The Rise of Century III Mall: A Retail Marvel in its Heyday
Ah, the late ’70s—a time of disco, bell-bottoms, and the grand opening of Century III Mall in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. Imagine the buzz on October 24, 1979, when the mall threw open its doors.
This wasn’t any ordinary mall; it was a sprawling 1,290,000-square-foot retail paradise. With anchor stores like JCPenney, Kaufmann’s, Sears, Gimbels, and Montgomery Ward, it was the place to be.
The mall was so big that you could quickly lose track of time wandering from store to store. And it wasn’t just about shopping; it was an experience. You could catch a movie, dine in style, and attend community events.
It was like a small city
Moving on, the mall wasn’t just a local hotspot but a retail marvel that attracted shoppers from all over the state. It was the epitome of consumer culture, where you could find anything and everything.
Additionally, the mall was designed to be more than just a shopping center. Its unique architectural elements made it a sight to behold. Skylights, fountains, and even a mini amusement park for kids—this mall had it all.
In contrast to today’s online shopping era, Century III Mall was a testament to the communal experience of retail therapy.
It was a place where families and friends gathered, where first dates happened, and where holiday shopping was an event, not a chore.
Century III Mall’s Unique Features: More Than Just Shopping
The mall wasn’t just a collection of stores; it was a marvel of design and architecture. The layout was planned to make shopping an experience, not a chore.
Remember the skylights that bathed the interior in natural light? They made you feel like you were outdoors, even inside.
And let’s talk about parking. With a sea of spaces, you never had to circle looking for a spot. The mall even had its transit stop, making it accessible for those who preferred public transportation.
“Who needs a city tour when you have Century III Mall?” you might have thought back in the day. The mall was so expansive that it could take an entire day to explore every nook and cranny.
Additionally, the mall was ahead of its time in terms of amenities. Free Wi-Fi, charging stations, and plush seating areas were just some of the perks that made shopping here a dream.
So, why settle for the usual tourist traps when you had this retail wonderland right in West Mifflin? It was one of the most exciting things to do in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania.
The Anchors of Century III Mall and Their Stories
Ah, the anchor stores—the heart and soul of any mall. At Century III, these were more than just large retail spaces; they were the pillars that held up the entire shopping experience. Let’s take a nostalgic trip back in time and revisit these iconic stores, shall we?
First up is Kaufmann’s, a name synonymous with quality and elegance. Opened along with the mall in 1979, Kaufmann’s was the go-to place for high-end fashion and home goods.
It was the store where you’d find the perfect outfit for a special occasion or a unique piece of furniture that would become a family heirloom. Kaufmann’s remained a staple until it was converted to Macy’s in 2006, eventually closing its doors in 2016.
Then we had Gimbels, another original anchor known for its wide range of products. From electronics to clothing, Gimbels had it all.
However, the store couldn’t keep up with the changing retail landscape and closed in 1988. The space was later divided into smaller stores, but none could capture the magic that was Gimbels.
“Remember the first time you set foot in Sears?” Ah, Sears—a household name that offered everything from appliances to automotive services.
Opened in 1980, Sears was where you could buy anything, even a house (in kit form)! Sadly, the store closed in 2014, marking the end of an era.
JCPenney was another anchor that stood the test of time, at least for a while. It opened in 1979 and was the last anchor to close, shutting its doors in 2020.
JCPenney was the place for affordable fashion and home goods. It was the store you could count on for back-to-school shopping or holiday gifts.
Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about Montgomery Ward. This anchor store debuted in 1980 but had a relatively short run, closing its doors in 1986. But the space didn’t stay empty for long; Horne’s swooped in to take its place.
Fast forward to 1994, and the space underwent another transformation, becoming Lazarus. However, Lazarus couldn’t escape the fate of underperforming sales and closed in 1999. The space then morphed into Kaufmann’s Furniture Gallery.
Still, following? Good, because in 2006, it took on yet another identity as Macy’s Furniture Gallery. Alas, this incarnation also couldn’t stand the test of time and closed in 2009.
