Oldest Malls in KY, IN, & TN Are Still Active to Varying Degrees
What is this thing called a "mall"? Had my vocabulary been more mature when I entered one for the first time as a young boy, that would have been the question I would have asked.
Indiana's Oldest Mall: Washington Square Mall
While I scarcely remember that first visit (well, let's call it the first visit I remember), I do recall sort of staring in wonder at this ENCLOSED shopping center that connected so many stores under one roof. I was in amazement. It was Washington Square Mall in Evansville IN and it might as well have been Disney World; I walked into the Magic Kingdom in a similar (if, maybe, a bit heightened) state of awe.
Businessinsider.com collected the oldest malls from each of the 50 states, and I would have guessed that Indianapolis would have been home to the Hooser State's oldest, but I was wrong. Washington Square Mall opened in 1963 as the state's first enclosed shopping center. Here's the oldest commercial for it I could find. It's from Christmas 1987:
And it was a thriving enterprise. Our trips to Evansville, when I was a kid, revolved around visiting WSM. I loved the escalators at Sears and Stewart's. And my sister and I would make a beeline for the Paper Tiger, a bookstore with these really cool ramps on each side wall that would take you to the next level.
If you do a search of Washington Square Mall, you're likely to come up with multiple "dead mall" lists and YouTube videos. And while it truly is a shell of its former self, rumors of its total demise are a bit exaggerated. Plus, I'll always have great, fun memories. They last forever.
Kentucky's Oldest Mall: Mall St. Matthews
One year before Washington Square Mall turned Evansville and Indiana on its ear, Mall St. Matthews did the same thing for Louisville and Kentucky in 1962. Despite the fact that the mall's name drives me crazy--where in the world is the word "AT"--I am a big fan. No, I don't gravitate toward malls anymore, but many of them still do have anchor stores with big & tall men's departments. I'm a big dude and that's what I need. And Mall St. Matthews toes the line in that regard.
Now back to that "missing" preposition. Maybe it could be read dramatically--"The Mall...St. Matthews." I don't know; I'm just playin'. And that's actually NOT its original name, according to malls.com:
Opened in 1962 and originally named The Mall, it was the first enclosed suburban shopping mall in the state of Kentucky. Located next to the Watterson Expressway, the mall had A & P, J.C. Penney, Kaufman-Straus, and Rose's as its anchor stores.
J.C. Penney is still there. Rose's is now the food court. Kaufman-Straus is long gone. And...wait...what? A&P? Yeah, a GROCERY STORE as a mall anchor. Of course, that is a thing of the past as well, even if the concept isn't, necessarily. But Mall St. Matthews is most certainly not as it continues to be a thriving shoppers' hub in Derby City.
Tennessee's Oldest Mall: The Arcade in Nashville
Well, if we were giving out awards, Nashville's Arcade would win hands down among these three. The oldest mall in Tennessee is older than anyone currently living, I think it's safe to say. It opened in 1903. Nashville businessman Daniel C. Buntin modeled this beautiful shopping and business center after a similar structure in Milan, Italy. It opened 120 years ago after he persuaded nearby business owners that an arcade should be the way to go to pump life into what is now Arcade Alley in downtown Music City.
Here's an even more contemporary look at the Arcade in Nashville:
To varying degrees, these three malls are thriving. Certainly, purists in my neck of the woods would love to see Washington Square Mall continue to rise from the ashes, and that seems to be a goal.
But I'm always a fan of maintaining businesses that have been around for as long as we can remember--these all fall under that category for me. Not only do you have active present-day destinations, but there's also history and great memories.
And those are irreplaceable.