Merle Hay Mall has a rich history as one of the state's oldest regional shopping centers.
- But after 62 years of of business, there's more than meets the eye around the mall, along with some unique hidden spaces.
I recently explored Merle Hay's basement, which contains 30,000 square feet of unused mall space.
- The moment I stepped foot inside, the area didn't look anything like I expected. It's almost an abandoned mall itself, complete with storefronts, mannequins — even remnants of a Cost Cutters.
State of play: Before the area was closed off in 2000, the mall's lower level was split into two — a bowling alley, which still exists, and a garden court, explained Liz Holland, the mall's owner.
- The garden court — essentially open mall space — had escalators to other levels, stores and restaurants like McDonald's, Disc Jockey and an armed forces recruiting center.
Flashback: Originally, the lower level was a civil defense and bomb shelter area, filled with bunk beds and canned food before it turned into retail space in the 1970s.
- The whole area was closed off when a children's play area was built above in 2000.
Since then, Holland has explored leasing out the space for paintball or glow-in-the-dark golf.
- But for now, it sits in its own era of time.
The intrigue: It's all a bit eerie. But the creepiest part are the dolls in the former center court area that keep changing location.
- Holland said she doesn't know who's moving them or where the dolls came from. She suspects its contractors working on the mall.
- 👀 Or ... maybe they're moving on their own?
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