GREENVILLE – Back in the early 1970s, construction workers began gathering at the corner of Bowman Boulevard and U.S. 1 in Greenville. As the bulldozers and dump trucks started clearing the grounds, the site gave little indication that one day a retail facility would emerge that would change how area citizens shopped.
Almost 30 years later, the Greenville Mall still serves shoppers of Greenville and the surrounding Delta. Since its opening in 1972, the area shopping icon has seen competitors come and go while it has remained a strong retail force. However, its success does not come from touting its history, but rather due recent renovations and improvements aimed at retaining stores and shoppers.
“One key to success for malls is having owners committed to seeing the shopping center grow, a solid management company and good employees,” said Renea Simmerman, general manager of Greenville Mall. “We’re fortunate to have all of those. It makes my job a whole lot easier.”
Simmerman has many personal memories of the Greenville Mall as a child growing up in Cleveland.
“I remember coming over here with my parents when I was six or seven years old,” she said. “It was always special to come to the mall and browse.”
That personal connection continued as Simmerman wrapped up her business management degree at Mississippi State University and went to work in retail. Eventually rising to manager of an outlet store, Simmerman came full circle when she accepted the Greenville Mall general manager’s position three years ago next month.
Simmerman arrived just as new ownership and management company came on board. By 1996, the Greenville Mall was showing a little age. Simmerman said the mall suffered from some vacancies, and the interior badly needed a facelift. Putting money with the vision for a first-class shopping venue, some $2 million was spent, and a new outlook was developed and marketed.
“They came up with the theme, ‘We’ve Got a New Attitude’,” Simmerman said. “The owners and management company were determined that the mall was going to be a quality shopping center.”
These factors, along with going to the customer through focus groups and other measures to see what the they wanted to see in the mall, aggressive leasing efforts and contracting out security, maintenance and housekeeping work, have paid returns. Today, the Greenville Mall is 100% leased. While Sears, J.C. Penney and McRae’s remain the anchors, the mall has recently added a Kirkland’s and Zale’s, and has seen expansions and movements of other stores.
“We have tried to give the shoppers what they ask for,” Simmerman said. “But being 100% leased is good and bad. Obviously, we’re thrilled to be full, but that also means we have no room to bring in other stores customers may want. It’s a nice dilemma to have.”
The holiday season will add to the mall’s occupancy rate. Simmerman said the mall has 15 special Christmas retailers which will set up in the shopping center’s halls. Thus, Greenville Mall will enjoy that rare plus of being completely booked solid in both permanent stores and in the “common areas.”
Simmerman said running the 302,285-square-foot Greenville Mall is both demanding and fulfilling. With 28 stores and 15 staff members to oversee, she said “typical” days were nonexistent.
She said, “Well, I got in this morning and looked to see what needed to be done. I’m doing this interview now (8:30 a.m.). I have a security meeting at nine o’clock. Then I’ll do a walk-through of the mall and look at everything. I have to write the TV scripts for our Christmas advertising, and I have monthly reports due. I’ve got Rotary after that. I’ll come back and meet with my operation manager to see if there’s any issues that need attention. Then who knows what might come up.
“It is both challenging and rewarding. The key is to planning ahead and having good employees.”
Simmerman said one challenge she faces is trying to keep everyone happy – stores and shoppers alike.
“It can be tricky,” she said. “During the holidays, if it was up to our anchors, they would be open 24 hours a day. But for our other stores, they simply don’t have the resources to do that – can’t afford it. So, you have to balance that. And then you have to make sure the shoppers are happy and are having a good experience. It is tricky, but when people come up to you and say how much they love the mall or comment on how nice things are, it makes it all worthwhile.”
Simmerman said the Greenville Mall’s owners and management will continue to look forward and not rest on past laurels.
“My number one job is sales. I want to see our sales per square foot grow since that is the best measuring stick of success,” she said. “And we’re also committed to keeping our shoppers, giving them what they want so they don’t feel like they have to go to Jackson or Memphis to shop. It’s challenging, but we’re excited about the Greenville Mall’s future.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.