Originally opened in 1957, Oak Ridge Mall was known for 30 years as Downtown Shopping Center, a large strip center anchored by The Knox/Proffitt's, JCPenney, Sears, Loveman's (of Chattanooga), Miller's and GC Murphy. The mergers that occurred in the 1980's that resulted in Loveman's, Miller's and Proffitt's all becoming the same store are why the later mall did not end up with five department store anchors. Oak Ridge Mall followed the course of quite a few malls in the country that started out as a mere 1950's strip and were enclosed and expanded into a full-scale shopping mall. The only difference was, this one was a strip mall all the way to 1987 instead of the 1970's...not exactly the best timing for such projects as new malls were already proving to find it more difficult to compete in contrast with previous decades. Indeed, Oak Ridge Mall never really took off and was largely vacant aside from the anchors as recent as my March 2005 visit. I had heard a couple years before it was dying, so this is why I came by to visit just to see what this place was all about.
I do not know a whole lot about Oak Ridge Mall other than this, and the fact that it always had Sears as an anchor. The original Sears anchor was abandoned in what was left of the strip in my 2005 visit and did not connect to the rest of the mall. The anchors, however, appeared healthy and successful with a cheery, but very vacant corridor tying them together. In all, the anchors in 2005 were Proffitt's, Sears, JCPenney and a stadium-seating movie theater on an outlot. Proffitt's was added in 1987 as Hess's while the fourth vacant anchor in the middle of the mall was the original Proffitt's, originally known as The Knox. They once operated as a double-header Proffitt's, but it's unclear when it closed. At least one mall corridor was sealed off to the general public on the visit as you will see below, which looked to be the food court. A combination of the completion of TN 162 creating access to better access to malls in Knoxville and poor management caused the mall to to fail.
In allover layout, the mall was an L-shaped mall with JCPenney on one end (a strip attached to the other-side), Proffitt's (formerly Hess's, now a Belk) on the other, Sears off to the side of Proffitt's and the former The Knox/Proffitt's in the middle. The mall seemed difficult to access on the side that was once the back of the strip mall, and it was sealed off when I visited.
Vacant Hess's/Proffitt's in center court area.
In 2008, the project that was promised to start in late 2005 right after I visited seems to be permanently on hold. (Note 7/24/2016: demolition has now begun on the long-abandoned mall). The mall itself has since been sealed off to the public with some "physical activity" occuring at the site. While I was hardly bowled over by the place, fanatics of late 80's architecture should be very excited about this view of a once-strip mall, then mall and now...nothing.
Looking down the entire Sears wing.
Something seems VERY ironic about the "shopoakridgemall.com" banner.
Proffitt's entrance...note the holes for what was formerly Hess's.
Another view of center court.
This was the original Sears store sitting abandoned on the JCPenney end of the mall on a small strip mall wing.
This appeared to be the entrance to the food court, and the food court area is very visibly sealed off from the rest of the mall.
Rack Room Shoes finally realized the party was over and it was time to leave.