January 12, 2023

By Jasmyne Cannick

Contributing Writer


The news that Macy’s is shutting down operations at its Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza location in Los Angeles has me feeling some kind of way. I should’ve known something was up when they didn’t even bother putting up their gigantic holiday wreath that usually overlooks MLK Jr. Blvd.

For quite some time now, I have watched the life slowly squeezed out of that mall. I think it started with the exodus of Walmart in 2016, followed by Sears just three years later. It also didn’t help that nearby malls like the Fox Hills Mall (and yes, I meant to say Fox Hills Mall) and the Beverly Hills adjacent Beverly Center continued to benefit from new stores, while the Baldwin Hills mall did not.

We never got Ulta, Sephora, MAC, H&M, or many of the other stores that those malls did. What we did get were 5 tennis shoe stores at one point (2 Footlockers, 1 Kid’s Footlocker, 1 Ladies Footlocker, and 1 Foot Action) and a Forever 21 — but then they quietly dipped out as well. Even our food court has struggled through the years to keep tenants.

Some will argue the mall died because we weren’t shopping there enough. Meh. The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza didn’t have the stores that drove consumers to go to the other malls. Some will say consumers buy everything online now. Meh. These other malls seem to be doing just fine during the age of Amazon.

The demise of the mall has been in the works for some time.

I didn’t grow up in Los Angeles — proper. Thanks to divorce, I grew up L.A. adjacent between Hermosa Beach and Compton in the 80s. I know, I know, but that’s a conversation for another time.

I did, however, get to spend summers in Los Angeles learning how to sew with my grandmother’s sister, my Aunt Afi (as she was affectionately referred to in my family). Aunt Afi owned a popular African dress shop, Kiambi’s Place, just across the way from the Boulevard Cafe during the height of Santa Barbara Plaza, which was across the way from the mall.

I didn’t know it then, but I was witnessing the beginning of the end for many of the Black-owned shops in the bustling plaza. By the mid-90s, the life and energy had been sucked out of the area, and the tumbleweeds were forming. If my memory serves me correctly, Jerry’s Flying Fox lounge was the last Black-owned business standing.

The city of Los Angeles’ now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency began buying up the land with plans for mixed-use projects that never came to fruition. Then Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas (yes, a gazillion years ago, he was a councilmember before reprising this role for a second time in 2020.) is accused of sinking Magic Johnson’s multimillion-dollar redevelopment project for the Santa Barbara Plaza because Johnson backed a stadium project in Carson, and Ridley-Thomas was pushing for one for the Coliseum in L.A.

Due to my age, my memory only goes back to the late 80s. To even write this piece, I had to call on my Cousin Vivian Hines, who, at her age, can remember when the mall wasn’t a mall and was just called The Broadway-Crenshaw Center.

She explained to me in great detail (and excitement) how The Broadway department store was where Walmart used to be, the May Company morphed into Robinson’s-May and eventually Macy’s. She reminisced about Woolworth’s and Vons. They eventually built a bridge to connect both buildings. Lucky’s supermarket would become an Albertsons in 1999.

I do remember when Magic Johnson first owned the movie theater.

There’s a lot of history and memories at that intersection that spans generations. Santa Barbara Plaza and the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza have been tied together from their beginnings.

And now, with the departure of Macy’s, it’s only a matter of time before the mall completely flatlines.

As it stands now, my only reason for stepping into that mall will be the Pan African Film & Arts Festival happening in February, Afro City, the business co-op for Black designers and entrepreneurs, and Bath & Body Works.

The Black-led Downtown Crenshaw coalition had pushed to have the mall sold to their group. However, the mall was sold last year to David Schwartzman’s Beverly Grove-based Harridge Development Group for roughly $140 million, and in that announcement, Schwartzman forecasted the closure of Macy’s. This, after he purchased the Macy’s department store building in a separate transaction for more than $30 million, giving him control of almost the entire 42-acre site.

When I posted the news that Macy’s was closing on social media, one user commented, “where can we send letters?” I think we’re way beyond a letter-writing campaign. The land was sold, and the store has announced it’s closing! At this point, and there’s no guarantee this will work, but maybe if enough of us take a page from the environmental activist’s playbook and chain ourselves to the door, we can force Macy’s to stay.

We always seem to be a day late and a dollar short and reactionary as opposed to being proactive with the changes taking place in our neighborhoods. Part of that is on us, and part of that is on the powers that be who keep things from us for as long as they possibly can.

I think we’ve reached the end of the road with Macy’s, and in due time the entire mall as developers are chomping at the bit to reimagine that intersection.

It’s the end of an era fam.

Jasmyne Cannick writes and speaks about the collisions at the intersection of politics, race, and society.

Category: Opinion