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Desert Companion

Meadows Mall

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Meadows Mall
Photograph by Christopher Smith

Malls are dead. Long live the Meadows Mall

When my daughters were young, we often visited the Meadows Mall. It was a preferred destination for school clothes, pictures with Santa and the Easter bunny, and small bags of carefully selected candies from the Sweet Factory. We dressed up for family portraits at JCPenney.

For me, it was all about Waldenbooks and B. Dalton, the rival bookstores, one on the top floor, one on the bottom, both now absent from the planet. This was before Las Vegas had any big Borders or Barnes & Noble megastores, much less an independent book shop like The Writer’s Block. The selection at those mall stores was limited, but you usually could walk out with something worth reading.

For these reasons and others, the Meadows Mall is woven into the fabric of our family’s history.

Conventional wisdom holds that the indoor shopping mall is dying, and that the pandemic dealt the final blow to this one-time juggernaut of retail commerce. But professional prognosticators love to paint portraits of impending ruin. They want you to envision piles of crumpled concrete and rusted steel, with flickering Foot Locker and Forever 21 signs jutting from the wreckage.

Reality tends to be more complicated. In fact, many malls are not dying, despite radical changes in the retail world. Rather, they are evolving, adapting to changing conditions. Malls may have lost a step amid competition from  Amazon, Walmart and Target, but reports of their death are greatly exaggerated.

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Locally, this evolution is perhaps most evident at the Boulevard Mall on Maryland Parkway, with its SeaQuest aquarium and international food court. But a few recent visits to the Meadows Mall suggest that it, too, is responding to the new retail normal.

Meadows once was a regional shopping destination. It was big, clean, safe, and easy to get to, with US 95 exits at both ends. It was considered the suburban mall, believe it or not, a distinction it certainly cannot boast of today.

The days of Meadows’ regional supremacy are long over. The Galleria at Sunset conquered the southeast valley, while Downtown Summerlin grabbed the well-heeled west side. Meadows has endured these incursions, in part, by catering to Las Vegas’ growing diversity.

That diversity was on brilliant display during my recent mall runs. White, Black, Latino and Asian residents are all amply represented among the customers and employees alike, reflecting the population of surrounding neighborhoods.

What I detected at Meadows is a transition from regional shopping destination to neighborhood retail, entertainment and service complex. While stalwarts Macy’s, JCPenney and Spencer’s Gifts endure, they have been joined by nontraditional mall businesses: an insurance agency, dentist office, tattoo parlor. It makes sense to incorporate services into this retail environment. Who doesn’t want to pair a dental appointment with something fun?

To be sure, Meadows’ food court has some vacancies, but there is still variety. The neighborhood, I suspect, will dictate the food court’s direction, rather than corporate executives following a formula.

If Meadows fully embraces its trending neighborhood orientation, it has the potential to become a community resource in some fresh and interesting ways. Meadows has lots of space, both inside and in its vast parking lots. In addition to the nontraditional businesses that have already moved in, there are a few other ways Meadows could evolve.

It could lease office space, which would, in turn, bring potential customers to the stores and restaurants. It could host college classes. Much-needed rental housing is yet another option — not in the mall, necessarily, but around it.  Malls also are ideal venues for family-oriented entertainers. Santa and the Easter bunny are great for a couple of weeks in the spring and winter, but why not fill the whole year with reasons to take the kids to the mall?

The writer Bill Bryson once said, “We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls.” Reimagining malls as community gathering places could contribute to rebuilding our civilization fractured by presidential politics and pummeled by the pandemic.

Geoff Schumacher is the author of Sun, Sin & Suburbia: The History of Modern Las Vegas.

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