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Economy and Business
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Euclid Square Mall converts from secular shops to churches
Nearly vacant a decade ago, more than two-dozen storefronts are now churches
by WKSU's KABIR BHATIA
|What was the entrance to May Company 20 years ago is now the nexus of advertisement for the various churches at Euclid Square Mall|
|Courtesy of K. Bhatia|
|Download (WKSU Only)|In The Region:Tucked in the northeast corner of Cuyahoga County, Euclid Square Mall went from bustling to nearly vacant a decade ago. Now, surrounded by industry and expressways, a new kind of tenant has arrived, bringing in souls instead of shoppers.
|Most of the time, Euclid Square Mall is dead quiet. Mainstays like Foot Locker and Radio Shack moved out of the 36-year-old complex years ago. The lack of retail technically makes this a “dead mall.” But once a week, it doesn’t sound dead.|
Bible-thumping beat ricochets off the walls every Sunday. A few dozen label-scarred storefronts have newly printed signs for churches like New Praise Ministries.
Used to be a Lane Bryant
Pastor Roscoe Heath came here in 2008. His story is a familiar one at Euclid Square: He started out leading Bible study at home, outgrew that and moved to a community room like you’d find at the Y. Then he decided to get a more permanent space here. If you saw only a photo, you’d never know it was a former retail space. Glass, wood and rich purples mix together to create a spacious sanctuary, not unlike standalone churches.
“We came in and worked every single day, sometimes all day. And when I say all day, there were times when we had someone here 24 hours painting and working, because we wanted it to be a beautiful place for people to come in and worship.”
He’s happy here, and has seen his New Faith Ministries grow from about 100 people to nearly twice that. But that’s not at the speed he’d like.
Location, location, location
Pastor Kevin Simmons also sees the mall as a stepping stone for World of Faith Ministries to someday have its own stand-alone building. That’s not for aesthetic reasons; it’s part of the church’s mission.
“For our ministry, and the assignment that’s on our lives, it’s been quite a change. I’ve always been used to a church building that’s right smack dab in the middle of the community. Because that’s what God put the church there for -- to be a ministry to the community and the needs of the people.
"[So] the mall has handicapped us to a great degree. We’re preparing where we are, but we’re working vibrantly to get out.”
Simmons was one of the first to come to Euclid Square. He’d been renting the community room here since 2004, then moved over to a storefront. Two of his parishioners – sisters Janet and Jean Miles of Cleveland -- say it’s nice to have a central meeting place with convenient parking. But they wonder if they’re not limiting God by being away from the innercity neighborhoods they want to serve.
“It would be nice if we could go to another location, it really would. In order for Him to reach masses, we have to expand and enlarge. It’s nice here, but when I come to church, I’m looking at a room. But my church is here, it’s in my heart.”
In the late ‘90s, “getting out” was the trend for tenants at Euclid Square. After one of the two anchor stores – Kaufmann’s — moved to nearby Richmond Square Mall, occupancy plunged. A series of owners and redevelopment proposals followed, but a Dillard’s outlet was the only major tenant by 2004. That store just closed, last month, at the end of its 35-year lease.
Mark Robinson attends Believers’ Bible Church, and isn’t sure how the closure will affect rents or the mall’s reputation.
“I think there needs to be a new name for it. It’s not technically a mall anymore. What do you call a facility that houses multiple churches? By definition, it’s maybe a ‘dead mall,’ but it’s resurrected as something else.”
Return of retail?
Cheap rent is one reason many of the churches say they’ve come to the mall. Along with the churches, a half-dozen stores also offer related services. There’s a wedding planner, an online Gospel radio station, and a lady who teaches piano lessons – although they’re all closed Sundays. Until recently, there was a ladies’ clothing boutique run by Carmen Leftwich, a retired schoolteacher.
“Rent is incredibly reasonable. It’s a month-to-month lease. You can walk [away] any time you want. So it’s perfect for starter churches.
"The church ladies are the type who buy my stuff. But nobody comes through the mall. You know how malls have docks? They all come in through the back door.”
Leftwich was one of many people who have attempted to bring retail back to Euclid Square. Mall Manager Rosemary Luksic has been here since 1992.
“Everybody thinks they can make their money on Sunday. People come to their church to go to church, and then they want to go home. So the everyday kind of traffic is not what we have yet.”
Luksic looks like everyone’s grandmother, a kindly lady who has spent four decades managing malls and considers Euclid Square – and its tenants -- her baby.
“They’re all my family. They’re like kids. ... There is a special relationship. I get along with all of them. And if somebody doesn’t like someone, I can usually play the mom role and settle the argument."
But the tenants seem to rarely interact with each other, except for the intermingling of sound in the corridors. Churches are buffered from the mall’s midway by storefront-wide doors and walls. Luksic says Euclid Square has only about 40 percent occupancy. But it remains afloat because – unlike fully operating malls – heating, A/C and maintenance fall to each tenant.
“When malls were first built, they were to bring people together. My mall was built, and it’s still going to do that. I always tell people that when I rent out space No. 30, I will then put on my robe and my beads and roller skate down the mall as the Mother Superior.”
And with that, Rosemary Luksic headed back to her desk to finish updating the mall directory to show 25 churches.
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