The Life and Death of Great St. Louis Malls

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Since the 1950s, the spatial development of the surrounding suburbs has been centralized around the shopping mall. From early incarnations like River Roads Mall to downtown redevelopment projects like St. Louis Centre, shopping malls are unique examples that can help us better understand the demographic and cultural shifts in the American consumer culture over the past sixty years. What follows is a historical analysis of three distinct eras shopping mall development and failure in the St. Louis region.

City-to-Suburbs: The Rise of Shopping Malls

Shopping malls as we know them today burst onto the national scene in the 1950s as a response to the suburbanization of America during the post-World War II boom. Single-use zoning, shopping centers, highway development, and subdivisions became the core elements of the post-1950s U.S. spatial development.

While suburban residential development began in the mid-late 19th century and early 20th century, in communities such as Kirkwood (1853) and Webster Groves (circa 1892), the commercial and retail sectors did not relocate to the suburbs immediately.

Decentralization of the central business district began in the early 1900s but did not gain full steam until post-World War II, when the retail sector began a mass exodus to the suburbs. Initially, retailers believed that even though the population was moving to the suburbs, people would still visit the city to work and shop. However, after outlying business districts began to gain a foothold because of their close proximity to where people lived, more businesses and retailers moved to the suburbs.

{Northland Shopping Center – image by Built St. Louis}

{Northland opened to fainfare – image via Toby Weiss}

St. Louis’ first incarnation of this “retail-shift” manifested in the form of the Northland Shopping Center that opened in 1955 in Jennings. Within a decade six more shopping centers would open in the St. Louis area.

Northland was anchored by Famous Barr, other tenants included a Woolworths, bowling alley, grocery store, and a post office on its 53-acre site. Northland, typical of other early shopping centers, served as a major bus transfer station for lines that served both the city and county. Northland, designed by the St. Louis firm Russell Mullgardt Schwartz & Van Hoefen, had a Mid-Century Modern design.

Also in 1955, Westroads Shopping Center (later to become the St. Louis Galleria) opened. It was anchored by the St. Louis department store chain Stix, Baer and Fuller.

Many of the first designs of malls were open-air centers with one anchor. It was the first of many experimental designs during this era that developers played with to create a distinctive shopping environment exclusive to the suburbs.

By the late 1950s, suburbia was booming and development started to reach far into the county to the northern and southern municipalities.

In 1957, Crestwood Plaza opened as St. Louis’ first regional mall. Developed by Louis Zorensky, Crestwood Plaza featured two anchors (Scruggs-Vandervoort-Barney and Sears) with a split-level parking garage. The idea of including two anchors and a split-level parking garage, which allowed patrons to enter on both levels of the mall, were pioneering ideas at the time and would go on to become a standard embraced by malls nationwide. Crestwood Plaza originally opened as an outdoor shopping center that was partially enclosed in 1967 when Stix, Baer & Fuller was added as a third anchor.

{Crestwood Plaza – image by Paul Hohmann}

Mall Hall of Fame_Crestwood
{development of Crestwood Plaza – image by Mall Hall of Fame}

{aerial image of Crestwood Plaza c. 1970}

In 1961, River Roads Mall opened a mile away from Northland. It had one anchor, Stix, Baer and Fuller, and other small anchors included Walgreens, Woolworth’s, and Kroger. These two malls, relatively small in size by today’s standards, competed for many decades. The close proximity to each other meant that both failed to become a regional shopping center as the developers had originally hoped.

Then in 1963, South County Center opened. It, like Crestwood Plaza, expanded in 1967 when Stix, Baer & Fuller was added. It was also partially enclosed at that time.

Seeing much success with his experimental design at Crestwood Plaza, Zorensky opened Northwest Plaza in 1965. He chose once again to include new ideas in its spatial layout. Similar to Crestwood Plaza, Northwest Plaza was open-air; it featured four department stores: Famous-Barr, Stix Baer & Fuller, Sears, and J.C. Penny’s. This helped make it the world’s largest shopping center at 1.8 million square feet.

The suburban boom continued throughout the 1960s, which lead to the opening of West County Center in 1969 and Jamestown Mall in 1973. Jamestown Mall was unique in that it was built before residential neighborhoods had developed, since commercial developers hoped to get ahead of planned residential development. It still remains surrounded by a large swath of farmland to the north and failed like many other malls to become a major regional mall.

