546Sunnyvale mall a goner
- Aug 4, 2003I 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
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.
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
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 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
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