With the closures of major department stores and other brick-and-mortar stores in the Valley, what is the future of our shopping malls? 

Management at the Southern Park Mall in Boardman and the Eastwood Mall in Niles remain optimistic. In Hermitage, at the Shenango Valley Mall, they’re focusing more on rebuilding.

On Friday, February 8, we talked with Southern Park Mall Manager Brian Gabbert. 

This was before last week’s announcement that Dillard’s would be closing there and that the Cafaro Company would be buying the building.

The mall is owned by Columbus-based Washington Prime Group, which has owned the Southern Park Mall for five years. Altogether, the company owns 110 malls and plazas. 

Gabbert said Washington Prime Group is “100 percent committed” to the Boardman mall. 

“Back years ago, we just had a mall and people came in and shopped. Now, we’re looking at every inch of our property,” he said. “What can we do in the parking lot that’s exciting, that’s going to bring people to the property, that’s going to give them entertainment?” 

Inside Southern Park — next to Chick-fil-A — is a store under construction. The Art Cafe painting studio will also open March 1, and Gabbert says a new Champs Sporting Good store is being built and should be open in a couple months.  

At the opposite end of Southern Park are the blackened doors of the vacant Sears store. The outline of its sign is still visible on the exterior wall.  

Plans are being formulated to deal with Southern Park’s one big eyesore.

“That could be anything from using the store that’s there to actually tearing it down and putting other stores in place on the outside and redeveloping the portion of the lot beyond that as well,” Gabbert said. 

Joe Bell, of the Cafaro Company, said the Eastwood Mall is doing pretty well. The mall also has a vacant Sears store, but he expects many of them to be subdivided.

“You’ll see them subdivided for stores that require a smaller footprint,” he said. 

While Southern Park will soon have two vacancies left by large anchor stores, Eastwood Mall has only the Sears site.

“Every time people see a store close, it seems there are two more that open, and we’ve had a lot of track record with that, and that’s not just by happenstance. That’s by design,” Bell said. “We’re looking at things all the time to change the evolution of this mall.”

State of the mall: New owners hope to save struggling Shenango Valley Mall