Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lakeshore Mall: Gainesville, GA

One of the updated mall entrances (Kevin Hicks: photo).

North Georgia's small town malls tend to be overlooked, especially those located within 30 miles of insurmountable competition down a 70-mile/hour freeway. Thus is the case with Lakeshore Mall in Gainesville. Gainesville itself has had a stormy history (pardon the pun) considering its downtown was flattened in 1936 by what was obviously an F4 or F5 tornado that caused much death and misery and left the downtown area nowhere like it once was. While the city has long since recovered, it sits in a rather odd position. First, it is located near, but not on, a major interstate. Travelers can get to and from I-85 to the south, but to get to I-85 to the east requires travel along surface roads, all which were two lanes until very recently. I-85 was once planned to go through the city but politics of the era directed it southward, resulting in compromise GA 365, which eventually became I-985. Second, the city is a city to itself, but has become a fringe suburb of metro Atlanta with countless new subdivisions constructed to the south and west since the 1990's. These problems have created a dubious position where the city went from a small North Georgia city far removed from Atlanta to a city blending in with the metro...not a good shift for its local mall.

Photos of classic 1968 Penney's. This one undoubtably had the old logo with the blue "P" when it opened (Kevin Hicks: first photo).

Lakeshore Mall was constructed in 1968 and named for nearby Lake Lanier completed 11 years earlier. It was also relatively close to when GA 365 was completed to Gainesville located along GA 53 Connector. As one of the older malls in the state, it faced no immediate competition considering the nearest mall at that point was in Dekalb County over 50 miles away...a situation that remained for 15 years. A town built around agriculture, namely poultry, the mall catered to a more rural demographic from the start meaning more value-priced stores.

Close-up photos of the carousel on the Sears wing (Kevin Hicks: photos).

When first opened, the mall contained three anchors: Belk, JCPenney and Rose's Discount Store. It was a typical late 60's mall with high windows in lieu of skylights, a one story simple design, lots of brick and earthtones and very small. A later expansion resulted in a new addition on the other side of JCPenney with a Sears. This new addition resulted in mall patrons being forced to walk through the JCPenney to get to the other side of the mall...similar to what happened to Macon Mall in Macon. This addition was likely done this way because of the extremely hilly terrain...meaning that no other direction of expansion was possible without enormous cost.

The mall's food court. I found it a bit of a disappointment in its lack of any major chain restaurants (Kevin Hicks: photo)

Anchor changes were slight over time. Aside from the Sears addition, the Rose's eventually closed and was replaced with a second Belk store that allowed an expanded footprint in the mall. It is interesting that the old Rose's Garden Center area is still intact, but basically is just a place for light storage today. Lakeshore Mall is not located in an impoverished area. Despite many typical urban issues facing the city today, the mall has one of the highest demographics near the mall which would seem to support a higher-end mall than what is there. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Photos of the center court. This is one of the most attractive contemporary center courts I have run across. Note the Belk Home & Kids (Rose's) behind the first photo.

Lakeshore Mall since the 1980's has struggled due to much larger, far superior malls coming ever closer to the simple mall. This began in 1984 when population growth fueled by white flight from DeKalb resulted in the construction of Gwinnett Place Mall in 1984, only 35 miles south. Gwinnett Place today is facing creeping urban blight, but at the time of its construction was a showplace featuring two floors and four anchors including Rich's and Davison's. Lakeshore didn't have either of those stores, and those who had the money to shop at Gwinnett headed south for more stores and selection. This was even further complicated in 1999 when Mall of Georgia...the state's largest mall and tourist attraction, trumped Gwinnett Place and was built five miles closer! In most circumstances, this would have spelled doom, but the mall has had some help from the huge Hispanic immigrant population. They have done a nice job keeping the mall viable, though this has very obviously reduced traffic from the otherwise predominately non-Hispanic county.

JCPenney is not just a mall anchor: it is PART of the mall. To get to the Sears wing, patrons have to walk through the Penney's. Since the mall is on a hillside, this is likely the reason for this design.

