Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Changing times, changing fortunes

When I moved to Walla Walla the first time, in August 1990, some local folks worried the newly finished Blue Mountain Mall - the place to be for shopping and socializing - would drive the final nails into the coffin of the city's downtown.

In the old days, downtown had a Bon Marche department store (sort of old-fashioned in that you could buy frying pans, sheets and microwaves, not just clothes), a run-down drugstore, a couple of nicer drugstores, several sketchy restaurants (I've heard that two failed because of health complaints) and a few nicer eateries and stores.

Over the subsequent 16 years (yegods, time flies), downtown businesses rallied to revitalize the city center, and the mall was the salient. Many an imprecation uttered in those days included "the mall."

As it stands now, downtown shoppers may visit restaurants, boutiques, salons, a Macy's department store (sort of old-fashioned in that you can buy frying pans, sheets and microwaves, not just clothes), a wide variety of winery tasting rooms, art galleries, a toy store and the older businesses that stood the test of time, including a popular deli, an auto dealership, a candy store where they actually make many of the goodies, a music store and many other nice places.

Many storefronts remain boarded up or vacant and the second stories of many buildings are in disrepair or tenant-less. So there's still a long way to go, but times are most certainly changing for the better.

And how about that mall?

A recent visit by the butterfly lady and I (we have weird ways to pass the time here) found a sad scene.

Sears, Gottschalk's and Shopko are the mall's anchors - an Emporium closed and wasn't replaced. Besides those stores, the mall has the following businesses:

  1. Claire's (hair clips, etc.)
  2. GNC (I always think of Hans and Franz from SNL when I see a GNC - mmm, gainer fuel!)
  3. Big Twist Pretzels
  4. A nail shop
  5. A Unicel dealership
  6. Antonio's (a genuine local barbershop)
  7. Fashion Bug (clothing)
  8. Maurice's (clothing)
  9. Foot Locker
  10. Bath & Body Works
  11. Teddy Bear Factory (open Friday-Sunday only)
  12. Dim Sum Inn (a pretty good Asian restaurant)
And these quasi-businesses:
  1. Cruisers Driving School (not open regularly)
  2. Army recruiter
  3. Air Force recruiter
  4. Marine Corps recruiter
  5. Navy recruiter
  6. Walla Walla Police Department's crime prevention office
  7. Two "community" rooms - vacant stores with some chairs inside.
Counting the community rooms, there are 32 vacancies, some ill-disguised by facades, some just left blank. Even the food court has only one occupant, having lost Sbarro, Orange Julius and Bob's Pizza.

I think it would be generous to say that the driving school, recruiters' offices, police office and even the Teddy Bear Factory are, strictly speaking, stores, so that would put the occupancy at less than 25 percent... not exactly the best of times.

1 comment:

gorillaboy said...

It was great to see the downtown area doing so well the last time I was in Wally World. I remember the silly little radio jingles that Blue Mountain Mall had on the radio when I was in college. From what I remember it wasn't all that big to begin with. The times I went there it was to go to the Shopko. Although Romey was rescued from there one Saturday after Thanksgiving. I also remember getting some Coed Naked Farming T-Shirts from there as well.

Just for giggles, I went to see if I could find the Palouse Mall, the mall in Moscow, Idaho that serviced Pullman and Moscow during my grad school days. It had a JC Penney, but nothing else. They declined me a credit card so I have no fond memories from there. There was also a place that was one of the first to sell emu burgers. Doesn't look like there's much there now either.

I think folks are just willing to drive to a cookie-cutter mall or utilize the cheap shipping instead of using the local shopping mall. But, as I mentioned there will always be a place for the local downtown shopping.