Malls: yesterday’s style, yesterday’s news

By Stephen Harris - For The Tribune
Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown -

Those were heady times decades ago, back when the Tri-Counties got our own malls.

Bright, shining shopping castles in Mount Airy and Wilkesboro were modest compared to the massive Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem. Still, Mayberry Mall and Wilkes Mall, respectively, offered promises of better and more shopping choices closer to home and the elimination of some trips to Winston.

In the early days we allowed ourselves to walk through the malls and gawk and stroll along the air-conditioned concourses and think that we were growing up, that we were headed into the big leagues. We felt proud and optimistic about the future. We weren’t there yet, we knew, but we thought that we were getting there.

We didn’t get there. Today, Wilkes Mall in Wilkesboro is long gone, taken over by Lowe’s which turned it into an office building. In Mount Airy they can’t find a way to patch a leaking roof at Mayberry. That mall faces a Feb. 1 closure by the building inspector.

Even our own big shopping center here in the hometown, Ridgeview Crossing in North Elkin, has lost its luster. It hasn’t recovered from the loss of Walmart, which built a stand-alone supercenter on CC Camp Road, nor has nearby Elkmont Plaza recovered from the loss of its anchor tenants, Kmart and Winn-Dixie.

We don’t think of malls in the same, paradisiacal way anymore. The retail industry has changed. After the emergence of stand-alone, supercenter stores and the subsequent emergence of internet shopping, malls have become yesterday’s style, yesterday’s news.

And we’re starting to see some numbers that confirm it. Credit Suisse, the big Swiss bank, has predicted that up to a quarter of America’s malls will close in five years. That’s 300 malls out of 1,200.

The prediction follows retrenchment by big retail players like Sears, Kmart and Macy’s as well by smaller mall stores. Trendy Starbucks announced last summer its abandonment of malls. CNN proclaimed that malls “are rotting away.”

“There clearly is competition that exists today that didn’t exist in the past,” acknowledged Tom McGee, CEO of International Center of Shopping Centers, to CNN.

When shopping centers started popping up in the 1960s and then shopping malls in the 1970s, old-timers at the time bemoaned the losses in main-street, downtown shopping districts. Too much driving, too much walking at the new places, the old folks complained.

Now I’m an old-timer bemoaning the losses in shopping centers and malls. There’s even a website that pines over Wilkes Mall and wants a replacement.

Too much dependence on our two supercenters. Remember our panic when Walmart closed for a couple of days last summer after a fire? I had to run to Mount Airy on a Friday evening just for a bicycle tire tube.

Also, there’s too much dependence on internet products that you can’t see or touch. Too much sharing a card number on internet sites that are more and more hackable.

And yet last month I bought my first Christmas gifts by internet. For instance, after looking at stuffed toy animals in a store that didn’t fit the bill, I went onto the internet and almost immediately found a stuffed toy calico cat that looked pretty close to the deceased pet still mourned by the Queen Of My Castle.

After nervous hesitation I pressed the mouse button. In a few days the cat came to my mailbox exactly when they said it would and they charged exactly what they said they would.

However, the internet photo showed a predominately gray cat. What came in the mail had more tan. It looked more like a tabby.

Just as well, said Queen, trying to comfort. It’s probably good that the stuffed cat did not look TOO MUCH like the original, she said.

I didn’t find her new cat in a mall, shopping center or supercenter. I didn’t find it after driving to Winston.

I felt proud of myself and optimistic about the future. I’m not there yet, but I feel I’m getting there – growing comfortable with the changes occurring in the 21st Century.

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown Harris Back In The Hometown

By Stephen Harris

For The Tribune