The inevitable is finally coming to fruition at the Columbia Colonnade, better known as the Columbia Mall. Throughout the years, the mall has dwindled from having plenty of storefronts to next-to-nothing, and with another anchor store closing, it’s only a matter of time until most of the former mall is completely barren and empty.
When I want to kill time before heading to work, I sometimes hop down to the mall with my mother to – well, do nothing, really. Being in the mall is kind of creepy, in that all of the storefronts that were filled with places I frequented as a child are now dark and empty.
As the entire world suddenly appeared at our fingertips via the Internet, the need for malls has diminished significantly. If this is the case, what do we do with the barren buildings that are found in numerous towns across the country?
Geisinger had the right idea in renting out some of the area for additional offices. Perhaps if we utilized these spaces for more community engagements, we wouldn’t be putting an entire building to waste.
Even with the Geisinger offices and various sports activities, there are still several storefronts in the Columbia Mall that are empty, as there undoubtedly are in malls elsewhere. Rather than let all of that space go to waste, it would be wise to offer it up for community use.
For instance, the Columbia Mall has allowed Kids First Gymnastics to use an empty storefront, as well as BTE and the Bloomsburg School of Dance. Greenwood Farm Market is also supposed to be going into the mall at some point.
Yet, there is a surplus of unused areas of the mall that could be put to good use. This is, of course, true for malls all around the United States. For instance, why not use all of this extra space as homeless shelters or food kitchens?
Rather than create more buildings or try to cram these things into shared space with something else, why not just put them in empty malls?
As malls are generally situated in easy-to-access places, this only heightens the relevance for putting much-needed community resources there.
Although Bloomsburg already has a women’s center, other towns might benefit from having a women’s center located within an old mall. Truly, there are boundless opportunities.
Not to mention, this can prevent future environmental impacts. Instead of having to build or renovate buildings, were we to use an already existing building to incorporate a plethora of community engagements – including resource and career centers, athletic areas, theater productions, and farmers markets, to name a few – we would prevent the need for creating new buildings.
Malls once created a sense of community. You went there with your family and marveled at all of the clothes, shoes, and jewelry you hoped your parents would buy for you. As you grew a bit older, perhaps you frequented the stores or restaurants with your friends, instead.
Either way, the place was abuzz with activity. It was a way to pass the time and get out for a while, or to run into people you know, or to engage with people you don’t.
Yet, the rise of online stores drastically decreased our need to go to the mall, and subsequently, it has lost its sense of community. Even so, there is wondrous opportunity to recreate this atmosphere right at our doorstep.
Malls might yet be able to rekindle their ability to be a place where the community comes together. Only, instead of it being through department stores and fast food chains, it could be through locally run organizations that offer help to people across town.
Community provides people with a sense of belonging. It provides the opportunity to find common ground and to forge new relationships with one another. It allows us to feel connected and, ultimately, more compassionate and helpful toward others. And while this was formerly done via shopping trips and rendezvous at Auntie Anne’s, change is a good thing.
Opportunity lies dormant in the dying malls across America. It is important we – both community members and mall-owners – recognize this and take advantage of the newfangled sense of togetherness we might be able to create through turning vacant and useless malls into a gathering place for the community.Kristin is a sophomore Creative Writing major and an Op/Ed Columnist for The Voice.