In 2006, the mall saw its first major renovation in quite some time. Looking rather run down before, the mall got a huge facelift inside and out, and despite the rather grim outlook presented here, the mall has not lost a single anchor store. The problems with the mall or more of an in-line issue that has resulted in so many other malls being demalled. That issue is where the anchors do good business, but the stores in the mall are increasingly mom and pop and not commanding the rents and traffic that nationals chains offer. When I visited during the renovation, the food court lacked most national chains and I failed to see many of the trendy clothing stores present in other malls throughout the rest of the mall. Most chain stores were more of the non-clothing variety. The Books-a-Million, however, seemed to be doing well and the Ruby Tuesday continued to attract business. Unfortunately, the Ruby Tuesday there has since closed. The author is guessing the Ruby Tuesday originally started as a Morrison's Cafeteria...both once owned by Shoney's.

Looking back along the Sears wing with Sears behind me. It is very odd how a mall so little known by most of the people in this region is so viable, but the scene here proves it is. This was the middle of a weekday!

Today, I honestly could not predict the future of the mall. The mall is in a strange location pretty far from I-985. The retail corridor around it remains viable, however, and to me the unfortunate thing is that it has become more of an ethnic mall than a mainstream shopping destination. Nevertheless, if that is what it takes to keep the mall viable, then what works should be done. It is nice this day in age to see a few classic-era shopping centers still functioning when the average mall built prior to mid-1980's has either been radically modified, demolished or de-malled.

Mom n' pop perfume store. Photo by Kevin Hicks

Looking along the Belk wing towards Belk Women's

Sears mall entrance. The Sears was built later than the rest of the mall.

Belk (Women's) mall entrance.

Belk Men's, Home & Kid's (Rose's) mall entrance.

Belk Men's, Kid's and Home. This store opened as a Rose's, but this fact is only noticeable on the outside. The inside has been completely remodeled to a typical department store. Note the former garden center on the second photo.

Original Belk store. Stores built in the late 60's and early 70's by Belk had this arch design typically. This store was previously white and painted tan in the last renovation.


  1. I am up and down 985/365 all the time and never knew there was a mall in that area.

    They might improve things if they merely had some road signs out on the highway.

  2. I drove up to Gainesville once exploring around wondering if they had a mall, but never encountered one on the routes I used. Thanks for posting about it!

  3. Thanks so much for posting this. I thought the mall a bit of a retail relic and oddity. And thanks for the history. I got info coming up on the Athens scene next. Within the next week, I'll send you some information on the faded Perimeter Square in Athens and the Georgia Square Mall itself over here.

  4. Never mind. I see you already have a piece on Georgia Square Mall. Lol my bad.

  5. "The author is guessing the Ruby Tuesday originally started as a Morrison's Cafeteria...both once owned by Shoney's."

    I grew up in Gainesville and actually worked at the Rose's in Lakeshore Mall when I was in high school. This was before the expansion that brought Sear's over from the other side of town.

    The space where the Ruby Tuesday was located used to be a local Ruby Tuesday-esque type restaurant. The name escapes me at the moment, though.

  6. It was indeed Morrison's before it was Ruby Tuesday's. The only time I ever ate there was once with my grandmother. I had veal parmesan and it was pretty decent.

    I was a very frequent visitor to the mall in the 1980's and 1990's when I was a kid/teenager. I shopped at Rose's more times than I can count!

    There also used to be a really great ice cream shop at the mall called Dipper Dan's. It had these beautiful chrome chairs with red vinyl seats, and in the back they had an area just for kids with very small chairs just like the adult versions. My two favorite flavors were Butterscotch Marble and German Chocolate Crunch. I could never decide between the two, so my grandmother would get Butterscotch and my grandfather would get German Chocolate, and they would each give me a taste of theirs no matter which I chose. Those were some beautiful memories.

    I hate the way the mall has changed. I haven't been able to bear going back in the last 10 years except for a couple of times to visit Books-a-Million, but I entered through the bookstore entrance and didn't even enter the rest of the mall. I just can't bear it.

    As for the food court, it's NOTHING like it used to be when I look at the picture you posted. You say there is a lack of chain restaurants there, but that's not the way it was a decade ago. When I was last going regularly there was a Chick Fil A, a Sbarro (they had great pizza my friends and I used to LOVE), and some other chains that I can't remember right now.

    Gainesville is slowly being destroyed bit by bit. It's absolutely heartbreaking.

