By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO January 17, 2003 Village of Monticello Mayor Gary Sommers walked the hallways of Apollo Plaza Tuesday morning, saddened by what he saw.
The roof leaked in several places. Frost accumulated on windows that were inches thick. Most stores were empty, and the entire mall had the feel of an abandoned ghost town.
I wish I could do more for them, Sommers said numerous times about the store owners and their employees.
Thats why he traveled to the fading mall Tuesday to offer any assistance from the village and himself before the entire structure was condemned Wednesday.
Sommers wasnt the only one in a somber mood that day, either.
It is sad to see the retail business leave, remarked Sullivan County District 9 Legislator Jim Carnell, Jr., whose district includes the Apollo. I have talked to most of the shop owners most have relocated. As sad as it is, they had to do something. The village did take the appropriate action.
The once-thriving mall, home to nearly 40 stores in the 80s and early 90s, was only left with about eight as of this week and those that didnt close outright have been forced to make a move. And the new spot has not always been in Sullivan County.
Book Avenue is headed to Playtogs Plaza in Middletown. Both JAM Handbags and Sandees Hallmark have new Monticello locations (Thompson Plaza, the old Ames Plaza, for JAM; and Mountain Mall, the old ShopRite Plaza, for Sandees), but they will not be ready for several weeks. Other stores such as Sears, Citi Casuals, and RUE 21 were looking for new locations. They are being assisted by the village, the Town of Thompson, and the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce.
Unfortunately, this was a long time in coming, Sommers stated. The village was handed this problem by the county. If they would have handled it at the right time, it would have been done. We cannot blame the owner financially, they would not be able to fix it.
If they enforced the code at the time the mall was doing well and had money, we could have avoided all this, Sommers continued. We inherited this, and we had no choice.
Thats not true, commented District 5 Legislator Rodney Gaebel when told of Sommers remarks. The county did a number of things with Apollo, short of closing it. We worked out a certain amount of revenue with the IDA to fix the code violations. We extended the time frame for them to do so. The problem was the previous owner put no money into the infrastructure. We did everything short of closing it to get it into compliance.
When asked to comment about Sommers statements, County Manager Dan Briggs had just one response: Hes literally out of his mind.
In the meantime, exactly who Apollos owners are remains a matter of contention. On the title, the owners are listed as the Unkechaug Indian Nation, who at one time planned to turn the mall into a high-stakes bingo parlor. However, that did not come to fruition, and the mall was eventually sold to ABC Pacific, which was running the mall.
Yet while the money was exchanged, ABC refused to take title.
Village Building Inspector James Artale made numerous attempts to contact all involved and said he received no response.
But he had no choice except to condemn Apollo. The code violations were numerous. The parking lot had huge potholes. The back was blocked and was a fire hazard. The sprinkler system had not been inspected in years. The roof had several leaks. The building had no heat. The electricity was due to be shut off at any time (those responsible for paying the electricity bills were convinced to keep it on until the mall was padlocked).
At the Sullivan County Legislatures Planning and Community Development Committee meeting on Thursday, January 9, Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development President Michael Sullivan announced a brewery was interested in the mall. They were told it would cost $150,000 an acre. With that price, interest has dried up.
So for the foreseeable future, the mall will remain vacant. Store owners will be allowed to get their inventories out, but after that, all indications are that the building will simply sit and deteriorate.
What do I say to these people? Sommers asked over and over as he stepped around buckets catching icy water leaking into the mall. I feel so bad.
Sommers left a few more of his business cards, offered condolences to somber employees and then slowly walked out of what remained of the countys only indoor mall.
Its so sad, he said.