Filled with empty storefronts and deserted hallways, dead malls are a haunting reminder of a bygone era of retail. Recently, they’ve have been blowing up my social media feeds as prime locations for urban explorers to go investigate as eerie relics of the past. But what about zombie malls- establishments that have risen from the grave under new guise to continue on long after their original demise? Elkhart’s old Pierre Moran Mall is one. Known as Woodland Crossing since 2006, portions of the mall rest -and rust- in pieces.
When I was a kid, the Michiana region was home to four different shopping malls. Pierre Moran was the first to open, in 1971. The Concord Mall southeast of it in Elkhart opened the following year. In South Bend, the Scottsdale Mall came online in 1973. The largest and last of the four malls, University Park in Mishawaka, joined the fray in 1979.
Of the four, the Concord Mall was where my family usually shopped since it was just down the road from my dad’s house on County Road 18 and was home to JCPenney and Elder-Beerman. We made occasionally journeyed to the Sears at Pierre Moran Mall, though, along with making many trips to one of my Dad’s favorite local restaurants, a fifties-style diner called Alley Oops.
The obsessive traits of my personality kicked in after I mentioned the Pierre Moran Mall in a post about a book signing I recently participated in, so I set about to research the place. Aside from a smattering of recollections and photographs on social media, there was precious little information to be had about the mall. After poking around, I think I may have just cobbled together the most complete history of the mall available anywhere online, at least as far as I’m aware.
The end of the Second World War brought substantial changes to American shopping habits. As growing families left their homes in the city for the suburbs, stores followed them out of downtown towards planned shopping centers that were often anchored by corporate-owned retailers1. At the time, greater Elkhart’s buying population exceeded 135,000 people, a group that spent nearly $80 million a year in and around the city. Along with Parkmor Plaza on Bristol Street, the Pierre Moran Shopping Center on West Hively Avenue was one of Elkhart’s first examples of a suburban shopping center.
In March of 1959 the William P. Neil Company was awarded the contract to build the 80,000 square foot, twelve-store shopping center2. It connected to a Kroger grocery3 that had opened the previous year. The property, a strip mall, sat at the south part of a lot bounded by West Hively, Benham Avenue and Prairie Street. Opened in 1960, Pierre Moran’s early tenants were its anchor, W.T. Grant; a Hook’s drug store; Luke’s Jewelers; S&H’s Value Stamps, a women’s apparel store called My Three Sisters, the Pierre Moran Barber, the Pierre Moran Liquor Store; and Pierre Cleaners.
The shopping center got its unusual name from Pierre Moran, a Potawatomi Chief, who sold Dr. Havilah Beardsley a square mile of land that later became downtown Elkhart4. In early years, the establishment used Native American imagery on its signs and decorations, but that was all gone by the time I set foot in the place in the early 2000s.
In 1962, the area was booming! Elkhart opened a new, $2 million Pierre Moran Junior High School a couple of blocks north of the shopping center on West Lusher Avenue. Other retailers entered and exited the shopping center over the years, such as Harold’s Shoe Repair, a Mr. Smorgasbord restaurant, and a pet shop called the Petatorium.
In 1971, the Pierre Moran Shopping Center was enclosed and expanded to 420,000 square feet, officially becoming the Pierre Moran Mall5. The expansion created a concourse shaped like an upside-down letter T that spanned the rear of the original strip and extended north to terminate at the entrance to a brand-new Sears store. W.T. Grant moved from its original location at the western side of the strip to a new anchor space along the mall’s east side, while G.L. Perry —a Michiana department store chain— took over Grant’s old spot.
The northwest corner of the mall originally featured a 10,000-square-foot branch of Wyman’s, a 111-year-old department store from South Bend6. Ziesel’s, a department store that originated in downtown Elkhart in 1904, opened a store that was designed so that a second story could later be added7. Shortly after the expanded mall opened, Miller Theaters opened a two-screen cinema known as the Holiday I and Holiday II in an outparcel near Sears.
