The Westgate Mall in North Bethlehem is undergoing major renovations, causing six businesses to vacate their spaces.
The mall opened in 1973 and has undergone constant redevelopment for years. The six businesses Amateur Athlete, Fashion Nails, Hawk Music, Subway and Westgate Jewelers and Repairs, received notice on Jan. 20 that their leases would be terminated due to renovations.
The Wall Street Journal spoke with SiteWorks, which works with architecture and construction data. They found there are about 700 malls left in the U.S. as of 2022. In 1980 there were around 2,500. It is predicted that there will be about 150 malls left within the next decade, a decline attributed to low sales that came with a surge in online shopping, especially during the pandemic.
Phil Hawk, owner of Hawk Music, said the store has been in Westgate since 1973. He said he was aware of the plan for redevelopment, but the notice came with no warning.
“We had to be out within 30 days,” Hawk said. “It was really overwhelming when we saw the letter. I knew they would close us up at some point, but I thought they would give us more time.”
Hawk said he wishes to retire, but the business’s sudden closure leaves many factors up in the air.
“It feels impossible (to retire),” Hawk said. “It’s like we’re driving along at 55 mph, then we hit a brick wall. All of sudden you have to scramble and get all our (music) teachers into place and figure out how to liquidate everything.”
Hawk hopes to open up a new music store and said local businesses have offered space to hold music lessons.
He said Bethlehem’s music community has come together to help him during this transition, but he is baffled by the urgency of the change.
“It’s bizarre,” Hawk said. “We get that they want to do something with the mall — it’s the future — but give us a little more time.”
Another closing business is Amateur Athlete, a skateshop that has been open at Westgate for 36 years.
Joseph Yoo Jr., owner of the long-standing skateshop, said his leasing manager assured the business they would not need to worry about closing at this location.
But on Jan. 20, Amateur Athlete was given a 90-day notice.
Yoo said he’s concerned about the inventory they have left, and finding a new location for Amatuer Athlete is his main priority.
“I wish they gave me more of a warning,” Yoo said. “I understand if you want to turn this place into something else. I get it, it’s business, but they don’t understand how it affects my family. I just wish they would’ve been more upfront. Now that I look back, they were just telling me what I wanted to hear.”
Onyx Equities, which owns the mall, has not released any comments on the closing properties, and Yoo and Hawk said businesses are having difficulty contacting them. The Brown and White reached out for comment and did not receive a response.
Finance professor McKay Price said landlords can legally do whatever they want to their property within zoning limits. When they sign a lease to tenants, they give up some of those rights, but only for a duration that is stated in a contract.
In regards to the Westgate Mall, Price said there isn’t much the owners can do except look for new space.
“With kind of a glorious name you’d expect more than what you actually get (…) so it’s kind of underwhelming,” Price said. “Based off that, I’m assuming that the landlord wants to do something to refresh and restore and spruce up the place.”
Yoo said Onyx Equities is not renewing leases, but most tenants being forced out of the mall have started looking at alternative options.
Yoo said he hopes to find a new space in Bethlehem for Amateur Athlete.
Hawk said he believes it’s important that Bethlehem have a music store, and he wants the business to remain open for the community.
“It’s got to get done,” Hawk said. “Not for me — I don’t care about me. I’m done, I’m retired. But these people need a place to go, and there’s not going to be a place to go if we don’t figure something out.”