The Galleria Mall used to be one of Cleveland's main shopping hot spots, with dozens of bustling shops spread throughout the two-story building, but that all started to change around 2002 as the economy suffered through a brief recession.
"We used to have Williams Sonoma, Brookstone and Ann Taylor, but they've all left now," says Vicky Poole, who spent eight years working at the mall, first handling store displays and planning and later serving as the marketing and events director. "It was a mass exodus."
The makeup of the shopping center gradually shifted. Much of the space that had been occupied by boutiques was soon snatched up by a banking chain called the Dollar Bank. Then in 2005, Poole decided it was time to try and rehabilitate the mall she'd spent years working in by getting a bit creative.
"We installed a curtain in our food court and used it to create an events center," Poole says. That small step proved to be very effective. "It's become a vibrant place where people can hold weddings and other events."Last year, Poole began working on a more ambitious project to transform the Galleria Mall from a dying retail space into a greenhouse that would not only help educate the city about healthy food, but provide it. Earlier this year, the project, dubbed Gardens Under Glass, received a $30,000 grant from Cleveland's Civic Innovation Lab.
Now, rather than gorge on salty pretzels, fountain sodas and fast food, shoppers can take advantage of a weekly market full of fresh produce and greens. And that's just the beginning. "We have a salad bar that will open next month and we have some green cleaning products that are coming in soon," Poole says. "We hope that this will attract more business."
Poole's project is just one of many that is transforming the function and feel of malls as we know it. In cities throughout the country, dead and dying malls are being redesigned to serve community functions as medical centers, arts centers and much more. In Tennessee, the Tri-County Mall shut down and re-opened as a large church. Similarly in Colorado, a dead mall was repurposed to serve as a housing development. Several malls across the country with vacant space have even installed small indoor water parks to liven things up. In other cases, old malls are simply being swapped with other retail businesses like car dealerships, big box stores and flea markets.