Unfortunately, the mall suffered from some occupancy issues early on. After only a year in business, Wyman’s closed when the company declared bankruptcy in 19728. W.T. Grant followed suit around 1976, a year after the vacant Top Value Stamps storefront became home to a branch of the Elkhart Public Library. Carson Pirie Scott took over Grant’s 70,000-square-foot anchor space in 19779, but it didn’t last. The company folded its operation at Pierre Moran in 1981.
1984 saw Kroger demolish its original grocery to replace it with a 37,000-square-foot supermarket on the same site that nearly doubled the original building’s size. The next year, Carson Pirie Scott’s former space was expanded to 80,000 square feet when Target -the “Target of the future” according to local media10– took over11.
The mall’s longtime owner, Ray Chaet, sold the fifty-store property to Helmsely-Spear of New York in 1986. At that time, the Holiday I and II, a gas station, a Hardee’s, and a Long John Silver’s all operated in outparcel properties12. The mall was renovated after the sale, and in 1987, a Kline’s department store took over Ziesel’s lease. Kline’s closed four years later13.
More closings followed: the Holiday was shuttered in 1992 as its owners, GKC Theaters consolidated their Elkhart locations to an expanded multiplex on Cassopolis Street14. In 1995, U.S. Factory Outlets opened at the 34,000-square-foot former Kline’s. G.L. Perry closed in 1996, and Big Lots moved in.
In 2002, Target left the Pierre Moran Mall for a new superstore in the unincorporated area of Concord Township between Elkhart and Goshen. In fact, that’s where the majority of Elkhart County’s retail moved, just as they’d left the city center forty years earlier. Shortly afterward, CVS —which took over the Hook’s chain— left the mall for an outparcel store at the Hardee’s site.
Only two years later, Pierre Moran was 78% leased with 35 stores in 2004. That year, a 3,000-seat performance venue called, literally, Country Music Entertainment Hall, opened in the former Target spot15. That’s how I remember the mall.
When I was a kid, the Pierre Moran Mall was not an attractive place- especially when compared to the Concord Mall, its suburban rival which was glamorous but stuck in the 1970s. On the outside, the storefronts at Pierre Moran were buff brick capped with extraordinarily chintzy-looking blue metal awnings that I believe were added in a “major renovation” after Target left (Prescott, 2022). By my time, the south side of the mall (the original strip) featured a Key Bank, Big Lots, the Chalet Party Store, Rent-A-Center, Athens Jewelry, the Q&Q Chinese Buffet, and Kroger. I remember the Kroger being fairly nice and representative of one of the company’s 1980s “greenhouse” supermarkets, but my dad and stepmom preferred shopping for groceries at Martin’s, so we rarely went there. The east side of the mall was basically the back of the country music venue. The west side featured a rear entrance to Big Lots, the U.S. Factory Outlets store, an entrance to the mall proper that abutted Alley Oops, and an external entrance to Sears. The mall’s north side may have featured a secondary set of doors to go into Sears but was otherwise unadorned aside from a row of loading docks.
The inside of the mall was even worse. It always seemed too dark, and there was no overarching theme or cohesiveness to any of the storefronts: A local sweets shop called the Cookie Basket, I remember, featured a rustic, wooden look while the Amazing Space arcade was off-white drywall and dark red brick. The entrance to Sears looked like it had been built completely independently of the rest of the mall and had simply connected its regular free-standing storefront to a concourse. Which, of course, is exactly what the developers did.
To make it worse, the entire mall had a glazed tile floor that resembled the exterior of a grain silo. Sections of the hallways, particularly around the Sears wing, featured mirrored drop ceilings that added to the claustrophobia of the place. It was not a welcoming environment! I remember there being a Finish Line, Cali Nails, a beauty salon, some insurance agencies, and a variety of locally-owned Hispanic discount stores, but not much else.