Three years later, Chesterfield Mall opened. The region now had a total of eight malls and St. Louis had truly embraced not only the American consumer culture, but the spatial layout that came with it.

Kill-off, Expand, and Redevelop

By the 1980s, developers were running out of areas to build malls and were beginning to examine ways to boost their popularity. They found that underperforming malls were going to fail, prospering malls needed to be expanded, and downtown could be a site for a retail renaissance.

This reevaluation was spurred by the changing demographics of the county. Jennings was no longer an ex-urban community—it was inner-ring suburb—and it, along with other early suburbs, were beginning to experience white-flight.

For Northland, Famous-Barr left in 1994 and the Cinema closed in 1997, and by 1999 the Sansone Group was floating plans for redevelopment. Demolition of the mall began in 2005, when the Sansone Group began a $50 million redevelopment of the Northland Shopping Center.

Renamed the Buzz Westfall Plaza on the Boulevard, the former Northland Shopping Center site now contains a Target store, Schnucks (which replaced two stores, one in Dellwood and one in Jennings), Aldi’s, and several other retail locations. It still serves as a bus transfer center.

River Roads also experienced the same fate. J.C. Penny’s became a J.C. Penny’s outlet store in 1984, and Dillards, which replaced the Stix, Baer & Fuller store, closed in 1986. J.C. Penny’s outlet closed in 1996 and the mall was closed that year. It sat vacant for a decade until 2005 when John Steffan’s Pyramid Construction purchased the mall and began to demolish it in 2006, with plans to build 200 single housing units, 15 businesses, a senior’s home, and a city hall facility, according to Pyramid, as many of you know, closed, and the project was never finished.

{River Roads Mall – image by Built St. Louis}

Mall Hall of Fame_River Roads
{development of River Roads Mall – image by Mall Hall of Fame}

For prospering malls, ownership takeovers by other companies, adding new stores and enclosing the mall became the prime movement.

In 1984, Crestwood Plaza was fully enclosed and 18 stores replaced the former Woolworth’s store. Also that year, Westroads was purchased by Hycel Properties, which tore down most of the mall and began building the St. Louis Galleria. The building was expanded again 1991 when Macy’s and Lord & Taylor opened. Northwest Plaza was acquired by the Paramount Group in 1984 and was fully enclosed in 1989.

For Jamestown, a third anchor, Famous Barr, was added in 1994 during a major expansion of the mall. J.C. Penny’s became the fourth anchor when it opened on April 29, 1995. Interestingly enough, this major expansion of Jamestown occurred simultaneously as the Ford Hazelwood Plant expanded.

Fullscreen capture 1252012 103243 AM.bmp
{aerial of Jamestown Mall}

Jamestown Mall - STL
{relative footprint of Jamestown Mall – image via Jamestown Mall redevelopment plan}

Mall Hall of Fame_Jamestown
{development of Jamestown Mall – image by Mall Hall of Fame}

The final major trend in the 1980s was the return of shopping downtown. Cities during this time added suburban-style malls downtown and also revived historic structures as “festival marketplaces.”

These “festival marketplaces” were part of a movement to revive downtown retail by renovating existing structures into entertainment centers that featured retailers, kiosks, restaurants, live music and performances, among many other forms of entertainment. Inspired by marketplaces found in Europe, “festival marketplaces” were an idea led by James W. Rouse and Benjamin C. Thompson.

For St. Louis, the abandoned Union Station was selected to undergo a $150 million renovation and was reopened in August of 1985 as a “festival marketplace.” It featured a renovated grand hall, Omni Hotel, the Grand Basin, and the Midway Marketplace, which featured multiple retailers and restaurants. In addition, surrounding buildings were renovated as office space and a new theater opened under the elevated portion of I-64.

STL Union Station
{St. Louis Union Station}

{Union Station Festival Marketplace, 2005 – image by nextSTL Forum user matguy70}

{Union Station Festival Marketplace, 2005 – image by nextSTL Forum user matguy70}

Some retailers included Banana Republic, Talbots, Eddie Bauer, Limited, Nature Company and the Disney Store, according to Paul Hohmann, who worked at the Eddie Bauer store in the early 1990s.

