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546Sunnyvale mall a goner

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  • Me
    Aug 4, 2003
      I thought this article may be of some interest to some
      of you out there.

      Posted on Mon, Aug. 04, 2003

      Sunnyvale mall a goner
      By Josh Susong
      Mercury News

      When a mall dies, it doesn't explode, it implodes.
      That's what is happening to the Sunnyvale Town Center.

      The death had been coming for years, as store after
      store went dark, as plan after plan to save it

      When the people stopped coming, the businesses started
      leaving. As businesses dwindled, so did the customers
      who did all the things that keep businesses alive --
      buy ice cream cones or try on new pairs of shoes, flip
      through greeting cards or gaze at the jewelry store

      In the end, said James Baron, the court-appointed
      manager for the center, the mall just wasted away. On
      Aug. 31 his staff will close the doors and certify a

      ``The truth is,'' he said, ``the mall is closing

      It isn't the first thing to bloom and die on this

      In the 1970s, the shops south of Washington Avenue
      were crumbling. What little ``downtown'' had ever
      existed had lost its shine. The bulldozers came to
      tear out the city blocks.

      The geometric frames went up and a fashionable new
      mall arose, a place that called itself the town center
      and hoped to become just that.

      The crowds came, but even in the early days, the mall
      had trouble finding a tenant to fill its third anchor
      space. J.C. Penney built a store 13 years later; that
      store closed in January.

      Trapped behind hulking parking garages, it became a
      fortress, said Mayor Julia Miller.

      And when the mall's fate was finally clear, people
      started talking about tearing out the mall and putting
      the streets back.

      ``The lesson to be learned is to open it up and have
      people come in,'' Miller said.

      The shops

      Anchor stores Macy's and Target will remain. But the
      other tenants will be gone by the end of the month.
      After they go, the mall itself will go, too.

      The remaining tenants -- fewer than 30 -- are making
      their various plans, and the merchants' attitudes
      range from enthusiasm to sorrow.

      For the corporate stores, the move is easy: Absorb the
      merchandise and employees at locations in other malls
      and be done with it.

      ``We're just going to close down,'' said Santiago
      Nieto, assistant manager at Foot Locker, where no
      liquidation sales are planned. ``There are plenty of
      other Foot Lockers around.''

      ``Me, I'm going to Valley Fair,'' he said.

      John Kim, who has managed Magic Photo for three years,
      followed the corporation's instructions to close down
      last week. He and his wife are buying some of the
      equipment and setting out on their own.

      ``We have a lot of clientele and we just decided to
      start our own business,'' he said. Their new photo
      studio across the street in Town and Country Village
      will open Sept. 1.

      Kim wouldn't consider leaving the city. His wife
      brought him to Sunnyvale, her hometown. Now they have
      twins, a boy and girl 9 years old.

      ``I can make more money somewhere else.'' he said.
      ``But family's more important.''

      Other merchants are determined to stay afloat, but as
      yet don't have another home.

      ``We've been here 16 years,'' said Dr. Jerry Maa of
      the Town Center Dental Group. ``The sad thing? We get
      a good neighbor in here, like Target, and then we have
      to leave.''

      A dentist can't just pick up and move; first he has to
      build in the plumbing, electrical and mechanical
      systems he needs to do his work. Meanwhile, Maa and
      his partner have contingency plans to borrow space
      elsewhere, and are asking their patients to keep

      There are those who simply don't know what to do.

      Min Han stands quietly in front of the machines at his
      frozen-yogurt shop, waiting for the customers that are
      too few and far between.

      He runs the shop by himself, without a single
      employee, 362 days a year -- every day, minus three
      holidays. He has been there for eight years.

      ``I don't know what I'm going to do -- not unless I
      win the lottery,'' he said.

      He's thought about looking for another job or finding
      another business. He thinks about the Central Valley
      -- Tracy, maybe. Somewhere else. Anywhere else.

      He holds back a tear when he thinks of what's lost.
      The $100,000 he spent to start it is gone. The
      machines he can't even give away, much less sell.
      ``You just have to analyze the situation,'' he said,
      ``and move on.''

      With so few tenants left to pay rent, the center can't
      afford to cover its utility bills, said mall manager

      For some shops, the end is a blessing.

      ``Their first response is, `How dare you cancel my
      lease?' '' Baron said. ``Then they look at their
      earnings and say, `Oh, we've got to get out of here.'

      The demolition

      The demolition could begin as soon as September, but
      there will be a break during the holiday season.

      Quite literally, the process will begin on the inside
      and work its way out.

      First, specialists will handle any materials that
      might contain asbestos. The building, which opened in
      1979, may contain some of the dangerous insulation,
      and inspectors are working to identify it.

      Then go the reusable materials -- glass, furniture --
      the stuff somebody else might want.

      Last comes the destruction, which isn't so exciting
      now that wrecking balls are largely a thing of the
      past. Machines will claw at the structure's core,
      grinding it up from the center outward. In the end,
      only the redwood trees in the courtyard will remain

      The crushed concrete will be ground up and used again
      in a road or sidewalk, or even another shopping

      And so the mall will be removed in much the way it
      died: slowly, piece by piece, as another element is
      taken out and never replaced. The work will happen
      behind plywood construction fences. The quiet last
      gasp will come without spectacle.

      A new developer, Georgia-based Forum Group, is in the
      process of buying the property. Representatives say
      they'll replace the mall with open-air streets of
      shops and apartments, something a few notches below
      the manufactured downtown of San Jose's Santana Row.

      Such changes are ``definitely the trend right now,''
      said Malachy Kavanagh, spokesman for the New
      York-based International Council of Shopping Centers.
      ``They call it harking back to the old downtown. Which
      is kind of strange, because the vast majority of
      people in the United States have never experienced

      With those shops could come people, buying snacks,
      trying on shoes, lingering at jewelry counters. And in
      that place they might find a community center, a place
      the Town Center couldn't be.

      Contact Josh Susong at jsusong@... or
      (408) 920-5941.

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