Shortly after the new millennium, the ownership began to consider three plans to revitalize the mortally ill mall. Option One was to remove the center court, find a national anchor to replace Target, and turn the mall into an open-air shopping center. Option Two was to return it to a strip center by demolishing the entire western half of the mall, and Option Three was to renovate the mall in its existing format16.
What wound up happening was a combination of the first and second options. In 2005, the entire mall except for Sears and the original strip was demolished to convert the property into a new “power center” called Woodland Crossing. A power center is a type of outdoor shopping center that usually contains three or more big box anchor tenants, along with various smaller retailers.
The $10 million project, spearheaded by mall owners Southern Management and Development of Florida, was intended to feature Kroger, Sears, CVS, and “a number of other local and regional specialty shops17,” much as the old mall already had.
Optimism surrounding the mall’s renovation was high. “Woodland Crossing will offer shoppers from throughout the region a far more appealing and accessible retail experience,” said Steven Levin, president of Southern Management18. As the new development was being pursued Elkhart mayor Dave Miller concurred, saying that Pierre Moran had “seen better days,” while expressing hope that the new Kroger would kickstart the center’s redevelopment19.
Progress on revitalizing the Pierre Moran Mall as Woodland Crossing was contingent on the fate of the old Target anchor. As soon as it was razed, Kroger pumped $10 million into a new, 74,000 square foot store to replace its supermarket at the southeastern corner of the mall20. Six new storefronts connected the new Kroger to the existing Sears, which received a light cosmetic update along the side that once attached to the mall’s concourse. Fourteen more were added to the southern section of the mall.
The new parts of Woodland Crossing are nice- the Kroger is typical of one of the company’s expensive, contemporary supermarkets. In contrast, while the older sections of the mall received new rooflines and awnings, the majority of the facades were left unchanged during the conversion.
KeyBank, Big Lots, and Rent-A-Center all occupy the same storefronts they did when the mall was in operation. The old mall entrance with the Target logo was converted into the area that now houses The Soccer Store and Cali Nails, and a handful of new tenants, like Cricket Wireless, moved in as well.
Twelve years after Woodland Crossing opened, Sears closed as part of a wave that saw its owners shutter forty-two other stores around the country. The closure left Woodland Crossing anchored by a Big Lots and a Kroger. In 2022, only two of the fourteen storefronts added to the north of the original plaza were occupied, and only half of the stores between the former Sears and Kroger were rented out.
In 2004, the 400,000 square foot Pierre Moran Mall proper was home to the following stores21:
- Big Lots
- U.S. Factory Outlets
- H&R Block
- Cali Nails
- Chalet Party Store
- Athens Jewelry
- The Cookie Jar
- Q&Q Chinese Buffet
- Perfect Touch
- CJ’s Comics
- Variedades Cristys
- Variedades Y Novedades
Those eighteen retailers totaled 36% occupancy of the mall’s retail spaces. Five outparcel businesses -Citgo, Long John Silver’s, CVS, Hollywood Video, and Leo’s Real Mexican Food- also stood on the property.
In 2022, the 302,000-square-foot Woodland Crossing property featured this list of stores.
- Big Lots
- Cali Nails
- Cricket Wireless
- Acceptance Auto Insurance
- Soccer Store
- Toke Smokes
- Thrift At Woodland Crossing
- Elkhart Diamonds & Gold
- Elkhart Beauty Supply
Those thirteen businesses make up 34% of the newer, smaller, shopping center’s available storefronts. Woodland Crossing also features six outparcel businesses: Kroger Fuel; CVS; Leo’s Real Mexican Food; Marathon; Bills Bar-B-Que; and Los 3 Mangos, a smoothie shop.
So much has changed over sixty-two years, but it’s also evident but so little has, as well. In 1960, the original Pierre Moran Shopping Center started as a strip mall with twelve stores, a Kroger, and a discount chain. There were no outparcels back then, but is progress really progress? I’m certain that it isn’t: Woodland Crossing is a strip mall with thirteen stores, a Kroger, and a discount chain. In 2005, the Pierre Moran Mall’s website advertised ten spaces available for lease that totaled around 133,000 square feet, or 31% of the mall’s total area. Today, 150,000 square feet -half of Woodland Crossing- is vacant22.
