Bobby Peacock and Eric Mackey's Commentary

Posted November 20, 2006 (user submitted)

Universal Mall is just another story about bigger and better competition moving in just a few miles away...

Opened in 1965, Universal Mall is a mall in Warren, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. The mall is located in Macomb County at the intersection of 12 Mile Road and Dequindre Road, convenient to both I-75 and I-696. The mall is considered "dead" by some, as many stores have left. Anchoring Universal Mall are AJ Wright and Value City; in addition, the mall featuers a food court and a large movie theater.

Originally named Universal City, the mall's anchor stores at the time were Montgomery Ward, Federals, and Woolworth. Ben Franklin, Cunningham Drugs, and about 50 other stores rounded out the tenant roster. Around 1977, Federals declared bankruptcy and closed all their locations; their store at Universal City was converted to a Crowley's. The 1970s also saw the arrival of development around the mall, including a movie theater and a large E. J. Korvette department store (now Kmart).

In the early 1970s, Oakland Mall opened in nearby Troy and Macomb Mall in Roseville. These malls were both withing miles of Universal; and were also larger. Universal Mall continued to hold its own throughout the 1990s, despite increased competition these malls. In 1997, the long-established Woolworth dime store chain closed all of its locations, leaving a large vacancy in the mall's Montgomery Ward wing. By 2000, Montgomery Ward would close as well, further decreasing the traffic in the north wing. The Crowley's store was bought out by Value City and renamed "Crowley's Value City" (later dropping the Crowley's nomenclature entirely), leaving it and Mervyns as the only anchor stores. As the mall lost these anchors, it would also lose many chain tenants. Spencer's Gifts, KB Toys (formerly Circus World), B. Dalton, Hallmark Cards, Famous Footwear, Gap, Zales Jewelers, Musicland, A & W, and Olga's Kitchen would be among the many stores and restaurants leaving for other malls or disappearing entirely. One lone holdout, a food vender called Kreme & Korn, would weather the storm; today it is one of the oldest remaining tenants in the mall.

The mall fell into a state of disrepair in the late 1990s, and due to maintenance issues, the mall's fountain was also shut off. Occupancy slumped to about 45%, and most of the remaining tenants were independent boutiques. However, new management came in the form of Universal Mall Properties, who would give the mall a much-needed remodel and cleaning. In September 2001, the 75,000 square foot Burlington Coat Factory opened for business, occupying the former Woolworth space and several other spaces in the former Montgomery Ward wing. A.J. Wright opened in 2002, taking up the former Ben Franklin space. Since the new management took over, occupancy has increased to 75%, although the tenant roster is still predominantly local and independent shops. The new owners are also working on plans to fill the vacancy left by Montgomery Ward.

Mervyns announced that it would shutter several underperforming locations in 2006, including all Michigan stores; the Michigan locations all closed in Spring 2006. Since the closure, Universal Mall's western anchor is now vacant, and as of autumn 2006 no tenant has been confirmed to take its place.

Although no longer the prime shopping destination that it once was, Universal Mall continues to function as a shopping center. Many businesses have opened on outparcels over the years, (including Chase Manhattan Bank, TCF Bank, Huntington Bank, and Kroger). The Cinemark 16 theatre, a second-run theatre, is one of the stronger tenants of the mall. The only remaining chain stores are Deb Shop, Dollar Tree, GNC, Fiesta Hair Salon, and Foot Locker.

The mall itself hosts many events - in the summer and spring it hosts the annual Warren Rotary Carnival as well as a classic car show to complement the Woodward Dream Cruise. In addition the mall has children and senior citizen clubs that schedule activities in the mall. Unfortunately, business in the mall has still been slow, and with the nearby area slowly declining, many believe that Universal Mall will never be able to be competitive with the larger shopping centers nearby again.


Wikipedia Entry - Wikipedia page on Universal Mall
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