Mall World Tour, Stop #1: Moreno Valley Mall

Note:  The first of an occasional series highlighting the mall scene in Southern California

Moreno Valley Mall has a soft spot in my heart.  It isn’t because it’s an awesome mall (It isn’t).  It isn’t because of the variety of retailers inside the mall (Well…I’ll address that later).  Mo Val Mall gets some love from me because it is closest to my domicile.  Therefore, it is the first of what I hope will be many tour stops featured here on Mall World.  I mean to blog about you have to go to malls, yes?  

Moreno Valley Mall snapshot:  Opened in 1993, the mall sits on land that once was the Riverside International Raceway although you’d be hard pressed to find any reminders of its former glory.  It was developed by Fritz Duda and initially owned by General Growth Property.  It beat out a competitor for the Mo Val market (We’ll talk about Canyon Springs Mall in a future blog post) and opened with May Co., Sears, Harris’ and JCPenney.  Bullock’s was going to be a fifth anchor but pulled out shortly after the mall opened.

A bursting housing bubble and the realignment of March Air Force Base in 1996 was a double whammy that hurt the mall.  Soon, retail chains closed up shop.  Some because of the sales volume.  Others because they ceased operations.  In their place came mom and pop operations that people outside of Mo Val never heard of.  

Around 2005, Harkins Theatres claimed the spot once reserved for Bullock’s.  It marked a minor resurgence for the failing mall.  However, four years later, GGP declared Chap. 11 and sold off the low hanging fruit which included Mo Val Mall and its cousin, Montclair Plaza.  In 2009, the mall lost one of its original anchor stores when Harris’/Gothchalk’s closed their doors.  That space has been empty ever since.  

The mall can market itself as having one of two Round 1 Centers in California (the other being at Puente Hills Mall in Industry).  It also will be adding a Crunch Fitness in the near future.

The Good:  The city should be thankful to have an enclosed mall.  Depending on your personal style, the mall isn’t anything you haven’t found in every other mall in So Cal.  Most of the usual suspects are here:  PacSun, Wet Seal, Champ’s Sports, Express, Aeropostale, among others.  Also a lot of stores you’d never find at any respectable mall in California.  I mean honestly, how does that Rasta store stay in business?  I suppose a recent attempt to market the mall for date night (dinner and a bowling game, my love?) might pay off.  I will say that the Macy’s is nice (formerly a Robinson’s May).  And there’s a nice movie theater.

The Bad:  The mall was built too big.  It should’ve been built a lot smaller and then expanded when it was time.  Enter through Macy’s and then take a good look.  The mall is 50% empty storefronts.  The owners claim a 93% occupancy rate but those must be disguised as empty storefronts.  Or, I’m going blind.  It doesn’t help that some stores still there could use a few shots of Windex.  The absence of some chains means that tax dollars are going to Riverside.  I’m really hoping the new owners find a way to bring more stores to the mall.  The appearance of so many shuttered stores just gives the customer a perception that this mall is dying.

My take:  The new owners are talking a good game.  Although I have to wonder how Crunch is going to help bring customers to the mall and spend money.  Time will tell if the Japanese gamble with Round 1 will pay dividends in the future.  I’m really hoping a genuine big box retailer like Dillard’s will increase their presence in California.  Changing the tenant mix would be a good start.  If and when we ever get a full on economic recovery maybe retailers with a national footprint may come.  In the meantime, the mall is good enough for your basic needs.  If you’re a label whore, there’s always Cabazon.  

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Welcome to Mall World

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      You’ve probably read much about the imminent death of the shopping mall.  Well, perhaps you haven’t.  I honesty don’t know which side of the fence you’re sitting on but that’s not the whole point of my post.   

     I just checked out the website for Sydney-based Westfield, a world-wide operator of shopping malls.  Did you know that they operate 22 malls in Southern California?  You did?  Well, good on ya, mate!  

     It is difficult to think that the mall world is dying.  While some stores are here today, gone tomorrow, the mall world is simply going through a reinvention of itself.  What was once a vanilla dull, big box eyesore is now opening up to the elements and including retailers that you wouldn’t think belonged in the mall.

     Moreno Valley Mall is rebranding itself as a entertainment destination.  The recent opening of Round 1 (Japanese equivalent of Dave & Buster’s) along with Harkin’s Theatres has Moreno Valley officials proposing the mall as a place for dates.  Yeah, ok.

     It seems Westfield also thinks it’s great to squeeze every acre in the San Fernando Valley with retail.  Their latest proposal, The Village at Topanga, will bring more retail to an area with two other malls (both owned by Westfield).  On top of that, will be high rise offices and a hotel.

     Downtown Los Angeles will also mark the location of a new mall.  Granted, not brand spanking new, but developers plan on wiping down the former Macy’s Plaza with some Windex and renaming the area The Bloc.  No, I’m not making this stuff up.

     Finally, to prove not mall culture isn’t dead yet, the World Trade Center 2.0 will be the location for yet another Westfield develop.  Go watch the video.  One word:  wow!

     I suppose the reason for wanting to cover the mall world is too practice generating eye balls for a concept that often replaces town centers for a majority of suburbanites.  Malls in some areas have replaced genuine downtowns.  

     What companies like Simon, General Growth and Westfield have to realize is that consumers won’t return if you’re offering the same old stuff.  And that’s where I come in.  Sure there are other writers that write about retail but they won’t cover the mall world the way I plan on doing that job.

     I hope you like what you read.  If you have some good tips or want to share your nickel hit me up at david.parada@yahoo.com.

     I hope to continue updating this blog daily.