Victor Gruen was the architect credited with designing the first enclosed shopping mall. An Austrian socialist, Gruen meant for his shopping centers to be communities unto themselves as he remembered his native Vienna to be23. These days, much of urban redevelopment theory focuses on infill architecture, which entails designing structures or pocket parks to fill in smaller, residual gaps left over from when old buildings were torn down. If a fading shopping center is viewed like a city, ignoring Pierre Moran’s empty Target and Woodland Crossing’s empty Sears reveals that Pierre Moran was only 13% empty in 2004, while Woodland Crossing is 21% vacant today.
Just as residents fled the city center for the incorporated suburbs after World War II, they eventually moved further outward. That, along with the 1991 completion of the U.S. 20 bypass that made it easier to travel from Elkhart to more upscale shopping experiences in South Bend24, doomed the Pierre Moran Mall. Ironically, though, it actually outlived South Bend’s Scottsdale Mall twenty minutes southwest via the bypass. In 2004, that sprawling, two-story mall at US-20 and Ireland Road was demolished the following year, and a new power center called Erskine Village was built on its site. Today, Erskine Village is about 85% leased and home to anchors like Kohl’s, Target, and TJ Maxx. In Mishawaka, the University Park Mall continues to thrive with Macy’s, JCPenney, and Barnes & Noble as viable anchors.
In contrast to Pierre Moran, Elkhart’s Concord Mall soldiered on until recently. These days, only JCPenney, ABC Warehouse, Hobby Lobby, a dental office called Kool Smiles, Claire’s, Champs Sports, and a conference center remain as its only businesses across sixty-one retail spaces. For all intents and purposes, in 2022, Concord Mall is dead.
If the Concord Mall is dead, then the Pierre Moran Mall is a zombie.
I’d watch a movie called Zombie Mall! Picture this: a nightmarish scene, with broken glass and shattered storefronts scattered around the abandoned aisles. The air is thick with the smell of decay and the lights are dim, casting an eerie glow on the scene. In the center of the mall, a horde of zombies wanders aimlessly, their hollowed eyes and rotting flesh a stark contrast to the once-vibrant shopping atmosphere. The silence is broken only by the shuffling of the undead and the occasional moan as they search for their next meal. At the Cookie Basket, of course.
Brick and mortar storefronts are struggling across the country, whether they’re overrun with zombies, vacancies, or millennial urban explorers. De-malling an decrepit mall can help its viability in a number of ways: The process can attract new customers by creating a more unique shopping experience, it can help reduce costs associated with maintaining the mall, and it can make the mall more attractive to potential tenants. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to happen at Pierre Moran. In 2022, its hollowed-out husk lurches onward as Woodland Crossing, catering to roughly the same demographics with the roughly same number of tenants as it did sixteen years ago. Today, as Woodland Crossing, many of the Pierre Moran Mall’s separated storefronts are resting -and rusting- in pieces.
1 Ghosh, A. & McLafferty, S. (1991). The shopping center: a restructuring of post-war retailing. The Journal of Retailing Elsevier Advanced Technology Publications. Vol. 67. Issue 3.
2 Request For Sub-Contract Bids (1959, March 10). The William P. Neil Company, LTD. The South Bend Tribune. p. 20.
3 Kurowski, J. (1984, January 15). New ‘super’ store is in works for Kroger’s at Pierre Moran. The South Bend Tribune. p. 15.
