Seniors in the greater Springfield, Massachusetts area are about to lose a popular spot to exercise and socialize.
When the Eastfield Mall closes for good on July 15th, an informal club of dozens of mall walkers will be displaced. That means finding a new safe place to exercise and socialize said Marie Lachance of Wilbraham.
“ We have to because we can’t stop walking,” she said.
For decades, the Eastfield Mall has opened its doors to the mall walkers, but soon the mall is going to be demolished and replaced with an open-air shopping center. The construction project will take at least two years, said Brian Kaplan of Onyx Partners, the new owners of the mall.
“The entire site will be fenced off so there will be no access during the construction period,” he said.
Addressing a group of about 30 mall walkers, Kaplan said once the new shopping center, which will be called Springfield Crossing, opens, the walkers are welcome to return. He said the developers are looking at adding a dedicated walking trail to the project.
“That is something we are certainly open to and currently exploring right now,” said Kaplan.
Springfield City Councilor Victor Davila, who chairs the Elder Affairs Committee, said he’s pleased the developers are willing to welcome back the walkers once the new shopping center opens.
“To me, it is about keeping the soul of the city,” Davila said.
But what to do in the interim during the two-year construction period?
Davila and fellow City Councilors Kateri Walsh and Zaida Govan will look into whether any city-owned facilities could be made available to the walkers. One suggestion is a community center with a gymnasium located about 5 miles from the mall.
For some of the longtime walkers there are emotional attachments to the Eastfield Mall. Mike Gahzil of Ludlow, who said he’s been walking in the mall every weekday for the last ten years, worked in a shoe store in the mall when it opened in 1968 and met his future wife there.
“It is going to be sad –a lot of memories,” Gahzil said of the imminent closing of the mall. “But, stuff happens and you gotta move with the times”
With the clock ticking toward the closing of the mall, efforts continue by the city and the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts to help relocate the remaining tenants which consist of about 40 mostly small local businesses.
Onyx announced in March that it would no longer charge the existing tenants for rent or utilities as a way to help with relocation expenses.