A vacant Westdale hard to see

For about three years, back in the 1980s, I worked at store called Cutlery World at Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids. It used to sit in the elbow of the massive Osco Drug store on the JC Penney end of the mall.

These were the days when Westdale was at its zenith. Every store was full and the entire structure was packed with shoppers from open until close every day. From 1985 through 1987, I opened the store on the day after both Thanksgiving and Christmas and usually came home at the end of the day feeling like I’d just run a marathon. It seemingly was the center of the universe in Cedar Rapids.

But today, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, as my wife and I drove by the mall, it was a bizarre sight. Other than near the entrance to Penney’s, the vast parking lot was deserted. It was the middle of a big empty. In the era I worked, every spot in the lot would be full.

And it all happened rather suddenly. Easter weekend of 2004, Angie and I had come up from Kansas so she could interview for a job at the Gazette. I dropped her off at the Gazette building on that Saturday afternoon, and with a couple of hours to kill, I thought I run out to Westdale and look around. There were few cars in the parking lot. I went up the escalator by Penney’s and was stunned to see that Eby’s Sporting Goods was closed. Walden Books was gone, Musicland, Diamond Dave’s and Spencer Gifts were too. Montgomery Wards was gone. And what was even worse was that most of the businesses that had left had left empty buildings behind. At least half of the storefronts were sealed up. It was a struck set; a ghost town.

In it’s heyday, Westdale was like a small town of its own. The workers in the different stores all got to know each other. In our little corner near Penney’s, we had a burger shop across from us (name escapes me now), and the bank was nearby. Team Electronics was opposite us, and that was so handy. They would have a bank of TVs up in the front of the store, and I used to sneak over from time to time to watch the baseball playoffs or the odd Iowa football game.

In fact, during the classic 1985 Iowa/Michigan game a huge crowd had gathered outside of Team as the Hawks drove into field position. I was stuck in the store because the girl that was supposed to be working with me went home sick. When Rob Houghtlin kicked the winning field goal, I was listening on the radio. As Ron Gonder called it good, the crowd watching outside of Team exploded; it was like being at Kinnick Stadium.

But today, a day which used to be standing room only, the mall sat relatively empty. The vast parking lot, once a sea of cars and almost nightmarish traffic, was deserted.

What happened? Lindale Mall still lives. Is it all Walmart and Target? That can’t be it. I can’t believe that shopping needs have changed so much a place like Westdale can’t still be important. But here it was, less than a month before Christmas and the once-glorious Westdale Mall sat abandoned like a lost puppy. The memories are still there though, even if the stores and shoppers aren’t.


One Response to “A vacant Westdale hard to see”

  1. Jeff Butts Says:

    Thanks for the bit of nostalgia, Jeff. I remember quite a few shopping trips to Westdale in my youth (and a few beyond).

    I think it’s sad that only after the Flood of 2008 did Westdale see a bit of rebirth. FEMA and the uprooted local governments were the major presence. When I was there just after the flood, a super Steve & Barry’s was its only anchor store. And even it closed once that chain went under.

    Don’t you suppose Coral Ridge Mall played a role in Westdale’s demise? I’ve never been there, but I hear it’s impressive. And I’m sure Walmart, which has changed everything in retail (and more), has played a huge role.

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