American malls are dying.
In their heyday, the shopping complexes served as both shopping centers and gathering places, particularly for Americans too young to go to bars. But now that we can find exactly what we need online and have it delivered to our doorstep, there’s no reason to peruse JC Penney for something that may not have even been needed in the first place.
In the face of the Internet antiquating malls as a concept, one mall in Odessa, one of the only major cities in the endless West Texas expanse, has continued to thrive as though it were still the 1970s, when the structure was built. Where in many parts of the country, shopping centers have become long hallways of closed doors with more spaces for rent than wares for sale, the original Music City Mall has boasted 100 percent occupancy for eight years running.
The vibrant center has been designed, in many ways, to actively counter the Internet’s effect on in-person shopping, emphasizing performances, experiences and family friendly events, things that still require a physical space. It’s an ideology that new owner John Bushman plans to bring to Lewisville.
“You never have to get out in the cold, never worry about your kids wandering off too far,” he said.
Bushman never set out to start Investment Corporation of America, which today owns and operates property in 20 cities across six states. After spending three and a half years in the Marine Corps and another three in the Army, Bushman began civilian life by moving to Odessa to operate a franchise driver training school. It was 1964, and he’s been in Odessa ever since.
When he was 28, Bushman opened A1 Mobile Homes, and said that venture made enough money for him to branch out and become a real-estate developer with a national reach.
“They say you dance with the one that brung you,” he said. “Who brung us is the mobile home business, made us enough money to spin off.”
From there, Bushman said he kept his company running on simple rules, pouncing on opportunities when they came and operating the businesses he purchased instead of just flipping them — “not selling them unless someone pays about three times too much for it,” he said.
“We bought whatever we saw as a good opportunity and we could find good people to run it,” he said. “That’s the key. Got to find the talent to match the acquisition.”
Of all ICA’s holdings, Vista Ridge is just its third mall, and just the second that it’s owned completely. But Bushman and retail leasing manager Michelle Davis say they plan to bring a lot of the same plans to Vista Ridge that have kept Music City Mall a place to visit, even though it means getting dressed and leaving the house.
Bushman said that in addition to the new pianos and concert spaces, Vista Ridge was going hard after restaurants and opportunities to host public events. Davis pointed to the televisions and play spaces throughout the Odessa mall as installations that would help make Vista Ridge more family friendly as well.
Bushman also said ICA has the advantage of owning the mall without any debt, meaning they don’t have any financial obligations to pass on to shop owners through rent.
“We own this mall free and clear, so we don’t have to charge our tenants as much,” he said. “You have to make it what it is, which is a climate-controlled environment where you can feel and touch the merchandise, and you have to promote that.”