January 27, 2005

Don McLean, Call Your Office

The news hit the Mon-Yough Metroplex with the sharp crack of a 16-pound ball scoring a strike on league night at Lokay Lanes.

Or the crash of a snowplow hitting a loose manhole cover.

You know, something thunderous.

Like, um, thunder.

The Eastland Mall flea market is closing, reported Celanie Polanick in The Daily News:

The venue's approximately 200 vendors have until Feb. 4 to move their spreads of wares - some of which could fill a tractor-trailer truck, one vendor said --- according to a deal struck Monday morning between Benderson Development Co. Inc. and attorney David Shrager, who handled the initial negotiations pro bono. (...)

And some of them may not even be notified properly of the shutdown, said Carolyn Weber, who sold video games and other items at the market. She estimates 150 of the vendors didn't show up Monday, and probably won't know about the closing until they show up and find the building locked.

Right before they handed out fliers Sunday afternoon notifying vendors of the closing, the landlords collected rent for the month of January --- all the while knowing the last weekend flea market of the month never would happen, Weber said.

"They made a decision that they weren't going to put any work into this place, but they played it to the hilt," she said. "They drained everybody down to the bitter end. They took whatever they could."

Weber is being kind. If Eastland isn't torn down, it's going to fall down. The last time I was at the flea market, located in the old Gee Bee's store at the east side of the mall, giant tarps and wading pools were being used to collect water from the leaky roof. One woman in Polanick's story speaks of hordes of roaches swarming in the bathrooms.

As has been reported elsewhere on Tube City Online, Eastland is owned by one of the country's largest shopping center developers, Benderson Development, which owns 23 million square feet of retail and commercial space, including some very high-end malls.

Of which Eastland is decidedly not one.

Benderson has owned Eastland since 1988, but has never done much of anything to modernize it. Over the last couple of years, the company has allowed the 41-year-old mall to deteriorate rapidly; the entire basement has been boarded up for several years, and there's no heat in most of the center.

Why allow Eastland to fall apart? Who knows? It's definitely an old-fashioned shopping mall, chopped into relatively small stores, which makes it unattractive to large retailers who want "big box" properties. At this point --- with virtually no major upgrades to its plumbing, electrical or heating systems since the early 1970s --- Eastland would be easier to demolish than renovate.

That leads one to ask why Benderson bought Eastland in the first place. Speculation is rampant that Benderson has been using Eastland as a tax write-off for its other, upscale malls; and that the maintenance ended when the tax write-offs finally ran out. But no one knows for sure, and Benderson is a privately-held company, so it's not talking. (Nor is it under any obligation to talk.)

Maybe Eastland is destined to be demolished, like Greengate Mall over in Hempfield Township, to make way for a big-box store --- a Costco? A Wal-Mart? Another Target?

Time will tell what happens; for now, Beer World is still in business, and seems to be doing reasonably well, and there are a few other hardy souls hanging on inside Eastland Mall.

But it's not like it was in its hey-day.

I almost feel moved to song. Can we dim these lights?

Thanks. (Ahem.)

A long, long time ago,
I can still remember when the Eastland Mall was always full.
From Gimbels' to the hot-dog stand,
And Woolworth's toys were really grand,
And Penney's pantsuits
Still were cool.

But through the years, it made me shiver,
Watching broken tiles quiver.
Cracked concrete on the doorstep,
You had to watch your step.

I remember how I felt the blues,
When the "Eastland" sign came loose,
But nothing prepped me for the news,
The day the flea mart died.

They were singin',
Bye, bye Mr. Baseball Card Guy,
Bought a TV for a dollar but the tuner was fried,
A smelly drunk who didn't pull up his fly,
Was sayin', "This'll be the day the flea mart died,
"This'll be the day that it died."


Did you buy some moldy pogs,
Or an 8-track cartridge of The Troggs?
Or black-market Tylenol?
Have you eaten corn dogs on a stick,
And did they make you feel real sick,
So nauseous that you had to crawl?

The hubcap guy had bad B-O,
And the bathroom faucets wouldn't flow,
We still had lots of fun,
Buying rubbish in the sun.

I was a cheap and stingy yinzer freak,
And it was the highlight of my week,
But I knew that I was up the creek,
The day the flea mart died.

And they were singin',
Bye, bye Mr. Baseball Card Guy,
Bought a TV for dollar but the tuner was fried,
A smelly drunk who couldn't pull up his fly,
Was sayin', "This'll be the day the flea mart died,
"This'll be the day that it died."

Now when we want trash, where will we shop?
For rusty bikes and congealed slop,
That once was a can of paint?
Dry and rotten rubber balls,
Folding chairs from union halls,
And old nudie mags that now seem quaint?

But while the vendors caught some Z's,
The owners kicked them in the knees,
They chained and locked the doors,
And closed the crummy stores.

As lawyers looked for last reprieves,
And children wiped snot on their sleeves,
I confess I almost got the heaves,
The day the flea mart died.

And they were singin',
Bye, bye Mr. Baseball Card Guy,
Bought a TV for dollar but the tuner was fried,
A smelly drunk who wouldn't pull up his fly,
Was sayin', "This'll be the day the flea mart died,
"This'll be the day that it died."


I saw a man who sold old tools,
He called the owners a bunch of fools,
Then he spit and scratched his rear.
I drove down to the parking lot,
Where the fried dough maker once was hot,
But no funnel cakes were sold this year.

I suspect that soon enough,
Wal-Mart will be on this bluff,
Giant Eagle or a Target,
Or a mammoth supermarket.

For now, what we don't need at all,
Empty stores and a quiet hall,
Are all that's left at Eastland Mall,
The flea mart's died.

So, bye, bye, Mr. Baseball Card Guy,
The floors were always filthy, and so was the outside,
But I'll miss the leaky roof and the walls so cockeyed,
Because this'll be the day Eastland died.


Thank you! Thank you! Groupies can gather at the stage door!

Posted by jt3y at January 27, 2005 12:33 AM

Ah, yes, the abandoned shopping mall, the hallmark of America's inner-ring suburbs. (And a few of its outer-ring ones as well.)

The empty buildings that occupy a run-down city neighborhood or destitute Main Street small-town shopping district can perhaps be renovated, turned into offices, mom-and-pop or boutique retail, and housing. It's not easy, it doesn't happen often, but all it needs is people with the money and will to do it.

But big-box shopping plazas are hostage to the fleeting design and retail trends of the eras in which they are built. They are eminently disposable, either by design or by accident. Converting them for other uses is possible but very difficult; re-using them as they were intended is all but impossible.

Posted by: Jonathan Potts at January 27, 2005 12:31 PM

What a treat it is to read this stuff! The Tube City Almanac is probably the only place on earth where one can read about the demise of a popular community gathering place in a town that has seen better days. This is stuff that no other media cares about. It's the music of ordinary people.

Long live this bloggy Internet thingie!

Posted by: Prof. Quackenbush at January 28, 2005 09:48 AM

Bite your tongue, knave. Our better days are ahead of us.

As for the "music of ordinary people," I'll admit there's no one more ordinary than me.

Posted by: Webmaster at January 28, 2005 11:31 AM

No groupies, but quite a few people enjoyed your comments in the newsroom of Our Fair City's other publication.

Posted by: Patrick Cloonan at February 1, 2005 09:53 AM
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