The American shopping mall’s life story parallels the post-war rise of the automobile, the popularity of suburbia, and the Baby Boomer generation that fueled them all. In human years, malls are now reaching retirement age, and like the Boomers they’re either fading away or reinventing themselves.

These air-conditioned suburban main streets offered the ultimate in shopping convenience for transplants from the cities. But now, it’s easier for shoppers to crank up their computers than their cars. When bricks-and-mortar stores in malls no longer made financial sense, the “anchor store” retailers changed their business models, and the hollowing-out of mall space began. Across the country, mall properties have died, or they have become community centers or live/work spaces or health care facilities or even farms, among other things.

In Citrus County, we’ve witnessed these life changes with the Crystal River Mall. The original anchor stores have long since vacated, and the only entities of size any more are the Rural King store and movie theater.

Mall manager Millie Bresnahan has worked tirelessly to reinvigorate Crystal River Mall by attracting more, and more relevant organizations. She has hosted a variety of community activities over the years, and has attracted smaller, more specialized retailers. Earlier this year, she announced the opening of the Citrus Executive Hub, for office- and meeting-space sharing (and it has a podcasting studio, as well).

Now word comes of a novel new amusement venue moving into the mall. Brainchild of local entrepreneur Dave Perry, owner of Hunter Springs Kayak, the Just Amuse Me (JAM) entertainment center will open soon in the old Kmart space. It will feature electric go-kart racing, rock-climbing walls for all ages and ability levels, a mirror maze, and an axe-throwing parlor. Perry says he hopes to open the first phase within 60 days, and have a full buildout before next summer.

Those who complain about having “nothing to do in Citrus County” simply aren’t paying attention to the water sports, the hiking and birding opportunities, and the biking trails, among other things. But now, with the addition of JAM’s fun indoor opportunities at the mall, even the most sedentary will have something to amuse them. Perry says that there will be plenty of seating and viewing areas for those who just want to watch the action as well as those who want to participate.

We applaud Perry for taking this step for innovative use of existing space. We also hope that JAM at the mall will jump-start even more entrepreneurial thinking. There’s plenty to do in Citrus County, indoors and out.

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