W.L Mynk's Commentary

Posted January 10, 2008 (user submitted)

“Lexington Mall has it all.” This oft heard jingle was the holiday call for shoppers in central Kentucky to begin their annual December trek this once popular Fayette County mall.

Lexington Mall was constructed at the high traffic intersection of Richmond and New Circle Roads in 1974 as the newest of Lexington’s three major malls, and quickly became the areas most popular shopping destination. Even despite the fact that it was smaller (just less than 300,000 square feet) than it’s two competitors Fayette and Turfland malls.

Part of the malls initial appeal was its location. Fayette and Turfland malls were both constructed on the south side of Lexington. Fayette Mall also had competition from South Park Shopping Center located across its Nicholasville Road location. Lexington Mall’s location not only drew shoppers from Fayette County’s eastside but also from nearby Clark, Madison, Montgomery, and Bourbon counties.

Also adding to the malls prime location was its proximity to one of Lexington’s most posh neighborhoods. Just west of the mall’s prime location is a neighborhood that boasts a number of million dollar antebellum homes, statesman Henry Clay’s Ashland estate, and the ultra exclusive Idle Hour Country Club. With such a concentration of wealth located within a five mile radius of the mall, its success seemed inevitable.

The mall was originally anchored by a McAlpins (which later became a Dillards), and also featured a number of local chains including Embry’s Furs and Dawahares. In the early 1980’s a County Market supermarket was also added (which became an upscale furniture store and later a Dillard’s Home Store).

Other stores included Radio Shack, Aladdin Arcade, All Sports; GNC, Knott Shoes, Shoe Sensation, Verizon Wireless, Waldenbooks, Musicland, Hallmark, Begley’s Drug Store (which later became a Rite Aid), Regis Hair Salon, Schwab’s Tobacconist, Pal Optical, Morrison’s Cafeteria, a cinema, Phillip Gall’s Outdoor and Ski and many others through the years. The mall property also hosted a Dry Cleaner, Bank, Gas Station/Convenient Store and a Perkins Pancake House built in the early 1990’s.

Lexington Mall’s retail superiority in the area lasted until the early 1990’s when a series of events led to the mall’s eventual demise.

Local Mall Upgrades: In the early 1990’s Fayette Mall built a sizable food court and a large expansion that attracted a third Lexington area McAlpins location to their complex. By 1995 the mall had four strong anchors McAlpins/Dillards, Sears, Lazarus, and a JC Penny’s lured away from Turfland Mall. Fayette Mall was also successful in attracting a number of small popular retailers like Victoria’s Secret, Babbage’s, Abercrombie and Fitch, Express, Structure, Williams and Sonoma, and Talbot’s. These additions seriously cut into Lexington Mall’s retail superiority.

Also in the mid 1990’s Turfland Mall, long the areas least popular mall underwent a $5 million renovation and attracted a number of popular restaurants to their property. The Turfland renovations left Lexington Mall looking very dated and old compared to the cities two other malls.

Hamburg Place: In 1997 notorious horse farm owners Preston and Anita Madden began developing over 100 acres of their farm into what would become the epitome of a big box shopping mecca. The new complex had what any real estate agent will tell you the most important aspect for such a venture, location…location…location. Situated at the intersection of I-75 and Man O War Boulevard the complex had direct access to the interstate and was much closer to the eastern counties whose residents once flocked to Lexington Mall.

Quickly, large retailers such as Target, Meijer, Kohls, Garden Ridge, and a 16 screen Regal Cinema located to Hamburg. They were joined by popular retailers like Old Navy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bath and Body Works, Barnes and Noble, Circuit City, and Baby’s R Us, as well as hotels, restaurants, office buildings, churches, and a residential development.

Managerial Stupidity: In 1996 Lexington Mall was beginning to feel the fiscal sting of the Fayette Mall expansion and Turfland Mall renovations, when big box giant Home Depot planned to build a store on the eastside of the existing mall. This construction would lead to one of the most idiotic examples of mall management in retail history. The dispute concerned a land use disagreement between Home Depot and the malls owner Saul Centers LLP.

Saul wanted a say in the planning and construction of the Home Depot store and the retailer refused, leading to a heated two hour debate in front of the Lexington Fayette County Planning Commission. The debate between the two parties was so uncivil that the Planning Commissioner told both parties to “grow up,” leading to bad blood that exists within the two parties even to this day. The dispute has led to a legal battle that is still being adjudicated.

The stupidity is not that Saul Centers were wrong in their claims (the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in their favor in 2004), but rather the fact that the legal battle became more important than the survival of the mall itself. As the legal battle ensued retailers began leaving the mall at an alarming rate either moving to smaller shopping centers (i.e. Pal Optical and Phillip Galls), relocating to Hamburg (i.e. Dawahares), or simply closing their Lexington Mall locations. Rather than embracing Home Depot as a second anchor funds used to fight the big box giant could have been used to make needed renovations to the complex, perhaps saving the mall as a viable shopping option. The Saul groups’ pride and principles might have led them into the fight, but it helped cost them a very viable mall in the process.

Even after the prolonged legal battle the only retail establishments that still exist on the Lexington Mall complex are the Dillards (which hasn’t closed because of a long term lease agreement) and ironically enough the Home Depot.

The current state of the mall was best summed up in 2002 by Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Cheryl Truman who wrote, “Lexington Mall's problem is that it is not old enough to be quaint, not new enough to be cool, and no longer full enough for anybody much to notice. And for that much space in that prominent a location, the kind of silence that Lexington Mall generates is deafening.”

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