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Plano Market Square Mall: A Mall of Many Lives



PLANO, TX – These days there’s nothing particularly special about Plano Market Square Mall. The building near the Northwest corner of K Avenue and Spring Creek Parkway has become something of an afterthought. While neighboring businesses thrive, it seems to be a relic of the past with one lone tenant occupying the cavernous space. The only hint of better days is a towering flagpole. Void of Old Glory for years, it was once the world’s tallest, according to Guinness World Records. But that’s just part of the story.

The rest begins in November 1983, when famed radio host Paul Harvey was invited to lead grand opening ceremonies for what was then known as Outlet Malls of America. Using a five-horsepower electric winch, he helped raise a 5,000-square-foot flag 224 feet into the air.

TJ Maxx anchored the new retail outlet. Other stores included Finish Line, Children’s Place, Famous Footwear, Publisher’s Book Outlet, Diamonds Unlimited and The Card Barn. An opening-day full-page advertisement in The Dallas Morning News boasted that Outlet Malls of America was the next step in the country’s shopping evolution, following department stores, shopping centers and shopping malls.

“A mall of outlets. Convenient, comfortable and offering a large variety at consistent savings,” the ad said. “It’s the best of malls and the best of savings, together.”

For a time the mall thrived. In 1986, more than 200 peopled packed its corridors to work out with health guru Richard Simmons. However, the excitement didn’t last long. The mall was half empty by the end of the ‘80s. It was sold in 1988, and foreclosed upon in 1992. According to a 1994 Dallas Morning News article about the property, the outlet mall concept began failing at the time due to conflict with department stores.

Like the mall itself, the flagpole’s world record didn’t last long, either. In the spring of 1985, a 232-foot flagpole was erected in Alabama. Today, Plano’s brief record holder does not even rank among the world’s 10 highest.

By the ‘90s, the facility was known as Plano Market Square Mall. It received new life four years later when Garden Ridge Pottery announced plans to move there. This brought the mall back to full capacity for the first time in a decade. The following year Plano Antique Mall opened just inside the West entrance. Business thrived again before declining in the 2000s.

In 2016, Garden Ridge, now known as At Home, moved to a new location outside the mall. Since then, the antiques store has had the building mostly to itself. For years signs have warned visitors not to venture into the rest of the vacant 300,000-square-foot facility.

That’s not to say that others weren’t interested in purchasing the building or leasing space. There were in fact many offers. However, the mall’s owners were determined to make the property more than just a second-rate shopping center.

A Second Act for Market Square Mall

Matthew Loh and his family purchased the mall in 2003. They were Vietnamese refugees who immigrated to the United States in 1979 with literally nothing to their name.

In 1985, Matthew’s father founded Hong Kong Market Place in Arlington. Since then the business has expanded into two 40,000-square-foot stores in Dallas and Grand Prairie. When the Lohs first eyed Plano Market Square Mall, they envisioned an Asian shopping destination with Hong Kong Market as the anchor. The prevailing thought was that Garden Ridge would soon pull out. However, despite rumors to the contrary, Garden Ridge was doing well and committed to the site. For the Lohs, there was no need to disrupt an arrangement that was good for both parties.

After the economic downturn of the late aughts, Garden Ridge actually looked into purchasing the property, but the two sides were unable to reach an agreement. A few years later, when Garden Ridge restructured under the At Home name, the company decided to move to a new spot on Central Expressway that better fit its new business model.

By this time, East Plano had become saturated with Asian grocery stores, making the Lohs’ original plans unrealistic. Despite this, Matthew says he wasn’t ready to sell the property to just anyone.

“My family and I started to fall in love with Plano, specifically East Plano and the openness that it provides,” he said. “The more I got involved, the more I felt like I wanted to hold onto this property and make sure that it got repurposed correctly.”

Matthew became involved with Envision Oak Point, a guide created by a committee tasked with laying out the long-term vision for that section of the city. As he became more involved, he realized that his mall property was in many ways the key to the entire project.

It was not easy hanging on to a 95-percent vacant building. The little income he made did not come close to offsetting the costs. Insurance on a nearly vacant building is more expensive than a fully occupied one. Vandals were also a problem, stealing a large amount of copper wiring. Still, Matthew knew that agreeing to a long-term lease with new tenants would make the property less desirable to developers.