Opening the same year under bright skies, balloons, with Bob Hope cutting the ribbon, St. Louis Centre opened as the largest urban mall in the country. It was atypical of many other shopping malls at the time. It featured a large glass barrel ceiling that let light illuminate the arcade between Dillards and Famous Bar at each end. It also allowed patrons to stare up at the gleaming skyscrapers above.

For St. Louisans, Union Station and St. Louis Centre allowed downtown shopping to be ‘cool’ again, and suburbanites flocked to them when they opened. Mayor Schoemehl’s plan for downtown was working, as it seemed that downtown was finally on its way back from the brink.

End of Malls as We Know Them

There is no other way to put it than by saying that in the mid-2000s, St. Louis malls began to experience a total collapse.

For Jamestown Mall, what was predicted to become a major regional mall become a lone building on the outskirts of the region. By the 2000s, North County’s demographics were changing significantly and could no longer support a mall of this size. Additionally, St. Louis Mills dealt a strong blow to Jamestown Mall when it opened in November 2003.

That same year, Jamestown had a vacancy rate of nearly 30 percent. Carlyle Development Group purchased the mall for $8.8 million with hopes of reviving the mall. They unveiled a $60 million plan in 2004 to renovate and expand the mall; however, the plan was never realized.

Just as Ford announced the closure of the Hazelwood plant and layoff of 1,445 workers in 2006, Dillards closed at Jamestown, proving a detrimental blow to the mall.

Carlyle Development Group announced a new $120 million redevelopment plan on July 28, 2008, just a month before the recession began. It would have been transformed from an enclosed mall into a mixed-use commerce center. The vacant 215,000 square feet Dillard’s store would have been converted into back-office space, and 100,000 square feet of retail space would have been shuttered. The plan included the construction of a senior living space, low-rise office and small service retail buildings.

Sears announced in October of 2008 that they would close their store, leaving only two of the four main anchors left. Currently, Macy’s and J.C. Penny’s Outlet Store remain.

St. Louis County pledged $40.3 million in tax abatement for the project but pulled it in March of 2009 when they learned that Carlyle had planned to auction the Dillard’s space off on April 8.

Currently, St. Louis County is working with the Urban Land Institute to create a plan to redevelop the mall’s site. Various plans have been drafted but nothing has come of it. Some have suggested allowing the mall to die, so that it can be leveled and have nothing replace it, a so-called ‘smart decline.’

Northwest Plaza, once the largest shopping center in the world, closed in 2010. It was the second mall in the region to close since 2006, when St. Louis Centre was closed. What was once home to 210 stores, four anchors, and a movie theater is now a vacant building surrounded by 9,000 parking spots. Rumors floated that it was going to be home to the region’s first IKEA store; however, nothing came of it and the mall remains closed and the region still does have an IKEA store.

{Northwest Plaza – image by St. Louis Patina}

Mall Hall of Fame_Northwest Plaza
{development of Northwest Plaza – image by Mall Hall of Fame}

A new redevelopment plan emerged on March 15, when it was reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that NWP LLC affiliated with Raven Development proposed tearing down the entire mall except the office tower and vacant J.C. Penny’s store. Three big-box stores and restaurants would occupy most of the new $106 million development. Ground was broken on this project on November 13.

If Jamestown Mall closes, North County will be left without a mall for the first time in over 50 years. Only the large outlet center, the St. Louis Mills, will remain.

Crestwood Court, seeing that the mall was dying quickly, chose to embrace a new idea called ArtSpace, which provided low rents to artists and other entertainment groups to help repurpose the mall. The program did provide some boost to the mall, but the program was short-lived and artists have now vacated the mall along with the last anchor, Sears. The AMC closed this year and the last tenant closed its doors on May 26. Crestwood Court is now the third mall to close in a decade.

The mall is now being prepared for redevelopment by Sierra U.S., which is branding it as “The District At Crestwood.” Parts of the mall will be salvaged, including some of the buildings from the department stores. If built, it will be open-air, similar to the original Crestwood Plaza when it opened.

