Erica Hayes' Commentary

Posted May 5, 2008 (user submitted)

I had hoped I'd never have to write this one, though at some point I knew it was inevitable.

The other malls I've done commentary for on this site were parts of my childhood - places I visited every once in a while when my Dad was in town, places I remember fondly. The Lockport Mall, however, is my childhood. I grew up in Lockport, and I've spent more time in the Lockport Mall than any other mall. Period.

I don't know much about the early history of the mall. Perhaps someone else can fill in those blanks. From what I understand, the mall was built around 35 years ago. The stores were located in four hallways shaped like a cross. From the main arteries, little hallways jutted off to entrances, bathrooms, and the like. There were anchor stores at three of the four points, and the main entrance at the fourth.

Like I said, I grew up at this mall. It was local, it was convenient, it had everything a mall should have, and it was perfectly sized for the population of my fair city. I got my ears pierced at Claire's when I was 7. I bought my Brownie Girl Scout uniform at AM&As. All the Girl Scout troops in Lockport had a sleepover there every year (my troop slept in front of Love of Pete). I bought my clothes at Deb, before Deb was cool. I remember always noting that it wasn't a large mall like Boulevard or the Walden Galleria, but it was lacking the shuttered storefronts I often saw at other malls.

Which is why it came as such a shock to me when I came home from college to discover the mall over 75% empty. The rumors were that leases weren't being renewed because the owners wanted to demolish the mall and build a Wal-Mart in its place, save for the Bon-Ton which does good business and would remain as a stand-alone store. I went there with my mother to take pictures after I found out what had been going on, and Mom spoke with a man who noticed me wandering the hallways snapping shuttered storefronts. I didn't catch his name, but he had on an anti- Wal-Mart button. We spoke for a few minutes, and he was genuinely happy to see someone young who had such an interest in the mall. It turns out that much of the community is very against this Wal-Mart. So much so that I came home from college in 2003, and the mall (with only the Bon-Ton left) is still standing in 2008. I worked at one of the businesses in the mall parking lot for about a year (the outparcels still do good business). It was depressing to go to work every day and drive through a potholed parking lot that was waiting for cars that will never come, cars holding people eager to shop at a mall bearing only labelscars of stores I loved in my youth.

On my picture-taking trip to the mall, I went to Claire's and bought a purse. Nothing special, but I wanted to say I had something from that particular store in case it was gone by the time I came back. And it was. I went back on May 27, 2006, to buy a book from Waldenbooks on its final day of operation. I've been a bookworm all my life, and I can't tell you how many hundreds of dollars my mother spent at that store over the years to keep me happily immersed in reading. I admit, I cried when I walked out. It was almost symbolic that the store that meant the most to me was the last to go.

So what now? I can't imagine. About two years ago a storm knocked down a piece of the old Montgomery Ward fašade, where the sign used to be. I figured it would stay that way until the wrecking ball rumbled through - less than a week later it was all patched up, good as new. Like I said, the Bon-Ton does surprisingly good business, and is expected to stay put. As for the stores that left? Actually, you don't have to go far to find many of them. You can find the GNC, Regis Hairstylers, Kay Jewelers, and Radio Shack right across the street, in new plazas built to accommodate them (and some new stores as well). Laux Sporting Goods is down the street in another plaza. Picasso Moon moved its store to Main Street, which has its own long history of Urban Renewal gone horribly wrong. The retailers didn't want to leave Lockport, that much is obvious given how many former mall tenants have popped up in other spots in the area.

The tug-of-war within the community continues, with so much speculation that it's impossible to know what's true. Whatever is decided, this much is true: for the moment, one of the most resilient and reliable pieces of my childhood in Lockport will still be standing there when I go home to visit. And when it finally goes, I'll be sending people there with cameras to document.

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