Last Saturday while riding around Erie Boulevard I decided to stop into Shoppingtown Mall. I can’t tell you the last time I’d thought about stopping over there on a weekend, with memories of overcrowding going back, what, decades? But my wife had told me that someone we knew had a business in there and I wanted to check it out.

I was stunned immediately by how few cars there seemed to be in the parking lot. It was around 1:30 in the afternoon, and as I said, it was a Saturday. I wondered what I was in store for; I was surprised by what I saw.

Actually, based on the pictures I’m sharing, I was more surprised by what I didn’t see. I didn’t see a lot of people. I didn’t see a lot of stores. I didn’t see a lot of activity of any kind, save for the Fun Junction, which has the video games and laser tag, which means that at least kids still know where to go to have a good time.

Shoppingtown Food CourtIt was shocking. I’m sharing some pictures of long corridors that were practically empty. And the food court; when have you ever seen a food court of a major mall with so few visitors? I’ve been here during the week visiting a friend for lunch and there’s a lot more people then; probably people leaving work to get something different to eat. There are a lot of empty spaces in the food court as well, which is a major shame, and just around the corner is a cookie place and a frozen yogurt place, and neither had any activity initially (I did see someone getting a cookie as I was leaving the mall).

One would think that with the three brand name anchor stores, Sears, Macy’s and Penney’s, that the mall would still be bringing in at least a steady flow of customers, but that doesn’t seem to hold true, although Sears and Penney’s traffic can come straight into the store without having to come into the mall, and though Macy’s has an area for the same to occur there were few cars out there when I passed by.

Also, there are movie theaters in the mall and one might have thought that matinee movie times would bring in some people, who might think to have something to eat first or after a movie, but nada; at least on this day.

There’s so much empty space that it seems like the mall is trying to take a different direction in its clientele, which may or may not be working because on the day I was there, only two of the businesses were open.

One was an indoor roller skating/skateboard park called Black Mamba Skate park, where I saw a few kids learning how to roller skate. I understand they have some roller derby occurring in there from time to time, but that it’s also a small track. The other place open was a gymnastics facility, the first one I’ve ever seen, and there were some kids in there getting lessons. It’s brightly lit and pretty big, and maybe it does pretty well.

There were many more that were closed though, like the boxing studio, a dance studio, a karate / tae kwon do place, and of all things, a fencing center; I’ve never heard of one of those and it would have been cool to take a look inside, but it was totally dark.

I finally found the store that the guy I know owns, Randall’s Candles, which was almost directly across from the Penney’s entrance, which also leads to the only restaurant still in the mall; I wonder what kind of business they do. Randall used to have a stand at the Farmer’s Market off Park Street until moving into this present location. He has great stuff, but I’m wondering how he’s doing with the rest of the mall looking pretty bad.

It’s just stunning, and it made me wonder if this mall can survive, especially with the expansion of Destiny USA (it becomes Destiny on Wednesday). Other malls are changing their focus in small ways to survive, but Shoppingtown Mall is caught in a tough place because they tried to expand when other malls were contracting to counter the effects of Carousel, and thus it’s kind of a monster mall that looks worse by comparison. I mean, malls shouldn’t have so many corner spots that are empty; that just looks depressing.

I don’t know if it can survive on the service businesses that are in there, but I will say this to you. If you’ve been wondering whether you want to put up with the high traffic that Destiny is going to get, and you want to shop at big name stores, heading out to a place like Shoppingtown Mall would save you time and you’ll get some comfort out of it. I think this area can handle an uber-large mall and some outlying counterparts if planned correctly. I’d hate to see Shoppingtown go the way that Penn Cann Mall did; what a waste.

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