Once again, Washington Square Mall is in the news. After suffering for many, many years under the Simon Property Group, they have been taken over by a new management company who will be the latest to try and revive the once popular shopping center that used to be anchored by five major department stores and filled with clothing boutiques, music stores, book shops and a few specialty businesses.
I don’t know how to break it to them…but…they will fail.
Short of a major overhaul, there is nothing that can save that mall. I hate to be blunt but it’s true. You can fill it with churches, with a martial arts studio, nail salons too numerous to count, and stores that seem to specialize in stripper attire, but that does not make it a successful and thriving property that draws people from all over the city. As a journalist, I have spoken with mall managers over the years who have waxed poetically about how high the occupancy rate is, but it’s all I can do not to scream, “You’re kidding me, right? This place is an over-glorified flea market!” I highly doubt that this guy is doing a high percentage of his shopping there, I haven’t purchased anything outside of the target there since I don’t know when (unless it is Luca Pizza) and even the stock at the Dick’s Sporting Goods lacks in comparison to other area stores.
I also know for a fact that Simon hasn’t given a crap about that mall for a very, very long time. this may be obvious from the cracked blacktop in the parking lot and the broken signs, etc… but it was even admitted to my son when he went for a job interview at Simon and one of the guys there referred to it as the “red-headed stepchild.” In one comment, that guy (whose name I will not mention) slapped the entire east side in the face and basically said, “You aren’t worth the effort.” I do want to say that my son actually spoke up in the interview and said, “Sir, with all due respect, I grew up on the east side and I find that statement offensive. That’s MY mall and it deserves better.” (No, he didn’t get the job, why do you ask? LOL)
Still my son is right. It is OUR mall and the way it has been treated makes me shake my head. I know that nothing lasts forever, but when when I close my eyes I can still see the glass awning that jutted out over the Lazarus store, see kids crowded around Fun ‘n Games waiting their turn to play the latest stand-up video game, my high school boyfriend slinging fast food at the Great Hot Dog Experience, smell the popcorn coming from the movie theater on the Block’s wing and can still hear the creek of the wooden floor whenever I entered Waldenbooks. I can see the latest shoes in Baker’s and the wild clothes that used to permeate Merry-Go-Round. I can smell the food coming from the McDonald’s that was so big, there were three different sections and I can remember back to a time when that was THE place to go see fireworks on the Fourth of July.
Once upon a time, my cousin and I used to dream of owning Washington Square and turning it into our mansion. We each picked an anchor store to be our “rooms” and talked about how we could have everything right at our fingertips…the whole mall would be empty and it would belong to us. Well…the mall is empty, but it doesn’t belong to us and the fantasy pales in comparison to the reality.
Reports say that the new management group believes that the mall can be sustained and that they may “fill” (I type this word with optimism and cynicism) it with non-retail entities such as social services, medical, and office space. Yeah ok….that’s real cute…but this is NOT what the east side needs. It needs RETAIL. Do they even get that? We need places to shop nearby so that we don’t have to drive all over town. We need our Dick’s to stock the same things as Castleton and Greenwood. We need some of the same cute little boutiques that dot other shopping centers. We need a freaking food court with fare we have heard of…we need a store like American Girl or the Lego store that would make Washington Square a destination for people from all over the state and beyond. Am I the only one with vision here, people? (See Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio for what we “could” have if the powers that be would just stop and think about giving the east side a true shopping experience that would draw others to the area.)
I don’t get it. The data shows that east siders have money to spend and that they prefer to spend it locally, but until someone realizes that a radical improvement/investment is needed to revitalize the area in order to restore it to its former glory, this is what we will be stuck with…a substandard space with management that believes we should “settle” for less than other areas of town.