not far from the kitchen. Oh, and there’s the aspect of it being a sunroom and I need plenty of sunlight or I become very depressed.

So here’s the update: I have four days left in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area, I still need to purchase a special box for posters, and I have almost all of my possessions packed.

I just wish I hadn’t packed my books or my DVDs already. But I have Waltz With Bashir coming from Netflix tomorrow and I do have plenty to do already. And, who knows, maybe I’ll have some more time to work on my novel.

Oh, and if anyone is curious why I haven’t talked about my novel in an in depth manner, it’s because no one has asked and I don’t know if anyone would be interested in any posts discussing the characters and the characterization.



In September, it will have been 12 years since I moved to Iowa. However, by September I will be living in Chicago, so I have been a resident of the state of Iowa for a little less than 12 years, which is too long.

When my family moved to Iowa about a dozen years ago, we moved to Waverly, which was a tranquil town located about 30 minutes north of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. Waverly also happens to be home to Wartburg College, a small, private Lutheran college.

For the first half of my life in Iowa, I resided in Waverly. It was in this town that I developed my strong disdain for school theater and this was the town I left because I loved theater too much and my family was tired of the 30 minute commute to Waterloo.

Yesterday, I was going to Waverly to take care of some business there. After being confused by the detour route signs that were not very clear, we drove on Highway 218-27, where we noticed an orange water tower on the outskirts of town. It had been painted orange, with the image of the Wartburg College knight in black in honor of the college’s colors. It was gawdy, but at least it’s visible. As my mother and I drove into town, we noticed that the Red Fox Inn on highway 3 was now an America’s Best Value Inn and Suites, but the Red Fox image was still on the sign. When I moved to the town, it was a Best Western, but I believe that it’s changed hotel chains multiple times.

We continued to drive down the main street, Bremer Avenue, when I noticed so many changes. Waverly Child Care and Preschool had opened a large facility next to the public library, which I used to ride my bike to when I was younger, a trip that was not exactly short. I remembered the old facility because the bus I rode to school would go there to pick up a few students. But I can’t tell you where it was. The Hardees that used to be on West Bremer Avenue is gone, replaced by a Family Video. The church I went to has moved, as did the church that used to be on the block I lived on. Where a sub shop and the bus garage for the Waverly-Shell Rock School District used to stand now stands a Wallgreens, which hasn’t opened yet and might not even be finished yet. The city now has a Wal-Mart supercenter and where the crowded Wal-Mart was now resides the True Value hardware store, which used to be on Bremer Avenue next to the watertower. (Which is not the one that is now a very ugly orange.)

Some things haven’t changed, though. The grocery store, Fareway, is still where it always has been and doesn’t look like it’s changed. Neither does the offices for the newspaper, the Waverly Independent and Democrat. The house that I first lived in is still there, looking unchanged by the massive flood that occurred last year. It also looked like my piano teacher was still teaching, which surprised me a bit.

Several of these changes were changes that had occurred since I was last in Waverly for a relative’s wedding. But what is more surprising are the changes that have occurred since I was last in Waverly for a bassoon lesson in ninth grade. I found myself nostalgic for the quiet, simple town I once knew. Sure, Waverly hasn’t changed like the Waterloo-Cedar Falls are has in the time I’ve lived there (mainly Cedar Falls), but I still found myself missing how much it felt like a small town. When I lived there, many people in Waverly believed that their city was a nice small town, the kind where everyone knows everyone and everyone’s business. I never felt this living in Waverly, but it seemed like a small town and that charm that it once had was gone.

I never thought I would actually feel nostalgic for Waverly. By the time I left, I had grown to dislike the city. What was it that made me pine for the city that once was? I certainly love big cities, but sometimes, the quietness of the small city can be so beautiful.

I sat there and wondered if someday, if I returned to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area, if I would feel nostalgic for the city I once lived in. In the six years of living in the area, I have seen a beautiful old library be torn down. (I still miss the musty smell of the old Carnegie Library that housed the Cedar Falls Public Library and the large wooden shelves that held the New York Times.) I have seen crime rise, charming local businesses close as the downtown area of Cedar Falls has become overrun with shops selling purses, shoes, and other female oriented fare. I have seen the downtown area of Waterloo come alive and become anew.

Would I ever feel so nostalgic for a city I have grown to have such an animosity towards?