A Macy’s moves from mall pillar to homeless shelter


ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – Karleen Smith worked at Macy’s in Landmark Mall, putting price tags on summer dresses, housewares and the latest styles of shoes.

On Saturday Ms Smith, 57, returned to her old store, not as an employer or customer, but as a resident.

The former Macy’s in this vacant mall outside of Washington has been turned into a homeless shelter.

“It’s weird moving into this building. I worked here, ”she said in the common room of the shelter, which was once the men’s department. “It’s called survival.”

As malls are struggling to survive the Amazon era, communities are looking for new uses for the entire commercial space. Some empty stores find another life as trampoline parks, offices, classrooms and churches.

At vacant Macy’s in Alexandria, the Carpenter’s Shelter, a non-profit group, moved into their temporary home last weekend, 15 months after the last customer called. The old store now offers 60 beds, hot meals and showers for families and single men and women struggling to find accommodation in a city where affordable housing is scarce.

Macy’s logo and iconic star can be seen above the entrance to the shelter, while some floors are covered with the faded carpet and white tiling of the store. The toilets and sinks were removed from a former Lord & Taylor and moved to the shelter.

The shelter occupies only one corner of the original Macy’s, which occupied two cavernous floors. A fire door at the back of the shelter leads to the rest of the dark store, where the scent and the jewelry counters are still intact and a giant Estée Lauder advertisement remains on.

The Landmark Mall was once at the forefront of shopping.

Opened in 1965, the mall was home to the area’s most fashionable department stores, Hecht’s, Woodward & Lothrop, and Sears & Roebuck. The boys came to buy their first suits at the haberdashery, and the teenage girls could have their shoes dyed to match the color of their ball gowns.

Former Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille remembers playing the clarinet in the high school orchestra during the mall’s opening ceremony. “It was the economic engine of the city,” he said.

Landmark has tried to adapt over the years. It started out as an open-air mall and underwent an overhaul in the 1980s to enclose the property.

Department stores would change, reflecting the changing landscape of retail. Regional players have been replaced by national chains like Lord & Taylor and Macy’s.

Eventually, the mall succumbed to the retail propensity to chase after newer, flashier spaces. Developers have built larger malls with more upscale brands nearby at Pentagon City and Tysons Corner, siphoning shoppers away from Landmark.

Landmarks original flagship stores have been bought out, gone bankrupt or are hanging on to life, like many in retail. Last year, 6,985 stores in the United States closed, a record number, according to Coresight Research, a retail analytics and consulting firm. This year, retailers are set to close approximately 10,000 stores.

In its final years of operation, the Landmark’s tenants included two dollar stores and a tax preparer. Only the Sears still works. Lonely blue inflatable figure dancing on the roof of the store, beckoning buyers.

There had been plans to revamp the mall returning it to its roots as an outdoor shopping destination. But this proposal never took off ground, after its former owner General Growth Properties filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and the mall was sold.

Current Landmark owner Howard Hughes Corporation plans to demolish the mall and build mixed-use space that could include offices, retail and other attractions that are still ongoing finalized. It could take a lot longer yesrs to complete the process of planning, authorizing and constructing a project of this magnitude.

“This is great real estate,” said Mark Bulmash, senior vice president of development at Howard Hughes.

The delay created an opportunity for the Carpenter’s Shelter, which began housing the homeless in the basement of a local Catholic church in 1982. The group needed temporary space while they built a facility. permanent in another part of Alexandria which will include 97 affordable rental housing units and a shelter.

The mall was one of the some areas in Alexandria where zoning allowed shelter. After being approached by a member of the shelter’s board of directors, Howard Hughes agreed to rent out part of the old Macy’s at the shelter for free until 2019 and gave advice on construction.

“They didn’t have to cringe for this, but they did, and we are grateful to them,” said Shannon Steene, executive director of the shelter.

Saturday was move-in day for residents. On a damp and foggy morning, residents boarded a chartered city bus from the old shelter and headed for the mall.

Keith Ham, 43, who has lived at the shelter for about three months, said his family did not believe where he was moving.

“They say, ‘Macy’s at the mall? “”

“And I say, ‘For real, Macy’s at the mall. “”

Jahlil Commander, 16, dribbled a basketball outside the main entrance to the shelter and watched a film crew set off a smoke machine in the parking lot. Part of the mall’s property is also leased to a production company that is filming a sequel to “Wonder Woman.”

Jahlil and his two brothers share a windowless room at the shelter after their mother falls behind on rent.

“We have a difficult situation,” said their mother, Shannon Commander. “This is where we come to reset and figure things out.”

Ms Smith, the former Macy’s employee, rested on the common room floor under a frayed green blanket. Prior to coming to the shelter, Ms Smith lived in a car and showered at a recreation center. “I was tired,” she said.

Ms Smith, who worked at Macy’s as a seasonal employee during the holidays 10 years ago, fondly remembers the store.

On a calm day, she was trying her hand at makeup at the cosmetics counter and dousing herself with perfume samples. She said she could never afford to buy anything on her own. “All I could do was admire him.

As Ms Smith waited to move into her new bedroom, power was cut in part of the shelter and staff set up battery-powered camping lanterns to light the way for the movers. Volunteers brought slow cookers with tacos for dinner and prepared goody bags for the kids staying there.

The accommodations are sparse and some residents could not hide their disappointment that the rooms do not have windows.

But Mikias Aiychew, 4, was so excited to see his new room at the shelter that he could barely sit during their Jehovah’s Witnesses weekend gathering, his mother said.

Wearing a gray ves suitt and small brown dress shoes, Mikias played with a plastic castle in the new refuge The dining room.

A hand painted sign on the wall quoted Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can with what you have, where you are.”

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