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Memphis Daily News
New Life for Old Malls
July 28, 2014
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

Since 1957, when the first modern, fully enclosed shopping mall was built in Edina, Minnesota, shopping became an American pastime. New shopping malls changed the landscape in communities across the country at the rate of 140 a year.

Communities grew up around them and within them, as the American culture adapted to the new social capital of malls and the new relationships and norms that shaped our society's social interactions. Malls became the center of social life for all in a community as they bustled with activity that included more than making purchases. They were year-round, climate-controlled town centers with instant intergenerational entertainment.

Most people in this country grew up with the mall experience, an experience that is fast becoming a fond memory as shopping malls close, many just abandoned, replaced by new ways of commerce in a changing economy. The year 2007 marked the first time in 50 years that no new mall was built in the United States. Since then, the number of malls has steadily declined.

What do you do with a dying mall? Do you just walk away from it, leaving behind blight and decay and people without social capital? Or do you give it a new life and a new vision for the people who need it now? Ask World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church in Memphis, or Jimmie Haley, the Director of Economic Development at Hickory Ridge Mall New Towne Center.

Hickory Ridge Mall, opened in 1981, once a thriving anchor in a growing community, was headed down that path of demise. The reasons were many and mirrored the economic reality faced by malls across the country. Economic decline and an increasing trend of online shopping were leaving ghost malls in their wake. What appeared to be a bleak end to the Hickory Ridge Mall after years of economic decline and a devastating tornado that destroyed much of the structure in 2008, became a new beginning when, in 2008, World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church purchased the property and embraced a new future for the Hickory Ridge Mall as the “New Towne Centre.”

That decision ushered in positive change for the Hickory Hill community through repurposing, restoration and revitalization of the mall, and increased economic and social empowerment through community partnerships.

The mall, located at 6075 Winchester Road, is now becoming home to retail businesses; city, county, community, social and medical services; training and education opportunities; family entertainment venues; and an outreach counseling center. New services are added as groups become aware of the potential at the mall. Both entrepreneurs and established business are discovering the economic empowerment and customer base that the new retail spaces provide. And the community is discovering the food and entertainment venues, the banquet hall and, of course, the carousel. The social capital is being reclaimed.

In a throw-away culture, we have learned the importance of recycling. The size of what we are about to throw away should not prevent us from recycling what has value, even a mall.

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

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