St. Louis Centre closed in 2006. Quickly becoming an urban eyesore, the mall sparked numerous attempts at redevelopment including that by John Steffen’s Pyramid. His plan called for turning the mall into residential condos, street-level retail, and a teardown of the skybridges. While Pyramid never completed the development as the company closed in 2008, St. Louis Centre’s redevelopment was taken over by Environmental Operations Inc.

{St. Louis Centre open to rave reviews of commercial success – image c. 1985 via Paul Hohmann}

{St. Louis Centre was largely vacant 20 years later – image by Paul Hohmann}

{the festival center concept was praised in planning circles – image via Paul Hohmann}

{twenty five years after opening, the interior mall is large a parking garage, with retail now facing the surrounding streets – image by Paul Hohmann}

{St. Louis Centre – image by Michael Allen}

{St. Louis Centre – image by Paul Hohmann}

{St. Louis Centre today as 600 Washington and the MX (Mercantile Exchange)}

Now dubbed the Mercantile Exchange, the former St. Louis Centre has been renovated into a parking garage with street-front retail, and the sky-bridges have been torn down. Apartments are already filling up in the Laurel—the old Stix, Baer, and Fuller building—while Pi Pizza and the Collective (a retail co-op) have opened, with plans for MX Movies to open later this year.

While the Mercantile Exchange is the newest incarnation of a major effort to boost shopping and dining downtown, the St. Louis Centre has left an indelible mark on the history of downtown revitalization. St. Louis Centre proved that no silver bullet will ever repair downtown. But not all is lost from the former mall: the glass barrel vault ceiling still exists, covering a new parking garage this time.

On the other side of downtown, Union Station’s Midway Marketplace has few mainstream retailers left with the exception of Lids and Foot Locker. The Grand Basin isn’t as lively as it used to be, and the theater is closed. Part of the Midway was shuttered when the hotel expanded in 2010.

Union Station was put up for sale last year and was purchased in October by Lodging Hospitality Management (LHM) for $20 million. LHM is currently in the process of planning a $50 million renovation of Union Station, including an expansion of the hotel, which will shrink the retail space. In addition, conference space will be added, and talks are ongoing for a new transportation museum. In addition, private train service is being mentioned as another amenity that could be offered in a ‘new’ Union Station.


St. Louis malls are unique examples of the spatial development in the United States since the 1950s. They are symbolic of the rise of consumerism in the 50s and 60s, redevelopment in the 1980s and 90s, and the effect of the Great Recession on retail in the different communities in our region. While some malls have been torn down, others boarded up, others quickly dying, and some still succeeding, it would be easy to write off malls as part of our urban fabric. Still, the malls might be one of the most important parts of the our spatial fabric.

Suburban malls might be the greatest opportunity for inner and outer-ring suburbs to develop a “city-center” that can be better connected to the larger region. Increasing development surrounding malls with both high-density housing and transportation connections could help create a better integrated region. This is exactly what the St. Louis Galleria has done as Metrolink now extends to it and the Boulevard St. Louis development has increased density in the area.

However, in some ways, our region still has not learned the lessons that previous shopping malls have taught us. Construction has already begun on two new outlet centers in Chesterfield, both within close proximity to each other and the Chesterfield mall.

Much of the new development that is occurring in our region is not in Chesterfield or in St. Charles. New development is going to be concentrated in the city and inner-ring suburbs as the growing creative class becomes a larger part of our region, choosing to live in more urban areas. It is no secret that our suburbs are only aging and their populations will decrease over time. This is just one among many reasons these centers are doomed to fail.

Just as I have sorted the history of shopping malls into St. Louis into three eras, shopping malls or merely the idea of how and where we shop is entering a new era. The ‘new’ era in some aspects embodies many of the ideas of the ‘old’ era. That is, in the ‘old era’, where small and local stores served the immediate community, and retailers were located in urban and well-connected environments. What is different, though, about this new era is that many existing suburban retail centers, both shopping malls and strip-malls, are going to be retrofitted as the suburban spatial fabric begins to change.

stl mall map
{St. Louis area malls – blue = closed/failed mall, yellow = mall still in operation}

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  • Brandon Broze

    Northwest Plaza was the sh*t. Can’t believe it had to close down :'(

  • Rich Gordon, Retail Rich

    There’s a lot of good information here and some very good insights. I’d like to add a couple of other points that have had a major effect. Aside from online shopping which has been very detrimental to most malls, there has also been the onslaught of the discounters or mass merchandisers, such as Target and Walmart, Costco etc. This also includes the big box stores and category killers like Lowes, Home Depot, Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, etc. They have all drained major dollars away from the malls. (While Lowes and Home Depot haven’t had an effect on the malls, these category killer type stores have.)

