Aug 142013

Madison Square Mall got the nod for lunch today, mostly because I’d had a super morning with my pedometer and was looking to ice my 10,000 steps early.  For lunch, I had a gyro plate of reasonable quality for lunch in the nearly totally empty food court:

foodcourtWhile I was eating it, I was approached by a polite young woman who asked me to donate blood downstairs.  More on that in tomorrow’s post.

I took a walk, and decided to start counting vacancies.  I got to 32, give or take.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen:  Madison Square Mall is a quarter empty.  On average, every fourth place is vacant.  It’s surreal.  Have a look (click the photo below for the Flickr album):

vacancyWhen I took a brisk walk through both levels today, I’d estimate there were 50 other people out in the open space of the mall with me.  And understand, I mean at any point.  I mean you isolate a single moment I’m walking through or standing in the mall, and there are 50 other people doing the same thing on both levels total.

Check this out.  This is in the south end of the food court, with the old Mozzarella’s location to the east.

50yardsNow that’s the children’s play area in the middle, so prudence dictated that a pudgy 42-year-old man didn’t stand there and take a slow, considered panorama of the area.  But look at all of those vacancies.  Remember this area?  Steak Escape?  McDonald’s?  Today it is possible to stand in the depth of this space and be 50 yards from anywhere you can spend money.  That’s how large it is.

In a mall.  Inside.  Half a football field away from a merchant.

The biggest tragedy of this whole thing is that I don’t think it would take much to reverse course at Madison Square.  The property is well located, and in good condition.  Doesn’t have to be my idea, but it definitely needs an idea.

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 Posted by at 10:14 pm

  12 Responses to “Madison Square Mall is on life support”

  1. It’s the same story at dozens of malls all across the country. Lotsa reasons why for their decline, but the main thing I attribute it to is the socioeconomic status of the surrounding community.

    • You would think so, however Huntsville is actually an affluent city in Alabama mostly because of Government Contracts there. Companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SAIC, HP, and Intergraph are there. The problem is that mall is extremely outdated. It’s like a timewarp back to the early 90’s when you go inside that place. Just look at the pictures. The owners were too cheap to renovate the place which caused people to go to Parkway Place and Bridge Street instead.

  2. Scott, you’d definitely think so, but thing is that the Huntsville, AL area has been largely insulated from the socioeconomic decline because of its defense/technology bent.

    This is lack of vision. Folks will say the Peoplequarium Bridge Street has done it in, but I don’t buy it. We have a metro area closing on half a million folks, which isn’t St. Louis, but it ain’t Lickskillet either.

    This area can support this property. It’s dying of apathy, not necessity.

  3. I think we should move the courthouse, lawyers, DMV, etc. to the mall. Then we could knock down the ugly old courthouse and gain valuable first-floor space downtown for retail and small business, while bringing some vitality to that area. Can you imagine going to the courthouse and not worrying about parking?

  4. I’ve seen this happen in several cities. The old mall is replace by the hipper new mall (or, nowadays, the hipper large strip malls and/or whatever Bridge Street calls itself), most of which are positioned closer to the brand new suburbs. I don’t know the answer — do we accept the possibility that malls are relatively temporary destinations? That consumers are inevitably going to flock to newer construction?

    They built a brand new mall in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the year before I graduated from USM. It felt FANCY. Brand new movie theater, restaurants and stores we hadn’t seen before, etc. I didn’t spend much money there because I didn’t have much money to spend. But the multitude of folks who had spent the previous 5 years moving to the west end of town assured its success, along with the demise of the mall on the south end of town.

  5. Jo, welcome! That’s an interesting idea, but it’ll never happen because business at the courthouse tends to be compulsory. There’s no incentive to make it easier to use because you generally have to use it.

    Suzanne, “closer to the brand new suburbs” is an interesting observation.

    I buy almost all durable goods on the net now. I think back to when I did spend money in the mall, and a lot of it doesn’t make sense now. I can’t believe a giant standalone music store makes its money in 2013, for example.

  6. What is happening at Madison Square is what happened at “The Mall”.
    Lots of factors at play.

    Too many draws to the mall have gone elsewhere and the property managers have not adapted to keep it vital. What kind of social media presence is there for the mall? How have they made it attractive for tenants?

    Obviously online sales is a factor. One of the reasons I historically went to the mall was to hit the book stores. Amazon killed the desire to drive to the mall to browse a limited selection of available titles. The anchor stores hold no attraction for me as a rule.

    I think Madison Square’s decline has been accelerated by the loss of movie goers also. First to the Hollywood 18, then Rave, and finally the upscale seating at Monaco. How much traffic is generated by people either killing an hour before their movie starts or after the movie lets out?

    There is just nothing unique at that mall that draws me there. Even before I started dating one of the artists at Lowe Mill I would go walk around there for an hour or two on a Friday or Saturday at least twice a month. maybe Madison Square needs to look at having things like an art walk or craft fare once a month. It would be weather proof and draw people in. Heck maybe they should try to get some of the more successful sellers of this type set up in some of those vacant store fronts.

    Better yet, bulldoze the thing and put something else in fast before it starts to look like “The Mall” did for ten years before it got demolished.

  7. Dave, think about how it was when we worked there. Could you even imagine the state it’s come to? You’ve got lots of good ideas there. I still like my skywalk over Research Park Boulevard idea a lot. Quoting my smart friend Frances:

    “People don’t come for empty spaces…. They could have an equivalent of Lowe’s Mill in the western part of town, have food buses come in the evening, sports events – turn one of those big stores into an indoor skating rink or skateboarding area, a little water park for kids, a little theater – have some live entertainment, have karaoke or comedy night, set up a dinner/dance/show establishment, batting cages, golfing, putt-putt – the possibilities are endless. Move beyond the need to receive ‘x’ in rent and get something! An antique/artsy place would be great, too. They need to move beyond the typical mall of yesteryear. The Mall of America has an aquarium in it – they have the snoopy play area. The old is gone for good – the only thing they’re carrying over is the crime and I wonder how many cops/security guards you saw during your stroll. Of course, probably less of an issue at noon…. Heck, they could set up their own entertainment district and compete with downtown HSV. Turn the whole thing into some sort of strolling bar/dance/eating location. Revive Madison County Coliseum…it used to be a stones throw from this location anyway. Actually, that is one thing that is sorely missing in HSV is a location to host big events and big lunch events. The VBC is too crowded and costly – they should set up something in those cavernous spaces and sell it to industry for events. Ex: every year Martha Pullen rents out a huge amount of space at the VBC for her sewing/smocking,etc, students. Why not use a better location?!?! Going downtown stinks… Turn this into a VBC West. Okay…those are just a few ideas – none of which work if the predators are allowed to prey on the citizenry.”

    There are lots and lots of ways to give this property a reasonable shot at a reimagined success. There’s just no evidence anyone in a position to do anything about it is thinking about it. It’s being “kept comfortable” while it dies.

  8. I saw “Food Court Challenge” on Food Network. The winner, Kettle ‘n Spouts won a free year’s lease at Madison Square Mall. Are they still there?

  9. I have no specific memory of Kettle ‘n’ Spouts, Miria. You make me want to go back tomorrow to see if they’re there, though.

    The Greek food I had was actually pretty good. You can do worse than a gyro combo plate at Greek Gyro Express.

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