With Eastland Mall reducing operating hours and the parent company walking away from ownership, Charlotte residents wonder: Is the mall dead?
Store owners say no, and they plan to stick with the mall as long as it keeps opening its doors. The merchants are unified by the knowledge that despite its financial troubles, Eastland remains the place to go in Charlotte for ethnic clothing and home items.
“(The mall) can be saved. A lot of people shop here, but a lot don't even know Eastland is still open,” said Len McClintock, manager of Fame Sports. “The word of mouth just isn't correct.”
Columbus, Ohio-based Glimcher Realty Trust, the mall's owner, said in a statement last month it will no longer subsidize the money-losing mall, a longtime community anchor at Central and Albemarle roads in east Charlotte.
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And last week, the mall announced it will cut hours beginning this week – closing Sundays and reducing hours other days. That would shave a total of 241/2 hours of shopping each week. The mall's anchors will continue to operate normal hours, including Sundays.
Eastland mall has 95 local, regional and national stores inside the center plus three large anchor tenants – Sears, Burlington Coat Factory and Dillard's. (Dillard's is scheduled to close sometime next month.)
The typical Charlotte mall has about 100 tenants, Eastland general manager Marvin Snyder said.
Eastland is different than other Charlotte malls because most of its stores cater to African Americans and Latinos who demand a specialized style that exudes pride in their culture and lifestyle.
This primarily includes “urban fashion” – clothing and accessories inspired by hop-hop artists. Other examples include T-shirts with Spanish slogans or accessories and home décor in Africa-inspired prints.
“The stuff at the other malls is just not good. There's not enough of it,” Edwin Usher, a 28-year-old line cook said while eating at the food court last week. “If they have it, it's really expensive.”
James Muhammad, owner of Dynasty Books, said Eastland stores are in a unique position to respond to the demands of the market. While large stores such as Belk and Dillard's must roll out a vast inventory that caters to the masses, small, independent stores can afford to take a risk by targeting a niche.
Muhammad said he believes that is why the larger stores did not survive at Eastland.
“When people do have money to spend, they come here to spend it,” he said. “By the time Barnes & Noble realizes what people are looking for in books, or by the time Macy's gets the newest urban line, the people have already transitioned to something else.”
Some Eastland shoppers said they also prefer the mall because they can find a broader selection of sizes. It's much easier, they say, to find 3x to 6x sizes for adults and clothes that will fit larger children.
Shoppers, city officials and store owners said they hope Eastland's unique flavor will be saved in some form, even if the mall itself must be demolished for redevelopment. Consultants and city leaders have said the best way to revitalize the area is to replace the mall with a mixed-use development of stores, residences and community services.
Meanwhile, the mall has continued its goal of attracting tenants to replace those that have left. In the last two years, Man Alive, a national urban clothing chain, has opened at the site. Also, the movie theater reopened and has been showing first-run blockbusters.
Just last week, home improvement store Surplus Warehouse opened at Eastland Mall in the building Harris Teeter vacated last year.
“I really hope the mall says because I love coming here,” said Brittany Thompson, 32. “If they close, where will we buy our clothes?”