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Desert Companion

Mall flounders

Boulevard Mall

Hey, is this the Boulevard Mall? How long since you’ve been here?

Oh, years. Mid-2000s, maybe? My wife must’ve dragged me. It wouldn’t have been my idea. There were no stores left that interested me.

But you used to shop here?

Some. When I was a kid, the B. Dalton here was the only decent bookstore in town — I can still conjure the hot thrill of schussing across those wood floors to see the new books. Other people hit Jack’s Music Box, apparently the place to score good albums before The Underground. “Hell, I played hookey from school there,” a friend says. For me, though, the Boulevard never served as a social hub the way malls do in teen mythology: a hormonal swirl of frenemies, consumer desire and Hot Dog on a Stick girls. I just came for the books. Later, I worked nearby and frequented the food court.

And then …?

And then I stopped going. As did so many others. Newer malls and better bookstores opened closer to home. I quit eating in mall food courts. And the Maryland Parkway area acquired a hard reputation. I began thinking of it as the Boulevard Maul amid a flare-up of violent crimes — a kid died from a beating in the food court, circa 2004. A gang thing, cops said. “Certainly, the demographic profile has shifted over time,” one real-estater told the RJ, by which he meant Hispanic and Filipino residents. Also the, ahem, non-affluent. “The Dillard’s shopper is no longer there,” the real-estate guy added. I read where transit officials say 46 percent of the households along Maryland are low-income. So there’s that, fwiw. As shopping options multiplied across the suburbs and on the Strip, the onetime “largest mall in Southern Nevada” struggled. Shops closed. Dillard’s left. (It’s a historical irony that the Boulevard, after it opened in 1968, had a similar effect on downtown.)

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So why are you here now?

The Sansone Companies, a local real-estate firm, just bought the mall for a reported $54.5 million, a steep devaluation from the $165 million it was worth in 1998. Sansone is promising a refurbished entryway, new shops, fresh landscaping and improved marketing. Will that turn things around? I dunno. They obviously think so. It made me curious enough to take a look.

And what do you see?

Certainly not a Maul, and never mind the RJ commenter who snarked, “The mall is in a ghetto war zone,” or the suburbanite who once told me, joking in a nonjoking way, “No one wants to go there and get shot.”

Look around. It’s bright, clean, no one’s getting shot; the shoppers I see represent a wide ethnic, age and class mix. The food court has the usual complement of eateries, there are mall staples such as Hot Topic, cheap suit outlets and two lingerie stores. Seems pretty typical.

Still, you can viscerally sense that its value has dropped.

Yes, I noticed you were able to park pretty close.

A few feet from the food court door. Point being, there aren’t many shoppers here — you could shoot a Cinnabon down some of these walkways and not splat anyone. Note that it’s a late afternoon the week before Christmas. Should be packed. And some of those who are here seem to be killing time instead of shopping. Too many shuttered storefronts. A black hole where Dillard’s used to be. So there are real challenges for Sansone.

Are they confident they can bring it back?

Beats me; they didn’t comment in time. But there are some hopeful signs generally. After years of civic focus on terra-forming downtown, 2013 saw some new interest in perking up Maryland Parkway: A coalition of biz and gov types are talking about improved transit, stimulating new retail. Meanwhile, new student housing at UNLV might funnel a few people this way. Maybe all of that will help a new round of people make their own Boulevard memories, even without (sigh) a bookstore.

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