    The other is that I believe shopping used to be more of a form of entertainment for many families. Today woman don’t put their pearls on and go shopping with the girls to spend the day at the mall as they used to. Most of them work. Families have many more options for spending their time together or more likely, going their separate ways in all of their vehicles. If people aren’t going to spend a lot of time at the mall, then they are more likely going to a store or two for a quick in and out visit. They don’t want to park in a huge parking lot or garage and then still walk hundreds and hundreds of feet to the store(s) they wish to visit. They want to get in and out! Also , think about the aging of America. The baby boomers created the popularity of malls and now they are contributing to the demise of the malls!

    All these things take dollars out of the shopping mall store’s coffers. There just isn’t enough shopping dollars to support them all. The stronger, more unique or better located malls survive and the border line or weak malls fail.

    • moe

      Interesting viewpoints. Many right on. Especially the aging baby boomers…..I think many of us grew up being pushed by parents to be better than them….better education, better house, better stuff, and more stuff. Much, much more stuff. And now, in part due to the economic collapse there is a rising trend in the boomers of “we have enough s….t, we don’t need anymore clutter”.

    • Jo Strabuchinkoskowitzenheimer

      Something else that has been a detriment are the mall landlords raising the rates on leases, with no room for compromise.

  • Chris Naffziger

    Honestly, the failed malls above seem to more closely match the economic realities of their surrounding communities. Just as Cherokee Street or the 14th Street Mall fell and rose with the fortunes of their neighborhoods, so do shopping malls. Should we declare the death of urban shopping districts just because some have failed? If you drive out to the malls that ARE still in business, you discover that they are as healthy as their surrounding, often affluent communities. The death of shopping malls is premature–the ones that have failed have failed not because of their inherent design, but because no one shopped at them anymore.

    • Alex Ihnen

      That’s a very good point, the death of a concept is premature, but something is changing. If/when St. Louis, or any city regenerates, will we find new malls being built? In 1990 there were 19 new enclosed malls built in the US. Since 2006 there have been zero. Of course “lifestyle centers”, basically outdoor malls, aren’t substantively different (and my own theory is that some of these will be enclosed eventually as people realize it kind of sucks to drive and park and walk, only to freeze in November in Foxboro, or Ft. Wayne). Yet maybe the model is changing. Maybe clothing is going boutique and home goods are going big box (think Costco). If malls cannot sustain anchor stores, and that model of retail, the concept may be failing.

  • dempster holland

    The main mall that has survived is the whole complex around the intersection
    of HW 4o (INT 64) and the Inner Belt. This has become the new retail downtown,
    and therefore is more than just a mall–it is a super mall with several individual
    malls. On another note, the initial decentralization of retail from downtown did
    not occur with malls but with individual stores–Southtown Famous at Kingshighway
    and Chippewa; Clayton Famous on Forsyth and Sears on Kingshighway and Natural
    Bridge./ I believe these all developed by 1950 and were all on major bus routes.
    These were a transition to the malls and all are gone now

    • kjohnson04

      You can add the South Grand Sears and JC Penney to that list, too. Hampton Village was the first “mall” in St. Louis, serving St. Louis Hills. You’ll note it’s design is like a prototype for Jamestown Mall or Crestwood Plaza.

  • moe

    Interesting. First, though Jamestown was the first to be built out in the boonies, Chesterfield was also in the boonies…out a badly maintained section of then Highway 40….2 lanes no less.
    Second, I see lots of mention of suburban sprawl, Tifs, etc, but no direct mention of the automobile. Back at the height of malls, many families only had 1 car. If you were lucky, mom or dad would let you borrow it (if you returned it with a full tank). You were the “1%er” if your parents had 2 cars. And kids…hell no, if you wanted a car you better have worked for it. So it made sense to group as many trips into 1 as possible…..the mall.
    Nowadays…everyone has a car. Heck, some parents buy their kids cars even before they have a permit. So kids can come and go as they want. There is no need to bundle a trip.
    Thirdly, the advent of on-line shopping combined with easy access of the auto as I mentioned above = downfall of congregated shopping centers.

