Hearne: Paradise Lost — The Crown Center Story

IMG_2577Once upon a time it was magical…

It was Crown Center – the ultra upscale, urban shopping mall the mighty Hallmark Cards built. It was one of the Cowtown’s top tourist draws, ashopping Mecca. Forget about the miniature LEGOLAND Discovery Center and SEA LIFE Aquarium.

They may be kiddie magnets now – more so for visitors from Wichita and Des Moines – but in the grand scheme of things they’re small potatoes. Mere shadows of the full blown LEGOLAND Lee’s Summit tried to land a few years back. Or the real deal, twin tower aquariums that tower over the riverfront in tiny Chattanooga, Tennessee.


More to the point is the effect of the years of diminishing returns Hallmark has experienced in greeting card sales.  Effects likely to continue to the card company’s dying day. Effects that have rendered downtown’s once-proud, crown jewel little more than a tattered semblance of its former self.

The Crown Center of 2013 is shopworn, long in the tooth.

“This isn’t the Crown Center I remember as a little girl,” says 40 year-old Ann Thompson. “It just seems more run down and dated. It’s not a cool destination anymore, and that saddens me.”

With Halls Plaza slated to close next summer, Crown Center has announced it will erect a larger scale Halls Crown Center to make up for that loss.

Three words: It’s about time.

Screen shot 2013-07-10 at 5.33.55 PMBecause if you haven’t been to Halls at Crown Center since it was downsized to make room for the new kiddie attractions, you’re in for some surprises.  The once proud mens store has been divided in two and relocated to the third floor of the main mall. The selection is down – the presentation diminished and lackluster – and from the looks of things, the buying public and some longtime staffers have more-or-less abandoned ship.

I used to shop there regularly until a small handful of years back.

As for what remains of the women’s store, “It isn’t merchandised well at all,” Thompson says. “It looks like it’s on a par with Sears or Penney’s. The product selection is very dated and matronly, and the way the mannequins are dressed – whoever did it had zero fashion sensibility.”

That brings us to Kansas City’s vaunted Ladies Room at Halls Plaza.

target1-1How the Crown Center Halls ladies room stacks up: It doesn’t.

“There were just three sterile stalls and like a shower room tiled floor,” Thompson says. “It’s very pedestrian and small.”

What no couch or chaise lounge?

“No, it was just like a bathroom you’d see at Target.”

The odds of attracting trendy Plaza fashionistas to the new Halls Crown Center? 

Good luck, Thompson says.

“For one thing they’ll need better merchandising and better product, because everything there is so tired. I have no reason to come to Crown Center. The Pen Place is nice, but I can get everything there online. The lobby bar’s way better and it’s got new furniture and new room dividers. It’s more modern, but it clashes with adjoining the botanical garden and the waterfall.”

Even the once mighty American Restaurant stopped serving lunch long ago.

8DEE12EC96F93C88F398599BD9FBCThe $64 billion question:

What might become of Crown Center if Hallmark Cards continues its drift into obscurity, eventually becoming extinct like BlockbusterF.W. Woolworth and so many industries of the past, dinosaurs that once ruled the earth?

What indeed.

And don’t expect minor league aquariums and Lego attractions to pay the piper when Hallmark no longer can.


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8 Responses to Hearne: Paradise Lost — The Crown Center Story

  1. Bob in Eudora says:

    I’d look for American Greetings to fail long before Hallmark.

  2. admin says:

    I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon.

    Just as Tony has been predicting the demise of the Star for years, these kind of things can, but usually don’t happen overnight. I don’t think the Star ever will go broke actually. They may get bought out, but all they need to do is continue to pare down until they shed enough middle management to be a lean, mean, reporting machine.

    Right now too many of those middle management guys are in a position to cover their own you-know-whats. And too many of the old school reporters just don’t have the mindset to get down in a three point stance and work their tails off, day in and day out.

    So it may in part be generational. The young, new reporters coming in are learning that they have to sing for each and every supper, where the guys I worked with could tread water on their beats to a large extent, in part because there so many bodies in the newsroom.

    Greeting cards are another matter.

    They already seem to be falling out of fashion and not that many people seem willing to pay for eCards or whatever you want to call them. Who even knows what will become of the Post Office when you get right down to it?

    Maybe sending paper cards will become retro cool like vinyl record albums have become. But people don’t buy albums in anywhere near the number they did when it was mainstream. And there’s no guarantee greeting cards will ever again be as mainstream as they once were.

    Especially with Boomers dying off at the rate of two to five pages in the newspaper obituary pages (plus the majority who opt not to advertise) per day.

    All of that said, when not sending greeting cards hits critical mass, the end could come ultra quick. Like it has been for Blockbuster.

    • Spotty says:

      I’d share two things to you here:

      – Yes! The Star needs to shed its expensive management structure. With most department heads in the newsroom making well over $100K a year, it’s utterly insane. There are way too many AME’s there running around, and they’re all petrified about jumping into the trenches and doing some work, preferring to manage in the old 90s style that doesn’t work at all anymore: I’m the Queen, you’re the Worker Bee.

      You could run that place with an editor – if The Star had one that chose to be in the office more than “sporadically” – and maybe three department heads. News, Online, Sports. Editorial needs to be completely reorganized sort of the way they bulldozed the newsroom.

      – What you may not know is that there’s absolutely no new blood coming into the newsroom. None. Zip. Zero. They could afford some interns this summer but they’ve hired absolutely no one except Va-hey and his wife, and a few part-timers (and they’re not “new blood,” just more Fannin drinking buddies).

      – Finally, The Star chooses to not to be Online First – which the company wants – as opposed to other McClatchy papers who are way ahead of The Star in that regard. So I wonder how that’s going to turn out.

      If they sacked Fannin and Mi-Ai The Star could return to being a decent newspaper. The news staff is capable, we all know that, but they’ve basically got management fingers up their butts constantly.

      Ok, three things.

  3. Franklin Rorretto says:

    “Maybe sending paper cards will become retro cool like vinyl record albums have become. ”

    Ever heard of Hammerpress on S.W. Blvd?

  4. Around 2009, they closed down the train store in Crown Center, and then the memorabilia store that had the giant autographed Bettie Page pin-up poster. Game over. Who the hell wants to go there now?

  5. Cheech lifting weights says:

    Is the Toon Shop still in Crown Center? They had great original animation cells.

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