Jason Hancock's Commentary

Posted September 3, 2006 (user submitted December 6, 2005)

On the day before Thanksgiving, 2005, I took a detour from my trip from Des Moines to Davenport and stopped in Muscatine, a city of about 23,000 on the Mississippi River some 15 miles south of Interstate 80. I visited Muscatine Mall and was surprised to see how dead it was. It's anchored by JCPenney, Elder-Beerman (the only one in Iowa), and Menards, but there is little in between.

Muscatine Mall opened in 1971, but I don't know much else about the history of the mall. I remember a 1987 trip there as an 11-year-old because that was the first time I had ever visited a Wal-Mart, two years before the one in Davenport opened. In 1995, Muscatine Mall had Wal-Mart, JCPenney, and Von Maur as its anchors as well as Walgreens, B. Dalton, Foot Locker, Musicland, Radio Shack, and other typical mall stores, about 50 in all. Around 1997, though, Wal-Mart moved to a new SuperCenter along the US 61 bypass. Menards replaced Wal-Mart's north anchor spot about a year later. While it is certainly unusual to have a Menards in an enclosed shopping mall, as most of the home improvement chain's stores are free-standing, it's not unique: Marshall Town Center in Marshalltown, IA, also has one. Yet Menards has replaced many of its smaller stores with new, larger, free-standing stores in recent years, which has led to some speculation on the future of its Muscatine Mall store. Von Maur left the south anchor spot shortly after Wal-Mart left and Staples occupied it for about two years, but its early 2002 closing put the mall's future in jeopardy until Elder-Beerman replaced Staples in late 2003. Walgreens left the mall for a free-standing store just south of the mall shortly before Staples closed, and a lot of the smaller stores started closing around that time.

As of Thanksgiving 2005, the only chain stores left inside the mall are GNC and Regis Hairstylists. There are also the Plaza 4 Theaters (the only movie screens in Muscatine) and a handful of mom-and-pop stores, but there are only about 10 stores in the mall's interior aside from the anchors. Most of the interior corridor between Menards and JCPenney was "closed for maintenance," and Menards' mall entrance was sealed. Two stores -- a Hallmark Gold Crown shop and Hibbett Sports -- and a China Buffet have opened in the former Walgreens space but they have exterior entrances only, without access to the mall's interior. An ExpertTire store, an Iowa driver's license station, and a wireless store also have exterior entrances without mall access. On my Thanksgiving-eve visit, the only "shoppers" in the mall corridor appeared to be a bunch of teens hanging out by the theaters. There was also a Santa Claus display in the center of the mall near JCPenney, but that was it.

All this makes me wonder what caused the mall to go downhill. The nearest regional malls -- Northpark in Davenport, Southpark in Moline, and Coral Ridge in Coralville -- are 30-45 minutes away.

Links - Pictures Of A Car Show Held Inside Muscatine Mall in 2004
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