There was a time long ago when you could spend your entire life living in a big city and not travel more than a couple of miles. There was the corner store, drugstore, hardware store, neighborhood restaurant, bakery, butcher shop, and clothing store all usually within walking distance. And most of the proprietors of these places knew all of their customers on a first name basis. Around the holidays or when you wanted something special you might venture downtown to one of the big department stores like Macy’s, Dillard’s, or Famous-Barr. Then came the suburban sprawl of the 1950’s when America fell in love with the car.
The traditional style suburban shopping malls began back then when the downtown “big box” stores opened satellite locations in suburbia. Shopping malls were built at a feverish pace and small “strip malls” sprang up around them. The difference was that the smaller strip malls didn’t have a huge big box store as an anchor.
A lot of the malls here in the St. Louis area are now pushing 50 years old and they are feeling their age. A few have been updated over the years and some have gone out of business or have struggled in these hard economic times. The only mall that we’ve ever had downtown, the St. Louis Center, has fallen by the wayside and the mall that was once the area’s biggest, Northwest Plaza, is just a shadow of its former self. Other malls like the Galleria, (once the busiest), and Crestwood Mall are struggling. The one or two new malls that have been built are having a hard time getting stores to fill the empty spaces.
Crestwood Court, (formerly Crestwood Mall), has been one of the local shopping malls that has struggled as of late, despite a renaming and a partial remodeling. One of the mall’s three big box anchor stores, Dillard’s, has recently moved out and a few of the smaller stores have closed.
According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, (www.stltoday.com), the 51 year-old mall was purchased in March by Chicago-based Centrum Properties which intends to tear down the mall and replace it with a new modern open-air lifestyle center featuring shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
“Open-air lifestyle centers” are the new concept that is replacing the traditional closed-in mall. They offer shops with entrances on the outside and lots of open-air green spaces.
But the plans to demolish the mall won’t be for several years and the new owners thought of ways to fill the store spaces and attract customers now. They decided to devote part of the mall to art.
The concept may be unique and the first of its kind. The first to move in is the Avalon Theatre, a small stage group that had been performing in church basements before moving into the empty Man Alive clothing store in the mall. All in all, ArtSpace is expected to be home to some 50 different arts groups before they are finished.
St. Louisans will then be able to enjoy a real “New York day” with shopping, dining, and a show all in a single space-with lots of free parking to boot.
Hopefully they’ll find some way to let them stay after they open the new mall.