Less than two decades after opening, The Great Mall of the Great Plains is on track to shut down in late September — except for the Burlington store, which could remain open longer.
The Great Mall — at Interstate 35 and 151st Street — opened to great fanfare in mid-1997. The $110 million mall attracted nearly 1 million visitors in its first month of operations. But it soon began to struggle and never recovered from the economic downturn, changes in customers' shopping habits and other factors, said the current owners, the Great Olathe Center LLC, an entity of the Van Tuyl Group.
There could be a partial or complete demolition of the center in the future but the owners said they have no definitive plan.
On a recent weekend the mall attracted steady foot traffic, but some of those visitors were just getting in their daily walk while others were stopping by to get a last look. Several people blamed the closing on the mall’s lack of a strong identity and said the stores didn’t offer the deep discounts that they expected from outlet and value retailers.
Many tenants have been closing as their leases expire and some are relocating, including:
▪ Aquariums Wholesale and Pet Supply recently relocated to a 7,000-square-foot space at 132 S. Clairborne Road, Olathe, and plans a soft opening Saturday with a wider selection of aquariums than it offered at the Great Mall.
“(The Great Mall) was good for us. I got a good deal on our electricity, gas and water,” said Patrick Donigan, owner of Aquariums Wholesale and Pet Supply. “Now it is going to go way up. But we also hope to have more foot traffic, that’s the plan.”
▪ B&B Theatres will close at the end of business on Aug. 17. It is looking at land and developments in south Olathe for a possible new location.
▪ Gifts & Decor has moved to 123 S. Mur-Len Road, Olathe.
▪ Purrfect Pets, a nonprofit, no-kill cat rescue and adoption center, recently relocated to Oak Park Mall, at 95th Street and Quivira Road, on the lower level next to the Dillard’s south store.
“We have more traffic. It is a mall that is not dead, a lot of stores, a lot of shoppers,” said Elaine Doran, director and founder of Purrfect Pets.
▪ Locally owned Sportibles has operated in the mall for 11 years and is having a closing sale with many items like T-shirts and novelties 50 to 75 percent off. It plans to close in the Great Mall in mid-August. Its new location — 2006 E. Santa Fe, next to the new At Home store — is scheduled to open in early August. It also has locations in Independence Center and Oak Park Mall.
“It was our best store for the longest time, up to this year, and we would continue to be there if they weren’t closing the mall. Olathe has supported us for so long so we wanted to stay in Olathe,” said David Walby, owner.
▪ Zonkers Family Entertainment Center plans to close Aug. 2 and is in negotiations to relocate to 151st and Mur-Len, in a former Price Chopper. If all goes as planned it would open there in October.
▪ Officials with Burlington did not return phone calls seeking comment on their future status with the mall but employees have told customers it could remain open for several more months.
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