The President and CEO of the National Retail Federation said the retail industry is only going to change its appearance and that statement couldn’t be more true for Muncie.

Retail giants like JCPenney, which malls depend on as anchor stores, closed 138 locations throughout 2017. Five of those were in Indiana and another eight in the nation will be shuttered in 2018. Sears announced it would close 39 stores in the United States between March and April this year. 

Anderson’s Mounds Mall closed permanently on March 31 this year, but Muncie Mall and most of its retailers are staying open.

“It’s a bad thing for Anderson, of course, but I think it can make us stronger,” said Hannah Walker, the marketing administrative assistant for the Muncie Mall. “The stores that were there like Carson’s and Maurices, people can now come to Muncie Mall and shop at those.”

Walker said the mall has changed a lot over its 48 years of operation, from ownership to the stores it houses.

Muncie Mall executives say retailers like Torrid and francesca’s keeps younger customers coming back to the mall. Terence K. Lightning Jr., DN Photo

“I feel like retail stores change all the time,” Walker said. “Ball Stores used to be really popular in Muncie, then that turned into Elder-Beerman, then that turned into Carson’s.” 

In order to keep customers coming, new stores are continually added.  

“A lot of stores that we’ve been adding recently that appeal to younger audiences, like Ball State students, are Torrid, francesca’s and Pink,” Walker said. “Retail is changing. I feel like people still like to come to the mall and shop at stores and look at things and try things on. I think it’s the shopping experience — you just like to interact with people.”

To keep this type of interaction going, Muncie Mall is creating spaces for people to come and socialize with friends by opening Redemption Alewerks, a brew-pub based in Fishers, that makes and sells craft beer and food. 

Redemption Alewerks serves food and craft beer to mall visitors. The Fishers-based brew-pub is located near Macy’s and Finish Line. Terence K. Lightning Jr., DN Photo

Walker said most of the mall’s customers come from the Ball State community and surrounding cities like Hartford City because driving to Indianapolis to shop is too far.

Mall management says its anchor stores are on solid ground, despite big retailers like JCPenney and Carson’s downsizing.

“People still shop at them, they’re still popular with the Muncie community, and I think our anchor stores like to invest in the mall and have events,” Walker said. “JCPenney is opening up a SEPHORA in the summer. So that’s a big thing for Muncie.”

JCPenney is one of the mall’s four anchor stores and currently employs 67 employees. Ebony Martin, the general manager, said the store profits rose 4 percent in 2017-18.

“I think our greatest asset we’re getting right now is a SEPHORA store, adding another million-dollar business to our store,” Martin said. “So we’re gaining that target customer and we’ll have her coming in that might not have shopped at JCPenney otherwise, but is loyal to the SEPHORA brand.”

The JCPenney in the Muncie Mall saw a rise of profits in 2017-18. As a result, it will add a SEPHORA to the store, which is planned to open summer 2018. Terence K. Lightning Jr., DN Photo

Martin said her store’s ability to stay open and competitive compared to other stores is because of its location in Muncie.

“I would venture to say a lot of it goes to the goings on in your community. For instance, we have Ball State right here,” Martin said. “So that’s always gonna be a source of revenue that’s  coming into the city. I think we’re strategically placed so we can always service our customers whether they’re in school or the hard-working industries.”

But, Muncie Mall isn’t just home to chain stores. There are many smaller businesses that share space with them, like Country Charm. 

Stephanie Richards has owned the decor and gift shop — where she currently employs nine people — since 1987 and has adapted to the rapid changes to the retail environment.

Country Charm has been open for 31 years. The gift shop relies on anchor stores such as its neighbor JCPenney for foot traffic. Terence K. Lightning Jr., DN Photo

“A lot has changed just as far as even buying products. Most of our companies don’t offer catalogues so it’s a lot of online ordering. Same as the customers we’re competing with a lot of purchases online,” Richards said. “So we have to be a little more savvy about what we’re bringing into the store.”

Richards also depends on her neighbors to keep business coming in.

“We have to have the big, major department stores to keep the malls running because they are the big guys out here paying the biggest chunk of rent,” Richards said. “So we do depend on them to be in here.”

It is this mix of large and small stores, that keeps customers who are looking to spend time with friends and family coming. 

“I get paid every two weeks, so whenever I get paid I come here,” said Ashley Coulter, a regular Muncie Mall visitor. 

Contact Gunner Masters with comments at gcmasters@bsu.edu. Contact Terence K. Lightning Jr. with comments at tklightning@bsu.edu.