Greenwood Park Mall stirs up fond memories for long-time residents
Writer / Michelle Kaufman
For decades, children and families have visited Santa at Christmastime. For Julianne Butler growing up, Santa Claus was someone she saw all year — her grandfather.
Butler has photos of her and her sister sitting on Santa’s lap at the Greenwood Park Mall before the mall was enclosed and before they knew that Santa was their grandfather. J. William Betner was a mason and member of the Scottish Rite and owned a ring that Santa also wore.
“So, as we got a little bit older and a little more observant, we were like ‘why does Santa have the same ring as Papa?’ [Our mom said] ‘well, they’re in the same club.’ My sister and I just kept buying it,” Butler recalls.
Santa would come to the Greenwood Park Mall after Thanksgiving in a small helicopter. He would get out, pass out candy to all the kids who had gathered around the parking lot, and then meet Santa in a little house outside of Woolworth’s.
Butler’s grandmother never went in the helicopter or to the mall with her grandchildren. Butler’s older sister found out who Santa was before her but continued to play along.
“I was the last to find out,” Butler says. “We did that for many, many years. It’s so funny because a few years ago a lot of my Facebook friends that I went to high school with … they would put a picture of them on Santa’s lap, and it’s my grandfather,” Butler said.
Even when Butler found out Santa wasn’t real, she still didn’t piece it together until that next Christmas. A photo of Butler and her sister on their grandfather’s lap is on display in Butler’s home all year.
“We just thought it was so cool that our grandpa acted like Santa. Rather than being disappointed, we thought we were cool because our grandfather was Santa,” Butler says.
She still lives in Greenwood, and said despite all the growth that Greenwood has seen, she still runs into people she knows often.
“I love to see our town grow, our city grow, just all the great things that are happening,” she says. “It’s so funny because my sister and I laugh, we never thought we’d be those people that are like, ‘I remember when the mall was only five stores,’ but we do that now,” Butler says. “I remember when it was enclosed- that was a big deal when it became enclosed. We thought we had arrived, like we were getting the best mall ever because they were enclosing it.”
Becki Habig worked at three stores in the Greenwood Mall and remembers when it was enclosed. She had cheerleading competitions and her senior prom at the mall as well.
She spent a lot of time at the mall working and also going to Woolworth’s café with her dad.
“It was like a Saturday thing,” she says. “We’d always get milkshakes and sit on those round stools. That was also so cool. I remember Sears had a cafeteria too, so sometimes we’d eat there.”
Habig’s first “real” job was at The Shirt Shack in the 80s, and she remembers having all the different shirts customers could choose from all around the room.
“All the cool kids came in and got t-shirts printed,” Habig says. “I mean, we were stacked from the front of the store to the back of the store, people in line.”
Jeff Thompson currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, but his career was inspired by the mall’s construction. He was in high school when the mall was being renovated, and he didn’t realize the significance of the architecture of the old building until later.
He saw how the mall’s renovation allowed Simon Property Group to maximize the land to build restaurants that are now Chili’s and On the Border.
Thompson is currently a real estate appraiser and development consultant. He looks at demographics and spending patterns and says it takes a certain level of objectivity to fully utilize real estate.
“A lot of [my job] is looking to maximize highest and best use of property, and I’d like to think that my formative years of thinking along that line was witnessing the changes that were made at the mall,” Thompson says. “They were utilizing land economics that you didn’t normally find in Indiana, land economics that you’d find in bigger cities across the country and it was really cutting-edge.”
When he moved to Atlanta, Thompson met people who work at Chick-fil-A headquarters, and a lot of them knew Greenwood. In the 80s, Greenwood was one of the first places that Chick-fil-A expanded to.
“It was sort of a key location for them outside of the southeast, and back then, Chick-fil-A was not a known thing,” Thompson says. “All we knew is that this company from Georgia was opening up a restaurant that sold nothing but chicken sandwiches and it was in the mall.”
Today, the Greenwood Park Mall is a part of the Simon Property Group. The mall has more than 150 stores both indoors and out, and includes restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory and BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse. To learn more visit simon.com/mall/greenwood-park-mall.