New management at Orchards Mall focused on rebuilding trust with community
BENTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Orchards Mall is right off the bustling Pipestone Street that hundreds use for their commute each day and sits on over 520,000 square feet of property.
Yet, it still somehow manages to feel empty.
Despite the mall having 78 store fronts, only 10 are currently open, and there’s only about a handful of customers inside the entire space at any given time.
“It was a downward spiral and it wasn’t getting any better,” said Christina Castaneda, Administrative Liaison at Orchards Mall.
Castaneda was brought on to the mall’s team in July, but she was no stranger to its problems, as a previous tenant herself.
“I knew the property and the situation and had a personal interest in seeing things be different here,” she said.
Castaneda became the administrative liaison at the same time mall owner Durga Property Holdings hired a new management company – Bedi & Associates.
Both making mall improvements literally from the ground up.
“The HVAC has had a lot of work done to it, you can feel it’s warm in here now,” said Castaneda. “The lights used to have this terrible, eerie buzzing sound, the potholes have been fixed outside the parking lot, when it warms up we’re going to address the overgrowth in the landscaping.”
But the mall has developed a stigma that extends far beyond its property’s conditions.
In the past two years, there have been two shootings at Orchards Mall – both times, gatherings resulting in gunfire, an all too common issue in greater Benton Harbor.
Castaneda said the mall now has cameras 24/7 and increased police patrols, both things that have built trust with prospective store owners.
“We hardly had any stores here when I came and I’ve signed 11 new leases in the last couple of weeks,” sad said.
One store on the way opens March 13 and is owned by a Benton Harbor native.
“I remember the Orchards Mall at the time I was a teenager and all the stores were here, I’m hoping that it gets back to that so people can have somewhere locally to shop because a lot of people say they have to go to Mishawaka and South Bend just to do their regular shopping,” said Sasha Williams, owner of Icy Wear.
For others, they’ve watched how their business has grown just by making the investment in the mall.
“I started with a kiosk here at the mall and I outgrew the kiosk and got the store,” said Audrey Lewis-Singh, owner of Audrey’s Glamorous Jewelry. “I do curbside pickup and live videos where I show merchandise and if they like the product they say ‘sold’ and I invoice them at the end of my live.”
And mall officials are open to any business wanting to rent out space here, even a boxing studio which opened just three weeks ago.
“I’m trying to target the youth, the young kids to get them off of the street and motivate them,” said Ben Williams owner of Born Champions Boxing Center. “When I first came here no one was here, but now they’ve opened stores up and I sure appreciate that because the more people they can bring into the mall, the more people see the gym.”
But Orchards Mall has bigger plans than just filling storefronts.
“Putting a hotel inside JCPenney, we’re wanting to put apartments in that end as well, so we’re working with the township now to finalize those plans,” said Castaneda.
All they need now is for you to give them another chance.
“We’ve gotten to the point now where people know me and they know that we’re working toward doing better so they’re willing to take the chance and open up shop,” said Castaneda.
Orchards Mall is hoping to break ground on construction of that hotel and apartments in April and it would take its 78 storefronts down to 35.
ABC57 did reach out to Benton Township officials, who declined to comment pending the final approval of those plans, but did say they’re very proud of the work that’s being done so far.