Wednesday, June 13, 2018

6.13.18 Bee-otch of the Day: Kumar Vemulapalli

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Name: Kumar Vemulapalli
Age: 75
Occupation: real estate developer
Last Seen: Cincinnati, OH
Bee-otched For: making my childhood mall beyond useless


When I was a little boy growing up in northern Michigan, Cherryland Mall was the place to be.

I had fond memories of that tiny mall, which was Traverse City's first modern enclosed mall when it opened in 1976. It wasn't a megamall by any means. It didn't have a food court nor did it have a movie theater. It did, however have several water fountains - I remember my father handing me pennies to throw in there - plus stores like Circus World (the closest I ever got to being a Toys 'R' Us kid), The Id, Kinney Shoes (ironically across the hall from Foot Locker, and guess where my mom made me buy my shoes, sadly...), Aladdin's Castle, Camelot Music and Tape World.

However, Cherryland's fate was sealed all thanks to a mall that didn't have any fountains, but did have the aforementioned food court and movie theater, plus 50 more stores - some taken from Cherryland itself - and even a carousel, and that was Grand Traverse Mall.

Since GTM opened in 1992, Cherryland has been in a sad, pitiful demise. By the late 90s, Cherryland was mostly reduced to mom 'n pop stores replacing the chain stores that once graced the mall and vacancy was very high. Their owners and founders, the Schostak family decided to redevelop it into a power center in 1999, becoming the Cherryland Center. They were hoping that the new outdoor format would be a success. Well....

It was successful when it reopened, but the sad thing was that 9/11 and the poor economy in the 2000s hurt Cherryland even more. The 2008 economic collapse really hurt Cherryland; Wells Fargo forclosed on the mall in 2010. Since then, stores have been abandoning the strip, and it hasn't helped that the man who has owned it since 2013 has a long history of poorly-managed buildings.

Kumar Vemulapalli bought Cherryland at auction in 2013 for just over $3 million. Since then, Cherryland has been turning into a ghost town. This past year alone, Cherryland has lost or is losing their three founding anchors: Kmart, Younkers (formerly Prange's) and Sears. After all three stores close, Big Lots will be Cherryland's sole anchor with very little else surrounding that store.

Kumar has been known for owning mismanaged buildings. As a matter of fact, he was the owner of the Genesee Towers in Flint, which became condemned under his aegis. Now, it's Cherryland Center's turn. The sad thing is that there are talks about turning the old Kmart space into a U-Haul dealer. But then again, it's better than nothing. As for the soon-to-be-abandoned Sears and Younkers slots, it's anybody's guess what will happen to those.

The only bright spot for Cherryland is the fact that the biggest nail in its coffin, Grand Traverse Mall, has had their weaknesses, too. In ten years, they have lost some major tenants like Abercrombie and Fitch, Pacific Sun, Foot Locker, Express, Yankee Candle and Zales Jewelers, plus its movie theater when a new cinema was built down the road. As a matter of fact, the area across from Dunham's Sports in the Target corridor is a virtual ghost town, loaded with abandoned storefronts save for an Armed Forces career center and an acupressure office. The mall seems to have its fair share of empty storefronts. However, their bright spot is the fact that in those ten years, they've gained H&M, Gap, Old Navy, Torrid and Zumiez, plus the Dunham's that replaced the cinema and part of the Target corridor.

Grand Traverse Mall had 77 stores in 2010. Today, it's 58. When I was a teen, it was over 100.

The sad thing is that maybe - just maybe - it's not totally Kumar's fault that Cherryland is indeed a ghost town. Traverse City, after all is overretailed and with the internet, those who used to drive 50-100 miles just to go to the mall don't do so anymore. Fuck, Grand Traverse Mall doesn't even have a bookstore!

The point is, BOTH Grand Traverse Mall and Cherryland need to learn from Woodland and Centerpoint here in Grand Rapids. They're two malls across from each other and both have had a lot of work done. Several years ago, Centerpoint - like Cherryland - became a power center. But unlike Cherryland, it's doing quite well. Woodland lost Sears last year. Guess what? Instead of having a building that will sit dark for years, their owners are dumping $100 million in renovations and new stores, including a Von Maur. Already, there's stores moving around Woodland to make way for the renovated mall.

If GT Mall and Cherryland learned from the Grand Rapids malls, this will be good news for the economy and people would be interested in shopping there again. Nobody wants to visit retail deserts. Hell, there's a lot of stores in those two malls here that could do well up there: The Apple Store, Bar Louie, Pottery Barn, Barnes and Noble and a few more here and there.

But hey! At least downtown TC is a trillion times nicer.---


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