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Discount Diva: Who will be the next Summit Park Mall?

As far as I was concerned, the Summit Park Mall was the center of the universe.

All my time as a kid was spent either hanging out at the Wheatfield shopping center or trying to convince someone to drive me there.

I don’t know what the big deal was. I hardly remember buying anything, besides maybe a Glo Worm from Kay-Bee Toys (or was it Child World?) and a black-and-white polka dot blouse from Attractions. All of my other material possessions came from Hills.

Mostly my friends and I just walked around, drooling over I.O.U. sweatshirts and Wild Pair shoes. We spent any money we had taking goofy pictures in the photo booth, throwing pennies into the fountain or playing Skee Ball at Aladdin’s Castle. If there was a Christian Slater movie showing, we splurged on tickets for the two-screen cinema.

True story: I used to go into the Limited and ask for one of their black-and-white plastic bags. Then I would carry my gym clothes to school in it, thus creating the illusion that I could afford to shop there.

A 1980 photo shows the Summit Park Mall during its busy days. (News file photo)

As an adult, I would visit the Summit solely for nostalgic purposes. I would buy a slice of Leon’s Pizza (the greatest pizza in the history of the world), and sit in “the pit,” a step-down seating area camouflaged by plants.

The Summit has been largely vacant since 2009, symbolizing for some people the end of malls as we knew them. At the same time, other malls around it were dying the first in a series of smaller deaths. They suffered losses of foot traffic they would never regain. Shoppers gravitated toward strip plazas and big box stores and, even more harmful, the first real wave of online shopping took hold.

Malls as we knew them, thronged with people and bursting with tenants, became a thing of the past. Today, even during much of the Christmas season, mall crowds aren’t nearly what they used to be.

As you have probably heard over and over again, mall retail has hit a wall. Anchor department stores are closing left and right, such as Sears at Boulevard Mall and Walden Galleria, and Macy’s at the Eastern Hills and McKinley malls.

It doesn’t help that developers overbuilt shopping malls in the first place, creating about a billion square feet of unnecessary retail space. Dozens of malls across the country have closed and, if you listen to the experts, half of the 1,100 enclosed malls in the country will be closed by 2025.

We’ve got five malls in the Buffalo Niagara region. Statistically, two or three of them could close. Any guesses as to which ones those will be?

Eastern Hills Mall’s fate as an enclosed mall is already sealed. It will soon transform itself into a more relevant Lifestyle Center, complete with restaurants and apartments.

Boulevard Mall’s troubles have been well documented, with its increased vacancy rate, major devaluation and $92 million loan default. McKinley, still a significant retail destination for Southtowners, is chugging along despite some significant vacancies.

[Gallery: McKinley Mall looks to future without Macy's]

That leaves Walden Galleria and Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls. The odds of survival are ever in their favor.

Outlet malls are one of the few bright spots in mall retail, with cash strapped shoppers looking for name brand bargains.

Mall tenants’ current strategy has been to pull all but one location out of each market. That last bastion usually ends up in the market’s super-regional center. Our super-regional is Galleria.

So, who will be the next Summit Park Mall? And who will be the last?

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