Since it’s opening in 1974, Independence Center has welcomed more than 12 million visitors each year, according to its website. More recently though, the mall has seen a decline in business for more reasons than one.
Within the past month Independence Center has had increased levels of violence, starting with a fight between 500 youths, then multiple shootings in the parking lot and inside the mall itself. In response, the Independence Police Department worked with Independence Center and installed a curfew. People ages 17 and under are not allowed on mall property after 3 p.m. without an adult with them at all times.
With the heightened violence paired with the closing of Macy’s, one of the five original anchor stores, many are wondering what’s in store for the mall. Reminiscing on what used it to be, sophomore Kaleigh Drew said she didn’t visit often but enjoyed her time there. She added that she liked going to Bath & Body Works, but one of her favorite memories was when she “was in a wheelchair due to surgery, and the time we had there was really good, even though I wasn’t really able to get up and walk around.” Since then, Drew said she hasn’t returned since late 2019 or early 2020.
Similarly, junior Chloe Kincheloe said she would visit Independence Center with friends on special occasions, but hasn’t returned in “the past five years.” Kincheloe said her favorite memory was when she celebrated a friend’s birthday there.
“My biggest memory from there is whenever we went to Diane’s birthday party down at the mall, and we just kind of ran around and did a little scavenger hunt and shop,” Kincheloe said, “But we were like, really young. But I can’t see any kids now doing that. It’s changed a lot.” Kincheloe’s sentiment is one that many seem to share. Drew said she believes the change and increase in violence could be due to being holed up because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“With the increase in violence, I feel as though it’s picked up this year because kids, as well as adults, are getting bored. And by going to the mall and fighting and/or shooting, it’s giving them something to do, which really isn’t necessary, which we all know,” Drew said. Kincheloe had a different idea.
“I think the type of stores that are there are changing because we saw at Oak Park Mall how Nordstroms is moving to the Plaza now. So I think some of those higher-end stores are moving away which is changing the type of people that are going to the stores,” Kincheloe said. She also thinks it could be a part of the mall’s newest addition, District Jungle: Eat & Play.
The plans for District Jungle were revealed in late 2019, and according to the Kansas City Business Journal, it contains “11 different climbing walls, three levels of ropes courses and a Rollglider, an aerial ride that combines the sensation of free falling with hang gliding.”
Kincheloe said she thinks by having more entertainment areas rather than shops, it’s possibly opening a place where people can dawdle and cause trouble. “Maybe, that kind of made people want to stand and hangout rather than shop, and that’s why more of the fights are happening. Rather than [shopping] … I heard someone mention that and I thought, ‘That might actually be a reason why,’” Kincheloe said.
On the flip side, both Kincheloe and Drew agreed that the new addition has helped slow the decline of business and will hopefully, according to Kincheloe, help bring the mall back to life.
Kincheloe said, “I think they’ll probably be able to [recover], because I feel like this has happened other places and they’ve been able to, kind of turn it around and they get better. But, I don’t know, I hope they are because it was a good mall, there were some good stores in there.” She added that if they were to close the mall, it would mean the loss of income for many families.
“I mean that’s a lot of jobs that people are losing, and if … Oak Park Mall is all filled up with their jobs over there, there’s gonna be a lot of people that don’t have any jobs. So I can see that and then there’s a lot of unemployment, especially after COVID-19,” Kincheloe said.