In the summer of 1973, Dallasites of all ages salivated at the thought of the opening of Valley View Center. In 2016, the only thing leaking at the 42-year-old mall is the roof.
Soon the mall, along with everything else between Preston Road and the Galleria Dallas, will be replaced by Beck Ventures’ multi-billion-dollar “city within a city,” Dallas Midtown. But hundreds of local small business owners and artists are breathing life into nearly every former Hot Topic, Old Navy and Wetzel’s Pretzels.
“When we took ownership of [Valley View] we didn’t want to continue to run it as it had been run … which is why it’s filled with tenants,” Scott Beck, CEO and President of Beck Ventures says. “We treat every tenant in the mall as if they were a national credit tenant even though they’re sole proprietors, most of them.”
Proprietors such as Gilda Ordonez, who spent $40,000 to convert a former Charlotte Russe into Ballroom Surge Dance Studio.
“This is really more of a run-through for me,” Ordonez says. “I’ve been here two years now. It’s been school for me, learning business one-on-one.”
A dance instructor since she was 18 years old, Ordonez says she felt limited after 12 years with the Arthur Murray D ance Studio. While in the process of looking for locations, a quick errand led her into a mall she hadn’t entered in five years.
Investing such a large chunk of cash in a business in a dead mall may not seem like the wisest decision, but Ordonez says she was able to make her money back within her first year, thanks in part to income from renting her studio out for weddings, birthday parties and just about anything else.
That diversification is common in Valley View. Businesses in the mall often sell products, are available to rent and offer classes in everything from learning to speak English to the finer points of holistic crystals.
“They call it the dead mall, but it’s a lie,” Victor Velez, owner of VIP Motorsports says. “I’ve seen a lot of people here.”
Velez said he opened up shop last summer. His shop is in the first floor of what used to be Steve & Barry’s, now known as El Mercado. The location is divided into several different retail spaces in the vein of a Mexican bazaar, and features a full Zumba gym in the stockroom.
Business has been going well for Velez, who said he uses his $200-a-month booth inside El Mercado to draw in customers for his auto detailing business while also selling specialty car parts.
“I’ve heard a lot of negative things about this place, but to be honest I’ve seen nothing but positives,” Velez says. “There are a lot of kids being taken off the street, and that’s huge for me.”
Velez is specifically referring to the boxing gym and indoor soccer fields that occupy the floor above El Mercado. The mall is bursting with kinetic energy during the weekends. Kids of all ages run through the halls, still dressed in martial arts Gis after taekwondo classes. For $5, parents can unleash their broods on the bounce houses and inflatable obstacle courses located across from the desolate Christmas Village that no one bothered to take down.
“The idea is that community breeds community,” Beck says. “You bring back the concept of community to Valley View mall and as [we transition] the area into Dallas Midtown, the community can kind of permeate.”
That sense of community is what makes Valley View one of the most magical places in Dallas. Every store is a unique reflection of its occupant, and new businesses are cropping up in nearly every corner. Like Alexander Alfonso’s, who opened a showroom in mid-January to advertise his custom head-board business, Sweet Dreams Headboards.
These entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the mall’s low rents and helpful management staff to create an oasis of capitalism where national retail chains failed.
“It’s a really good place for anyone starting out who [doesn’t] have a lot of capital,” Velez says. He added that the mall gave him two months to set up his business, rent free. Mall management has even covered the cost of damaged merchandise, after the mall’s crumbling infrastructure led to some slight water damage.
Janie Bordner, executive director at Dress for Success Dallas, had a similar experience after she arrived to work and found the space flooded.
“We ended up having four inches of water in every space,” Bordner says. “The mall people came in and they got all the water out for us, and took up all the carpet … they really did go above and beyond.”
Dress for Success Dallas is a nonprofit organization that provides professional attire and workshops to assist women who are struggling to become financially stable in finding employment. They’ve been in Valley View for 10 years, and have expanded thanks to the decreased overhead at the mall.
After the flood, which Bordner says was caused by a burst pipe, the nonprofit relocated to the former Victoria's Secret and has greatly expanded their operations.
“We’ve tripled the number of ladies we’re able to serve and our space is definitely bigger and better,” Bordner says.
Despite how accommodating Beck Venture’s leasing team has been, not every small business owner gets the same level of attention. And since information about the mall’s demolition comes out in trickles and is usually framed as an educated guess, rumors and speculation run rampant.
“The last time that I talked to [the mall’s management] they were real iffy about answering me,” Velez says. “I would think they would be ready to answer any type of question.”
While talking to people in the mall, I heard everything from, the demolition is going to be stopped by a coalition of AMC, Sears and Footlocker to rumors that Forever 21 and JCPenney are paying rent on empty storefronts just in case the Mall is revived. None of it is true, but it’s easy to see where the communication breaks down, and with so many business owners watching their customer base grow and profits rise, the thought of losing their businesses is a real concern.
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“I know it’s a little business … but I had my heart and soul in it, and I’ve seen it grow, so it would be disastrous to see it go down,” Velez says. “We just want to know.”
But despite the complications that have come with Valley View’s nebulous demolition date, Dallas Midtown is on its way. And judging from how much care Beck Ventures has taken to revitalize this once-dead mall, the future looks bright for North Dallas.
Beck also confirmed that the demolition will be done in parts, starting with the north side of the mall, where the parking garage is located. Business will still be open during the “brick-by-brick” demolition, which will focus on salvaging material from the mall for future construction. Interim retail spaces, which Beck says will be “akin to temporary spaces like The Rustic,” will also be built as Dallas Midtown slowly takes shape.
“The idea is that there is a community that exists both with the artist community and small local businesses and we’d like to continue to provide places for those people in the interim," Beck says.
But until then, we can all rejoice in knowing that so many people are working to give Valley View Center a few more days in the sun. So whether you’re in the market for carnivorous plants or if you just want to see a microcosm of the American Dream in action, take one last trip to Valley View while you still can.