Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Last Super Kmart in Georgia


Kmart these days has a lot in common with a former discounter that is slowly being forgotten: Zayre. Like Zayre, Kmart was once a leading retailer covering large areas of the country (actually all for Kmart) that fell under poor management and began to decline. Like Zayre, it earned a reputation for being poorly stocked and having a poor selection. Like Zayre, it has earned a reputation as low-class or basically a ghetto store. What is left to be answered is will it disappear in 2008 like Zayre did 20 years earlier in 1988? While Zayre lived on awhile as Ames, it was the big lead weight that eventually sunk everything it landed on...in its case the entire Ames chain. Kmart and Zayre indeed have a lot in common, and time will tell if Kmart sinks Sears the way that Zayre sunk Ames.


What Zayre did not have was supercenters. They did not exist when Zayre was around, but Kmart still has a few. In fact, there is only one left in the entire state of Georgia: Rome. I still have a receipt from the Gainesville location during its going out of business sale back in 2003, so it is a treat to see that one remains. Indeed, the Super Kmart in Rome exists as an anomoly and possibly a prototype in a town where it must compete with two Wal-Mart supercenters. The only ace it does have...Target so far has not shown any interest in this small city in Northwest Georgia. The nearest bullseye is in Cartersville over 20 miles away.


While the Super Kmart in Rome is quite nice, it definitely tends to serve a more diverse clientele than many Romans would prefer to mingle with. It was not always that way, but it did not help when Supercenter #2 opened down on U.S. 411. While the Super Kmart is still in the commerce center of the city, it has a tough time competing. For me, I'm just glad it's there to offer an alternative. It is actually a very clean and nice store inside with quite attractive decor and a decent selection for Kmart. In fact, it is not unlikely this will end up being one of the first Sears Grand stores in Georgia. The Super Kmart also has a service station called K Express in front of the store, and I have fueled up there many times trying to take the edge off of the soaring gas prices.


Just as additional information, the Super Kmart is oddly located right across from what was once Rome's major mall: Riverbend Mall on the site of East Rome High School, which was demolished in the early 1990's for the store.

Photos featured here include Super Kmart in 2006 with its new orange and green theme, photo in 2005 with more Wal-Mart like colors, fading sign on Turner McCall Blvd. (U.S. 27) with a Kroger sign beneath. The Kroger has since moved across the street into the redeveloped Riverbend Mall, now a strip center. The last photo is of the K Express service station in front of the store.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Ansley Mall


Traveling over Georgia, I had honestly believed there were no open-air malls left from the 60's and 70's. I was wrong. Nestled in the Morningside area near Midtown was one of the best preserved specimens of an open-air mall: Ansley Mall. Built in 1968, it is not a mall in the sense of what you typically would call a mall. This little open-air mall features maybe 25 tenants and a Publix grocery store. The Publix was not original to the mall and was built on the site of what had been originally a Big Star. Other major tenants at the mall include CVS Pharmacy (probably a former Revco), Piccadilly Cafeteria (previously Morrison's Cafeteria, next to the Publix), Moe's Southwest Grill, L.A. Fitness (formerly Woolworth's) and a Pet Supermarket. Many of the tenants at the mall have entrances both to the main parking lot and to the mall itself.



When I first saw Ansley Mall on the map, I thought it was just a glorified name for a strip. Au contraire, it is definitely a mall and quite attractive though gaudy with its 80's-style reddish decor. This mall would probably also not be well-known outside of the area beyond those that shop there. I had heard of it, but never knew where it was or what was in it previously. What I do know of Ansley Mall is that it is located at the heart of the gay community in Atlanta, which is a major reason this mall did not fall on hard times like its sister mall near Lakewood.


Regarding its sister mall, this twin known by several names is located off of what was then Stewart Avenue (now Metropolitan Parkway) near Hapeville and is feature in a later post. Unlike Ansley Mall that caters to a slightly upper class crowd, the other mall fell on hard times and is partly vacant with much of the abandoned portion destroyed by a fire several years ago.


Photos include main entryway, part of the mall, lush vegitation at opposite end of mall next to the Piccadilly (pictured on the right), more of the mall with a Moe's Southwest Grill sign overhead and a view of the center court (click on the image for larger size).

