The Silent Halls of The Orchards Mall in Benton Harbor, MI

The Birth of The Orchards Mall

In the late 1970s, Benton Harbor, Michigan, witnessed the rise of a new shopping era with the construction of The Orchards Mall. The mall’s story began in 1974 when the Meyer C. Weiner Company proposed the idea of a shopping mall in Benton Harbor.

This proposal was initially for a mall named Pipestone Mall. However, Westcor acquired the land in 1976, and the mall was renamed Orchards Mall.

Developed by Westcor, a prominent name in the real estate sector, the mall opened its doors on October 24, 1979. It was not just a mall but a beacon of modern retail, promising a unique shopping experience in Benton Township.

The initial allure of The Orchards Mall was undeniable. It was anchored by retail giants Sears and JCPenney and drew crowds from across the region. The addition of Elder-Beerman in the 1990s only solidified its status as a retail powerhouse.

These anchor stores were more than just shops; they were the heartbeats of the mall, pumping life and energy into its corridors.

The landscape of Benton Harbor began to evolve around the mall. The mall’s presence spurred the development of nearby commercial properties, including a strip mall anchored by Kmart.

This retail expansion was a testament to the mall’s gravitational pull on consumers and businesses.

As the area grew, so did the list of things to do in Benton Harbor, Michigan, transforming the city into a bustling hub of activity and commerce.

The Orchards Mall was a community gathering place, a destination for families, and a symbol of economic growth. Its opening began a golden era for Benton Harbor, one filled with promise, potential, and prosperity.

The Golden Years

The Orchards Mall enjoyed several years of prosperity and growth, characterized by the addition of significant tenants, such as Walgreens and York Steak House.

These additions diversified the mall’s retail offerings, making it a one-stop shopping destination for the residents of Benton Harbor and beyond.

The area surrounding the mall also saw significant development. Meijer, a supercenter chain, opened its doors outside the mall on June 24, 1980.

In November 1994, Lowe’s Home Improvement was added. These developments further enhanced the mall’s appeal, drawing in more visitors.

In 1999, General Growth Properties took over the mall’s management. This change in direction ushered in a new era of expansion and growth.

The mall saw the addition of new stores, including Bath & Body Works, and the remodeling of existing ones.

The mall was a vibrant, bustling hub of activity, a testament to the thriving retail industry of the time.

Signs of Decline

However, the vibrant scene at The Orchards Mall began to change as the retail landscape shifted. The first major blow came in 2009 when Sears closed its doors.

This departure marked the beginning of a challenging period for the mall, as the loss of one of its anchor stores led to a noticeable drop in foot traffic.

The retail industry was evolving, and The Orchards Mall felt the impact. The rise of online shopping and changes in consumer behavior started to undermine the traditional mall model.

As a result, other stores began to leave, and vacancies increased. Elder-Beerman, another anchor store, was converted to Carson’s in 2011.

Efforts were made to counteract the decline. The mall management sought to attract new businesses and offered tax incentives to encourage investment. Despite these efforts, the changing retail environment posed a significant challenge.

The departure of key stores and the increasing number of empty storefronts signaled a troubling trend for the future of The Orchards Mall.

The Downward Spiral

The decline of The Orchards Mall accelerated with the closure of Sears Hometown in July 2017. This significant event further reduced visitor numbers.

The situation worsened when Carson’s announced it would shut down in April 2018, following The Bon-Ton’s decision to close 42 stores nationwide. This loss meant all original anchor stores had left, leaving a gaping void in the mall’s offerings.

In June 2018, the mall faced a critical infrastructure issue: the water supply was cut off due to unpaid bills by Kohan Retail Investment Group, the mall’s owner.

This led to a temporary closure, further tarnishing the mall’s reputation and contributing to its decline.

The property was eventually sold to Durga LLC in November 2018. Still, the change in ownership did little to stem the tide of departures.

The final blow came in 2019 with the closure of JCPenney. This closure left the mall without its original anchor stores, marking the end of an era.

The mall’s physical condition deteriorated, with reports of a burst water main in December 2022 causing significant damage.

Combined with long-standing vacancies and diminishing foot traffic, these incidents painted a bleak picture of the once-thriving shopping center.

The Current State

As of 2024, The Orchards Mall is a shadow of its former self, with only three businesses remaining: Doctor ZZZZ’Z Mattress Center, Open Box Outlet, and a U.S. Postal Service branch.

Most mall storefronts have been empty for over a decade, creating a desolate atmosphere.

The decline has affected the mall’s interior and surroundings. The parking lot, once full, now sits largely empty, serving as a stark reminder of better days.

Despite these challenges, there are no immediate plans to demolish the building, largely due to its cost and size.

Surprisingly, the mall’s management installed a bird deterrent in the summer of 2023, addressing one of the more peculiar problems: a persistent nuisance caused by gulls.

Despite its extensive issues, this small action indicates ongoing attention to the property.

However, as of early 2024, the future of The Orchards Mall remains to be determined, with the community waiting to see what will become of this once-bustling retail hub.

Orchards Mall: A New Chapter in Redevelopment

The Orchards Mall in Benton Harbor, Michigan, is on the brink of a significant transformation.

After years of financial struggles, the mall’s ownership has cleared a substantial hurdle by paying off over $357,000 in back taxes to Berrien County.

This payment addresses the delinquent amounts for 2020, 2021, and 2022, marking a pivotal step towards the mall’s potential redevelopment.

The mall’s management team has proposed a new vision for the future: transforming the space into a mixed-use development that combines commercial and residential elements.

However, this ambitious plan is contingent upon the local township’s willingness to rezone the area, a decision that remains in limbo.

The recent settlement of back taxes is seen as a strong commitment by the mall’s owners to revitalize the property.

This act of paying off the entire debt, rather than just the minimum to avoid foreclosure, is a testament to their dedication to the mall’s future.

It represents a significant shift in attitude and could pave the way for constructive discussions with local authorities.

The dialogue between the mall’s ownership and the township officials is ongoing, and the goal is to craft a redevelopment plan that meets the needs of both the community and the investors.

While there has been some resistance to changing the zoning laws, the recent financial actions of the mall’s owners have sparked new hope for a collaborative solution.

As the situation unfolds, the community remains hopeful yet cautious. The potential for The Orchards Mall to reemerge as a key player in Benton Harbor’s economic landscape is becoming more tangible, but many challenges still lie ahead.

The path to revitalization is complex, but the recent developments have brought a new sense of optimism to the long-standing saga of the mall.

Spring for a Getaway: Save 40% or more on hotels!nc117vvzntrCEDDIMFEIKCEHIGLDJL

Comments: 2
  1. Avatar of Loida Medina
    Loida Medina

    It is sad that the Mall has turned out to be a skeleton of of the past. However, if you have been observing, malls like this which were turned into sports are thriving. How about turning it into a Pickleball Paradise . This can be used for sports for Benton Harbor youths, community Pickleball and later add eateries and other indoor sports. Pickleball is on the rise with inexpensive items to get the play started. I am sure there are people who will be willing to teach these young ones and even older people how to play. This place will burst into life again.

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      Thank you for your insightful comment about Orchards Mall. Given the sport’s rising popularity, the idea of turning it into a Pickleball Paradise is timely. Repurposing it into a sports facility could bring new life into the space.

Add a comment

;-) :| :x :twisted: :smile: :shock: :sad: :roll: :razz: :oops: :o :mrgreen: :lol: :idea: :grin: :evil: :cry: :cool: :arrow: :???: :?: :!: