Kevin Magurany's Commentary

Posted May 3, 2011 (user submitted November 9, 2006)

If you're ever in the St. Louis area you should swing by Alton Square Mall in Alton, IL, now a member of Simmons Malls, and offer any suggestions to the management there. This mall serves a vast population for such a small location. Though the Missouri side of the St. Louis metro area is very urban/suburban, the Illinois side has a lot of rural areas, especially in the northern part of what's considered the metro area, which stretches up to Jersey County. Jersey County is at least 50 miles from St. Louis, and about 30 miles from the next nearest mall, the Jamestown Mall.

Alton Square Mall started its decline in the 90’s. There are some staple stores there, and the rest of the area has recently started to build up around the mall. But, the big three in the mall are a Macy’s, formally Famous Barr of May Co. (you know it’s bad when the store is a chiefly a clearance center) that hasn’t been renovated since the early 80’s and shopping there is like walking into a time warp. The other stores are a J.C. Penny’s (see Macy’s description) and a fairly new Sears. Each of these major department stores carries a limited selection of goods. The addition of Sears seemed as though it may resurrect the mall, since the mall itself had been expanded to accommodate; this may have generated some local interest, but it quickly faded too.

Mainly the people who frequent the mall are the elderly whom don’t care to drive to the other malls, mall walkers, and those people who need only one or two items buy them as quickly as possible and leave. I include myself as a member of the latter, and I avoid going to Alton Square Mall completely if at all possible; choosing rather to drive to someplace with more to offer.

The rest of the businesses are very small specialty retailers (i.e. Beads-N-Things, Vitamin World, and couple hair & nail places) that I wonder how they make their rent each month. I know a jeweler who vacated his shop years ago due to the high rental payments. Most of the retailers are either kiosks (cell phone providers) or simply seasonal/holiday shops. All of the music and toy stores have been gone, and the bigger chain (i.e. Spencer Gifts, GNC, Waldenbooks) stores have cut back their merchandise to include the bare minimum. Much of what used to be retail space is now taken up by telemarketing services, a technical institute, a banquet facility, a small library and Christian Science Reading Room. The rest is simply empty with boarded up storefronts.

The food court is almost non-existent. A China Gate and Dairy Queen are the only eateries still operating in the food court. The mall also hosts an Olga’s Kitchen and Cookie Factory at the opposite end, as well as a banquet facility. These too will probably not last much longer as traffic through the mall continues to decrease, not to mention the lack of customers requires less of a need for baking fresh cookies and therefore the quality of the Cookie Factory is unsatisfactory. Nobody wants stale cookies at three bucks a pop.

A freestanding Red Lobster (the only seafood restaurant around aside from Captain D’s) and a new steakhouse are located in the parking lot, but the steakhouse is now occupying an old Pasta House Co. building. With location being a determining factor in the success of a restaurant its difficult to estimate how long the steakhouse will last.

Alton has no movie theaters, the closest being a small theater in the next town about a 15-minute drive from the mall. Otherwise, Jamestown Mall has a very “less than savory” theater; the type that people pound on the exterior emergency exit doors until someone inside the theater gets frustrated enough to let them in. There are also very limited activities for the area youth to participate in. There are no big arcades (the mall has a very few video games in a corner they like to call an arcade), no skating rinks, no indoor playing facilities featuring tubes and tunnels like a “McDonald’s Playland”, no amusement rides, no good/legal gathering spots for teens. I don’t usually approve of loitering, but hanging out at the mall is part of growing up; isn’t it? But with nothing in the mall of any significant interest, what’s the point?

I remember when I was in high school in the late 80’s and early 90’s the mall was still bustling and every bit of retail space was full; in fact, it seemed that even on “snow days” when school had been canceled due to poor road conditions EVERYONE went to the mall. However, as I mentioned before, this may have been the last of the hey-days and the beginning of the end.

Rumors have been circulating for years that Alton Square Mall is in danger of closing. The prospects of this are frightening and there is already talk of ANOTHER Super Wal-Mart being developed right down the street from the current mall on public property now occupied by a municipal (inexpensive) golf course. There are two other Super Wal-Mart stores already within a 15 to 20-mile radius of Alton Square Mall and another would drive out many of the existing businesses, including two regional grocery chains, that depend on the community. Many have confirmed that if another Super Wal-Mart is built, they will have to close their stores.

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