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Community members remember the Wausau Center Mall

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WAOW) — Dennis Ewing started  taking pictures before the Wausau Center walls came tumbling down.

"It was ahead of its time," Ewing said.

 Nearly everyone who ever shopped in the mall has a memory about it,     from current Mayor Katie Rosenberg to a former mall manager.

 "When I was a kid. I must have been 2 or 3, that's when I got my ears pierced at Clare's in the mall," Rosenberg said.

"we agreed to host a wedding at center court on super bowl Sunday, they were getting married in their packer gear and it was a great celebration, former manager Mark Craig said. "And we happened to win the super bowl that day."

In the beginning, the mall served as an regional shopping destination.

Current Marathon County Board member and former Wausau Mayor John Robinson remembers it as the economic driver for the city.

 "It was a cultural center, there were a lot of activities that took place, it was a commercial center," Robinson said.

Mark Craig took over management of the mall in 1996 and says its location in the heart of the downtown made it special.

"It was a unique property there are few successful regional centers and Wausau happens to be one of those," Craig said.

Its 3 anchor stores and dozens of specialty shops drawing shoppers from throughout north central Wisconsin, pumping millions of dollars into the area economy.

"It was like a city within itself: 1300 employees, 63 stores and seasonal kiosks; a lot of  activity."

It also drove other downtown developments.

"Washington Square, you saw the development of Main Street, Washington, the investment of the grand theater performing arts block, and the ultimate development of the 400 block," Robinson said.

Jim Tipple served as Wausau's Mayor from  2004-2016

"we always put a premium on the downtown because if you're going to have a first class city you need to have a first class downtown," Tipple said.

With the new millennium  the mall would undergo a multi million dollar facelift. Some love it, and others not so much

"It took so much away... It started to die with the 2006 construction where they had two ramps and took out the fountains," Dennis said.

then came  increasing competition from other retail  expansions in the metro area: the Cedar Creek Mall in Rothschild and dozens of new stores in Rib Mountain.

Then came the 2007 financial meltdown and an increase in online shopping.

"That really hurt malls around the country," Tipple said.

For the Wausau Mall, the retail apocalypse arrived in 2014 when anchor store JC Penney closed, followed two years later by sears and younkers in 2018. Which brings us to the demolition underway today and the end to an era.