Mall merchants were left stranded within weeks of the busiest shopping days of the year when Plaza Mayor mall closed Oct. 31.
The notice they received was dated Oct. 3, though most received the letter a few days before that.
In the face of those hardships, they showed the same determination to find a way that helped them succeed at the mall in earlier years once the mall was rebranded as Plaza Mayor at the beginning of 2013.
Some simply packed up and moved out within a few days.
Others moved out over the next several weeks.
Some stayed until the end of October.
All had to resort to a hurried plan, finding new locations as they could with Thanksgiving weekend fast approaching.
And after having spent savings to build out and maintain their shops in the mall that leased all spaces “as-is,” many of the merchants simply didn’t have the funds to find another equivalent space in the city on such short notice.
Some have rebounded and are working just as hard to establish their businesses elsewhere as when they first moved into Plaza Mayor.
This is a sampling of a few of their stories.
This reporter met Victor Leal when first reporting on the then-thriving Plaza Mayor for Oklahoma Gazette in 2015 while working as a freelance reporter before Free Press was established.
Victor had started in the mall with a very small slot selling snacks, but had expanded to four spots spread around the mall selling drinks, snacks and grilled food.
In 2015 he told us he was familiar with La Gran Plaza in south Fort Worth, Texas, where an old, dead mall had been converted to a Hispanic theme and was thriving.
Victor thought Plaza Mayor had the potential to be the same thing and so wanted in.
But then, when Free Press interviewed him in the first week of October we asked if he was disappointed to be leaving the mall after having put so much into his business there.
“No! I’m paying $3,000 per month for my spaces and I’m not making any money now.” Victor Leal said. “Once Robert Ruiz quit promoting the mall, business went way down.”
Ruiz was the marketing manager for Plaza Mayor from its opening in 2013 to Dec., 2015, when he resigned to become the director for Scissortail Community Development Corporation.
Victor found a well-used space with maintenance needs at 1225 SW 59th in Oklahoma City and set up shop quickly there, again selling snacks, drinks and hot grill food to order.
He believes that he will be able to stay there long enough to develop more loyal customers.
Victor Leal’s brother, Luis Leal, had a perfume and cologne store at a key intersection in the main mall at Plaza Mayor.
He had to take a spot in a weekend-only market, OKC Plaza Latina, 1050 SE 44th St, Oklahoma City, because he could not find another more suitable space so quickly.
But he is still in business even though it’s limited.
“I’m looking for a better space where many more people can have access to my shop,” said Luis.
He said he had to take the space he has because of the short notice.
And especially since his products are often purchased as gifts, losing a good spot for shoppers and regular customers to find him has hurt his business.
But he has a hopeful attitude as he moves forward.
“With God’s help I will find a good place soon,” Luis said.
John Connor started his North Pole Adventure in a series of tents in the parking lot of Plaza Mayor in 2014.
North Pole Adventure is an experience for children and their parents focused on the Christmas season.
Because it was such a success, he moved into a space inside Plaza Mayor in 2015 and 2016.
He was ready to go through another holiday season at Plaza Mayor in 2017 when he got the same letter others did.
“It took me eight months to build it out in the space I leased [at Plaza Mayor]. But we were able to put it all back up over here [in Midwest City] again in 43 days,” Connor said.
“We had already been planning a Black Friday opening. We had it already out on ads and flyers.” So he had to make it work by that deadline.
He also put out advertising and flyers to let people know about the move.
Still, he said about 25 people called him on Black Friday from the Plaza Mayor parking lot wondering where he went. It was an illustration of just how hard it is for a retail merchant to move locations successfully.
His new North Pole Adventure is in a much bigger, flexible space in a former Hobby Lobby at SE 15th and S. Air Depot Road in Midwest City.
But He told us he had to spend around $80,000 in “hard costs” for the sudden move from Plaza Mayor.
Connor told about the day he got the letter notifying him of the quick closure.
“I’m looking around at what we built and the little kids I remembered, smiling and laughing….I was having a little pity party.”
But then he looked up and saw a couple he recognized who had started in a shop just across the hallway from North Pole Adventure before later moving to another space.
They stopped and looked into the empty space where they started.
And they stood there a second, and I could tell she started crying. And her husband comforted her. And they started walking again and they got about half-way to the door and it happened again. And I remember thinking to myself that I have the means by which to relocate. Not easy. But there are a lot of people who don’t.
It was just one of many stories of merchants who had put more than time and money into Plaza Mayor. They had put their hopes and heart into it as well.