It was Sears and Indianapolis-based Wasson’s department stores that anchored the Bloomington College Mall when it opened in the spring of 1965 as one of Melvin Simon & Associates’ first indoor malls.
In the following year, 33 stores lined up in the new mall, among them JC Penny, Service Merchandise, Blocks, LS Ayres, Lazarus. All of them closed over the years, replaced by anchor stores such as Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods, as well as Macy’s, which closed during the pandemic.
“The selection of non-anchor tenants has evolved and changed to match customers’ tastes and desires,” noted a 2016 Herald Times editorial about the loss of Sears.
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“You won’t find Orange Julius like in the early days, but there’s a food court with half a dozen restaurants to choose from.”
A 1990s mall food court? It is no more. At College Mall in 2022, it’s a dining hall, a cluster of walk-up restaurants and a sea of tables and chairs for dining. Luca’s Pizza, once located between two malls, is one of the food pavilion options.
Stores have come and gone since Sears’ exit in 2016, with many ceasing business during the pandemic that temporarily closed malls around the world.
A hub for local businesses, community organizations
But shopping centers like College Mall are thriving, leasing space to local businesses and organizations to keep malls vital to communities.
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For example, the Bloomington Mall is home to the nonprofit Art Alliance Center, which exhibits and sells art created by its members. A donated baby grand piano sits in the middle of the room, with a sign encouraging everyone to sit down and play.
Music hits the mall, mixing with holiday music playing for shoppers. On a recent Thursday afternoon, painter and fabric artist Karen Holtzclaw sat near the cash register using a glue gun to create Christmas tree ornaments out of cork, cloth and metal tentacles. “It’s nice to have a place to do your work,” she said.
Leah Tannen said the center is one of several places where she sells jewelry and objects made from found materials. The mall “offers a diverse clientele,” she said.
Down in a quiet mall is another local spot, the Bloomington Spinners and Weavers Guild Store, a large retail space that also has room for classrooms in the back.
Nearby is Endwright East’s active living space, where senior citizens gather for programs that have recently included flu shot clinics, “friends” meals and tai chi classes.
There are still many standard mall stores such as Old Navy, Spencer’s, Blood-A Beer, Bath and Body Works, H&M, Claire’s and Leeds. Target and Deck and a fresh theme supermarket are the anchors.
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There are also some more eclectic and unconventional stores in College Mall these days, including Earthbound Merchandise, Riley House Indiana, Torrid and Hothouse Market, which sell vintage LPs, record players and vintage-looking clothing and shoes. .
The addition, built after the collapse of Sears, houses a series of specialty stores and businesses: Sleep Number, Pure Berry, Game Protection, T-Mobile, Orange Theory, Melody Music, Ulta Beauty, Vision Works, Anytime Fitness and Men’s Wearhouse. At the end of the mall there is an Applebee’s and a Red Robin.
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Lehua Aplaca had lunch at the mall on Thursday with two friends who recommended Stir Fry 88, one of the mall’s dining options. They were at the mall to eat, not shop.
Try the Aplaca beef and broccoli and chicken specials. “This is the first time I’ve eaten at a mall in a long time,” she said. Her friends both ordered the bourbon chicken, and raved about it.
They recalled years ago, when the mall had an MCL cafeteria.
At a nearby table, IU students Brian Nguyen, Emily Zhang and Celine Lamb eat pork chops at Judy’s Kitchen, a longtime mall food court restaurant known for its roasted chicken.
Zhang and Lam had sliced pork with rice, while Nguyen chose pork. It was his first time there.
The ladies were on target and decided to treat themselves to lunch at Judy’s Kitchen, a fine dining spot, while at the mall.
The Food Pavilion also features Chick-fil-A, Tropical Cafe Smoothie, Subway, Azip Pizza and Auntie Ann’s Pretzel Booth.
The mall has other amenities: an area with four massage chairs, a play area near Target, large candy gumball machines for kids and kiosks selling toys, cell phone cases, jewelry and more.
A 2016 editorial bid Sears Farewell said the mall must evolve with the ever-changing retail world. “To thrive, the College Mall must continue to innovate and change.”
It seems to have.
Contact HT reporter Laura Lane at [email protected] or 812-318-5967.