Northpark Mall has had its fair share of unique vendors over the years — from a Walgreen’s store to a two-screen and, later, five-screen theater; from a Roper Pontiac-GMC auto dealership displaying between 15 to 20 cars to the 90,000-square-foot temporary senior Joplin High School following the 2011 tornado.

But never in the mall’s nearly 45-year history has a store been operated by a person so young he is still years away from legally voting or drinking.

Alex Tran, a sophomore at Webb City High School, is the president of Treasured Forever, a new gift shop specializing in custom engraving that’s located near the Macy’s store on the mall’s east side (204 on the mall’s directory).

While most of his fellow 16-year-olds are flipping burgers or delivering pizzas, Tran can be found inside his store (when he’s not in school, that is), decked out in dark suit and colored tie, interacting with his customers.

“Being the president of Treasured Forever, to me, is just a job that I do — albeit a stressful one,” Tran said. “I enjoy the challenges that come with the territory. I choose not to look down on (his fellow age group) because I’m not any better than anyone else. From my point of view, everyone is good at something, and this is my something.”

A new direction

It was a car wreck that would force him to think about and eventually embrace the entrepreneurial path.

“I got rear-ended on I-44 east on July 21 (2017). I was completely stopped due to traffic being backed up (by) another accident,” he said. “The vehicle that hit me was going at least 35 miles per hour. The accident — and my then-girlfriend breaking up with me three days later — put me on my current path.”

The accident had aggravated a birth defect, spina bifida occulta. He quit his school’s marching band to focus his entire energy on his dream of managing and one day owning his own chain of stores.

“In my opinion, there is no greater motivator than pain — whether it is physical or emotional,” he said.

If the wreck hadn’t happened, he continued, “I honestly don’t know what I would be doing — probably something dumb. I don’t like to waste time thinking about the what ifs because we only have one life and what’s in the past is unchangeable. But you can still make an impact on your future.”

Getting down to business

Tran isn’t just a figurehead at Treasured Forever. He pretty much did it all to get the gift set up and running. Only his age prevented him from signing the lease agreement to the open his shop — his cousin’s name, Natasha Farmer, is found on the dotted line. But that was only because of legalities, he said.

“To get Treasure Forever running, I had to get my charter number from Missouri and create my business name,” Tran said. “Next, I had to get my EIN and state tax I.D. number. After that, I got the lease from CBL Properties. I also had to get my city and county tax licenses. Finally, I had to prepare the inside of the store.”

This honor roll student also hand-selected the displayed items on the sales floor — greeting cards, cups, glasses, stuffed animals, inflated balloons, picture frames, serving trays, etc. He even painted the store’s interior himself (sans suit and tie, of course).

“I am not aware of ever having such a young person with Alex’s ambition operating a store in the mall before,” said Elizabeth Mathews, marketing director for Northpark Mall. “He has really done a lot of his homework in regard to opening a business.”

Often, would-be tenants don’t have a detailed store concept. They will often overlook fees that can quickly add up, such as credit card fees, business licenses and payroll taxes, and those sort of things. Usually, some coaching is done to tighten up a concept, to trim away some of the fat.

None of this had to be done with Tran’s Treasured Forever.

“I doubt there are too many 16-year-olds that would have the desire to take on this much responsibility,” Mathews said. “It certainly creates an interesting conversation.”

Details: Treasured Forever hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Contact Treasured Forever, gift shop and engraving, at 417-680-9344 or check out the store’s Facebook page.

Missouri malls

As it stands now in 2018, Northpark Mall, which opened in mid-1972, is Missouri's sixth-oldest mall still in operation. Springfield's Battlefield Mall (1970), St. Joseph's East Hills (1965), South County Center in St. Louis (1963), Ward Parkway Center in Kansas City (1959) and The Plaza, also in Kansas City (1922) are older.

Numerous malls built prior to and after Northpark's construction have closed or have been completely demolished. Some of these include Northwest Plaza/The Crossings, built in 1963 and was one of Missouri's largest malls, covering 1.9 million square feet with 200 stores.

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