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T.J. Maxx moving out of Westgate; redevelopment of mall still uncertain

Barry Adams | Wisconsin State JournalMay 16, 2019

The Westgate Shopping Center is losing another tenant, but it’s not going far away.

The T.J. Maxx store, one of the few retailers remaining at Westgate, will move across the street in September into part of the space that had been home to a Big Lots store that closed earlier this year. The space will also be home to a Sierra store, according to a billboard at the entrance to Whitney Square, which is also home to Office Depot, Dollar Tree, A-Mart Asian Grocery and other retailers.

T.J. Maxx, a discount department store chain with more than 1,000 stores in the U.S., recently opened a store in Prairie Lakes in Sun Prairie, along with a new HomeGoods store and a Five Below discount store that sells items up to $5 in price.

Sierra is also owned by TJX Companies, which owns T.J. Maxx, and sells discount outdoor recreation, fitness and adventure gear, clothing, footwear and home decor. Sierra, also known as Sierra Trading Post, was founded in 1986 and buys and resells “closeouts, overstocks and (seconds) from the most trusted brands,” according to its website. The company has 35 stores nationwide, including a store in Delafield, between Waukesha and Oconomowoc.

But the departure of T.J. Maxx from Westgate leaves only the Wisconsin Craft Market and a pop-up used book store for Friends of Sequoya Library, which has sales scheduled for June 1 and 15, July 6, Aug. 3 and 17 and Sept. 7, as the mall’s only retailer, besides the adjacent Hy-Vee. The mall is also home to a few offices and a State Farm Insurance agent but the vast majority of the interior mall property is vacant, save for a few mall walkers.

When the mall opened in 1960, it had stores like JC Penney, Piggly Wiggly, Montgomery Ward and Harry S. Manchester. In later years, the Piggly Wiggly was replaced with an Eagle grocery store while other stores fled farther west to West Towne Mall and the surrounding area. In more recent years the tenants included Famous Footwear, Klinke Cleaners, Hancock Fabrics, Rocky Rococo, Dunham’s Discount Sports and Woodcraft Supply. Westgate Cinemas closed in 2008 after 30 years in business.

Hy-Vee purchased the property and began removing the south end of the mall in 2012 to make way for a $20 million, 80,000-square-foot grocery store that opened in 2013. In 2016, a developer, R.H. Johnson Co. in Kansas City, Missouri, submitted a plan to raze the remaining mall property and replace it with four smaller buildings with about half of the square footage of the current mall. The plan called for at least 15 storefronts that would face a central parking lot and the potential for 90 to 125 housing units.

However, the plan never materialized and nothing is imminent. A Hy-Vee spokeswoman said Wednesday that the company is hoping to redevelop the property but is searching for a developer.

“We are entertaining options to get the Westgate Mall development back under contract,” said Christina Gayman, Hy-Vee’s director of public relations.

In August, torrential rains that inundated southern Wisconsin and caused wide-spread flooding, caused an estimated $300,000 damage to the Baseball Card Shoppe located on the mall property but facing Whitney Way near Tokay Boulevard. Nearly four feet of water filled the 1,200-square-foot store that opened in the mall in the early 1980s and forced Tom and Anita Daniels to close the store. Ravenworks, historical clothing boutique, specializes in authentic-looking items for re-enactors, theater groups, opera companies and those who attend Renaissance and Medieval fairs was also wiped out but is now an appointment-only business on Madison’s East Side.

The School of Madison Ballet also recently moved out of the mall to a new space at 6734 Odana Road, that had been a Ginza of Tokyo.

For the moment, it’s unclear what will become of the Westgate property but its plight continues to draw strong reactions on social media. When photos of the property appeared Tuesday on a Facebook page dedicated to Madison history, the post drew 369 likes and a remarkable 245 comments within the first 24 hours. Some, like Dave Wilkinson wrote about going to mall in the 1960s and then later in life owning Domocile Home Furnishings in the mall from 1975 to 1982.

Pam Holser reminisced about working at the Rennebohm Drug store, Kristin Stanke Erickson recalled when Santa Claus arrived at the mall by helicopter in the late 1960s and Christopher Jensen wrote about going to Uncle Paul’s Toys and B. Dalton Books. Most expressed sadness about the mall’s state.

“My parents used to take my brother and I to the Rocky’s (pizza) there fairly often when we (were) younger,” wrote Colton Meinecke. “I’d always try to find a way to get to the fossil and gemstone store. Strange to think that it’s all gone now.”

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