The Fairgrounds Square Mall will soon cease to exist as it has for generations of shoppers in Berks County.
Hull Management Group, the Georgia-based company that owns the mall in Muhlenberg Township, announced Monday that it has begun the process of closing the mall's internal operations.
"Unfortunately, the interior shops have suffered a fate similar to hundreds of other enclosed malls and is no longer viable in its current configuration," said John Mulherin, Hull's senior vice president of government relations.
Plans are to close the interior of the mall, which includes only a handful of stores, later this month, however, Boscov's, Burlington, AMC Theatre, Baja Beach Tanning Club, Planet Fitness, Super Shoes and Quest Diagnostics will remain open for business, Mulherin said.
"It's been here forever, since I was a little one, and now it's going away," said shopper Felice Williams of Reading.
Longtime shoppers were saddened by the news Monday, but it didn't come as a surprise to many.
"I've seen the mall slowly deteriorate over the years," said Leon Neiman of Fleetwood. "We used to go Christmas shopping here. Now, it's empty. There's nothing here anymore."
Monday's announcement comes nearly two months after Michael Malinowski, president of the township's board of commissioners, criticized Hull for its lack of work on the 750,000-square mall, which the company bought in 2016 for $1.6 million.
Hull subsequently revealed to 69 News on February 21 its plans to redevelop the "failed property" by demolishing much of the existing mall and replacing it with green space and possibly a handful of retail stores, a hotel, and another restaurant.
"The mall is located in the very heart of the Muhlenberg Township retail corridor and is a prominent property in the community," said Mulherin, adding that it's Hull's belief that the "property can be successful as a shopping center with tactical redevelopment, demolition and strategic improvement, and work towards that goal has already begun."
Hull said it is currently working with the township to improve the 10-screen AMC Theatres complex.
"The renovation and upgrade would bring the theater into a state-of-the-art condition and offer new, modern amenities," Mulherin said.
"It looks to be a several-million-dollar development of the theater," so we're anxious to dig into that and hopefully, that's a good start," Malinowski told 69 News.
"In addition, we will be improving the existing pylon signage on the property and immediately repairing the asphalt damage on the ring road of the mall," Mulherin continued.
Mulherin specifically thanked Malinowski for his work with Hull in determining a path forward for the mall property.
"We look forward to continuing to work together to create a redevelopment plan for the continued operations of the successful exterior tenants and the prosperity of the Fifth Street retail corridor," Mulherin said.
"I want them to call, sit down and talk to us," Malinowski said. "They've made some baby steps. Let's hope they move forward and continue talking with us. We don't have a whole lot of control. It's their property."
The mall opened in 1980 on the site of the old Reading Fairgrounds. Over the years, it underwent numerous expansions that included the additions of two wings and a food court.