Reimagining outdated shopping malls | Carson City Chamber News & Views | NevadaAppeal.com

Reimagining outdated shopping malls | Carson City Chamber News & Views

Ronni Hannaman
Kathleen Bobula, 10, of Dayton (left) makes her first ceramic basket as her mother, Tearra Bobula, looks on and Marisa Biale of Carson City works on her basket.
Ronni Hannaman |

Like it or not, everything is being reimagined these days, including shopping malls.

Once the go-to place to shop and socialize, downtown was the place to be seen until suburban shopping malls made America’s smaller downtowns almost extinct. For those who can recall the “glory days,” Friday night was the favorite time to shop and meet your friends. In the late 1950s, downtown was the place to “cruise” with your date.

Enclosed shopping malls were convenient and new — everything under one roof, weather friendly, and easy parking. Instead of “cruising,” you met your friends at “the mall” to enjoy a movie, food and more.

Teenagers — “mall rats” — went to the mall more than they went to the library. Though the Carson Mall never featured a movie theater, it was a viable and popular gathering place still in the early 2000s.

Some malls have reincarnated as cultural centers attracting specific ethnic groups depending on location.

Today, malls are going the way of downtown shopping, leaving giant vacant structures across America in need of repurposing — or using today’s popular term — “reimagined,” as downtowns, too, are being reimagined

Our Carson Mall, once the go-to place to find just about anything, has been struggling to reinvent itself for the past 15 years or so.

An important part of our retail community since 1964 and one of the first malls built by the Carrington Company, today the mall struggles to attract tenants to attract shoppers.

Though the rents are reasonable, half the mall is currently empty. Bealls did not deliver on the hope to revive the mall. Sportsman’s Warehouse doesn’t even open into the mall. You don’t need to enter the mall to shop at Jo-Ann Fabrics.

In its special series entitled “America’s changing mall culture,” National Public Radio (NPR) reported “dead” shopping malls are being reimagined as everything from office space and medical centers to ice hockey rinks. It blames “online shopping and demographic shifts for the downturn in about 2/3 of the 1,200 enclosed malls within the U.S.”

Smithsonian.com published an article in November 2014 citing, “The 2008 recession was a gut-punch to already flailing mall systems.” The article goes on to advise mall owners, who received amazing tax credits, to rethink their model or bulldoze the space as they did in Reno leaving acres of nothingness.

Anyone who may have experienced the crowds at the once go-to Owings Mills Mall outside of Baltimore, MD, would be shocked to learn this high-end mall is dead. The 5,000 parking spaces — once filled — are now empty. I’ve shopped at this mall dodging thousands who walked the halls to shop at Saks Fifth Avenue or Macy’s — all now closed. I can’t even imagine this mall shuttered, so thriving it once was. Today, the mall is being revamped by the owners without the draw of a major retail anchor. When an anchor leaves, a mall literally dies.

If you want to know why specific malls may have closed, there’s even a site called deadmalls.com that makes for fascinating reading and further cements the fact that many malls are dying.

But there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for antiquated malls. The new term is to develop an “experiential” mall — restaurants, gym, movie theater, offices, and even adding apartments and condos to the mix as they did in Salt Lake City.

Some malls have reincarnated as cultural centers attracting specific ethnic groups depending on location.

What could be in store for the Carson Mall?

What we hope is that it can become an arts center/colony for the community to shop and learn how to create art. There’s hope that may be the case since two art related stores have recently signed leases and these could attract others. Mall management, too, is continuing to bring fine arts shows into the mall.

At the mall, today, you can learn to create your own pottery at Ogres-Holm Pottery and shop for one-of-a-kind art lamps for your home created by Carson City artisan Bill Eisele at Wild Horse Gallery.

Owner Sheila Hillebrand recently opened her second shop in the Carson Mall to expand her popular business in Virginia City.

Though sales have been slower than she hoped, she feels confident locals and visitors will like her prints, jewelry and home art offerings.

What would we like to see at the Carson Mall? Revolving art shows offered by CCAI in a more accessible setting than at our courthouse.

Music to attract people on a weekend afternoon as restaurants serve clients in the main corridor. More art studios where one can learn to create.

Youth Theater Carson City (YTCC) practicing its craft and performing shows. Overall, turning the Carson Mall into an artisan activity center would serve our community well.

Those in the know project more than half the malls will be closed in another decade, thus it’s time to rethink how we wish to extoll the creative talents found within our region.

The Carson Mall would make the perfect and affordable venue.