As she browsed through clothing racks at the Sears in Raleigh Springs Mall, Cordova resident Brenda Williamson lamented the fact that the store will be closing by April.
"Really and truly, I hate to see the mall go down," Williamson said.
Admittedly, it had been a while since she visited. If not for the discounts, Williamson said she probably wouldn't have bothered.
That, in a nutshell, is what Raleigh supporters have been struggling against since at least the mid-1990s. Some of it has to do with a general decline in the area, but much of it has to do with the mall itself — and malls in general.
"Malls are changing all over the country," said Bill Morrison, the city councilman whose district encompasses Raleigh and parts of Frayser and Cordova.
Since he was elected to his District 1 post about four years ago, Morrison has been working not only to add amenities in Cordova but to boost prospects in North Memphis. He said he's looking forward to working with Antonio "2 Shay" Parkinson, who recently was elected to fill the Tennessee House District 98 seat left vacant after the death of longtime representative Ulysses Jones. Already, Parkinson is working on the kind of anti-blight legislation that will force owners of vacant commercial properties to shape up or ship out.
"We're also working on [forming] the Raleigh-Frayser Business Alliance," Parkinson said.
That organization is likely to operate under Parkinson's nonprofit community empowerment organization, ABetterMemphis.com Inc. Its offices will be in the Raleigh mall, which Parkinson said is about 98 percent occupied despite the Sears closure.
"I understand the Sears situation is a corporate decision," Parkinson said. "They closed four different locations in four different markets."
Another blow to Raleigh's retail scene is the closure of the A.J. Wright store across the street from the mall. That, too, is part of a corporate restructuring also affecting stores in Whitehaven and Hickory Hill.
Kevin Brooks, president of the Raleigh Community Council, expressed the group's dismay during its February meeting.
"If we can get some businesses in here, that's what we need," Brooks told the 35 members who attended the evening meeting at Raleigh United Methodist Church. "If we can't, it's going to be a ghost town."
But not all is doom and gloom. A long-vacant Schnucks that sat at the corner of Austin Peay and Yale Road is in splinters, making way for a Memphis Traffic Bureau location that's moving from Union Avenue in Midtown. It will be operational in Raleigh by 2012.
In the meantime, Morrison is still working with Looney Ricks Kiss architects on redesigning the look of Austin Peay. Morris said now that Memphis Motorsports Park is reopening under new ownership, he expects more traffic through the Austin Peay area. Along with Austin Peay improvements is Looney Ricks Kiss' vision for how the mall might be reused if it can be sold to a single owner or ownership group.
But the brightest aspect of Raleigh's retail outlook is a new use for a former Applebee's at 3954 Austin Peay. The vacant building is being converted to an El Patio Mexican restaurant, Morrison and others have said, although they're not sure when it will reopen. It's across the parking lot from a Walmart that recently was converted into a Supercenter.
Public records show the more than 5,000-square-foot Applebee's building on Austin Peay sold for $420,000 in October to One-Two-Three Corp. of Chattanooga. However, no one could be reached at the company, which was cited in a 2007 article in The Decatur Daily News in Alabama for acquiring a similar restaurant and letting it collect weeds and trash during a so-called renovation period.
If the El Patio restaurant does open in the Applebee's building, Morrison said it could spur other new businesses.
"We have not given up [on Raleigh]," Morrison said. "We are not going to give up."
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