Meredith Dixon's Commentary

Posted (user submitted) December 26, 2005

Middletown Mall was the first enclosed mall to open in north central West Virginia, back in the 1970's. It was well located next to I-79, and no doubt it looked on paper like an excellent mall site. Unfortunately, Fairmont, then the closest town, was and is sharply divided between people who live and shop on the West Side of town and people who live and shop on the East Side. Middletown Mall lies south of the city, and since it fell into neither the West Side nor the East, neither group would shop there. So the only potential shoppers were county residents living outside Fairmont and people from Morgantown and Clarksburg.

When Morgantown and Clarksburg got their own malls, traffic dwindled to almost nothing. The mall was not kept up well, and in the mid-90's part of the roof fell in. Over half of the remaining usable space was walled off in the mid-90's and used for temporary offices for the FBI. Now that the FBI has built its own building, that space is (I believe) vacant, but still sealed away. Social Security and the DMV, which came in when the FBI did, still have offices at the mall, and the sheriff's office has a station there.

Although the area to the south of Fairmont experienced something of a building boom in the late 1990's, incorporating as the town of White Hall, there is almost nothing left at Middletown Mall to attract the new residents. The surviving retail stores are clustered along one side of the mall and most have external entrances; I believe the only active store without an external entrance (other than seasonal kiosks) is the Goodwill, but there may be something else right at each of the two remaining mall doors. (There's a third door which is still open for fire reasons, but there's nothing back there to go to any more except the mall restrooms, so I don't think it counts.)

Local artists have painted murals on the walls which hide the empty storefronts and the sealed part of the mall, and much of the empty-but-unsealed rest of the mall is taken up with what was once an elaborate exhibit on the history of coal mining. Regrettably, it has been vandalized so often that it is not what it was, and the last time I went to the mall the exhibit was closed to the public. I don't know whether they are repairing it or whether they have given up.

Andrew Sabak's Commentary

Posted June 3, 2006 (user submitted)

I disagree with some assertions in the description of the mall.

I don't know where the author gets the idea that nobody from Fairmont (3 miles away) shopped there from 1969 to 1990's due to some East/West split. That's just for football games, and is totally irrelevant here. It would NOT have lasted over 25 years without all the local support. Maybe this is her hypothesis, but does this person actually live here?

Our family has lived here since 1989, and it was a thriving mall until the mid 1990s. In fact up until about 1994/95 there was a very busy, 100% occupied retail environment, and a thousand kids would show up on Halloween to go trick or treating from store to store.

Regarding the beginning of the transition, there is one obvious error which leads me to suspect the author is trading on hearsay. There was never (at least never reported in the paper) any ROOF problems. What actually occurred was a FLOOR problem, and the mall owners (Crown American of Pennsylvania), being an absentee landlord with many other properties, simply chose not to fix the problem. The tenant of that largest store, a fine chain named Elder Beerman, then chose to move out, and that was the beginning of the exodus.

But this had NOTHING whatsoever to do with lack of, or loss of, local support. In fact, if the same chains (E-B, Sears, Bon-Ton, etc) were to move back in, many thousands of people would be very happy to quit driving 20 miles out of town.

I suggest that any analysis of this phenomenon examine the actions of Crown American, and the later actions of the current owners, who go under 4 different names and may have been playing lots of financial games (Middletown Investments, Pine Lake LLC, Southland Properties LLC, and Pin Oak LLC)


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