Some of the more noticeable things about Music City Mall — Lewisville — at some entrances, the very first thing you notice — are the corvettes parked on the ground floor of the mall.
When John Bushman and his ownership group, Investment Corporation of America, purchased Vista Ridge Mall at auction late last year, the ultimate goal was to fill it with people. In order to do that, they’ve filled it with stages, play areas and new shops, many of which are locally owned. New foot traffic indicates that they do, in fact, fill the mall with people on many nights and weekends.
Assistant general manager and sales director Natalie Boyer said that traffic has increased, but they don’t exactly know by how much. Boyer said mall traffic is tracked with automated devices that count the number of cars coming into the seven main entrances – allowing for the fact that some of these vehicles are headed to nearby restaurants as well — but when the mall was purchased, they discovered these trackers had been broken for years and hadn’t been replaced, among several other items that needed repair.
The Bushman group poured money into the mall, replacing the majority of the lighting and several HVAC units and adding new signs to each of the entrances. New tracking devices, which were installed in mid-March.
Boyer said the traffic number for April was about 1,025,000 cars. That’s more than 34,000 cars per day on month without a holiday weekend – Easter fell in March this year – and that’s also the first full-month traffic count for the Lewisville mall in years. She said the next months averaged 1.1 million, meaning the traffic is still growing.
“I wish I would have had them here in the first place, because it was a ghost town,” Boyer said.
Boyer said the previous owners had been hit by a “perfect storm” of circumstances, with mounting debt, construction on I-35E hindering traffic and the retail market shifting more and more to online sales all at once.
“They weren’t spending any money, they weren’t marketing, they weren’t counting traffic,” she said. “A couple of retailers said they had been waiting for someone to call them back for more than a year.”
It was to the point, she said, that some retailers weren’t even able to get a hold of someone to pay their rent to. The Justice and Express stores had already decided to close before Investment Corp. won the auction, and Sears was already on the path to its downsizing nationally.
Boyer said that none of the 20 plus stores and attractions she has signed leases with have closed. While there are shops that opened after the auction that have already closed, she said those leases were already signed when she got here.
American malls are collapsing. In the face of online shopping allowing people to pick out exactly what they want, the practice of browsing through several stores has faded away. The concept to get around this is the concept behind Music City Mall — Lewisville and its original Odessa location — make the mall not just a place to shop, but a place to be.
So, while the tenants remain the mall’s source of income and shopping remains the tenants’ source of income, other attractions abound. The mall installed a two-story playground in May. A variety of the newer tenants, like Charming Cat Corner and the Game Time video game arcade, are places where you buy time to be there instead of items to take away. Management has worked to consistently fill the mall’s stages with bands.
Boyer said the idea of filling malls with experiences that can’t be replicated online extends to the stores as well. She said the shops that do well are the ones that are adaptable, active on social media and focused on customer service, shops that reach out to potential customers where they live and then give a tangible benefit to being there in person.
“What’s making the retailers successful now is getting back to customer service,” she said. “People are looking for experience, which is why the malls that are doing good have all the other experiences now.”
And then, for shoppers who still want to see more, there are the corvettes.
Despite having never been closed, Music City Mall has a grand opening scheduled for Aug. 11. The attractions for the event are still being finalized. The mall hosts several events, including lock-ins at the Game Time arcade and monthly art walks outside Cleo’s Creations on the second floor. Follow the mall on Facebook for up-to-date events and announcements.
Jason and Marie Blake didn’t need to start a restaurant. Marie had managed her own law firm for seven years, and Jason had been working on-and-off as a Medicare fraud investigator for a decade.
Jason Blake said that when the topic of Antojos Cravings first came up, it was as a retirement job, but they both liked the idea so much that it became a pressing need. They first looked for places to make a free-standing restaurant, but couldn’t make it work until mall ownership shifted and they were able to move into the old DQ spot, which had been vacant for years.
He called the location outstanding, saying they have regulars who come into the mall just for their elotes and drinks.
“For most people, I think, the American Dream is to have your own thing and eventually employ people,” Jason Blake said. “We’re looking to expand. We think we can expand inside of six months to a year.”
The Tool Box
Tool Box owner Aaron Homan wasn’t quite sure what to call his store at first. The shop buys and sells new and used hardware, but it all goes further than that – Homan endeavors to know more about the equipment he’s selling than most retailers, and it’s not uncommon for him and employees to take broken equipment apart for parts and rebuild other pieces. He said most of his sales are driven by social media and word of mouth instead of foot traffic, so when people actually come into the storefront, they do it for what he eventually called a “hardware experience.”
“We’re definitely apart from the herd in terms of pricing and experience, and some people just like coming here to hang out,” he said. “Most people, when they come in here, their eyes light up. We didn’t know if it would work in a mall, but it’s snowballed.”
Homan was living and operating out of a storage unit when the business started in 2015. Drawing in customers online, he eventually built a business that was ready for a physical location in Valley View Mall in Dallas. After a few years in that dying mall, he moved to Music City, and has big plans for the shop there.
Homan said he plans to open a second storefront across the way, this one focused on home fixtures while keeping the original storefront dedicated to hardware. Eventually, he wants to start holding seminars on how to work with tools and connect the store with local trade schools.
On the other side of the mall, upstairs at the elbow between JC Penney and Dillard’s, is Cleo’s Creations, the personal art gallery of local artist Cleo Boone. Cleo’s Art Gallery, where he plans to display the work of local artists year-round, is just across the walkway.
Boone, a Fort Worth native and TCU graduate, has been painting all his life. Self-taught from the age of 5, he specializes in optical illusions and paintings that appear different from different angles.
Boone has been active since coming to Music City Mall from Valley View Mall in Dallas, hosting art walks every third Saturday of the month for local artists to display their work outside of the gallery. He said all but one artist sold a piece at the first walk in May.
“I’m living my dream. I have my own gallery, and I have a gallery for other artists,” he said. “When these artists come in here, I’m going to tell them the same thing – you can do this. Dreams do come true.”