4 Beardsley, E. (1906, June 27). Chief Moran’s Friendliness. The Elkhart Daily Review.
5 Cooke, W. (1970, December 3). New Wyman’s Store In Plan. The South Bend Tribune. p. 17.
6 Wyman’s To Open Branch (1971, July 14). The South Bend Tribune. p. 41.
7 Stoner, A. (1984, December 30).Ziesel’s closes downtown store. The South Bend Tribune. p. 16.
8 Wensits, J. (1972, May 26). Wyman’s Optimistic In Elkhart Closing
9 Cooke, W. (1976, November 10). Carson’s to open in Pierre Moran Mall. The South Bend Tribune. p. 21.
10 WNDU Vault: Target “of the future” at the Pierre Moran Mall (2022, June 25). Web. Retrieved December 1, 2022.
11 Kurowski, J. (1985, October 1). Target to fill Pierre Moran spot. The South Bend Tribune. p. 2.
12 Kurowski, J. (1986, September 9). New owner to update mall. The South Bend Tribune. p. 6.
13 Kline’s store will leave Elkhart mall (1991, April 3). The South Bend Tribune. p. 8.
14 Kurowski, J. 1992, September 10) Holiday’s last picture show tonight (. The South Bend Tribune. p. 8.
15 Prescott, H. (2004, January 10). Country music hall filling site. The South Bend Tribune. P. B8.
16 Prescott, H. (2002, January 25). Pierre Moran Mall striving for new life after Target leaves. The South Bend Tribune. p. 18.
17 Woodland Crossing to replace Pierre Moran (2005, June 15). The South Bend Tribune. p. C8.
18 Prescott, H. (2005, July 17). Pierre Moran will be torn down in fall, owners say. The South Bend Tribune. pp. B1-B3
19 Prescott, H. (2005, July 28). Big plans for Elkhart. The South Bend Tribune. p. C8.
20 (See footnote 19).
21 Welcome To The Pierre Moran Mall (2004, May 12). The Pierre Moran Mall. http://www.pierremoranmall.biz. Web. Retrieved December 11, 2022 via the Wayback Machine.
22 Woodland Crossing (n.d.) Southern Management and Development, L.P. Loopnet. Digital brochure. Web. Retrieved December 17, 2022.
23 Birth, Death and Shopping (2007, December 19). The Economist. December 19, 2007. Web, Retrieved December 17, 2022.
24 Rumbach, D. (December 12, 1991). “Bypass Quickly Proves Worth: Less Stress”. South Bend Tribune. p. C1.
4 thoughts on “The Pierre Moran Mall in Elkhart: Resting -and Rusting- in Pieces”
This was a really interesting read. I remember when the mall trend took off in the mid 1960s, and even spent a summer working at a store in the Glenbrook mall so I got to experience some of the non-public labyrinth of corridors where the merch was delivered and stored. I did some collection and eviction work for a major mall chain and watched some really strong malls go from a shortage of space (and aggressive evictions for failing stores) to being very lenient because an open store behind on its rent was better than another closed space. Now most of them are dying.
Also, your first photo dates to no earlier than the fall of 1965 with the light blue 1966 Chevrolet in the picture. It might be a little later, as the gold car beyond it looks a little newer, but I cannot really make it out.
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That non-public labyrinth would be interesting to explore. I got to go in the shuttered movie theater at the Muncie Mall a few years ago. It was interesting since I remembered seeing movies there. Mostly full of mall ephemera.
Sally actually worked at a store in the mall here and got to experience some of that firsthand. I’m jealous! Malls in Anderson and Marion provided similarly hidden corridors once they were near closure, but they were wide-open and available to the public. Stores once existed in them.
Collecting and evicting mall tenants, especially now that most are no longer National chains must have been interesting.
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The 2nd photo listed as a 1960 photo of PMM (with the Grant’s store prominently featured) actually looks like it’s a photo of Town & Country Shopping Center in Mishawaka , IN, about 15 or so miles west of PMM (I recognize the House of Fabrics, Hook’s Drugs and Marianne women’s shop).
Nice job on the page – thank you for detailing PMM’s history. My aunt was married to GL Perry’s son and their first apartment was across the street from PMM where one of the GL Perry Variety Stores was located for many years.
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Oh wow! What a great history as far as your connection to GL Perry. That photo must have been improperly labeled. I’ll take care of it. Thank you for letting me know!