Should we Save the Mall?

As we passed the boarded-up entrance that once led a multitude of happy shoppers into one of the three department stores anchoring the mall back in the 80’s, my sister and I chatted as we walked the halls with a dozen or so other mall walkers taking advantage of the warmth on this winter morning. We reminisced about this well-worn shopping center that forty years ago, held the distinction of being the first two-level indoor mall built in Michigan outside of Metro Detroit. Today, this same mall has very little to shout about, where two anchor-store locations are currently empty and too many storefronts sit dark.

If you haven’t been to the mall in a while, you’re in good company. The Crossroads now houses a disproportionate amount of non-retail businesses meant for filling spaces waiting for the next Ann Taylor and GAP. A driving school, a massage business, and creatively placed vending machines currently take up spaces once occupied by popular apparel stores. Ironically (Or perhaps, not), Spenser’s still stands after 40+ years. The question begs, do they still sell blacklight posters?

In its heyday, The Crossroads boasted four department stores (Remember Marshall Field’s?), two floors jammed with upscale clothing stores and gift shops, and a food court offering everything from New York style pizza to monster cookies. That same food court now offers one single dining option while still providing enough seating to accommodate busloads of shoppers. Except there are no busses. If you happen to work at the mall and craving lunch, I hope you like Chinese.

We all know that the premise of the demise of the indoor shopping mall isn’t exaggerated, and perhaps it is a natural progression in the shopping experience. And one that might come full-circle, taking us back to the Downtown Shopping District. It wasn’t that long ago when Kalamazoo presented shoppers with the first outdoor pedestrian shopping mall in the United States. Downtown Kalamazoo still provides us with an eclectic array of shopping and dining experiences, locally owned and important to our economy.

Yet, it’s still sad to see our city’s only indoor mall on life support. I was encouraged the other day, when my sister and I changed up our morning routine and walked instead during the afternoon. Even with the limited mall hours due to the Pandemic, it was refreshing to see a healthy amount of young people hanging out and doing their civic duty of keeping our economy alive. It tells me that there is a market for ample retail. Hopefully, someone is listening.

As we continued walking, we noticed yet another store displaying minimal products. Talking to the owner, we learned that she is sad to be closing her shop and is bitter towards a company she perceives as being interested only in maximizing profits, with no regard to their tenants. Previously owned by Brookfield Properties Retail Group, the mall was just recently purchased by Kohan Retail Investment Group. Kohan is known for buying troubled shopping malls, and their Wikipedia page shows an excessive amount of controversial legal issues. Only time will tell whether the new owners will provide the city of Portage once again with a thriving indoor shopping mall.

In a state where temperatures often dip to freezing during the winter months, and where I have fond memories of my children visiting with Santa while I held their coats and sippy cups, I am hopeful that the next generation will be free to roam the halls of Crossroads. In the meantime, thanks for the memories.