Businesses continue to move out of mall in Marion, Illinois

MARION, IL –  If you’re planning to hit the mall in Marion, Illinois you may notice fewer shopping options.

The Illinois Star Centre Mall owners declared bankruptcy back in May but management says any rumors of the mall itself closing are false.

The WPSD-TV Illinois newsroom is located inside the mall’s food court. Until last week, Subway had been the closest neighbor. But owners closed down last week and spent Monday and Tuesday packing up, crediting falling foot traffic with the decision to leave. The Subway was the final restaurant inside the mall’s food court, though both Fujiyama and Hong Kong Buffet have locations inside the mall.

Subway’s departure from the mall is the latest in recent months. Many storefronts inside sit empty, some decorated with posters saying ‘for lease’.  A magic shop, clothing and gift stores, and Subway are among those who have closed their doors.

Zelta Eldridge, owner of Airbrush Alley and Angelic Artistry Permanent Makeup, moved her shop from inside the mall to the neighboring community of Energy, Illinois. Eldridge stays busy with work for clients, painting a bright beach scene from inside her new shop.

“This is going to be a tropical beach scene; but I can pretty much draw anything people want me to,” Eldridge said. She moved her business a few months back after spending 14 years inside the Illinois Star Centre Mall.

“It was because of the traffic. They’d lost all the stores. People would come in here and say, ‘I can’t believe you’re still here!’,” Eldridge explained.

After plans to sell the mall last year fell through, mall owners declared bankruptcy in May. Court documents show the owners are also suing the city of Marion for failing to provide potential buyers the information they’d requested on bonds, levees and taxes.

Whatever the reason, traffic in the mall is down. Eldridge said she finally just needed to get out and find somewhere new, thought that’s been a challenge, too.

“You know, they expected me to be always there. And I’ve had people finally figure out where I’m at and I’ll have people say ‘you have no idea what I went through to find you!’ So it’s starting to pick up,” Eldridge said.

Mike Gosnell lives in Herrin, Illinois but spends a few hours each week walking around the inside of the Illinois Star Centre Mall. Gosnell said he remembers when the mall opened and the storefronts were full. But these days, it seems stores are leaving faster than ever.

With these shops gone, customers are turning to new developments and shopping options are popping up around the mall.

“It is very strange. That proves that the business is here. For some reason, this mall can’t keep the stores in. But the business is here because stores are opening, restaurants are opening,” Gosnell said. He and his family still shop inside, picking up shoes and CD’s from the stores.

Gosnell said he’d like to see the mall here succeed but if things don’t turn around here soon, he doesn’t know how much longer stores here can survive.

Eldridge is finally settled into her new shop but said she still thinks of her old spot in the mall.

“It’s sad to see it because it’s such a pretty mall and so close to the interstate,” Eldridge said. She said hopefully, things will improve there.

Managing mall owner Dennis Ballinger Jr. said they’re currently working their way through the bankruptcy process and declined to comment further. He did provide documents on the bankruptcy process and the lawsuit against the city of Marion.

A judge ruled in September the city will need to find new representation in the case after concerns the city attorney, Stephen R. Green, had previously represented the mall.

The Marion city administrator said they will discuss representation at a future city council meeting. She declined to comment further on the proceedings.

For more information on Airbrush Alley, visit their website here  or stop by their new location at 204 N. Pershing St. Energy, Illinois.

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