Friday, February 19, 2010

Extreme Makeover, Mall Style

This is mystery-related, in an odd sort of way. One mystery is how do you save our shopping malls when the money drought reaches extreme proportions? To take an example, we'll use RiverGate Mall near my home in Madison, TN. That gives it another mystery hook, since my latest book, The Surest Poison, features a PI who has his office in a building next to the mall.

Okay, the link is rather tenuous, but it'll suffice. The problem came about when last year's recession went into overdrive. The mall claims over 150 stores, which includes eateries in the Food Court and all the kiosks and booth setups along the corridors. As retail outlets began closing their doors from the lack of customers, store after store in the mall became vacant.

RiverGate is the second-oldest mall in Nashville and serves an area that has become a magnet for Hispanics. Not a place known for big spenders. By last summer, more than twenty stores had folded. Some went into bankruptcy, some closed here to concentrate on more profitable locations elsewhere. To dress up the darkened storefronts, they placed large cutouts inside the windows made from blow-ups of historic buildings painted by a popular local artist.

My wife and I are mall walkers at RiverGate, and like others we began to wonder if it would go the way of shopping centers that had closed or completely changed their character. Much of the oldest mall in town has been taken over by Vanderbilt Hospital's health clinics.

Then we began to hear rumors of something planned for one end of the mall that doesn't include an anchor tenant, such as Macy's, Dillard's, Sears or J.C. Penney. Some thought Dave and Buster's, which has a location at Opry Mills Mall beside the Opryland Hotel, was coming to RiverGate. Then in late fall signs began appearing on stores that were moving out of that end into spots vacated by out-of-business stores. Finally, about a month ago, they put up signs all along the area announcing Incredible Dave's is coming in Fall 2010.

I don't know if Incredible is any relation to Buster's Dave, but the only location shown on their website is in Louisville, KY. That one has bowling, bumper cars, and all sorts of games, plus a coffee shop and full-service restaurant. I've heard they're extending that end of the mall to take over part of the parking lot. I also heard one rumor that it would include ice skating.

People in the shops we've talked to have high hopes that it will rejuvenate the mall and bring back the crowds that have been dwindling. With all the recent moves, the place looks virtually full now. It'll be interesting to see how it turns out. Our only concern is what it will do to our "walking track." Up to now, one turn around the mall, including the Food Court, is approximately one mile. I do two turns most days, walking a fifteen-minute mile. As of the end of February, that end will be shut off for the construction crews.

It's about time to get to work on my next Sid Chance mystery. Maybe I'll have him involved in some sort of skullduggery around Incredible Dave's. Just a thought.

Chester Campbell


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Well, Mall of America's big draw is the amusement park - perhaps games and such will help your mall.

Morgan Mandel said...

I hope your mall can be saved. My husband and I were very disappointed with Randhurst Shopping Mall in Mt Prospect, Illinois was closed, leaving only a few anchor stores on the fringes.
We're not far from the popular Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, but it's way too busy and crowded for our tastes.

Morgan Mandel

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

We have no mall at all in our town, not many stores either. The city nearest us, 17 miles away, has no mall either. We have a Wal-Mart and across the street, Target. Used to have Mervyns till it closed, hopefully that will reopen as another store soon.

Makes people drive an hour away to the next big city where there are all kinds of stores and one thriving mall and one that's nearly dead.