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Charlotteans share memories of dying Eastland Mall



Next Wednesday marks the end of an era as Eastland Mall closes its doors for the last time.

Built in 1975, it was once one of Charlotte's premier shopping destinations. But over the last two decades, Eastland has been in decline, losing all of its anchor stores -- such as Sears and Dillards -- and its iconic ice skating rink.

By 2007, there was talk of getting rid of the mall. The city commissioned a study by the Urban Land Institute, which suggested that Eastland should be turned into a mixed-used development with retail and housing. So far, nothing has come from it. Longtime Charlotteans, however, remember when Eastland was a place to see and be seen; this week, four notable residents share their mall memories with Creative Loafing.

Moira Quinn, senior vice president of communications and COO of the Center City Partners: [When I worked for the WBTV news show] PM Magazine, we used it just nonstop as a shooting location. We just loved it. You can imagine how photogenic the place was. We could skate, we could ride escalators, we could shoot from one level to the next. There were cool novelty stores. During the holidays, they had beautiful displays ... I remember the big can tree, because WBTV sponsored that tree. Everything at Eastland Mall was on a huge scale ... That was before Carolina Place was built and Concord Mills. The coolest thing of all was the skating rink. You could go out there and skate yourself, and you would see little hockey players. How unusual was that in the South?"

But Quinn said when she returned to Eastland Mall two years ago, she was stunned by what she saw. "I heard people say that it had changed ... I went in there and shopped, and I was really surprised to see how many stores had left. You hear it -- but to hear it and see it are two different things. It [used to be] so vibrant. It was always such a community-minded place."

"No Limit" Larry Mims, host of WPEG's The Morning Maddhouse: "Eastland had a store called Merry Go Round [where] you got the greatest hook-up ever. You'd get, like, two outfits for $30. I'm talking shirts, shorts, sock, shoes and everything. If you needed a quick outfit, that's where you would go. And another memory I have is when I first started working for the radio station, we brought Destiny's Child out there -- and that was the original Destiny's Child, Beyonce, Kelly [Rowland], LeToya [Luckett] and LaTavia [Roberson]. We brought them out there, and it was just so many people ... it almost shut the mall down. Beyonce just looked so good and Kelly was looking in my eyes. I was in love for about an hour and a half."

Mims, a Charlotte native, said the last time he shopped at Eastland Mall was 2009.

"Growing up here, I remember being 15 and wanting to catch bus No. 9 to Central Avenue and wanting to go to the mall to just hang all day Friday and Saturday. But going back a year ago, it seemed like everything was gone, that whole feeling was gone. It felt like you were in a ghost town almost."

Bea Thompson, host of WBAV's Straight Talk: "The fact that Eastland was so much larger than SouthPark ... a lot of people said, 'That's it. This is the end of SouthPark.' Eastland Mall was so large and the fact that it had an indoor ice skating rink, which I never used, I just thought that it was a fascinating thing to have at a mall. The food court, with so many different foods, and the variety of stores and the upscale stores there. Eastland was one of the first places where I saw people doing mall walking."

Thompson said that she noticed the mall's demise had come when Eastland started courting the youth market. "It was almost like a double-edged sword. You wanted to have young people in there, and they were catering so much to the young folks that wanted to spend fast cash that they forgot about the older folk who maintain cash. Nobody wanted to come and shop. Then there developed a rudeness level ... and after a while, people [would] not go to that place. I know I got to that point. I did not have a good sense of this is where I want to be. There were more kids who were hanging out. And we have to put responsibility on parents who wanted the malls to be baby sitters. What we see with Northlake [Mall] now is they headed them off at the pass by saying: '7 p.m., get out -- unless you're here with an adult.' I can understand why they did it. When you look at malls and how you develop them, they're going to look at Eastland as how not to develop a mall."

Patrick Cannon, Charlotte mayor pro tem: "Back in the day, Eastland Mall was one of those places that, as some people would say, had it going on. I can recall going there as a youngster and taking part in everything from the food court to going to the movies to shopping and to everybody's favorite, going into the ice skating rink and spending all day there if you could. It's just like one of those songs, 'It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday,' it's really going to be hard to say goodbye to Eastland and all that it represented in this community."

Cannon said when he was a district representative on the City Council, he noticed Eastland's downward slide. "I saw it heading in the direction of what the west side used to be in terms of seeing structures that were eyesores, seeing crime on the rise to economic development opportunities on the decline. And I said to my colleagues when I was on the Council that I see that area becoming what the west side used to be. That's why there was such an emphasis on my behalf to institute a west side strategy plan because I was thinking in the future. And I suggested an east side strategy plan; that meant there would be some focus on preserving what we had all grown to love in Eastland Mall. However, not to blame anybody, the strategy that was used for the west side was not the same strategy used for the east side. They concentrated more on the infrastructure -- the things people really can't see or understand how it plays a part in their life."

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