The Shoppes at Riverside mall in Aberdeen faces an uncertain future after mall owner Coming Attractions Theatres announced that it would close the doors in light of a structural engineering report indicating potential safety issues.
The announcement came Saturday. Tenants at the mall have until March 21 to remove all belongings from their spaces, according to a letter from mall ownership.
“It is with major disappointment that we must report the Shoppes at Riverside Mall is being forced to close our doors to all tenants and the public based on the findings of the structural engineer,” began the letter from company President and Chief Operating Officer Al Lane and Chairman and CEO John Schweiger. “According to the engineering firm, there are multiple structural issues that need to be mitigated before allowing anyone in the mall to ensure safety for everyone.”
The mall, which opened in 1981 as the SouthShore Mall, had been closed since Feb. 13 due to structural issues to the building. Mall management indicated that the roof sustained damage after the snow and ice event that weekend. For almost a month, engineers have been surveying the building to assess the damage and overall health of the more than 350,000 square foot mall.
Some social media buzz over the weekend indicated the mall was closing permanently. That decision, said mall manager Jasmine Dickhoff Monday morning, had not been made.
“As with everyone, we are extremely disappointed and concerned with the results of the engineer’s report, and will evaluate our options as soon as possible,” read Saturday’s letter from Coming Attractions to mall tenants. “However, our first priority is the safety of everyone involved, including tenants, public, and our employees, so we will absolutely follow the guidelines and requirements of the engineering firm.”
The Coming Attractions letter acknowledged the March 21 deadline didn’t give tenants much time to clear out.
“This window is extremely short, and we are in contact with the engineering firm and insurance company to see if we can get that extended,” read the Coming Attractions letter.
Monday morning most businesses remained closed, with only a handful of people walking around. A pair of mall walkers said they were aware of the closure and were saddened. Gail Andrews, owner of All that Glitters and Pandora’s Box, was just getting to the front gate of her store; out of habit or necessity she moved some displays from the entrance before she began to pack a box. “I’m not sure where I’m going to store all of this stuff,” she said in front of her store full of thousands of knick knacks and costumes.
Michelle Simon Conrad, who owns Tectonic Comics across the mall, said she was a little prepared because she had been shopping for retail space on the Harbor for months. However, she said she wasn’t finding a lot of options, and storage space wouldn’t help her keep her store open. She said she is working on some things and hopes to be able to open her store by the end of the month at a new address.
The mall was the main retail center for the area when it opened Aug. 5, 1981. At the time, Hoquiam Mayor Jimmy D. Englund and then Aberdeen Mayor Jack Durney (who later was mayor of Hoquiam) cut the ribbon at the grand opening, after about a two year construction process. Among the 19 businesses opening that day were a General Nutrition Center, Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby, Picadilly Pet World, Westfield’s Jewelers, Ralph’s Hallmark, an arcade, Maurice’s women’s apparel, a t-shirt shop, Radio Shack, Jay Jacobs, JCPenney and Sears.
In 2015, Coming Attractions purchased the mall and in late 2015 revamped the former JCPenney store space into the Extreme Fun Center amusement business. The 69,000 square foot facility was intended to be an anchor of the mall as Coming Attractions planned an entertainment center along with its existing cinemas, with reasonably priced rents for retail and nonprofit entities in between. In 2016, the mall was re-branded as Shoppes at Riverside.
The structural issues with the mall were becoming more visible with each passing year. The floor was uneven in spots; the entire 350,000-square-foot structure was built on pilings driven into swampy ground, as much of downtown Aberdeen was. About 2,500 to 3,000 pilings were driven to shore up the site, said construction supervisors at the mall’s opening.
The Sears building, which is owned separately from the rest of the mall, was built to a different standard, compression piling, basically sitting on a rock shelf, which apparently kept it from suffering some of the structural issues that affected the mall itself. The difference in the footing of Sears and the adjoining mall is visible where the two structures join. The 64,000 square foot Sears building is one of several properties the Aberdeen Board of Museum and History is investigating as a potential for either collection storage or short-term display purposes.
Aberdeen architect Jamie Walsh took on management of the mall for a few years starting in 2012 and was there during the transition between the New York group that previously owned the mall and the purchase by Coming Attractions. She dealt first-hand with the issues of a sprawling 30-year-old, flat-roofed building in Pacific Northwest weather.
“A flat roof design is not a good design for western Washington,” said Walsh, who owns Jamie Walsh Designs. Aside from the challenges of having a foundation resting on pilings pounded into marshy ground, “flat roofs require incredibly high maintenance from owners and you get a large snow load or get blocked drainage it becomes a big challenge.”
The initial closure Feb. 13 coincided with a weather system that dropped a few inches of snow on the region, along with freezing temperatures. While the mall has survived much larger snow events in the past, it’s possible the Feb. 13-14 snow brought to light issues with the roof after the pounding the roof has taken over the decades.
Walsh said Coming Attractions was much better suited to deal with maintenance issues than the group in New York had been and, in her estimation, did a good job of keeping the building operational.
“It’s amazing they were able to keep it going as long as they did, and hopefully they will be able to turn the largest piece of property in Grays Harbor County into something useful for Grays Harbor County,” said Walsh. “I wish (Schweiger) and his company the best. That’s a really great parcel of land, it’s a great location next to the college and things like that. There’s a lot you could do with it.”