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The bell tolls for University Mall 

click to enlarge OUT OF THE MALL
  • OUT OF THE MALL

After years in a persistent vegetative state, University Mall finally got taken off life support last week, and I'll be as glad as the next person to see it gone.

But there's a part of me that will always miss it, too — not the circus-tent-topped University Mall built 19 years ago, but the more modest, one-story version of my mall-rat years: Duran Duran records at Camelot Music, matchy-matchy Esprit outfits my parents wouldn't ever buy me at the Berry Patch, crappy school-cafeteria-style pizza from some little place whose name I've forgotten and a group of skeevy high school guys who talked to my friends because they couldn't get girls their own age to flirt with them. University Mall was the height of junior-high cool, and my purple-eyeshadow-wearing inner eighth-grader can't help but mourn its passing. Sniff.

But whatever. The part of me that has gray hair and a driver's license says knock that dinosaur down and bring on Park Avenue, as Strode Property Company plans to call the new shopping center it's planning to build there. Strode developed Midtowne Little Rock, so I'm optimistic about the new venture. Park Avenue is set to open in 2009, possibly with Target as an anchor.

Speaking of new shopping centers, and of University Mall for that matter, the new JC Penney store opened last weekend at Shackleford Crossing (ads in Sunday's Democrat-Gazette said the store would open Friday, Oct. 5, but I walked through the store my own self on Sept. 29, so I'm not sure what that's about) and Babies R Us is having its grand opening Oct. 12.

The new Penney's is smaller than the University Mall store, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if it means the merchandise will be a little better edited. The new store looks and feels more like a Kohl's than a mall department store, with checkout lanes beside each entrance instead of sprinkled throughout the store. That's also a huge improvement over having to search for 20 minutes to find a lone employee three departments over to take your money.

Over at Babies R Us — the first one in Arkansas — there'll be fun activities for kiddoes throughout the grand opening weekend, plus seminars on feeding your baby at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Oct. 12-13, and a host of special discounts: $20 off every travel system or stroller over $100; $10 off every car seat over $40; $10 off every crib set over $100; and $10 off every play yard or bassinet over $50.

As for the rest of Shackleford Crossing, located at Shackleford Road and Interstate 430, most of it hasn't been completed yet. Rack Room Shoes should be opening later this month, with Paul's Shoes and Nouri dress shop (both University Mall transplants) coming in November. Wal-Mart and Haverty's Furniture will be along next year sometime.

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