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Proffitt's


Before becoming Belk, Proffitt's had a good run in Georgia even though it was a department store mostly associated with eastern Tennessee. In Georgia, it pretty much lasted here from 1992 until Belk bought it out in 2005. How it came into Georgia pretty much came as a result of several consolidations.


Proffitt's existed in Georgia in two locations: Dalton and Rome. At both of those locations, Belk was already there as well. In regards to Belk in Rome, it was known as Belk Rhodes while in Dalton it was possibly originally Parks-Belk. Proffitt's, however, had started out as two different stores for each town. In Rome, it was the only Georgia location of the Miller's (Miller Bros.) Department Store, which was centered in Knoxville. In Dalton, it was the Chattanooga-based Loveman's (not to be confused with Loveman's of Alabama).

Proffitt's came first to Dalton in 1988 when the small Loveman's chain was purchased by the expanding Proffitt's, which originated in downtown Maryville, TN. The expansion of Proffitt's was a rather strange phenomenon considerings its origins as a small town department store south of Knoxville. The notion of how it came to trump Miller's was rather strange, but Miller's itself was bought out two years earlier by Pennsylvania-based Hess's.

For a few years, you had Hess's in Rome and Proffitt's in Dalton. Hess's moved from the flood-prone Riverbend Mall to the shiny new Mt. Berry Square in 1991 and only a couple months later it became Proffitt's. That's how there became two locations. Proffitt's by then had gone expansion crazy and had locations in about seven states and bought out Saks Fifth Avenue and McRae's in Alabama. The expansion did not go over well in many areas and the chain began hurting and retracted back in those places.

By 2005, Proffitt's sold out to Belk because of the decline of the chain. Belk was a good fit for all these stores and the small size of most locations made the Belk conversion easy since they could simply expand their departments in two buildings in the same mall. Belk also gained much greater prominence in Tennessee and Alabama, where they had previously had a very limited presence.

Photos include the Proffitt's at Mt. Berry Square Mall in Rome (now Belk Home and Kids) and the Proffitt's at Bradley Square Mall in Cleveland, TN (now Belk).

Monday, July 10, 2006

Columbia/Avondale Mall: Decatur, GA


Georgia Retail Memories was the second site to bring you detailed online information about the then-abandoned Columbia Mall, known in later years as Avondale Mall as well as a few interesting pics not available previously. After my post, a few other people took pics after I did. One person actually managed to get inside to get a few angles I couldn't. Perhaps I should have tipped the security guard that day to get an "inside" tour that had been free only a couple years before I got those pics. "Discovered" abandoned malls tend to become viral on the web these days.


A short version of the history of that center was that the mall was opened in 1964 soon after its anchors were opened. Story is that the anchors were built with just an open area of dirt inbetween which was later filled by the one-story center with only one entrance. The original anchors to the mall were Davison's and Sears and it was the first enclosed mall in Georgia. General decline of the area enhanced by white flight and competition from other malls killed the center and it started faltering in the late 1970's. Sears first left in 1984 with the store serving as a Sears Budget Store for a short while after. Davison's also operated a clearance center in the mall in that time.

In 1985, Columbia Mall was renovated. Following this, the mall was given its new name it would have the remainder of its life: Avondale Mall. Unfortunately, the renovation did absolutely nothing to save the mall. The problem with Columbia Mall was not as much the neighborhood as it was just too close to the other malls and too far from the interstates. Columbia had never fully recovered from the opening of Northlake Mall, and Rich's across the street left Belvedere Plaza on January 15th of the following year as the neighborhood declined just enough to remove justification of having three Rich's stores that close together. Later on, Davison's closed there as a Macy's Clearance store in early 1992. By that time, the mall struggled, reinvented itself and languished until it finally died quietly in December 2001.


