Eastgate needs to return to a thriving destination

Published 7:36 pm Thursday, August 9, 2007

By Staff
As a youngster, I can remember riding my bike daily with friends to what was then a booming Eastgate Shopping Center. One of our favorite stops was the Shell gas station, where we would buy loads of candy with our $1 in change that we dug up from under our beds or found in pant's pockets. We actually got a lot for our money – Bazooka gum, suckers, jolly ranchers. I think they were about five cents a piece (This helps explain where a lot of my cavities came from!)
After a pit stop for some sugary delights, we were off to Nightwinds to see what, if any, new music and movies came out. Those were the days of VHS tapes, Nintendo games and cassette tapes. Those were the days when scary movies – like Friday the 13th and Killer Clowns from Outer Space – were popular. Super Mario Brothers and Paperboy seemed to always be rented out, and if you got the new Salt-N-Pepa or New Kids on the Block tape you were the coolest kid on the block, literally.
After Nightwinds, it was off to G.L. Perry's. Everybody loved that store. We would just walk around, looking at everything. I think I even recall the song … "We've got something for everyone and we've got something for you." Obviously not my American Idol debut, but you get my drift.
From there, we would visit Fashion Bug, DeMonds, Rite Aid and the last stop always seemed to be J.C Penny's, where trying on clothes was an everyday occurence, even when we didn't have money. It was still fun to pretend.
Those were the days. I grew up in Oak Manor and I must say I have some very fond memories of the entire neighborhood.
Time passed, though and as all of my best childhood friends grew older and grew apart, everything changed. My family and I moved into a new home and more and more stores were closing in the shopping center.
I drive by Eastgate almost everyday now and can't help but shake my head and wonder what really happened? A lot of my childhood memories are now hidden behind piles of boarded up windows. It's just sad to see something that was once a hot spot in Niles is now a yellowish tan pile of who knows what, with weeds growing between the cracks on the cement. I'm sure all of the stores are unrepairable at this point. It was nice to see Dollar General in there. They seemed to do very well and it allowed people on that side of town to not have to travel in the city limits just for a carton of eggs or some butter. Unfortunately, the building itself is old and they were forced to close as well due to problems.
Isn't there a way we can make something happen? I know somebody in "I have no worries" California owns it, but is this town going to let something like that continue to make people frown when they drive by? Imagine what out-of-towners think when they see this great piece of property lifeless. I can't even stand to see it and I live in this town. There is so much potential and there has to be something we as residents can do.
Some have mentioned tearing it all down and starting over with new stores. Others have mentioned new homes or apartments. My opinion, stick with the stores. We don't need anymore homes in this town right now, especially when brand new ones aren't even selling. We need jobs! And I think another shopping plaza would do just fine in that location. Bring in stores we don't have right now. How about a few nice clothing shops? A few small delis or restaurants, a smaller grocery store, there is no reason they wouldn't make it. Something like a small outlet mall would be nice too. I do not like driving to Mishawaka just to buy some jeans. It's not a far drive, but I don't like the traffic.
People have came up with a lot of great ideas as to what they would like to see go in there. If there is something we can do, let's do it. Niles has come way too far over the past few years and doesn't deserve old run down buildings taking away from its beauty.
Where there's a will there's a way, so let's do something about it.