Granite Run Mall destined for reconstruction as open-air ‘town center’

     Most store fronts at the Granite Run Mall are empty. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Most store fronts at the Granite Run Mall are empty. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Farukh Hameed remembers first visiting Granite Run Mall in Media 13 or 14 years ago.

    “I could hear everywhere in the mall, ‘excuse me, excuse me,’ it was so congested people have nowhere to walk,” said Hameed. 

    Five years ago, he opened his discount bookstore, Books For Less, in Granite Run, and was making a profit until about 2012. Then, the crowds began to thin at the Delaware County mall.

    “We started losing the business,” said Hameed. “Now you see the whole mall is gone. All the day long, we see maybe one or two people, that’s it.”

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    Indeed, Granite Run Mall has dwindled to fewer than 30 stores and a couple of fast-food eateries. By  August, demolition could begin to make room for an open-air town center that will include a mix of retail and restaurants, a large movie complex, and a 175-unit apartment building — with plans for a second within another year.

    Monday, a big red sign in the front window of Books For Less offered “90 Percent Off Everything.”

    “It’s really hard, we cannot afford any workers, or bring more stuff here, so whatever I have, I’m just trying to get rid of,” said Hameed. “It’s really tough.”

    The Horsham-based real estate group BET Investment Group bought the 58-acre property in 2013 for $24 million, and is in the final stages of planning the transformation. It could present final development plans to the Middletown Township Council by May.

    The decline of Granite Run follows a national trend. In January, the New York Times reported that nearly 15 percent of America’s malls were 10 to 40 percent vacant.

    The question remains whether turning it into a suburban hangout will increase profitability.

    Nathan Isbee, a real estate investment analyst at Stifel in Baltimore, said it’s not so much about cutting the number of stores as it is being in the right market and having the right stores for that market.

    “Like the old saying in real estate, location, location, location,” said Isbee. “If it’s in a region or area where there’s demand for an alternative use, that is what will likely happen to many malls.”

    The Echelon Mall in Voorhees, New Jersey, underwent a similar transformation in 2003. And officials in Burlington Township will soon begin looking at design plans similar to those of Granite Run, after Moonbeam Capital Investments bought struggling Burlington Center Mall in 2012.

    As for Books For Less, Hameed will be packing up and moving to Montgomery Mall likely within a month.

    “I’m excited about it, but definitely going to miss this place as well,” said Hameed. “People have a lot of memories with this mall.”

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