Comics Relief: Hard Times at the West Oaks Mall

What’s a struggling mall to do these days? How about turning off the air conditioning . . . and hosting a comic-book convention! Robert W. Boyd reports from the scene:

Despite a great location [on Highway 6 between Westheimer and Richmond] and not bad interior, West Oaks Mall is plagued with vacancies. And unlike malls like Memorial City Mall, West Oaks is not able to hide the gaps. . . .

West Oaks needed to occupy its empty stores (even if temporarily), or at least cover them up. And it needed to get people in the mall who could at least potentially patronize the remaining stores. So that’s where Comicpalooza came in.


A few of the shuttered stores:

So . . . how about that convention?

Their main dealer room was in an abandoned clothing store.

There were still dressing rooms left over from the previous tenant.

The other dealer’s tables were in the mall’s corridors, many of them strategically placed in front of empty storefronts.

As for the con, it was pretty modest. The dealers leaned heavily towards people selling their own artwork and/or self-published books. . . . The special guest was David Mack. My favorite tables belonged to Rev. Chris Self from Katy, David Hopkins, and “Kaley.” Self does a comic called Sack Tap.

It’s amazing to imagine a comic book being published in Katy. Next thing you know, someone will tell me that there is a free jazz combo in Kingwood, or a conceptual artist in Sugarland.

The fun never [stops] at West Oaks Mall!

Even West Oak’s sign looks pathetic.

So Comicpalooza was not the greatest con I’ve attended (but far from the worst!). The turn out was pretty decent despite the swine flu craziness. For West Oaks Mall, they probably made a little money out of it.

So malls that are suffering from high vacancies–turn your empty stores over to comic conventions, or craft shows, or bridge tournaments, or even avant-garde art installations!

Photos: Robert W. Boyd

11 Comment

  • Wow, things have gone downhill for that mall really fast. When I visited that mall last summer, it didn’t have as many vacancies, and was fairly busy. (Granted, this was on a weekend.) The only major problem I saw was Steve and Barry (which had always struck me as a ghettoy version of Meryn’s) in the process of closing.

  • At first glance you would think West Oaks is in a good location, but the location is plagued with problems.

    Alief just to the south drives away more affluent shoppers that keep the larger stores there. On top of that, many of the potential shoppers in the area can easily go to Memorial City Mall that has pretty much everything or just drive down to First Colony which has everything also.

    The Town Center on the Beltway near Memorial City Mall also has all the shops if you happened to want to avoid the mall.

  • Wow.. Hadn’t been to W. Oaks Mall in quite some time.. It used to be one of the nicer malls of West Houston way back in.. hmm.. 20 years ago I guess?

    Next thing you’ll see, they’ll sell out to be another mega Garden Ridge!

  • I used to date a conceptual artist in Sugar Land. I think he moved to Stafford though.

  • The only thing worth visiting at that mall is the Alamo Draft House. Beer + Movies + Crap food = a decent Wednesday night.

    THE CHAIRS SUCK THOUGH. They are wikkid uncomfortable.

  • I stopped by this. I hadn’t been out there in years. The mall was dead, the stores are everywhere else in town. The location of the mall doesn’t seem to be where people live/work to support it.

    And the mall design – the columns are out in the middle of the main hallway about 10′ from the front of the stores. not very convenient to see in the store or walk in/out of the stores.

  • When I wrote this blog post, it was about West Oaks Mall and about this particular comic book convention, but more important, it was about a strategy for survival in difficult retail times. Just last month, the second largest mall owner, General Growth Properties, declared bankruptcy. More mall holding companies may follow in the next year. Dead malls are a drain on an area, just as are foreclosed houses and empty stores.

    It may be that West Oaks Mall is not salvageable. I don’t mind too much if it goes under (aside from a general desire not to have dead malls around, and worries about the human cost), but the issue is not West Oaks Mall–it’s all malls.

    What I liked about the comic convention was that it was a temporary, community-oriented strategy. It made a little money for West Oaks and brought people into the mall. A comic book convention is a commercial endeavor, but it is also a way for a certain community of people to get together and hang with their fellow weirdos (of whom I am one) from the area.

    It seems to me that Malls could engage similar strategies to bring together other subcultural communities. The custom car gang, the bridge-playing seniors, the local craftspeople, etc. Right now, these people meet, when they do, at churches or community centers. If I were in charge of marketing at a mall, I’d do outreach to these kinds of groups. This kind of outreach can possibly generate a little money for rental of the facilities and more importantly, bring members of the local community through the doors–and Malls trying to make it through the recession need bodies and revenue…

  • Chasing off roaming bands of kids in baggy pants making gang signs is the only way to save a mall like this. Unfortunatley they would need to have started doing that about 5 years ago. I stopped going back to Alamo Draft House after I had trouble getting in the front doors that were blocked by dozens of little pseudo gangsters.

  • Just let me know when the major department stores are closing so that I can get great deals.

  • Is that funnel cake place still there?

  • lols we used to call West Oaks ‘the galveston of all malls.”