WASHINGTON SQUARE MALL
South Green River Road and Washington Avenue
Evansville, Indiana

The first mall in "Eville" was also the Hoosier State's first enclosed shopping center. WASHINGTON SQUARE MALL, designed by Evansville's Ralph Robert Knapp and developed by the city's Erie Investments, Incorporated, was built on 38.5 acres, located 4.2 miles southeast of the downtown area.

Comprised of a single retail level, the 375,000 square foot mall opened for business October 31, 1963. It was anchored by a 2-level (125,000 square foot) Sears and an A & P supermarket. Charter tenants included Three Sisters ladies' wear, Kinney Shoes, Libs Candies and Washington Square Drug.

The first expansion of the shopping hub was completed in 1969. A 23,000 square foot store block was added to the mall's southeast corner, along with a 2-level (134,500 square foot), Louisville-based Stewart Dry Goods (built on the south end of the complex).

WASHINGTON SQUARE now encompassed 532,500 leasable square feet. A cinematic venue, the Washington Square I & II, opened inside the mall in 1975. Competition came along in 1982. EASTLAND MALL, developed by Des Moines-based General Growth Management (today's General Growth Properties), was located 1.3 miles northwest of WASHINGTON SQUARE.

The newer center siphoned-off a great deal of trade from its older counterpart. Its Stewart's store, a division of New York City-based Associated Dry Goods, was rebranded by another Associated division, Indianapolis' L.S. Ayres, November 1, 1985.

As a countermeasure to the new EASTLAND MALL, WASHINGTON SQUARE was given a 30 million dollar renovation in 1986 and '87. Sears was enlarged into a 161,500 square foot operation and 50,000 square feet of inline store space was added to the mall's east side.

Moreover, the existing complex was given an interior and exterior face lift, which included the installation of the Teflon tent-covered Cafe Food Court. The mall now housed 574,000 leasable square feet. Its renewal was successful for a time, but eventually EASTLAND MALL prevailed.

WASHINGTON SQUARE went through a succession of owners during the 1980s and '90s. In the spring of 1991, mall management shot themselves in the foot, so to say, by instituting a 10 dollar "mall walkers registration fee". After receiving national media attention, all negative, the fee was dropped in August.

This was followed by the shuttering of L.S. Ayres, on January 19, 1992. Dayton-based Elder-Beerman was recruited to lease the vacant store space; opening for business October 16, 1993. Elder-Beerman pulled out of the mall in December 2000. Filling the vacancy proved challenging. Evansville's Eugene Hahn and Paul Kite acquired the shopping center in March 2002.

They took it upon themselves to retenant the empty anchor spot and opened a Values Unlimited discount outlet location, in a portion of the store, in October 2004. The endeavor was unsuccessful and the space was vacated again in March 2007. There was also talk of the local Bethel Temple Church leasing the empty anchor in April 2009. This never came to fruition.

What did come to pass was a reinvention of the vacant Stewart's / Ayres / Elder-Beerman space as a 500-stall "mall within a mall". Known as the Merchant Outlet Mall, the emporium opened for business July 2, 2010... but closed June 30, 2012.

Mall owners enlisted the BRR Architecture firm to conceptualize a redevelopment of the property as an open-air grocery-anchored shopping hub. The plan was to gut the interior and reconfigure all retail spaces toward the outside. The existing Sears would remain as is. The vacant south anchor, and a section of the south mallway, would be demolished.

A new (65,000 square foot) Schnucks supermarket would be built. The new strip center would have housed 406,800 leasable square feet. 308,800 of this total would have been retail and restaurants, with 98,000 square feet being dedicated to existing medical and office space. Unfortunately, the St. Louis-based grocer backed out of the mall redevelopment plan in February 2015, in effect, throwing a monkey wrench into the project.

A clandestine, New York State based company acquired WASHINGTON SQUARE in November 2016 and recruited Hahn Kiefer Real Estate Services to manage the property. The new owner plans to go ahead with a renovation of WASHINGTON SQUARE. The project will begin by installing new parking area signage and lighting. There has also been mention of a new Streetscape facade for the mall, which will reorient many of its store spaces with exterior entrances.

Sources:

"Washington Square" article on Wikipedia
http://movie-theatre.org
www.civic.evansville.net
Vandergurgh County, Indiana property tax assessor website
www.brrarch.com (BRR Architecture)