Maple Hill Mall was built in 1971, according to Storetrax, and was apparently expanded over time. 1990s phone books confirm that the mall’s anchors in 1993 were Montgomery Ward, Steketee’s, Gilmore Brothers, and Meijer Square. At that time, the mall also had a Rite Aid Discount Center, a Family Christian Bookstore, and possibly an Osco. (Osco was originally at Westmain Mall across the street, which was demolished in the mid-1990s for a Lowe’s and a supermarket.)
In the ebb and flow of the 1990s, Meijer Square apparently became Dunhams (which left not long after). Gilmore’s extinction seems to have made way for Target. (I might have Gilmore’s and Meijer Square reversed.) Old Navy and Office Max flocked to the property as well. Marshalls came in 2000. Steketee’s, a small chain born in Grand Rapids, departed, and sat empty, never to see another tenant replace it. Montgomery Ward went out with the chain. Montgomery Ward’s space was split between Hobby Lobby and Value City Furniture in 2004, with the latter opening first. Even as big stores came, other stores were dropping left and right. Out went Christopher & Banks, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks, Casual Corner, Family Christian Bookstore, and even Old Navy (after only two years!). Granted, some lesser stores did open (Benena Children’s Wear, Paragon Leather, Bargain Books, etc.), but it was too little, too late.
Then came the bulldozers and wrecking balls.
When I visited Maple Hill in June 2004, it was the beginning of the end. Almost everything between Office Max and the central entrance had been reduced to a concrete slab. The remainder of the mall was still open — the west half comprising Target, Office Max, some fragments of hallway, and Regis Salon, and the east half comprising Dollar Tree, GNC, Glamour Nails, Marshalls, Hobby Lobby, Value City Furniture, and several empty storefronts. The gates were raised on most of these stores, but the entrances were cris-crossed with yellow tape. Also, the mall’s security office re-located to the old Pearle Vision storefront, Pearle Vision itself having relocated across the street to be with also-former mall tenant Payless ShoeSource.
In short, Maple Hill was being turned into a power center on my visit. By the end of 2004, everything was demolished except for Target, Office Max, Marshalls, and the old Wards. A Secretary of State office also avoided the wrecking ball. Dollar Tree, GNC, Glamour Nails and Regis Salon were still doing business in the old mall; they have since moved to new storefronts in the power center. That’s right, a Regis Salon that’s in a strip instead of an enclosed mall. The new power center, dubbed Maple Hill Pavilion, has already gotten new tenants. Dollar Tree, which was in the old mall, now has a much larger store on the site of Old Navy. PetSmart and DSW Warehouse have already opened, and more big boxes are to come. (Pier One Imports is also planning a store there.)
The Oshtemo Township area is quite retail-hungry, having gotten many new big boxes in the past five years or so. The market seems strong enough for a mall. So why did Maple Hill go under? In the 1980s, the two-story Crossroads Mall was built on the opposite end of town, anchored by Hudson’s, JCPenney, Mervyn’s, and Sears. This larger property posed no threat to Maple Hill at first, seeing as about 2/3 of Maple Hill’s tenants could also be found at Crossroads, and both properties were at opposite ends of town. Both malls, for a while, had B. Dalton, Family Christian Bookstore, AND Waldenbooks! (Among these, only the Crossroads Waldenbooks remains.)
My theory for demise is simple: Maple Hill simply didn’t have the right anchors. Sure, there were pros to that anchor lineup (Wards, Steketee’s, Gilmore’s, Meijer Square). For instance, neither Steketee’s nor Wards had other Kalamazoo locations at the time. Gilmore’s seems to have done well with name recognition, and had other stores in downtown Kalamazoo, Portage, and Lakeview Square in Battle Creek. And I’m almost certain that this was the only mall-based Meijer anywhere (albeit the smaller-line “Meijer Square” prototype).
Steketee’s was a smaller store, however. Being barely 50,000 square feet, and hemmed in on all sides, expansion was out of the question. Meijer’s “Square” concept flopped, so a newer regular Meijer was built nearby to replace the Square store in Maple Hill. Gilmore’s simply disappeared — I can’t find any info on this chain. Granted, Target was a good choice for an anchor at Maple Hill, but malls cannot thrive on good anchors alone. Marshalls, which can open just about anywhwere and be a smash, swallowed up about four storefronts in 2000. Steketee’s barely made the 21st century, closing their Maple Hill store in 2001. And Montgomery Ward, which closed when the chain went under in 2000, was never known for its quality… So there you have it. I am sure that if the mall had one other national chain anchor, that it might have just been enough.
The mall security was very friendly on my June visit, and seemed to understand my nearly autistic interest in the mall. They granted me permission to take the photos below. Also, they found two old maps and a shopping bag to give me. They even suggested a shortcut to dodge the construction on nearby US-131! Thanks very much, guys! Where are you now?