Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Scenes from a Mall

Can malls survive the recession? They were in trouble even before the recession, and this retail environment has accelerated the situation--many mall-centric retailers have gone bust. No more Mervyns, Linens n Things, Bennigans, etc.

Saturday I went to Comicpalooza, a small comic book convention that was held in the West Oaks Mall (located on Highway 6 between Westheimer and Richmond). West Oaks Mall has had more troubles than your average mall.

West Oaks Mall Sign
Even West Oak's sign looks pathetic.

Despite a great location and not bad interior, West Oaks Mall is plagued with vacancies. And unlike malls like Memorial City Mall, West Oaks is not able to hide the gaps.

Empty Store 1 Popcorn King
Popcorn Kingdom is an empty kernel

Empty Store 2 GNC
The fixtures are still in this otherwise empty store

Empty Store 4 Mrs. K's Pralines
No more pralines...

Empty Store 3
More sadness...

Empty Store 5
The fun never stop at West Oaks Mall!

So what's a mall to do? West Oaks needed to occupy its empty stores (even if temporarily), or at least cover them up. And it needed to get people in the mall who could at least potentially patronize the remaining stores. So that's where Comicpalooza came in. Their main dealer room was in an abandoned clothing store.

Dealers Room

Dealers Room dressing rooms
There were still dressing rooms left over from the previous tenant.

The other dealer's tables were in the mall's corridors, many of them strategically placed in front of empty storefronts.

Dealers Table 4 with Empty Store
Dealers Table 3 with Empty Stores
Dealers Table 2 with empty store
Dealer Table w empty store 1

As for the con, it was pretty modest. The dealers leaned heavily towards people selling their own artwork and/or self-published books. Most of this was too mainstream or too indy-comics for my taste--I'm more of an art comics kind of guy. There were a few tables selling old comic books, but none that I noticed selling old original artwork, much less old comic strip artwork (which I love to see and, when I can afford it, buy). The special guest was David Mack. My favorite tables belonged to Rev. Chris Self (selfmadecomics.net) from Katy, David Hopkins, and "Kaley." Self does a comic called Sack Tap.
Rev. Self Photobucket
It's amazing to imagine a comic book being published in Katy. Next thing you know, someone will tell me that there is a free jazz combo in Kingwood, or a conceptual artist in Sugarland.

David Hopkins is a writer of several short graphic novels including Karma Incorporated.
David Hopkins Karma Inc

Finally, Kaley set up shop on the floor next to her dad's table. He was selling original artwork, so she decided to as well. I'm not sure what these drawings are (dogs?), but the price was right (25 cents).
Kaley 1

But Kaley wanted you to know she was willing to draw ofther things as well!
Kaley 2

So Comicpalooza was not the greatest con I've attended (but far from the worst!). The turn out was pretty decent despite the swine flu craziness. For West Oaks Mall, they probably made a little money out of it. So malls that are suffering from high vacancies--turn your empty stores over to comic conventions, or craft shows, or bridge tournaments, or even avant-garde art installations!

But don't do what West Oaks Mall also did that day--they turned off the air conditioner.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want the malls to keep going get out there and BUY something, man.

You coulda been stopping by that Popcorn World or that praline shop or eating at the Bennigan's every day, but noooo.

I won't miss the malls, personally. Too much walking.


6:31 AM  
Blogger  Robert Boyd said...

I don't have any personal stake in malls surviving, but I am interested in strategies businesses use to get through recessions. But the reason I particularly liked the fact that they held Comicpalooza there was that it was both a way to make a little money for the mall (not much, surely) as well as a kind of community outreach. The long-term survival of malls, I think, probably depends on them being gathering places for community activities as well as centers of retail commerce.

My local mall is Memorial City, and I shop there frequently--it has a Target, I have bought shoes there, I go to the movie theater there. But I don't do so in order to "support" Memorial City; I do it because it is convenient. If Memorial City hosted a comic book convention, I'd gladly attend that as well.

7:05 AM  

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