Mall rats

The Citadel’s logo. Herself worked there during our first tour of duty in Bibleburg, at the Eagle’s Nest.

Remember shopping malls?

They were becoming a Thing about the same time that I was. Bibleburg being behind the curve on pretty much everything (“a cemetery with lights,” as one newspaper colleague would come to call it), my town didn’t get a proper enclosed mall until 1972, when I had relocated to Alamosa to lower academic standards at Adams State College.

In the late Sixties our “mall” out east of Constitution and Academy was the Rustic Hills Shopping Center, which had a small enclosed area with a typical strip mall attached on the west side, with a liquor store, a pinball arcade, Tandy’s, 7-Eleven, and like that there. Major tenants were (I think) a Gibson’s on the eastern corner and a Safeway on the western end. In between was … well, not much that I can recall. I got there by bike, via a dirt path paralleling a drainage ditch.

There was a Duckwall’s. A Roffler’s Sculpture-Kut shop where a Mexican barber told me he could cut my hair in such a way that my parents, teachers, and swim coach would never know I was turning into a faux hippie unless they took a whiff of my personal fragrance (Eau de Ditch Weed). A western-wear shop where I acquired through dubious means a black, flat-crown Resistol a la Lee “Liberty Valance” Marvin that, with the addition of a band of silver conchos, went nicely with the rest of my Woodstock-wannabe garb. No, don’t ask; just thank Cthulhu that no photographs survive.

Until 1972, when the Citadel Mall sprang to hideous life, with its acres and acres of parking that in the first heavy rain flooded residential basements for miles around, anyone wanting to experience an actual enclosed mall had to motor up to Denver, where Cinderella City was the Big Kahuna. Not just a whim, a destination, particularly around Christmastime.

The Citadel and the Chapel Hills Mall, which opened a decade later, arguably helped croak what little downtown Bibleburg had. Now, neither is exactly crushing it, the pack rats are stripping malls’ carcasses nationwide, and “everybody knows” that you can’t have a vibrant modern city without a thriving downtown. So it goes.

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25 Responses to “Mall rats”

  1. SAO' Says:

    The problem with the mall concept is that a rising tide lifts all boats, but a tsunami will wipe out everyone. I think ours has been redeveloped half a dozen times since we moved to CO in 2007, and it was dying it’s 6th death before the COVID crisis. It has 20% occupancy right now. You know the old joke, the food is bad and the portions are too small? Well, the only thing our mall has going for it is that there’s always lots of parking.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Yeh, both the Citadel and Chapel Hills have taken a battering over the years. I dunno how Cottonwood and Coronado are doing here. I’m not a mall sort of guy, especially not lately.

      In point of fact, I have been seriously neglecting my shopping. I haven’t drawn the credit card in anger for the better part of quite some time. I must hate America.

      • SAO' Says:

        We’re such a small town, I drive by ours all the time, on the way to other stuff. And last year, I spent a couple of hours per week in there. Thanks to a lack of commerce, the city bought a wing of the building and turned it into a rec center, so the youngsters did gymnastic and dance classes there. Maybe a hundred hours, so half the time I was speed walking the corridors, and didn’t spend one red cent the entire time.

        It’s a weird set of feelings to both not care one iota about anything in the building and yet also feel sorry for all of the existing and potential employees that don’t have job security because no one can make this thing work.

        And I’m the furthest thing from a marketing guru, but jeebus, you got a popular rec center, can’t you put a smoothie shop or GNC or something next door? Take $1 worth of fruit, add free ice and sell it for $7?

  2. khal spencer Says:

    We have too much retail, and malls are soooo 20th Century. Up here, DeVargas is holding on pretty well so far. The south side mall is a disaster in spite of its recent re-naming as “Santa Fe Place” yeah, sure….

  3. raoul duke jr Says:

    fort collins just spent millions to redo the existing mall and it is only 1/3 full after 3 years i was told “welcome to a town of wide streets and narrow minds run by idiots” as the ex City utility manager(1955-1960) told me in the early 60’s when i came to town..

    • SAO' Says:

      I’m not aware of the city spending a dime except on the rec center, which was doing great and actually generating revenue from outside vendors (cheerleading academy, SkyHawk Sports, etc) before COVID.

      The city created an incentive package of $50M in tax breaks and fee waivers, but that only cost us in the theoretical sense. What’s 5% of nothing?

      So, the stuff the city spent money on is doing by fine. The commercial side is where the problems are. Really hard to find fault with the last two decade’s worth of city planners when we’re perpetually on everyone’s “best places to live” and “smartest cities” lists. At some point arguments and criticisms have to be reality-based and not solely personal opinion. And the great thing about NOCO is, if you don’t like the politics, you’re only half a zip code away from a 180. Vote with your feets, my grand pappy would say.

      • SAO' Says:

        My kids just asked, who are you texting? So I said, just a group that likes to talk about bikes and some things that aren’t bikes.

        “ Oh, then you have got to send them this poem!”

        So here ya go:

        The Ten-o-cycle, by Shel Silverstein

        You pedal, you pump,
        You bump on your rump,
        You’re sweatin’ and ready to cuss,
        When you’re ridin’ a bicycle built for ten
        (And the other nine took the bus).

  4. Shawn Says:

    Ooooo! Cinderella City. Going “down” there was a real treat at Christmas. And it had an ink rink! The nearest thing that we had was the Northglenn Mall about 15 miles away. But my brother worked there…., at the toy store! With slot cars and models! Yeah baby! And the Northglenn Mall had a Spencer’s Gifts – Posters, lava lamps, black lights, and just cool stuff you know.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Remember Elitch Gardens? The original, not the remake. And Lakeside Amusement Park? Who needs malls when you got them bad boys and a satchel of powerful drugs to make them not just a night on the town, but an eon off the planet?

