BY RODNEY MARGISON
In 1965, when College Mall opened, Sears was its first anchor. That’s why the announcement in early 2016 that the global retail giant would be closing its Bloomington store later that summer may have seemed like a potential blow to the east-side landmark. Instead, it became an opportunity for growth and expansion.
Shortly after the news that Sears would close, the mall’s owner, Simon Property Group, announced a redevelopment project that would result in the demolition of the Sears extension and add more than 75,000 square feet of retail space to the mall. Called The Boulevard, the new space is anchored by Ulta Beauty and, coming soon, Fresh Thyme Market.
Prior to the expansion, there were only three locally owned businesses in College Mall: Anthony’s Pets, The Indiana Shop, and The Toy Chest. Now there are 10. “It is important to have a balanced mix of stores in the mall,” says David Dawson, area director of marketing for Simon. “We enjoy having local businesses because they bring unique and fun offerings.”
The Toy Chest, located near Dick’s Sporting Goods in the mall’s southwest corner, is the most recent of those pre-expansion local shops. Owner Hilary Key says shortly after she purchased The Toy Chest in Nashville in 2014, a representative from College Mall approached her about opening a second store at the mall. She says it took her a year to embrace the idea. Initially, Key says she was only interested in opening a pop-up store. “We’re fine with you having a pop-up,” she says she was told, “but here’s what we have to offer, and we think you’re going to want to stay.” The offer was good, Key says, adding, “I thought it would be silly not to give it a chance.”
The Toy Chest opened its College Mall location on November 7, 2015. “From Thanksgiving on we had a really great season,” Key says. “That’s how we started, and this will be our third Christmas.”
Piace Boutique had been located in downtown Bloomington since 2010, but moved into The Boulevard expansion on September 1. “The downtown atmosphere and local businesses surrounding us were a great complement to Piace,” says co-owner Heather Short. “Over time, though, we outgrew the space.” Johnna Davis, Short’s sister-in-law and business partner, adds, “When we were approached by the mall representative about the new outdoor lifestyle center, it just felt like the right fit for us.”
Davis sees the move as a positive one all the way around. She says that with mall traffic, they anticipate reaching more people, which means attracting new customers. And there are other advantages to being in the new location. “Parking was often an issue downtown, and customers are already letting us know that they appreciate how much parking is close to our new store,” she says.
The newest locally owned business to relocate to the mall is Melody Music Shop, which opened the doors to its new space in November. Started in 2009, this is the third location for the popular music store, each bigger and better than the one before, says owner Paul “Wilbur” Price. “The new store is in a much larger space in a higher-traffic location,” Price explains. “This place was built exactly to our needs by Simon Properties.” The new location has three times more floor space than its previous store, and Price’s wife, Katelin, did all of the interior design. “She has put together a very warm and rustic-feeling environment,” Price says.
Price says Simon Properties is being very proactive about getting more local tenants into the mall, which he feels is important. “It fosters growth in the community,” he explains. “We provide jobs for a lot of locals, just like the mall would, but it’s more of a family-type environment.”
Other locally owned stores that have recently joined the College Mall lineup include Blast Blow Dry Bar, Anytime Fitness, Orangetheory Fitness, Judy’s Kitchen, and Azzip Pizza, which is a small, regional chain owned by Brad Niemeier of Evansville.