With no anchors, the mall struggled the best it could. A 16 screen movie theater was added into the old Davison's. The mall itself was expanded into the old Sears, including a short-lived Goody's. The mall's outside entrances of all of its front facing stores kept the mall viable as a semi-strip mall until the end. Then it sat vacant: until Wal-Mart was interested in the site. Wal-Mart had bought and planned demolition as early as 2004, but the project was delayed due to community opposition being planned on the site of the mall. Local residents saw better uses for the place then another smiley-faced monstrocity that in time would leave something much more unsightly vacant than an empty mall standing as a curious monument to 1960's architecture combined with some 90's uglification.

In spring of 2007, Columbia/Avondale Mall was torn apart with cranes and wrecking balls to be replaced with a forgettable box. County leaders hailed the project as a success, because no community wants to be stuck with a rotting, abandoned mall. While the Wal-Mart was good for the short term revitalization efforts of the area, a discount store is hardly a realistic tool for neighborhood revitalization. Nevertheless, the store was badly needed as the neighborhood had a huge shortage of discount stores as well as other retail. It is hoped that at least the store will have a positive effect on Belvedere Plaza.



The photos here feature the inside of the main mall entrance, Avondale Cinema sign (which opened in the old Davison's), looking inside the old Sears (part of the mall later), overall view with Davison's in the background and lastly the old Sears.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Davison's


Atlanta had two big department stores: Rich's and Davison's. Atlanta also had Kessler's, Muse's, Regenstein's and Allen's, but these were the big two and most remembered. Rich's was the reverenced store while Davison's played second fiddle, though ultimately they sold basically the same merchandise. Still, at the time it was pretty unmistakable which was the better store, and owner R.H. Macy, Co., which had bought out the much smaller Davison-Paxon-Stokes Co. in 1925 decided 60 years later in 1985 that the local division of Macy's for Atlanta was no longer worth keeping local.


Davison's was actually more expansive than Rich's in Georgia with not only the big downtown store on Peachtree Street, but also downtown stores in Athens, Columbus, Macon and Augusta during its 60 years. Davison's, however, was much slower than Rich's to hit the suburbs across Atlanta.


Being tied to Macy's, Davison's had two logos. The more famous of these was the blue all-caps logo that was used prominently through the 1960's and 1970's during suburban expansion. That logo was changed in 1980 to match the Macy's in logo in font as evidenced by ads on this page. An interesting note is that during the 1970's, Rich's had its memorable green sign while Davison's had its blue sign.

Davison's today serves as an interesting reminder of the insanity of department store consolidations. Davison's was owned by Macy's, but merged into Macy's along with sister chains Bamberger's, La Salle's and Taylor in 1985 and was called Davison's/Macy's in 1985 into 1986 before being simply Macy's. Eighteen years later, through buyouts, Macy's came to finally kill off the beast that made life so hard for them in Atlanta: Rich's. Like the ultimate insult to the once grand chain, Rich's became Rich's-Macy's and finally just Macy's in early 2005. As a result, both of Atlanta's once grand old department stores are now just dull Macy's stores in name only anchoring all of the malls in Atlanta.

Ingles



Ingles: the Asheville chain that still provides us a halfway local option for grocery stores in the Atlanta area...and a hell of a lot better prices than Kroger or Publix. Big Star, Winn-Dixie, A&P, Food Giant and Cub Foods are all long since history around here, but one survives: the chain that owns that little mountain town we Atlanta folks love to go to when the air gets crisp and the leaves are pretty.



One thing that I love and is a big part of my childhood memories are those very outlandish stores that they built in the 80's. It was 1985 that Ingles made its big entry into Georgia with its stores that looked straight out of an episode of The Price Is Right. Likewise, they were just as funky on the inside. To me, these actually seemed down home and quite cozy, and they always represented for me a trip to the hills because we stopped at one on the way up. Nearly every small town in North Georgia still has them, and these usually were originally anchored by a Wal-Mart, Sky City or Rose's (more rarely) in the same shopping center. Unfortunately, very few of those original stores still exist and the photos here feature a store that if it is not already closed will be shortly when the new ones opens in Winder where the Sky City was originally.