      And yeah, slot cars. I was a fiend for that stuff. I dug auto racing, and was hooked on Jim Hall’s Chaparral. That wing was the shit. I had a 1:32 setup in the basement-slash-crawl space and every now and then I could sucker someone into taking me downtown to a “real” track, which I think was on South Tejon, just south of where Old Town Bike Shop is now.

      • Shawn Says:

        Yep. Elitch Gardens was a real treat. But the old wooden roller coaster at Lakeside was more memorable (it shook the crap out of you) and the setting there was just beautiful.

        I didn’t know about the track down on South Tejon. If I’d have known about it I would have had my dad or brother take me down there. They both enjoyed going to a track in So Cal before we left there. I loved it to because I was the roving rescue kid. When somebody ran there car off the track I bolted down to it and got it back on the track. Fun times!

  5. Pat O’Brien Says:

    The Mall At Sierra Vista was a miracle in 2000 for this little town. It was the first and still the only one here. Sears on one end and Dillards on the other. Lots of stores in between the two anchors. Now it is almost empty. If it wasn’t for shoppers from Sonora, the place would already be closed. Probably happen soon due to the disastrous border wall in Cochise County.

    • Herb from Michigan Says:

      Sadly the more jazzed up and complex the now ghostly malls are; the harder they are to repurpose into viable commercial space. Our mall is deader than a 5 cent postcard but Walmart was able to cobble up a Monkey Wards, move in and they are always packed. I’ve read where some malls have been converted to senior housing which also provides ample indoor space for walking and socializing. Also space for senior related businesses who are only steps away from their clients. Trouble with this country is it’s almost always cheaper to break ground and build new than revamp older buildings which leads to massive amounts of vacant building and commercial zoned spaces.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Even the strip centers here have been taking a pounding. It started before The Bug™ and has been accelerating since. Entire strip centers vacant, or down to one oddball shop.

      I should take a few snaps. They look positively apocalyptic, especially down on Central, the old “Mother Road.” It’s a mother of a road now, for sure.

  6. Herb from Michigan Says:

    Back here in the Mitten State a number of defunct Kmarts are now U-Haul storage and rental centers. The Eastside one in my town was fixed up quite nicely and a vast improvement. The other one (wow Herb you live in a two Kmart town) is harboring boats and pontoons thereby bypassing shrink wrapping them which is really bad ecologically. Other Kmarts around the realm seem to be morphing into Farm and Home type stores that are tripping all over each other almost as bad as the ((shudder) Dollar General stores.

    • Pat O'Brien Says:

      That is what happened to our old Kmart. It’s now a U-Haul center. In Sonoita, Arizona, a Dollar General popped up about 2 years ago. This is an old ranching town with a long history and historic buildings. That Dollar General store is as ugly and out of place as possible. If it had been there then, Patrick would have seen it on his ride through Sonoita. His eyes would have been sore for miles afterward. Dollar generals sell all kinds of cheap Chinese made stuff. And people wonder why our trade deficit with China was at a record high last quarter. I though dumpster’s tariffs fixed that. Yea, right.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      More on Dollar General from Mother Jones. Evildoers. Especially under David Perdue, now a senator from Georgia, where a runoff will determine control of the Senate.

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        Perdue is a winner! No wonder he likes dumpster. I ain’t in jail and have lot’s of money. Seems GA repugs are into cannibalizing each other. Maybe us libs will get lucky in the Senate.

  7. B Lester Says:

    Our southern Wisconsin town, population 65,000 has a dying mall. Kohl’s on one end, Dick’s on the other and two empty anchor spaces in between. We have a North American Hockey League team, and a group is trying to build an ice arena in the center space. A former Sears store.

    Interestingly, we grew a second LBS last spring. The old shop is Trek and Giant. The new guys are more for the tri crowd. They’re Colnago, Specialized and Niner. They also sell running shoes and wetsuits.

    Our downtown is showing signs of life. After decades of aborted attempts, a downtown recreational riverfront just opened up. Ped bridge attached to citywide bike trails. Part of the Ice Age Trail system, so you can access the rest is the state by dedicated bike trail. There are more businesses downtown, albeit mostly different takes on resale and antique shops. The customary loud bars, but we’ve also added a few nicer restaurants, a boutique hotel, and a microbrewery. Getting a crit leg on the Tour of America’s Dairyland is turning out to be a nice summer downtown attraction too.

    So things here are looking up in spite of the hollowed out hulk with a huge parking lot. They’ve rebranded the mall as Uptown Janesville. We’ll see if that works.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      “Uptown.” We got one of those here, ABQ Uptown. Must be a “thing.” The only Apple Store in New Mexico, the usual selection of identical clothes merchants (Eddie Bauer, Banana Republic, North Face, etc.), Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, and a whole bunch of self-styled boutiques hawking God only knows what. The kind of place you’d never set foot in unless you had a handgun and needed money, fast.

      Glad to hear the downtown is on the mend. That ol’ uptown funk doesn’t always work as well as it did on “SNL.”

  8. Pat O’Brien Says:

    More light.

  9. Jay Says:

    We lived 1/4 mile from the Rustic Hills Shopping Center back then and were there for the grand opening of the Citadel. Boy that was 100 years and several addresses ago.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      The old ’hood has changed a bit in the interim. We went back to the family dump to take care of Mom in 1991; split a few years later for Weirdcliffe, and then came back for what proved to be the final go-round, this time to live down near Colorado College in the Greater Patty Jewett Metropolitan Yacht & Gun Club Neighborhood. The whole North Academy shopping-center strip was suffering big-time by the time we moved down here in 2014, from Hancock all the way to Woodmen.

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