I rarely feature a one-photo blog article, but this post is an example where I have no real choice. I took a single photo on a lark, not realizing at the time that it would generate a significant analysis that justifies other photos to help flesh out the argument. Thankfully, as is often the case, archived photos from Google Street View help complete the deal, but it would have been nice if I could have furnished those additional images myself. Alas, I don’t plan on making my way to this patch of suburbia any time soon. Regardless, the fundamental claim should be clear.
And here’s the pic:
Coming from the interior of a restaurant, it features one of those placeholder (“you are this far”) multidirectional signs. I’ve covered them in the past, whether Afghanistan or rural Kentucky. Probably others, but those are the first two that come to mind. Most people find them affable enough. A multidirectional sign such as this isn’t usually all that useful in navigating the immediate area, but it offers an interesting conception of the earth’s magnitude. They often feature distances of far-flung locations, juxtaposed with something a lot closer. This one is no different. It features the capital of Malaysia, a prominent city in Thailand popular with short-term visitors (for various reasons), and…the restrooms. Probably a few other key destinations many thousands of miles away (I can’t remember), but “Bathroom” is the one most likely to interest patrons of this restaurant.
So what is this exotic locale harboring this multidirectional sign? It’s none other than Rasa Sayang, an apparently well-established Malaysian restaurant, which probably explains the Kuala Lumpur reference. And while I certainly don’t like to transform my blog into shameless promotion of a product or business, I can wholeheartedly recommend the place. But this isn’t about the food, nor even the multidirectional sign. it’s about the choice of location. Rasa Sayang recently shifted its operation and its multidirectional sign to a mall.
The Concord Mall sits just a few miles outside the municipal boundary of Wilmington, Delaware. Unlike most malls, Concord Mall isn’t particularly close to the junction of major interstates. Sure, it sits on an important highway (US 202), and Interstate 95 is just about three miles to the east. But that’s far enough away that it doesn’t really serve as a selling point, and plenty of other intersections would have been more effective as a built-in promotional tool for the mall. Concord Mall’s big advantage is that it is just a few thousand feet from the Delaware-Pennsylvania boundary—a heartbeat away from the expansive and affluent suburbs of Philadelphia. More importantly, Concord Mall’s location takes full advantage of the fact that Delaware lacks a sales tax, so Philadelphia customers seeking to save a few bucks can go to Delaware to make their purchases. It’s not the only Wilmington-area mall to capitalize on Delaware’s zero-sales-tax status, nor even the first one that I’ve featured: the Tri-State Mall really is at a junction of I-95 and an arterial state highway (Delaware 92), yet it’s all but completely shuttered. The income levels around Tri-State Mall were significantly lower than those around Concord, and Concord opened just a year after Tri-State (1968 and 1967 respectively), stealing much of Tri-State’s thunder, so while the two were both patronized in the 1970s and early 80s, Wilmingtonians always perceived Tri-State as a marginal competitor, while Concord offered the big-name department stores and inline tenants.
Tri-State limped through the 90s with escalating vacancy, finally shedding its last anchor tenant (the notorious Burlington Coat Factory) in 2017. More or less vacant of in-line tenants since 2015, the owners sealed the interior off to the public in 2019 to make way for a warehousing company; a few retailers with exterior access survive on one side of the structure. (The YouTube channel This Is Dan Bell features a walk-through of Tri-State a few months before its last tenants left; the austere, never-updated interior cemented its status as the cheap alternative mall to Concord.) Meanwhile, Concord Mall has recently shown more than a few telltale indicators of its own collapse: Sears announced its lease termination in early 2020, closing its last location in Delaware and leaving the mall approximately one-third vacant at that time. The multi-month lockdowns imposed by COVID-19 undoubtedly exacerbated conditions. And, sad to say, another telltale indicator that Concord Mall is dying is the opening of Rasa Sayang, which relocated last summer after operating more than a decade at another shopping center a couple miles down the road.
I don’t like to ascribe negative economic conditions to a locally owned small business, especially one that I patronized and liked. But the fact remains that a restaurant like Rasa Sayang locating in the front entrance is not a big win for the Concord Mall. Thriving malls, as a general rule, encourage nationally known chains, whether specialty clothiers, jewelry, housewares, or entertainment. And this includes restaurants. I’ll concede that the average mall food court, even in a thriving mall (if such a place exists in 2022), may still feature at least one or two deep-pocketed mom-and-pops. But Rasa Sayang located in this long-vacant spot, just to the left of a prominent mall entrance. This is not the food court, where tenants subject themselves to the mall’s interior policy, including agreed-upon closing times. Rasa Sayang enjoys outside exposure from US Highway 202 and can remain open long after the mall has closed for the night. Rasa Sayang moved its multidirectional sign and all other operations into the sort of place one might expect for a TGI Friday’s or Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesday, in previous retail generations. Rasa Sayang may prove highly successful–it’s already been in the area for over a decade–but mom-and-pops are usually more hesitant to make long-term lease agreements, and the fact remains that family-run restaurants have a much higher tendency to go into arrears on rent payments than the national brands.
Difficult though it was to explore the history of this restaurant-friendly leasable space on Concord Mall’s exterior, I could deduce using Google Street View that it was vacant for a good part of the last six or seven years. Before that, the space featured a barely visible Noodles and Company, a national chain that seems quite willing to close under-performing locations; this one only lasted a couple years. And, way back in the late 2000s, the space hosted a McDonald’s…along with a Ruby Tuesday to the right of the mall entrance (though Ruby Tuesday closed years ago to make way for Grub Kitchen and Bar, a much smaller chain, which in turn closed during the pandemic).
