Malls in the Metro Make Plans for Empty Department Stores

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  By now we have all seen the "going out of business" signs on Younkers stores in the metro, and you will soon start to see them on another big department store, Sears.

Sears in the Merle Hay Mall, as well as all three metro Younkers stores are closing by the end of the year.

Bon Ton, the owner of Younkers, said there is not a set date that Younkers in Iowa will close but they assume the liquidation sales will run until mid to late August.

Merle Hay Mall’s CEO Elizabeth Holland said the Sears in the mall will close sometime in mid to late October.

“While we are very sad to see these Younkers and Sears go I think the market is telling us where people want to shop and it’s pretty clear that they don’t want to shop in department stores,” Holland said.

Sears closing will leave a large amount of open space. Merle Hay Mall has a few different ideas for what the space will look like.

“The shallowest part of the parking is on the Merle Hay Road side and so in order to make that a bigger parking field we would take down half the store or possibly the whole thing, and really create an outdoor shopping environment with the remaining square footage,” Holland said.

They plan on expanding the outdoor plaza which would connect the existing building to the new one.

The Sears Auto Center will be completely demolished and used, for now, as parking.

Holland did not say which stores will take the place of Sears but that it will be about four or six stores within that space. Some of which are new to Des Moines.

"Des Moines is a tremendous market, I mean we’ve been doing business here as long as anybody else. What we saw from the success of Flix is that if you bring something new, people really respond positively to it and so we’re really excited about bringing something new," said Holland.

Holland said shopping trends have changed and there is no longer a need for a department store that sells different brands of cosmetics, fashion, shoes and even appliances, “It’s not just online versus brick and mortar but in Ulta, in different kinds of shoe stores, so that variety has changed the reason to go to a department store. And so, the compelling reason when Merle Hay was built more than 60 years ago, doesn’t exist anymore.”

The Younkers will soon be empty, but Merle Hay Mall does not plan on doing any reconstruction because it is a fairly new building. They are looking for another store to occupy both stories or they will subdivide the levels.

“It has an interesting layout in that the upper level only accesses the mall since we’re a one level mall and the lower level only accesses the parking lot. So, if we get two really hot ideas that are only interested in one level then we would sub divide the store,” Holland said.

The Jordan Creek Town Center and Valley West Mall both could not confirm which new stores will replace their Younkers, but that information should be released in the next couple weeks since Younkers is estimated to close by the end of August.