Eastgate Consumer Mall to close

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Indianapolis, March 24 - Eastgate Consumer Mall, an Indianapolis retail fixture for nearly 50 years, will close June 30.

Mall tenants received notice of the closing this week in a letter from an attorney representing owner Haywood Whichard, The Indianapolis Star reported Wednesday.

"We've seen it coming for a long time, but we didn't think it would come this quick and in this manner," said John Duncan, who works at Kinda Kountry, a craft and gift shop at the mall.

Eastgate was built in 1957 as an open-air shopping center on what was then the city's outskirts and once boasted retailers such as Sears and J.C. Penney. But it fell victim to encroaching competition from newer malls and big-box retailers as the area developed.

Eastgate was remodeled and reinvented as a discount mall more than 20 years ago, but business continued to slide throughout the 1990s. Whichard, a North Carolina investor who also owns Fort Wayne's mostly vacant Southtown Mall, bought Eastgate from Simon Property Group in 2002.

Eastgate's sole remaining anchor store, Burlington Coat Factory, moved a few weeks ago to nearby Washington Square mall, leaving fewer than 15 stores -- most of them locally owned craft and gift shops.

On Tuesday, most of the stores in the 298,000-square-foot center were shuttered and dark. There were few customers.

Frank Swiss, president of Swiss Group Commercial Properties, a leasing and management firm, said the closing might translate into a fresh start for the area.

"What it could do is now allow the owner to really redevelop the property, whether that means razing the entire site or redeveloping it," he said. "A big box could come in. It's still a good trade area."

For Duncan, who was packing teddy bears and glass figurines in preparation for Kinda Kountry's move, the future looked uncertain. 

"We're not going to go anyplace else," he said. "There's not really anyplace we could go. We'll just be going to different festivals this summer."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)