The Ingles like the ones pictured have either been painted over, demolished and replaced with a new store on the same spot, closed or relocated. Usually these relocatations were in the same shopping center, replacing one of the older and smaller Wal-Marts before they ate the country. One of these original Ingles still exists in Hendersonville, NC (asking anybody to get that pic for me). Included with the Winder photos are a photo of the very retro Ingles at Innsbruck Mall in Asheville and the Ingles roadside sign in Blue Ridge.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Sprayberry Crossing: Late 70's Bliss, 21st Century Eyesore


One of the more interesting dead shopping centers I've uncovered is a complicated strip mall located in eastern Cobb County near the intersection of two major county highways. Named Sprayberry Crossing, the thing that makes it significant is how completely retro the whole center is as well as how the design is much like an early version of today's "lifestyle centers".

Why I'd pick such a random strip mall is by and large the very outlandish 70's design of the whole place and the fact it was never updated. The entire center is designed with cedar trim in that usual 45 degree-angled cut they did during that time. At the time, this design very nicely matched all the cedar homes being built in the area around it. Not only that, but such design made for an extremely outlandish Ogletree's/Bruno's that looks like nothing you'd see today.


Sprayberry Crossing was originally anchored by an Ogletree's grocery store and a bowling alley, which is still operational. Ogletree's was a local grocery chain with about eight locations prior to being purchased by Bruno's. The Bruno's there closed when the chain scaled back operations and closed all Georgia locations. The center is at the northeast corner of Sandy Plains and East Piedmont Roads and is accessable from Sandy Plains Road.


When Bruno's closed, the rest of the strip went to hell with it and left a very blighted area around it. The bowling alley, however, holds its own hidden back behind the retail graveyard you have to drive through to get to it. That bowling alley is one of the few in the area.

Monday, July 3, 2006

North Point Mall: Alpharetta, GA

The story of most malls these days is that they are either powerhouses, monolithic sterile shopping centers or archaic dumps that need a wrecking ball in the eyes of the average person. In rarer cases, though, are great malls that are taken totally for granted. This is the case with North Point Mall. Opened in early 1993, North Point Mall was awe-inspiring when it opened. Its intricate truss workings and showcase of light was almost angelic in appearance. It was also massive: the first five anchor mall in Georgia with a pad for a sixth anchor. In fact, it was the largest mall ever to be in the state and one of the very largest in the nation at that point.


Looking down the escalators in the south court. Dillard's is on the right.

North Point Mall struggled for traffic in its early years even though it was situated very conveniently off of GA 400. Even though the entire road network of Alpharetta was reconfigured for the mall, North Fulton County was still pretty rural when it was built, and north of the mall livestock was still rivaling people in numbers. In addition, much older and darker Perimeter gave the mall a run for its money when in 1993 they completed extensive renovations, adding the state's first Nordstrom. Nevertheless, North Point Mall had quite a few unique touches. The most amazing was the Rich's which opened at the mall. Atlanta natives were still quite upset about the 1991 closure of Rich's followed by the demolition of the mid-century additions it was most famous for. As a result, Federated Department Stores apparently wanted to give Atlanta an extra special Rich's to make up for it. This Rich's was like no other in design: very elaborate exterior, a "RICHSATLANTA" clock inside and out, commemorative plaques celebrating the history of the store and attention to interior details that made the store on par with the most exclusive stores of the time in design.




Details of the main mall corridor. Note the distinct truss work in the ceiling as well as the deck trusses holding up the crossovers. The last pic shows more detail of the trusswork over one of the walkways. This design is a refreshing change from the way-overdone "galleria" style.



The center court has a humongous pyramidal ceiling basking in more light than any other mall I have visited. On the second photo, note the machinery under the escalator is open to view. All but one escalator has this.

North Point Mall also opened with four other anchors: Lord & Taylor, Mervyn's, JCPenney and Sears. Of those listed, only JCPenney and Sears remain at the mall today. Macy's, then under ownership of RH Macy, was the intended sixth anchor. However, the bankruptcy of RH Macy in 1994 followed by the acquisition by Federated ended any possibility of that. The food court also offered something special in its classic carousel and outdoor sitting area (gone today). Outside, the mall featured the latest in architectural design abandoning the clean lines of the modern era and bathing the mall inside and out in white with touches of green and gold trim as well as lots of palm trees. Also unique are the escalators, whose inner workings are left to view: a treatment I have never seen elsewhere. This is also in fact the whitest mall I have ever known, invoking either something heavenly or Florida. Indeed, tropical-themed architecture was in vogue in the late 80's and early 90's.