As much as one may want to cheer for an intriguingly ethnic local eatery colonizing space amidst all-American consumerist blandness, the Ruby Tuesdays and McDonald’s are redolent of strong economic indicators: heavier foot traffic, better sales per square foot, more lucrative leasing agreements. Namdar Realty Group, the owner, purchased Concord Mall about the time Sears announced its closure, in early 2020; the company’s huge portfolio includes mostly declining malls. Using its partner, Mason Asset Management, it aggressively pursues tenants with lucrative, low-cost leasing agreements, while only investing enough to maintain the mall’s appearance—no upgrades or massive reinventions.
These are the conditions under which Rasa Sayang planted its multidirectional sign. Doesn’t sound promising, right? Well, on a Friday evening, this eclectic Malaysian restaurant seemed to be doing brisk business, even after the mall had closed. And Concord Mall is still getting by: at this date, three of its four anchor tenants are still open—Macy’s, Boscov’s, Macy’s Home. Inline tenants include familiar national chains like H&M, Foot Locker, FYE, Bath and Body Works. At least one of the other exterior facing restaurants is also a widely known chain: Bonefish Grill. For at least the next three years or so, Rasa Sayang will probably do bang-up business.
However, if Concord Mall continues down its current path, after 2025 all I can say is that I wish Rasa Sayang the best (no promo).
10 thoughts on “Multidirectional sign at a mall restaurant: a guide to the restroom, but why not steer people back to the mall itself?”
Wow! I grew up near Concord Mall. It was one of the primary places we shopped. I drove past most recently in 2018 and wondered how it was doing in this age of declining malls. It actually sounds like it’s doing a bit better than I expected, though not for long.
It probably survives somewhat on the “Delaware advantage”, which has certainly helped Christiana mall from even declining slightly. But it’s just not quite enough for what always was a second to your mall. Concord mall got acquired by Namdar Realty a few years ago, which is a company notorious for its vampire-squid approach to wringing the remaining life out of distressed real estate. I I’d say it might still have about five viable years left for it largest into “dead mall“ territory. But I’m known for being unreasonably optimistic about these things.￼
One thing I can guarantee: Concord Mall is doing a whole lot better than tri-state mall.
To give you an idea of how close we lived to Concord Mall. Tri state mall is something that I _think_ I’ve heard of. We had no reason to go so far away from home.
Tri-State is the stuff of legends among dead mall aficionados. It was voted the ugliest and least visually appealing mall among voters at Labelscar a few years ago before it closed. I blogged about what was left of it a couple years ago. https://dirtamericana.com/2018/03/tri-state-mall-dead-gangrenous/?fbclid=IwAR2SGQeVj_VqRoKrRxpIQaWXDIuZXmDvpudPTadnJhCYnlCMzE0t744trow
“…the sort of place one might expect for a TGI Friday’s or Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesday.”
It took some digital archaeology through Google Street View, but yes, I did determine that Concord Mall had a Ruby Tuesday, a chain that seems to be shrinking toward obscurity. Same can be said for O’Charley’s. Not sure how Chili’s or Applebee’s or TGI Friday’s have managed to escape the same fate. Are any of them really that different from one another?
In some places (SR135, Greenwood) they’re even next door to each other.
In front of Walmart, across the street from Target. Of course.
I think you can add Bob Evans to the suburban “ubiquitous, but how do they survive” list.
Good to hear from you Chris. Yeah, Bob Evans is pretty easy to find across the eastern half of the US. Don’t quote me on this (I haven’t researched it) but I also think you can find them in fairly small communities (under 25K people), something that can be said for Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesday (on occasion) but not as much TGI Friday’s or Chili’s, which are more metropolitan oriented.
Outside of Chili’s, I haven’t been to any of these in at least a decade (and never Ruby Tuesday). I last stepped foot in a Bob Evans as a kid. And they’ve certainly receded much like Ruby Tuesday has. But I think their target demographic is older Boomers and the Silent Generation. As long as they can continue to appeal to that age cohort, they’ll manage okay–the equivalent of a sit-down version of MCL Cafeteria (and basically every metro Indy’s size has a mini-chain equivalent to MCL). But in the competition with Cracker Barrel (to which they largely resemble in terms of the type of food they sell), I’d say Cracker Barrel is almost certainly winning…and Cracker Barrel’s are even more likely to get located off the side of exit ramps, sometimes even in towns smaller than 10,000 people. In fact, while I’ve seen some Bob Evanses in the middle of a suburban stretch with no interstate in sight, with Cracker Barrel the exit ramps are basically always within in spitting distance.
It’s funny, the “exit ramp” Bob Evans locations in Indy have pretty much all closed. They were at most of the points of the compass around 465. The ones that are left are farther out in suburban strips…serving Boomers (and our surviving parents) as you pointed out.
I’ve never understood this, but I’ve noticed it too. Presumably the land around exit ramps is worth more than something two miles away from it. But, by this point in time, at last in Indy (but the same in most other cities), many of the beltway interstate exit ramps feature land uses that lean on the tawdry side: old former Targets/Kohl’s now used for “Peddler’s Mall” open only on weekends, degraded hotels (formerly Holiday Inns and Best Westerns) now serving as housing for drifters, and more recently, these aging facilities have gotten bulldozed to make way for…self-storage containers. What would be the advantage of a self-storage company locating right next to an interstate access ramp? They nearly always choose the areas with cheap land that are close to areas with higher value.
Cracker Barrel never chose exits on beltway interstates. They still choose exits on axial interstates (in the suburbs) or in minor cities after miles of rural emptiness. Probably a smart strategy.