  • Christine Ck Katherine O’hara

    it’s not uncommon bout the trend of “urban malls” i can think of a few examples here on the east coast like in norfolkt s “waterside festival” it opened in ’83 and it’s sister mall to the east in richmond (the long since closed “6’th street marketplace” and rival mall “main st station” also the more recently opened “mcarthur center” in downtown norfolk might be one of the few success stories for urban malls in the country

  • JBQ21

    All of the failed malls are associated with urban blight read “black crime”. Bleeding hearts have stated that it is because they are poor. Give them a house through Fannie Mae they say. Give them disability benefits. Give them education benefits. They still want more and urban gangs are just an extention of political power. Crime has become a political entity to ensure that blacks have more political power. The tail is waggin the dog, people.

    • samizdat

      I don’t think there is any possible way you could say anything more which would prove how much of an idiot you are.

      • Will G

        Calling someone names is not an answer.

        • Mike Williams

          So calling people “thugs” is ok?

          • matimal

            If they actually are thugs it is.

    • PeterXCV

      And you’re answer to why Crestwood in lily-white southwest county failed is?

      • D Paul

        And how long did it take you to respond? In 10 months, “10 more malls” shut down. I don’t know the histrionics of Crestwood. I visited several times and you could count the thugs who were hanging out. They stalk all of the malls. It’s part of the DNA.

      • Frank Castle

        Location… Compared to the “survivors”.. it’s off the beaten path.. and the age group demographics for that area…just got old.. it’s an anomaly amongst the others… so eat it peter..

        • Mike Williams

          Would you care to explain all the fights and violence that happens at Mid Rivers Mall committed by young white kids? Are they “thugs” or animals? Please have several seats, before you make comments like this..

    • Will G

      Malls in North County (Northland, River Roads) were declining in the 1980’s when everywhere else was thriving. That was due to those neighborhoods becoming extensions of north city – black crime if your being blunt. I lived there at the time and saw the changes. Crestwood is where my family moved when it fled inner north county in the mid 1980’s. Crestwood Mall was hopping then as the prosperous 1980’s was lifting a lot of boats. Crestwood is still a pretty nice area but it has aged – a lot fewer younger families – and the middle class people who live there shop at the plentitude of box stores at 44/270/Lindbergh. As Crestwood Mall began to strain in the mid 1990’s the thug element became more noticeable and of course sped up the downfall of the mall. The Galleria is the most interesting case study. It went upscale and has managed to survive with a significant thug problem.

      • JBQ21

        I would say that you came up with a very good assessment. Charlie Dooley is now the problem de jour for the county. He is nothing more than Obama lite. Steve Stenger is running against him. Redistribution of wealth would make every neighborhood like East St. Louis then St. Louis, then North County. The malls appear to be the common component for all of the declines. Thugs move in and take over the malls just before the neighborhoods fall. The Galleria is interesting because thugs are rampant and as stated the mall still survives. I guess if you pump in enough troops, the Taliban will be visible yet quiet.

  • James S.

    You didn’t mention the malls in Illinois such as St. Clair Square in Fairview Heights and Alton Square Mall, which is located not far from Jamestown. Today, St. Clair Square is a thriving mall with high density and volume surrounding it while Alton Square Mall is fairly vacant.

    • dempster holland

      Other malls of note outside of the conventional urban area are mid-rivers in
      St charles and the large shopping area in Fenton

  • bailorg

    Would love to see a more in-depth read about Union Station and St. Louis Centre. Why did both happen at virtually the same time? Were there additional parts to Mayor Schoemehl’s plans to revitalize downtown that didn’t come to pass?

    • Joe Huber

      I’d love to do an article about this. The 1980s was an important time for downtown revitalization. It would be interesting to do a comparison to the plans for downtown now.

  • MessengerBoy

    I think another thing to consider, especially for Jamestown Mall is that after it was built it attracted quite a bit of business from Illinois. The opening of Alton Square and the huge mall in O’Fallon too much of this business away from Jamestown Mall.
    I would encourage you to expand your analysis to include how retail mall development in Illinois affected the malls in Missouri.