Escalators in the south court. Dillard's is on the left in the second photo.

As North Fulton and nearby Gwinnett and Cherokee grew like absolute madness in the 90's, North Point found its own. In 1998, the mall was at its peak of success with six anchors and a parking deck. Offices and retail sprung up like crazy during this time, and Alpharetta became the most prosperous area in all of Georgia with the city limits expanding continuously so that the former county seat of Milton County completely shook off its forgotten history of desperate poverty. By 1998, the malls anchor lineup was slightly altered when Mervyn's left and Dillard's arrived. Mervyn's closed all Georgia stores in 1995. While others were replaced with JCPenney, North Point already had JCPenney so newcomer Parisian from Birmingham took advantage of the slot. Parisian was rapidly expanding in Atlanta in that time attempting to make up for the loss of a decent local store. Dillard's, also arriving in 1995, was new to Georgia, and North Point was their first store. Indeed, Dillard's went all out to create a very elegant looking store with three levels absolutely loaded with merchandise.




North court is equally as impressive. The food court flanks the west side while JCPenney enters on the east side. A Starbucks is located at the base of the elevator. The mall has two elevators: one in the north court and one in center court.

1999 was the beginning of some difficulties for North Point. Mall of Georgia in Buford was built then, and the opening took the title from North Point as Georgia's largest mall. From there, North Point would have joined the rank and file of malls if it had not been for the continual rapid growth of the area. In fact, if the area had not grown as expected, it would have struggled greatly during that time. The plan to open up an upscale shopping mall in Forsyth County, first announced in 2002, was not a welcome event for the mall. Fortunately, every attempt to start the project has been hit by an economic downturn and a huge lifestyle center project just to the north also looks to have been put on hiatus. Nevertheless, no major changes would come until 2004.



Featured in the food court is this carousel. The food court itself (shown more in the second photo, was extensively renovated in 2008 with a more elaborate and colorful decor than existed originally. New restrooms were installed on what was previously an outside sitting area.

In 2004, the department store industry started into major upheaval. Consolidation fever was in the air, and local department stores right and left suddenly disappeared from the landscape. Rich's was the first to go, rebranded as Macy's in early 2005, bringing Macy's to the mall after all. Unfortunately, this was the legacy Rich's store, so the conversion left a not-so-pretty sign on the outside that does not properly fit the architecture. Fortunately, one of the "RICHSATLANTA" clocks as well as the Rich's murals remain. It is about all that remains of Rich's today aside from the labelscar on the abandoned Cobb Center store. Also in 2005, Lord & Taylor closed every one of the Georgia locations which were located not only there, but also Mall of Georgia and Phipps.



Mall directory laying out this very large mall better than I can describe it followed by a pic in the center court of the escalator with one of those mall "street signs".

If that wasn't enough, Parisian was bought out by Belk in 2006 creating a fiasco for the mall. Suddenly the mall had two vacancies as Belk decided to close the Parisian at the mall instead of simply converting it. Instead, they reopened the Belk store in the old Lord & Taylor later in the year. What was worse is that the Lord & Taylor was not modified at all by Belk, and Belk entering the mall took the upscale wing of the mall and tossed it in the toilet. Of course, they paid for this move dearly as that store will be closing by Labor Day 2009 after little over two years in business at the mall, leaving two vacancies.



Now-closed Parisian mall entrance and exterior. Parisian here closed in 2006 after being bought out by Belk. This was small, but very nice store inside. The store originally opened as Mervyn's in 1993, but was converted to Parisian in 1996.

