Thursday, October 06, 2005

Meet me at Columbia Mall (just not at the food court)

The Herald reported this past Saturday that Columbia Mall's new food court (dubbed "Dakota Cafe") is "on its way to completion." The truth is that construction wrapped up a month or two ago and the food court has been finished for quite some time. Everything is in place for an opening except for one thing: restaurants. The sad fact is that Columbia Mall - once a bustling space filled with shoppers and stores - has lost so much of its vitality that it has found it almost impossible to attract even one or two restaurants to its shiny new food court.

If you have visited Columbia Mall recently, you have seen the plywood walls encasing the food court. You can look through those little windows in the plywood to check up on "construction." Of course, construction of the food court itself is actually finished. My guess is that we are supposed to think that construction workers are busy building restaurants behind the black plastic curtains that hang from the food court's back walls. That's what I naively thought. Then, about a month ago, I found that you could look into the food court from an entirely different side that is accessible from the new restroom/customer service area. Here, you come right up to the plastic curtains hiding "construction." I sneaked a peak behind the curtains to see how construction was going. Guess what...there was nothing at all happening. Nothing. No construction of even one restaurant.

I soon found out, through several sources familiar with Columbia Mall, that the mall hasn't found any food vendors who are willing to locate in Dakota Cafe. Apparently, they see the quiet corridors and stores in the mall and foresee only quiet restaurants if they locate in the food court. I really can't blame them. It seems unlikely that the mall will be able to attract enough people to the food court to make it profitable for chains to set up shop there.

Dakota Cafe is equipped to handle eight vendors, but it looks like the mall will be lucky if it is even able to locate a couple of establishments in the space any time soon. The new owners of the mall, GK Development of Barrington, Illinois, had high hopes when they purchased the mall a while back. In addition to the food court, an announcement was made that Wallace Theaters would be building a multiplex in the former Target space. The multiplex is now a dead issue and it is looking more and more like the food court will be a least for the time being.

I was very excited when the new owners took over the mall. I thought that the old owners had been neglectful and that they had become "bored" with the mall. GK Development was supposed to pump new life into Columbia Mall. Instead, the mall is still extremely quiet and hasn't seen many new stores open up. About the only visible changes that GK has made have been the addition of new vending machines and tacky kiosks that "junk up" and clutter the corridors.

My feeling is that the food court will NOT be successful during this ongoing slump that the mall is in. If the multiplex had actually been built, perhaps there would have been enough new traffic in the mall for the theater and food court to feed off of each other. This could have brought more shoppers to the currently very quiet stores. Unfortunately, until either the theater is built or something else (another department store?) takes over the old Target space, I can't see Columbia Mall attracting many more customers than it currently does. The explosive growth of big box stores along 32nd Avenue will only continue to signal the end of the mall's heyday. I would love to see things differently. Columbia Mall used to seem so busy and exciting when I was a kid. Who knows...maybe it will still feel that way again someday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

People now prefer big box stores to malls, and malls across the country are dying slow and painful deaths. It's sad. There are now websites devoted to the death of the traditional shopping mall, in words and pictures. (An aside: The former South Forks Plaza is featured on Labelscar.)