  • onecity

    “City Center used to be the center of our scene; now City Center’s over, noone really goes there…”

  • Alex Ihnen

    FYI – added map to end of article showing closed/failed malls and those still in operation.

  • Dan Leritz

    A great history, and my strong compliments to Joe Huber’s writing. Still, a couple things could have been added-in:
    1. More understanding as to why the malls started to fall. Especially in the 2000s, the rise of online shopping was a major blow, causing many stores to fall into obsolescence. Otherwise, the only reason given for failure consists of white flight in Jennings in the early 1980s.
    2. West County Mall’s use of TIF in Des Peres was the first real time people questioned the use of that tool, wondering how one of the wealthiest communities in STL could be “blighted”.
    3. One mall was missed in all this: Frontenac Plaza. It took the interesting approach of niche marketing to the upper classes, featuring Nieman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue as anchors. Wrapped fully in red bricks and white columns, it demonstrated competitive distinctiveness that has allowed it to thrive while others have fallen away. Could specialization be another key to survival?

    • Joe Huber

      Thanks Dan for your comments.

      Great point about online shopping. I believe there was an article put out the other day that showed that St. Louis has one of the highest percentages of online shoppers in the country.

      While I did not mention Frontenac Plaza, I do see its significance as a niche mall. Frontenac Plaza I feel in many aspects is distinctly different from other malls in the region; in that it really does not fit into any of these areas. It is a product of the location of wealth in the region and a desire for an exclusive luxury shopping center.

      Whereas areas in North County experienced significant demographic changes; areas like Frontenac will never see a huge shift in demographics so in many aspects Plaza Frontenac will not face the possibility of dying. I hope to write more in depth about this in the future.

      And yes, I believe specialization is the key to survival. One example of this is Chesterfield Mall add The American Girl Store and West County Center adding the Lego store.

      • Alex Ihnen

        Never? Certainly many would have said something very similar about Northwest Plaza in the 60s and later. Things will change in the region. Shopping habits will change, traffic patterns will change. The central corridor along I-64 is very wealthy and Plaza Frontenac is very profitable and will likely be so for a long time, but I’d bet that it will not be the center of high-end shopping in the region 40yrs from now. Isn’t that the lesson to take from this history?

        • Joe Huber

          Why I said never is because I think there is a distinct difference between Frontenac and North County in terms of land use and the people the malls catered too. The North County Malls all catered to the masses and aimed to be major regional shopping centers. However, the neighborhoods in North County were not protected from succession and changes in demographics. The land use in Frontenac protects the area. Low-income and middle-income individuals can’t gain access to housing in this area because it is all catered to the upper class. Plaza Frontenac caters to these individuals.

          However, I will admit that the challenges faced by Plaza Frontenac are different. Plaza Frontenac is more susceptible to economic factors and retail trends that could change, likely at a national level. However, because the stores that are located at the mall, a huge competition doesn’t exist from other malls. The mall is highly specialized and that is why it is more resilient than the other malls.

  • Also this “There is no other way to put it than by saying that in the mid-2000s, St. Louis malls began to experience a total collapse.” is a bit of an overstatement. The malls that remain are doing quite well. The malls that failed started an irreversible decline in the mid-90s. I could see this clearly shopping at Northwest Plaza, Crestwood and St. Louis Center.

  • Excellent overview, but I think it is important to note that the failed malls are all located well off Interstate corridors, while those that remain have easy access to the interstates. Perhaps the best illustration is South County and Crestwood. Opened by the same developer just a few years apart, and today demographics of the areas are roughly similar, yet South County still remains fairly strong.

    • Alex Ihnen

      It’s a good point. I’d add that population shifts have dictated that Interstate adjacent malls have a competitive advantage. Commuters are most likely to pass West County than Crestwood, and the Galleria than Northwest Plaza. For St. Louis Centre and Union Station, it may be as simple as the city’s population losses. There were 453K residents in 1980 when these malls were envisioned. Since then, the city lost 30% of its population, and perhaps about the same number of downtown jobs. Add to that 2M fewer visitors to the Arch grounds…well, it’s hard to succeed in that environment.

      • dempster holland

        whatever the reason, it is a shame that Union Station did not survive.
        It may be that everyone went there several times and then did not
        go back. The high parking cost hurt it