The Antonio Roberts series: Kima, The Dreamer

I worked at Branchmore Mall, a shopping outlet that had been in a state of decline over the years. Mostly due to the changing of hands from the original owners to several fly by night types who either lacked creative vision, capitol or both ... At least that was one woman's opinion.

Originally I worked as a receptionist in the morning and doubled as a janitor in the evenings. But once i got the gig working on the casino boat, I ditched the clean-up crew and worked strictly in the office. However, my ultimate dream was to own the whole kit and kaboodle before someone the city decided to demolish it and turn the property into less intimate strip malls; which according to some business experts was the wave of the future.

Some would say that I'm a dreamer ... I've always had ideas that didn't seem realistic in the eyes of those around me. I've always been the one to collect information of interest -- magazine articles or just creating a "favorites" page on my internet home page that was a mile long. For no other reason than the fact that something triggered something in my head. Something deep down in my subconscious was telling me that at some unforeseeable point in my life, I would need that data. Perhaps at some crossroads in my life ... Some fork in the road ...

That fork in the road came in April of 2003. The same mall that I'd been working at since high school had become a thorn in someone's side. They were practically giving it away. Well, not exactly. To be totally honest, Ii was able to own it after paying only two hundred dollars at a tax sale. Of course, in order to keep it, I had to pay "back taxes" in excess of $500,000. Daunting for someone who had exactly $1,658 in her saving account; only my current paycheck keeping my checking account open. However, I was a woman of God, a woman of faith even. Meaning that I was trusting in my spiritual resources to get me over what seemed like an insurmountable hump and into the land of prosperity.

All of this to say, I was going to fast and pray like crazy. That despite how difficult it was, I would say pure and untouched; believing that God would help me to chisel away at this huge inherited debt sooner rather than later. Definitely not an easy task considering how much time I spent with my boyfriend, Antonio Roberts.

Then again, Antonio knew where I stood on the topic of sexual matters. And even though I was pretty sure that he was screwing other chicks left and right. I knew that he loved me and wouldn't try to cross that line with me. Mostly because I wasn't having it and I'd made it clear that crossing that line of respect was grounds for termination.

Our relationship hinged on the terms that I wasn't going to make love to any man that wasn't my husband. That I was willing to spend all ;of my free time with him -- as much as he wanted -- but that I would never be entirely his unless we jumped the broom. A hard truth to enforce, due to the fact that I truly loved him and my body ached to melt with his. But deep in my spirit, I believed that my life had gone mostly drama free because I'd chosen to honor God with my mind, soul and body.

I stood inside of the mall -- my mall -- 2 hours before it actually opened for the day. I'd contacted all of the store owners personally and let them know that the mall was here to stay. Not as Kima the secretary, but as the head of the Kima Group.

in every corner of the mall ... From the main floor to the basement, to the administrative offices ... I lifted up my hands in praise. I thanked God for the now and the not yet. I thanked God for all that He had done, all that I He was doing presently and all that I expected Him to do in the future.

I must have looked foolish to the high school and young adult aged members of the buildings and grounds team -- though I think some of the middle aged men and women understood --- as I prayed and cried and leaped for joy. Then once my hair and twenty minute festival was over, I stat down on a bench and planned my next series of moves before adjourning to my office.

You have to know the history of something before you can move it forward into the future. So I did my due diligence , researching the parts of Branchmore Mall's history that I didn't already know. Such as the fact that the mall began as a U-shaped open air shopping center in 1954. Anchored by Ryan Sattler Department Store, a long gone grocery store chain, Walgreen's and another once popular department store among a fine roster of other long extinct stores.

Over the years, major stores had closed and been divided to make 10 other minor storefronts. Twenty years after opening, Walgreen's was goine and turned into a food court. From 1984 to the present, things went steadily downhill as box stores opened near the mall instead of taking up residence inside of the mall. At the same time, significant numbers of former consumers moved out of the area giving economic boosts to surrounding cities.

Neon signs now decorated the mall that showed the age of the building. There were signs that directed you to stores that hadn't been around for at least 15 years. Now it was time to decide whether or not to paint over them, tear them down, or leave them up as a memorial to the history of the mall. Maybe I would do the latter.

I remembered how the mall was when I was a child. Back when business was booming. Santa Clause would arrive by helicopter at Christmas time to take pictures with the kids and pass out cookies, candy and the thinnest coloring books you'd ever want to see.

I had a ton of memories of going to the mall with my mom ... Sitting in an enclosed igloo at the front of the former supermarket; reading books inside as my mom shopped. That was back when you could trust your kids to be where you left them. There was no fear of someone snatching them back then.

I remember getting a kick out of staring at the signs for each store -- Newberry's, Kinney Shoes, Lerner, Hush Puppies, Rosalee, GNC, Kay Bee Toys, Foxmoor, Fannie May, Armstrong Jewelers.

When I was a teenager, I still smiled when the Easter Bunny made his annual visit ... I remember the Branchmore Record store ... There was a restaurant inside of the one drugstore that had the best gelatin with a little spritz of whipped cream in a fancy glass champagne glass looking thing ...

There was the photo booth where friends would take photos and then shop for hours. I was always by myself though. I didn't have friends like that. But that was okay. The mall itself was my friend. Especially after my mother died and I became emancipated versus going off to live with some stray relative.

I wanted to bring back that vibe for a whole new generation. I wanted this mall to be a friend to the next girl like me who had no physical friends. The girl that just got full on people watching, writing in her journal and tapping her feet to the music playing over the PA system.

Presently there were a dozen or so empty stores. And the absolute eyesore of the mall was the long vacant food court. I was going to have to fill those empty spaces in order for the mall to have a fighting chance. But in the meantime, I had to consider the non vacant stores.

Ryan Sattler's oldest location was the one remaining anchor store. A department store with five floors full of merchandise; their customers -- though mostly elderly -- were ever faithful.

There was also a toy store, a women's clothing boutique, a health food store and a Hip Hop clothing store. Even with Branchmore mall serving as the punchline to many people's jokes these few stores had remained faithful and true ... So that's where we would begin -- a staff appreciation day.

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