By Brett Dunlap
Special to the Times
VIENNA, W.Va. - For almost 40 years, the Grand Central Mall has remained fabulous for the community that has shopped there on a daily basis.
On Friday, the mall will be commemorating its 40th anniversary from 1 to 3 p.m. in the mall's food court.
"We are still planning all of the details for that," said Katrina Stephens, the mall's marketing director. "We would like people to come and share their memories of the mall over the past 40 years."
The mall was built starting in 1971 on the grounds of the old Stewart Airfield and opened in August 1972.
"Our best guess would say it opened around Aug. 15-17 as the store openings were staggered," said Christy Swisher, mall manager. "We have chosen that week to commemorate the actual anniversary."
The mall, owned and operated by Glimcher Properties, continues to be a shopping destination for people throughout the region, as it is the only sizable shopping mall within 77 miles, mall officials said. The mall features approximately 100 specialty shops, six anchor stores, a 600-seat food court and a 12-screen multiplex cinema. Glimcher also owns a number of properties around the mall where retail and other businesses are located.
The celebration got under way in July with the unveiling of the mall's 40th anniversary logo.
The mall has been doing a "40 Days of Gift Cards" celebration from July 9 to Aug. 17 where they have given a $40 gift card to random shoppers on a daily basis.
"We wanted to give back to our customers," Stephens said. "We have surprised people from the Food Court all the way down to Sears."
At the event on August 17, there is going to be a grand prize drawing for a $400 shopping spree. The winner will have to be present to win.
If they are not, officials will keep on drawing until someone there wins. Other giveaways for the first 100 customers, featuring gifts and other things from a number of stores in the mall, will also be conducted that day.
In the center court, the mall has put up a picture gallery showing the mall being built, the early days as well as other views from over the years.
"They can see how it was and see how it is now," Swisher said.
The pictures have been a place where shoppers have told mall officials about the mall over the year. Officials have been combing over photos to put together a retrospective they want to show August 17 as well as something they can post on YouTube for those who are still interested in the mall, but now live outside of the area.
Many photos from the 1970s on, featuring notable local citizens, have been found and might make it into the photo retrospective, Stephens said.
When the mall first opened the anchor stores included Sears, J.C. Penney and the Diamond, which would go on to become Stone and Thomas and later Elder-Beerman. In the beginning, the mall also featured a Hickory Farms store, a G.C. Murphy as well as a number of local stores, mall officials said. GNC, the Pizza Place and New York and Company are longtime stores in the mall.
Near the J.C. Penney entrance, there was a large birdcage with a variety of exotic birds in it. At the time, the mall featured little ponds with live ducks in them, which the mall management said was a challenge for the maintenance crews.
There bridges over these little ponds that people could cross. A fountain was located near the Sears entrance.
"People have told us stories about all the things they remember," Swisher said. "It is pretty amazing to think it went from an airport to a shopping mall that has lasted for 40 years. It is pretty cool."
Although other malls had been built before Grand Central Mall, the local mall is the oldest one still in operation in the state, Stephens said.
When the mall was built by Oxford Development of Pittsburgh, it had the forethought to see where things were going and included higher ceilings and wide walkways, which have allowed the mall to change and evolve over the years, Swisher said, adding they have always listened to the customers about the kinds of stores they wanted in the mall..
Mall officials even found an early plan that had a second floor planned for the mall.
Glimcher bought the mall in 1993 and did a lot of remodeling to upgrade the mall, including adding skylights and refreshed everything, Stephens said.
"We really don't look 40," she said. "We do look fabulous."
"We pride ourselves on being able to change up our retail mix as well as provide a clean shopping center for our patrons where they are comfortable and like coming here."
The mall is planning to honor many of its longtime employees, some who have been there since almost the beginning.
Joyce Bowser, the manager at Claire's, has been at the mall for almost 40 years.
"I think it has become a great place for the community to come and shop," she said. "I think it has grown a lot.
"I can see the stores that have changed over the years."
With a good mix of stores, the mall's reputation has grown as a place where the whole community can come, shop and spend time, Bowser said.
"I think we have made ourselves know to the surrounding counties and areas as a nice place to come, do some shopping and for people to be able to do other things in Parkersburg," she said