Technically The Summit, a mall just outside Niagara Falls, N.Y., has been a dead mall for years. By the time it announced last month that it was closing its doors, it was down to 25 tenants in an 800,000 square foot space that once held over a hundred stores.
It was meant to shut down on June 6. But this week a bankruptcy court granted an extension that will allow it to stay open at least until the end of the month.
I hope that it manages to hang on somehow. I know that a lot of people don’t really lament the decline of shopping malls, dozens of which are a danger of going under this year in the U.S., but I like the fact that this mall still exists.
Known as the Summit Park Mall when it opened in 1973, the mall was pretty successful up into the 1990s.
But then, as with so many things in the Niagara Falls area, things kind of fell apart. Some people blame the fall of the Canadian dollar below 70 cents U.S., and the resulting drop in cross-border shopping. The local economy probably wasn’t any great help either.
Most of the chain stores that you see in any generic suburban mall, the Radioshacks etc., bailed out. But with admirable resilience, the mall soldiered on. It replaced some of the departed stores with local businesses, as well as non-retail outlets like churches and a community college.
The potentially fatal blow may have come when discount clothing retailer Steve and Barry’s went bankrupt and shut their store, leaving a big stretch of space in the middle of mall pretty much dead. It also left Subway, somewhat incongruously, as one of the only national chains leasing a location in the mall.
I guess the ambiance of 1970s shopping malls isn’t really seen as something worthy of preservation. But this mall had it, and it was a rare thing. Most older malls either fail and are knocked down or succed and are renovated so extensively over time that they retain little of their orginal charm.
But The Summit, despite some renovations, still had all the feel of a 1970s mall: The floor tiles, the benches, even the retro-looking payphone kiosks. Until last year it even had two arcades, though these were really just empty storefronts full of unattended arcade games from the early 1990s.
The Summit may yet manage to keep going. Its two main anchors, Sears and the Bon Ton, own their own sites at either end of the mall, and plan to stay open even if the vast stretch of mall between them is closed down. I guess there isn’t really anywhere else for them to go; the only other remaining mall in the Niagara Falls area is a much smaller, although very popular, outlet mall. with no space to house department stores.
A local politician wants to have the New York Power Authority relocate to the mall. An earlier pipe dream involved building an Oz theme park nearby to draw in visitors. This may all come to nothing. But I find something hopeful about the idea of a cavernous, mostly empty shopping mall somehow continuing to exist despite some many forces converging to batter it down.