Decade Long Plan for a Strip Mall on College Avenue to be Finished by the Fall 2023 Semester

Photo by Jo Potter

After a decade in development, steel beams are finally going into the empty lot at the end of College Avenue. Earlham College is partnering with Demao Retail and Thor Construction Company to build a strip mall that will include breakfast food, a drive through, and outdoor seating. While the project is behind schedule due to the pandemic’s effect on steel supply chains, administrators expect that the strip mall will open before the Fall 2023 semester. Administrators also hope that the strip mall will be the social space that the campus has been lacking, particularly since the pandemic. President Houtman said, “A real priority for me from the beginning is to create a more engaging and dynamic campus community, because you guys have been through COVID and I kind of shut everything down…I want to see Earlham be everything it can be.” Many students aren’t aware of the details of the construction. After hearing about the strip mall, Caleb Bove said that he looked forward to having a restaurant that he could walk to on the weekends. Caleb said that for students without a car “if you want to go to an eatery or some other place, even if it’s relatively close…even if it’s the Dairy Queen…you have to walk along the highway, which is loud and not fun.” While it’s safe to say that many students would like there to be a comfortable place to eat and socialize, community members in the surrounding neighborhood expressed concerns. The Earlham Word interviewed multiple neighbors living on National Road West for their perspectives on the future development. Everyone interviewed requested anonymity. One resident was skeptical that the new restaurants would make money because of the failure of the smoothie shop Java Juice, which was closed and turned into the Speedway on National Road West. Another resident, who lived on College Ave for over a decade, said that the strip mall “clearly changes the character of the neighborhood. Especially those of us that live close to it.” The resident’s concern was that there weren’t many permanent residents in the neighborhood, and that the strip mall would make College Ave less attractive to families. They added that the strip mall is, “less than desirable…if you got a young family with children. You aren’t going to buy a house this close to commercial development.” Whether or not the strip mall attracts or deters families from moving into the neighborhood, the houses, which are listed as historical buildings in the “Wayne County Interim Report” of Indiana’s historic sites and structures, have been destroyed. The houses that occupied the end of College Ave were Jay House, Rowntree House, and Hicks House; administrators said that repairing the houses was too costly. While the community has mixed feelings, everyone I spoke to wanted the strip mall to be successful. Seniors will have to come back to Earlham for a cup of coffee a decade in the making.

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