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               PARKWAY CENTER MALL: PITTSBURGH, PA

John Clark's Commentary:

March 20, 2004 (user submitted)

Sits between I-279 South and Green Tree Road, just a couple of miles southwest of Downtown Pittsburgh. Opened in the early 80's, it received a lot of press because the developer cleared the land, put in fill, and build the mall on the fill very quickly, causing severe vibration and settlement issues. You can walk around the outside of this mall and see indications where the exterior sidewalk has dropped as much as 18 inches over the years.

It was one of the first malls to actually get it's own exit ramp on an Interstate highway - the Parkway Center Drive exit on I-279. It basically drops you in the mall parking lot, although it is possible to navigate to other suburbs of Pittsburgh on side roads from that point. The mall is actually in an excellent location...on a major highway, the first stop after coming out of the tunnels from Downtown, surrounded by office parks and sprawling residential neighborhoods.

I worked in this mall during it's heyday, from 1985 till 1988. I worked in the David Weis Catalog Showroom, which was in an annex that was divided from the main body of the mall by a vehicle tunnel. The tunnel provided a sheltered enclave for loading 26" TV's and furniture into vehicles, and was much appreciated. Upstairs of us in the annex was a very large Zayre store, and a Chi Chi's Restaurant. Among the other stores in the mall were a PNC Bank, El-Bee Shoes, KayBee Toys, Gold Circle, Jo Ann Fabrics, National Record Mart, Radio Shack, Computer Central, Thrift Drug, Giant Eagle, and a fully packed food court, that included Mr. Pool and Pockets Deli and Billiards. The mall also contained Confetti's, which was considered a hot local nightspot at the time. The Gold Circle went out when that chain declared bankruptcy in '85, but the site was quickly taken over by Kmart.

What I remember most about working in the mall were all of the problems related to the floor shaking and rapid settling of the building. Often the crystal and dinnerware in our showroom would come crashing off the shelves when a particularly heavy truck rumbled up I-279. A large crack opened up in the floor at Kmart, which ran the length of the store, and to this day is covered by a series of steel plates. Perhaps the least pleasant memory was the sewer line that broke under our jewelry counter just before Christmas, causing the whole store to reek of raw sewage for the remainder of the Holiday season.

When David Weis went out of business in the early 90's, PharMor took over the space. The huge Zayre location was split in half, and shared between CompUSA and Syms Clothing. Confetti went through several identities...ClubZOO, and some kind of country line dancing place I think. As the 90's dragged on, the Food Court gradually began to lose tenants, with a dance studio and a Pennsylvania Drivers License Center taking spaces for a time. The mall underwent a renovation in the late 90's, with new lighting and carpeting, and an exterior paint job. Dino Kingdom, a Chuck-E-Cheese imitator, took a large space on the lower level.

In the last couple of years though, this mall has quickly emptied out and become a shell of it's former self. PharMor went out of business and vacated the former David Weis space. Syms and CompUSA soon left the upper level, and recently the Chi Chi's closed in the wake of the hepatitis scare at the Beaver Valley Mall, some 30 miles away. This has left every space in the annex, beyond the vehicle tunnel empty. Signs and barriers have closed off the stairwell that used to lead to the upper level of this annex. The night club eventually closed, and the Thrift Drug became Eckerd before it moved out for a free standing location a couple of miles away. The NRM and another record store closed up shop, victims of downloading. The mall has recently lost a musical instruments store, Jo Ann Fabrics, Payless Shoes, and several clothing chains. The best part is the food court, which at this point actually has no food available! All the food vendors have closed, (though the pool pub is still there, along with the cafe at Kmart).

This mostly empty mall is now home to Kmart, Giant Eagle, Dollar Tree, Radio Shack, Dalmo Optical, and precious little else. Most people think the cause of this decline was the rapid development of Robinson Town Center and The Pointe at Robinson, several miles to the west. Both are large sprawling strip centers, but an enclosed Mall at Robinson was recently added as well. It is still a mystery why the mall has fallen on times this hard, as it is still awfully convenient to a lot of population, and convenent to a major artery. A combination of poor management and bad press resulting from early structural problems seems to blame. I have little doubt that when the Kmart pulls out, this mall will quickly be razed.

Sam Dawes's Commentary:

August 4, 2005 (user submitted Dec 6, 2004)

The author of the piece on the Parkway Center Mall in Pittsburgh pondered several reasons why the mall is fading fast, and I thought you might be interested in the views of another Pittsburgh native.

1. While getting into the mall is easy thanks to the exit off I-279, the exit ramp from the mall back to the highway dumps you right into one of the biggest highway snarls in the Pittsburgh area. The ramp is very close to the Fort Pitt Tunnel and the flow of cars from the mall (when there was a flow from the mall) ran smack into the wall of traffic leading up to the tunnels. Most people would rather shop somewhere that lets you leave without being entangled in a huge traffic jam.

2. Retail has taken a huge hit in the area. Losing Ames and Phar-Mor stores has been a big, big blow to area shopping malls and centers. The Penn Hills Shopping Center near me had an Ames and a Phar-Mor as anchor stores and the combined loss of both nearly made that a dead mall too. They were able to split the Phar-Mor into a Dollar Store and an Aldi's supermarket but the former Ames building is still empty all this time later. There's a lot of shopping centers around here with gaping holes in their anchor stores with no prospects to fill them.

Patrick Ehland's Commentary:

March 24, 2007 (user submitted)

Parkway Center Mall, just outside Pittsburgh, PA, holds a special place in my heart. My parents took me to see Santa Claus there every year when I was growing up, and my late aunt would take my brother and me there every Friday in summer.

I returned back to Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, and went through Parkway Center. I was very saddened to see such a focal point of my childhood in such bad shape. I've known for a long time that the mall was on life-support, but certainly did not expect to see how bad it has fallen.

The lower and third levels are now completely shuttered off from the public. This leaves only the second floor with any activity. The first floor also contained the food court, which is also now closed off from access. The third floor had had trouble keeping retailers since CompUSA left about four year ago. The mall's only indepedent restaurant was Chi-Chi's, also on the third floor. The hepatitis scare was the nail in the coffin for the third level of Parkway Center.

The second floor is still home to KMart, which is evidently still doing quite well. Two other mainstays also are still open: Phantom of the Attic, a comic-book and trading cars store, and King's Jewelers remain in business. Otherwise, the mall is almost deserted. Other retailers remaining in business include a book store, a biker clothing store, a cell phone accessory outlet, the Sports Deli (which is doing very well), and the arcade (which was moved from the first floor). Once you walked past the Sports Deli, it becomes clear just how sad the condition of the mall is. Despite being the only floor still accessible, it still has over 50% vacancy. There is nothing left past the Sports Deli, which is located at the center of the floor. Petland, Payless Shoes, the eye doctor, another shoe store, and a photographer have all since left.

One would think if Kmart leaves, the mall will probably close soon thereafter. This is a shame because of the accessibility of the mall, and amenities close by. The mall itself is part of a huge complex which includes office buildings, a 10-story Best Western hotel (recently completed major renovations), an ITT Technical Institute, and an apartment complex.

Anyway, I'll stop back there some time to see if Parkway Center is doing any better. I do not expect good news, but the owners have said they plan on undertaking a major renovation project to revitalize the mall. Whether this happes at all, let alone if it reverses the mall's fortunes remains to be seen. The previous comments noting the development of The Mall at Robinson and The Pointe are very true. Both have hit the mall very hard, and recent talk of construction of another large business district in nearby Oakdale could prove to be the knock-out blow. Time will tell.

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