The closing of Belk brings up a very signicant point that mall management desperately needs to pay attention to: North Fulton and South Forsyth have money and they want a high-end mall! Much of North Point's traffic is siphoned by Perimeter, Phipps, Lenox and lesser so Mall of Georgia because shoppers want more to offer than the usual middle class fare. That is why Belk failed, and that is also why the owners need to get really serious or this mall will start going downhill. The fact is that if the upscale mall project ever takes off, it will be the death of North Point. It is also a fact that the mall would do MUCH BETTER if they took advantage of the double vacancy and added upscale department stores. A Nordstrom should open in the former Lord & Taylor. This means the entrance should be upgraded (it looks rather 70's) and interior renovated to bring luxury back to this wing. Also, a Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's or Neiman Marcus should open in the old Parisian. It is a junior anchor and perfect for a small-scale concept store. This is an area that can support these stores, and it will make the mall more resistant to competition or gradually failure from poor marketing.




Belk here proved to be short-lived. The store opened in early 2007 and is closing by labor day 2009. This was originally Lord & Taylor and was modified very little from when it was Lord & Taylor. Belk was a poor fit for the mall.



Lord & Taylor opened with the mall in 1993, but then owners May Department Stores pulled the plug on all Georgia locations in 2005. May was poorly operating the storied chain. The store sat vacant for over a year before Belk opened here.

North Point is a beautiful mall, and the renovation to the Food Court is as far as it should go with this mall. Its design was very cutting edge when built, and the mistake of radically altering the mall like many others in the area is strongly discouraged. However, the likelihood of losing anchors in the future should be taken into account. The mall owners should raze any additional anchor space if it closes in lieu of keeping an oversized store. If this happens, this would be a good opportunity for an open-air wing or non-department store such as Dick's Sporting Goods to take the spot.




Mall entrances for Dillard's, Sears and Penney's. The escalators in front of Sears are recent. These replaced escalators that used to be located in the north court in front of the food court.

Also, the blander aspects of the mall need to be addressed. Elaborate fountains and/or waterfalls should be added in the Macy's and Dillard's court with lush vegetation to enhance the mall. The gray floor tiles should also be replaced with green or gold toned marble to liven up and upscale the mall, but nothing else drastic. However, NOTHING should be done to the ceilings or roofs of the mall. This is what makes it special. NOTHING should also be done to the exterior entrances to the mall. They are architectural sound and altering them would clash with the rest of the mall and damage the image. Notes should be taken from North Park Center in Dallas: an extremely successful upscale mall that never altered its original architectural design. If it starts looking old, remember paint does wonders.



Now on the outside, the mall entrances are both very elaborate. The second photo shows the huge pyramidal glass towers and poles for trusses. If not for the clashing American Girl exterior, this would look quite heavenly. These elaborate entrances are irreplaceable.

North Point is still successful today, but the owners need to realize that the closure of Belk and Parisian is a warning sign. As a result, they need to look at the market on how to make it more competive before competition turns their big white mall into a white elephant. They should also make sure that the architecture is maintained as much possible even though a few modifications would be beneficial. The mall is approaching 20 years old in an era when enclosed malls are being assaulted by smaller outdoor shopping centers. This is also the other mall of my high school years, which is why I would like to see the mall preserved as well as improved.

Rich's pics from early 2005 of the legacy store prior to the Macy's conversion are featured a few photos down.



Outside view of anchor stores Sears & Penney's. The Penney's is showing a bit of age on its solid white exterior.


This photo from 2005 is all-inclusive of what is NOT at the mall anymore. Note the Parisian in the background with Rich's further back. Anchors Lord & Taylor, Rich's and Parisian are all gone from the mall. Note the mall's interesting logo.


Rich's mall entrance surrounded by lots of marble. The entrance sign was as beautiful as the exterior. Photo taken January 4, 2005


The opulence in design of this store was unparalleled. Note the vine and trellis in front of the store. The "RICHSATLANTA" clock is in the middle. The sign itself was actually engraved into the structure and required complete replacement of the concrete tiles when changed over. Photo taken January 4, 2005.


Conversion of this store was much more costly than other conversions. The Rich's logo was displayed all over this building, including right over the door. Photo taken January 14, 2005.


What remains are these murals and one clock inside the store. The murals depict the history of Rich's over the years up to when the store opened. They are a beautiful and unique touch. This is just one of them. They are pretty much all that visibly remains of Rich's today. Photo taken January 14, 2005.