Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The day the mall burned.
April 18th 2006 was the 27th anniversary of a day I will always remember. It was the day my mall burned. I was a teenager and like all teens, going to the mall known as Elmwood Plaza was the center of my life at that time. Since it had been built in 1957, Elmwood Plaza was old and a little rundown. It had two department stores which were J. C. Penney and Goldblatts. It was the Goldblatts that would be ravaged by the fire. It was during Easter break and I had spent the whole day there with my friend Jim. We started with lunch at Burger King and later walked around the plaza all afternoon and ended our day at the Zayre across the street. Then we went home for dinner. We couldn't have been gone for more than a hour when the tragedy struck. The fire started in the Goldblatts beauty salon and spread through the first floor of the store. My family had dinner at Denneys and later on that evening as we were heading home, we saw fire trucks racing to a fire. my father was working a part time job at that time and wood drop us off at home we were settling in for the evening of watching tv when dad called and said ther had to be a big fire on our side of town because the fire trucks were coming from the north side . With that information, I got on my bike and started looking to see if I could find the fire and was very shocked to see it was Goldblatts. I still can feel the chill in my back as I stood there and watched that big black smoke cloud rise from the store. It would be November before things were back to normal there and we would be once again able to shop at Goldblatts. Unfortunately, the store would close two years later because Goldblatts had gone bakrupt. The building that once housed Goldblatts would sit empty for almost 20 years until a supermarket would take it's place. Most of the other stores would close or move to the bigger and newer Regency Mall down the street. The old plaza has been redone and is now more of a neighberhood center with the supermarket as its main store.
Opened in October of 1957, the new Elmwood plaza shopping Center was one of Wisconsin's largest. The plaza as locals call it was a true regional center at it's beginning and it had over 30 stores including two department stores . The anchors were the Goldblatts department store which was a chain from Chicago and the J C Penney Co. It was Penney's second store in Racine and the chain would operate 2 Racine stores until both were merged into one in the 1980s. The plaza also had a Kroger food store and a S.S. Kresge Co . variety store and even housed a local drug store chain called the Red
cross Drug Co. The plaza had a strong mix of local and national stores that were big at the time. They included three sister stores: Kinney shoes, Richmans men's store, well known locals including Feiges, The Leader Store , and Lepp & Co. There were other stores as well that many would come and go as the years passed but because of the great location and the centers popularity, it never had a vacancy problem. Elmwood Plaza enjoyed market dominance until the opening of Regency Mall in 1981. The first big changes happened with the closing of Kroger which would be replaced by a Goodwill store that would eventually become a Whitlock auto supply. The next change at the plaza would be Kresge which survived the opening of the local Kmart and would get re branded Jupiter, a store I would say would compare to a Family Dollar store of today. Jupiter wasn't the only change at Elmwood Plaza as Red Cross would close the plaza store and it would later become a Jamb Discount beauty supply store. The biggest changes came with the opening of Regency Mall in 1981. Most of the stores including J C Penney would move to the mall at the same time. Goldblatts would go into bankruptcy and would close the Racine store leaving the plaza what today we call a dead mall by the year 2000. However, things looked much better after 20 years of nothing and Goldblatts would finally be replaced by Racine Produce giving the center a new anchor. As the small stores filled in quickly, the new owners of the center remodeled it with a new canopy and store fronts as well as a new sign and landscaping. With the exception of today's economy causing some problems, the plaza is again alive and well even though it is known more as a neighborhood center than the regional power it once was.