Imagine a time when malls were the beating heart of American suburbia, bustling with shoppers and brimming with a sense of community. This was the world into which River Falls Mall was born.
Situated in Clarksville, Indiana, on the Lewis and Clark Parkway, the mall was a sign of the times, a beacon of commerce and leisure that promised good times and great memories.
The River Falls Mall swung open its doors in 1990. The air was thick with anticipation as locals flocked to explore the new, gleaming center of commerce. The mall’s anchor stores, Walmart and Bacon’s were familiar names, but there was also an array of other retail and entertainment options.
Stores like Dawahares (which later became All About Sports) and Toys “R” Us, once stalwarts of the American retail landscape, found a home here. The mall was more than a place to shop; it was a social hub for families to spend time and friends to meet.
However, even in these early years, the mall faced challenges. High vacancy rates hinted at an uphill battle. Yet, the mall persisted. In 1999, a glimmer of hope appeared in the form of a new Dick’s Sporting Goods.
The addition of this popular store saw the mall’s occupancy rise to 92 percent, a brief respite in the mall’s ongoing struggle to fill its spaces.
The new millennium brought new challenges and opportunities. In 2002, Bass Pro Shops, a leading outdoor retail giant, expressed interest in opening a store at the mall. These negotiations began a significant shift for the River Falls Mall. By 2004, the deal was completed, and construction began.
This period was a time of great upheaval. Key stores, including Dillard’s and Walmart, closed their doors and relocated out the mall. Once a place of laughter and shared experiences, the movie theater went dark.
Yet, with every ending, there’s a new beginning. The opening of the Bass Pro Shops store represented a fresh start and a new direction for the mall.
De-malling and Conversion to a Power Center
Since Bass Pro Shops’ grand opening, the River Falls Mall underwent what industry insiders call “de-malling.” This process involved transforming the traditional enclosed mall into a power center, a shopping center dominated by several big-box retailers.
This change was more than just physical. It was symbolic, reflecting the shifting retail landscape and consumer preferences. The new power center comprised Dick’s Sporting Goods, Old Time Pottery, Jo-Ann Fabrics, and Bass Pro Shops. It was a new chapter and identity for the once-thriving mall.
In 2006, a brand new movie theater, Great Escape River Falls 12, opened its doors, bringing back the sounds of popcorn popping and audiences laughing. Yet, not all traces of the past were erased.
Toys “R” Us, the beloved toy store, continued to operate in its original location. However, following the company’s bankruptcy in 2018, it closed, marking the end of an era.
A Tale of Two Malls
Comparing the River Falls Mall of 1990 to the power center 2023, one might think they’re looking at two different places. Indeed, the physical landscape has changed dramatically.
Yet, at its heart, the spirit of the River Falls Mall remains the same. It continues to serve as a community hub, now in a different form, constantly adapting to the needs and demands of the times.
As we navigate through 2023, Clarksville is buzzing with activity. Several development projects are in progress. One such project involves expanding a stormwater basin on the north side of the former River Falls Mall. This project includes adding a new walking path, promising a touch of green amidst the concrete.
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