HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB) — The long-struggling McKinley Mall has a new pulse after several businesses opened their doors since the summer. It’s all part of an effort to re-think and revitalize the mall that’s had vacant storefronts for years.
The future of the mall was uncertain when businesses started shuddering their doors and the mall went up for auction in May. It was bought by a mystery bidder and News 4 has been working to confirm who or what development company has purchased the land. Businesses say they are hopeful the new developer will work with them to grow the mall even more.
“McKinley Mall is strangely at the forefront of mall evolution,” Weldon Jones, owner of Food Court Skate Park, which opened over the summer at the mall, said. “It’s developing to what the new mall of the future should be, which is entertainment based, spots that get kids in, spots where you can do a whole bunch of things besides buy t-shirts. You can buy a shirt off line, you can’t experience this off line.”
New shops, entertainment spaces and non-profit organizations are moving into the mall, putting local businesses at the forefront and reimagining what a massive retail space can be. It is also giving some places a second chance after other Western New York malls began to close their doors.
Creative Butterflies owner Daria Parker said she had to leave her space at the Eastern Hills Mall as that building begins renovations. She previously had a small business at the Broadway Market, too. Now, she is calling Hamburg home for her store, which sells specialty gift items and custom made products.
“I was a bit nervous moving from one place that closed to another to potential new place, but I don’t see it like that anymore,” Parker said. “They want this mall to succeed. They want it to see it. They don’t want another place to close.”
Cheryl Flick owns WNY Foster Closet, a non-profit that collects gently used clothing and items and donates them to children in the foster care system. She also left a previous location in the Northtowns to move to the McKinley Mall.
“If they didn’t welcome us into the mall, we probably would’ve closed our doors and it would’ve been the end,” Flick said.
Family friendly activity centers are taking over these vacant retail spaces, making the mall a destination for people across the region. The Food Court Skate Park created new lesson times for skaters under 15-years-old because the demand was so high. They say they even have people travel from Pennsylvania to use the space.
Kidz Bounce will be opening its doors later this year. The McKinley Mall will be its second location. They plan to have six bounce houses inside the mall just in time for the colder weather.
“The malls space lends themselves well to that because these were huge stores that are unfortunately sitting empty. In the wintertime, people need a place to come inside and bring their families and run around and try to get out some of that energy that the kids have,” Matt Sceusa said while renovating the space.
Ron Toczek owns Climb and Play Party Cafe, which has a variety of activities and games for kids. It also sells snacks and has an area for parents to relax. He says people are coming to the mall to experience his cafe and they are learning about the other new businesses have moved in.
“A lot of people will say I didn’t know this was here. I haven’t been here in years. I’ll tell them there’s a bounce house place opening down there. There’s a skate park down there, which is awesome. The main stores are here. It’s like a forgotten mall, but I knew my marketing strategy would work here,” Toczek said.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.