The Daily Yonder published my second contribution today, “Decaying Malls Struggle to Find Niche.” I explore the specter of failing malls, a common site on northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. I pay special attention to one Iron Range mall in Hibbing, the Irongate Plaza, which is still open but has never recovered from losing most of its stores after the Wal-Mart Supercenter opened about a decade ago (or, really, from the local economic devastation of the 1980s.
I was born the year Hibbing’s Irongate Mall opened in 1979. The late ad manager at the Hibbing Daily Tribune once told me the high school band played and the people of this flagship city on Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range rejoiced, reveling in the chain stores, video arcade, two restaurants and three-screen movie theater. It was there I waited in line to see the re-release of my first movie, “Pinocchio,” my dad in his work Dickies blowing Winston cigarette smoke to the heavens of the tall red ceilings of the lobby.
Earlier this year I walked my sons through that same mall, or at least the parts not cordoned off from the public after the Kmart closed. The surviving J.C. Penney and Sears stores stand in contrast to the darkened alley of shuttered storefronts, most scarred with the remnants of signs for stores that closed before my oldest was born in 2005.
Malls were supposed to be “what came next” after downtowns began to struggle. Now we drive to strip malls on the edge of the city — isolated concrete islands that require four miles of driving to reach, even in town. No one quite knows what to do with the malls. Sure, I talk about the Irongate and Mesabi in Hibbing, but most malls in towns like these are struggling.
You know, it’s cold in the winter up here. We could do something inside. Art. Community activities. It’s going to take a lot of creativity to figure out this one.