This anchor space was like a chameleon, constantly changing and adapting but never quite finding its perfect fit. Each store occupied this space brought flavor and clientele, contributing to the mall’s ever-changing identity.
It’s a fascinating journey that mirrors the larger story of Century III Mall, a place of constant change, promise, and, ultimately, uncertainty.
In contrast to the mall’s current state, these anchor stores were once bustling activity centers. They hosted holiday events, fashion shows, and even celebrity signings. Each store had its character, appeal, and set of loyal customers.
So, why did these anchors sink? A combination of factors—competition with other shopping centers, online shopping, changing consumer preferences, and the rise of big-box stores—led to their downfall.
“It’s like watching your favorite TV show get canceled,” you might think. And you’d be right; it’s a loss that’s felt deeply by the community and anyone who cherishes the memories of shopping at these iconic stores.
The Decline of Century III Mall: From Retail Giant to Ghost Town
It’s heartbreaking to see something you love deteriorate, and that’s precisely what happened to Century III Mall. The opening of the Waterfront in nearby Homestead was the first nail in the coffin. Shoppers drifted away, lured by the new, shiny retail complex.
Anchor stores began to close one by one. JCPenney, the last remaining store, shut its doors in 2020. The mall’s interior closed in 2019, leaving behind a derelict structure that became a haven for squatters and vandals.
“This is the adventure of a lifetime,” you might have thought while exploring the abandoned mall. But it’s a dangerous adventure.
The mall that was once a symbol of prosperity and community is now a cautionary tale. It’s a stark reminder that nothing lasts forever, not even retail giants like Century III Mall.
The Ownership Saga of Century III Mall: A Rollercoaster of Promises and Pitfalls
Ownership changes can make or break a mall, and Century III had its fair share of ups and downs. Initially owned by the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation, the mall was merged to Simon Property Group and eventually to Moonbeam Capital Investments LLC in 2011.
Moonbeam promised revitalization. “A new dawn for Century III Mall,” they claimed. But alas, the mall continued its downward spiral. By 2023, the mall was declared an emergency, and the local borough council voted to condemn the property.
The mall’s valuation plummeted over the years, becoming a shadow of its former self. Once a bustling hub, it turned into an empty shell, waiting for a miracle that never came.
Moonbeam Capital faces fines for unsafe conditions, and the mall’s future hangs in the balance. It’s a sad turn of events for a place that once held so much promise.
The Future of Century III Mall: What Lies Ahead
The future of Century III Mall in West Mifflin, PA, has taken some interesting turns recently. The mall’s owner, Las Vegas-based Moonbeam Capital, was slapped with a hefty $240,000 fine by a judge for three code violations: unsafe structures, sanitation problems, and rampant weed growth.
But that’s not all. The West Mifflin Borough Council unanimously voted to condemn the property in July. Moonbeam Capital didn’t take this lying down and has appealed the decision. This legal tussle adds another layer of complexity to the mall’s already uncertain future.
The mall has also been a hotbed for incidents that have raised concerns about its safety. In April, the mall was the scene of an arson fire now under investigation.
Investigators found accelerants at the scene, making it a serious matter for the local authorities. The mall, known for squatters and drug activity, has become risky, even for first responders.
Adding to the list of incidents, a YouTuber from Ohio and two others were charged with breaking into the mall in May. In June, a teenager fell through the mall roof while filming a TikTok video and was hospitalized. They have since been charged with trespassing.
So, what’s next for this once-iconic mall? The legal battles and safety concerns have made the mall’s future even more uncertain. The community is on edge, waiting for a resolution.
Whether that means demolition, redevelopment, or something else entirely, the people of West Mifflin are keen for a decision to address the mall’s long-standing issues finally.
The story of Century III Mall is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. From its grand opening in 1979 to its current state of abandonment, it has seen it all. It’s a tale that evokes various emotions—nostalgia and fond memories to sadness and loss.
But it also serves as a lesson in the ever-changing retail and community spaces landscape. The mall’s story is far from over as we look to the future. But for now, it remains a haunting yet fascinating chapter in the history of American retail.