The last man at Northwest Plaza mall

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    A sign for the Northwest Plaza Mall

    - Adam Allington / Marketplace

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    The empty parking lot at the Northwest Plaza in St. Louis

    - Adam Allington / Marketplace

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    The Northwest Plaza Mall sits vacant and for sale.

    - Adam Allington / Marketplace

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    Empty storefront at the Northwest Plaza Mall, which has 1.9 million sq. feet of enclosed space.

    - Adam Allington / Marketplace

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    The Northwest Plaza Mall was remodeled in 1989. It used to contain a Sears, Dillards, J.C. Penny and Famous-Barr.

    - Adam Allington / Marketplace

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    Mike Bartel, owner of Heel/Sew Quik. These days Northwest Plaza is used only by visitors to Bartel's store, and mall walkers.

    - Adam Allington / Marketplace

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    Mike Bartel, owner of Heel/Sew Quik

    - Adam Allington / Marketplace

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    The Northwest Plaza Mall during more popular times.

    - labelscar.com

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    The Northwest Mall Plaza in January 2002. At one point, the mall was one of the largest in the St. Louis region.

    - labelscar.com

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    The Northwest Plaza Mall was once home to some 200 shops and four large anchor stores. Here is a view of the mall from 2002.

    - labelscar.com

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    The Northwest Plaza Mall sits empty.

    - Adam Allington / Marketplace

Mike Bartel, owner of Heel/Sew Quik

A sign for the Northwest Plaza Mall


STEVE CHIOTAKIS: It wasn't that long ago Northwest Plaza
Mall in suburban St. Louis was bustling with more than 200 stores. Today only one remains -- one. And when Mike Bartel closes his one-man shoe repair shop within days, Northwest Plaza will officially die.

St. Louis Public Radio's Adam Allington produced a profile of this one last mall holdout.

MIKE BARTEL: One of the things that we do just about every day is replace heels on men's and women's shoes. Here is a pair of men's shoes. My name is Mike Bartel and I'm the proprietor of Heel/Sew Quik at Northwest Plaza.

Phone rings

BARTEL: Northwest Plaza Mall used to be the largest mall in the area. There were busloads of people that would come in from Illinois and other parts of Missouri and it was a weekend trip for a lot of people. They would come in and do all of their shopping here.

Shoe sounds

BARTEL: Here is a pair of men's shoes, as you can see they're worn down. So what I'm going to do is just take off the old heel or the old part of the heel.

Shoe sounds

BARTEL: One thing led to another, the loss of some of the jobs -- the airlines, the Ford Motor Company. And these were pretty much our core customer group. They just, the stores started to fall off, one by one, kind of like leaves falling off of a tree in the fall, it just happened. You know one day, there they are and the next day there they aren't.

Shoe hammer tapping sounds

BARTEL: Now I look down the mall corridors and I see absolutely nothing because all of the stores are closed. It's not frightening but it's a little disconcerting to be all by myself.


BARTEL: Hello. Can I help you?

ELMER KLEIN: I came out to get some work done, not too much work, just liners in my shoes.

BARTEL: Well lets see what you have there.

KLEIN: Are you going to retire Mike?

BARTEL: Yes I am, I'm going to live the good life. I'm very glad you dropped by. I know life will be good for you, after you get those shoes fixed.


BARTEL: When your feet don't hurt you're in good shape.

KLEIN: Yeah, such a shame.

BARTEL: Take care, sir.

CHIOTAKIS: See photos of Northwest Plaza, good days and not so good.

Mike Bartel, owner of Heel/Sew Quik

A sign for the Northwest Plaza Mall

Log in to post4 Comments

I worked at Northwest Plaza's Wehrenberg Theater for close to 5 years and I got to say I remember when the mall actually had good stores and we'd go there to buy Christmas gifts. It's quite sad. I loved working there at the theater and the mall use to be so busy and fun.

I was a little surprised at your implication that the reason for the closing of Northwest Plaza was economic downturn.

I recall that even during the renovation, the plaza was quickly becoming a frightening place to visit at night and after a couple of bad experiences, I quit stopping by there on the way home from work.

Even 10 years ago, in a good economy and before computer shopping had really become a threat, it was on the decline. Tilt, drew gangs and while St. Ann was safe, Northwest Plaza acquired a reputation as an unsafe location for your adolescent children. I recall chastising my daughter for going there to see a movie but her experience corroborated the bad press, shootouts in the parking lot, muggings in the mall and a the hard stares from the young thugs who hung around. What destroyed Northwest Plaza was the result of a bad reputation of "shop there at your peril."

What about using it as a homeless shelter? Winter season is fast approaching and winters could be vary rough and nasty in the midwest.

A thought that struck me from looking at the pictures is that the mall would be a great community college campus. Think about it. There's plenty of segmented space of different sizes for classrooms, labs and offices. The bigger stores could become the library. Plus there's open space out of the weather for students to move from class to class and the food court becomes the gathering place between classes.

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