A relic of retail
I’ve always had kind of an affinity for Kansas City. I'd always wanted to visit the mid-continent metropolis and finally made it out that way in February 2020, mere weeks before a major pandemic would sweep the world.
There were many things I wanted to see while in KCMO. Downtown’s Power and Light district, the World War I Museum and Memorial and, of course, what is considered by many to be the first example of the modern American shopping center, Country Club Plaza.
But while scouting the city on Google Maps, I came upon another destination. One whose existence I had previously not known. It’s obscurity, age and lack of updates piqued my interest and it was to become the first of my stops in Kansas City. Located on the southern fringes of the city, I had discovered New Landing Mall.
The first thing that met my eyes was the giant blue sign just off the corner of Troost and East 63rd. The logo looked like it belonged on an eighties Adidas sweat suit worn by someone about to start tearing apart a flattened cardboard box with their headspins and poppin’-and-lockin’. And just beyond it was my destination. A low slung, browner than brown straight shot of mid-century modernism. I couldn’t wait to take it all in.
Though tired and unassuming on the outside, the inside shared the same tired qualities but was also unabashedly bold seventies. Thank goodness places like these never had the funds for one of those full-on renovations that tend to suck all of the character out of them. This was a time capsule. From “The New Landing” spelled out in tile that greeted me just beyond the western entrance to the aqua marine ceilings framing dusty box skylights, I was absorbing every pixel that my eyes touched. These are the types of places in which I grew up and I miss the hell out of them.
There were a few well known retailers, such as Foot Locker, Rainbow Clothing and, uh… Kids’ Foot Locker, but the main occupants were local mom and pops. Traffic seemed pretty decent for a Saturday afternoon, though I’m sure that they weren’t nearly as large as the masses the monoliths in places like Overland Park attract. Alas, it was very much alive and still seemed to be embraced by its few patrons.
A walk down the western corridor brought me to center court and the entrance to its one anchor spot. Unfortunately, it lies vacant except for small sub-divisions hosting local businesses. The center court’s high ceilings were a welcome reprieve from the claustrophobic low-slung ceilings of the corridors. It was here where most of the people and businesses were gathered.
The east corridor was much like its western counterpart though it also included a lavender carpet covered, angled sided stage and seating area. The stage was empty, however, as well as most of the storefronts between it and the eastern entrance. I exited further to that side and was greeted by a fantastic mural of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a rockin’-sixties-Flintstone inspired sign for the mall on a stone background.
New landing Mall opened in 1960 as an open-air shopping center in the quickly growing southeastern suburbs of the city. It was enclosed in 1970 and subsequently received its present-day name. Its one anchor location opened as an R.H. Macy’s before being taken over by Dillard’s in 1988. The building’s original Macy’s cornerstone is still visible in the second level parking area just off 63rd.
Through the years, the diminutive center was supplanted by much larger neighbors such as the nearby Bannister Mall. At over a million square feet, Bannister surely stole much business away from New Landing. But the super-regional did not have the old incumbent’s staying power and succumbed to market forces of its own before closing in 2007. The New Landing Mall has outlived its much larger replacement by quite a few years.
A redevelopment has been proposed for the facility, though no concrete plans have been released. The redevelopment was put on hold in 2019 and surely faces even more barriers now after the pandemic and ensuing economic slowdown. But I’m glad that this anomaly gets to live on, even though it is definitely not much longer for this world.