    They've torn down absolutely everything I loved in Gainesville from my childhood. Almost every single location I ever went to as a child is gone. Rose's, Dipper Dan's, Duff's Restaurant (it used to have a rotating buffet!)... so many things just... gone. :(

    1. Thanks for mentioning Duff's Smorgasbord. I had forgotten its name and when I searched "smorgasbord Gainesville Ga", I was led to your post. By the way, there is still a Dipper Dan's at Greenbriar Shopping Center in Dahlonega. They sell more hamburgers and hotdogs than ice cream, but it is a favorite eatery, especially among locals.

  7. Ruby Tuesdays and Morrison co-existed back the the late-80's to early-90's. Unless one of them moved and the other took over the other's old location, they never occupied the same space. Ruby Tuesday was in the old section of the mall near the optometrists (sorta near where the Books a Million is now). Morrisons was over by Sears near the carousel. Both were in the corridors opening out into Pearl Nix but on either side of Penny's.

    If the mall doesn't survive then it won't be for a lack of trying. Colonial now owns the property and they have no problem spending money renovating older shopping centers. They did wonders for the Beechwood shopping center in Athens, bringing in a TJ Maxx/Home Goods, Borders, and a few higher end smaller merchants like a sushi shop and Coldwater Creek since taking over there. Colonial is actively keeping Lakeshore as up to date as possible. But despite being in Gainesville quite a bit, I have to admit I rarely go there myself anymore.

  8. There was a grocery store where Ruby Tuesday's used to be, don't remember the name of it. Some one said Food Lion but I don't think so.

  9. It could have been Food Giant, Big Apple or Colonial Stores.

  10. Ok , to clear things up .. The Ruby Tuesdays was located next to the Belks side of the mall kinda in the center . Before it was Ruby Tuesdays it was a restaurant named Knickers . Originally it was a grocery store , it was an A&P . The Morrisons was further down next to where Sears is and where the carousel is . After it was Morrisons it became a Picadilly (I think ) . You're right , the only thing bringing any non-ethnic customers to this mall is the Anchor stores , everything in the middle or core of the mall is targeted for the Hispanic population primarily . There is no toy store , no movie theater , no music store (yes the sound shop finally closed) etc etc , but there are like two or three dollar stores ??? The food court is extremely lacking unless you want to eat from places that you've never seen or heard of . Saying all this , Lakeshore Mall holds many cherished memories for me as well as countless others , and it is nice to know its still there even though I rarely shop there anymore . The fact is .. It's our fault ... That's right it's our own faults it has become what it has . The owners are going to cater to the ones who spend money there & we don't anymore .

  11. They are going to start to build a Dicks Sporting Good that will be finished by fall 2013. They are completely getting rid of the part of the mall between JC Pennys and Sears. Dicks and JC Pennys won't be connected from the inside either. From what I understand they won't be keeping/moving the food court, but a lot of the stores on that side will be moved to the other side where Belks is. I'm also not sure if they are going to be keeping the Carousel. It's disappointing to me that the newest owners won't try and put more stores in that are popular. I hope their plans to add stores doesn't stop after Dick's Sporting Goods goes in. As someone that has been going to mall since a child, I find that the mall started going down when they closed more than half the food court (There are only 3 food places currently) and the $2 theater. Perhaps it will help the mall some, but personally it won't change my shopping habits there and they are getting rid of my favorite gyro place, American Deli. I hope it helps the mall, but getting rid of more isn't the way to go.

  12. Question: Back in the 70's or early 80's there was a GYM located on the back side of Lakeshore Mall near the Bowling Ally (Lakeshore Lanes).. Can anyone remember the NAME of that Gym/Fitness Center??

  13. It was Gainesville's second health club, called Lanier Spa.

  14. The gym of which you speak was in the old grocery store location, and was called Lanier Spa. It was owned by Gray Sellers, and was Gainesville's first full-service health club.

  15. The grocery store was a Winn Dixie and my Mom worker there part time. I agree, the name of the health club that was Lanier Spa and I do remember Gray Sellers. Where the Ruby Tuesday's was located was the former home of Knicker's, who moved down the hill to the new (then) development on Washington Street.

  16. I'm almost positive it was a sushi place. Not Morrison's. I grew up in Gainesville in the early 70s so I remember. And Rose's was never there. Yall are thinking of Ross. I just want them to bring back the walmart.

  17. Yes, the grocery store was a Winn Dixie. I used to stop there with my grandparents when I was very little. People think I'm crazy when I mention there was a Winn Dixie in the same parking lot as the mall (but I thought I remembered it being where Sears is now rather than where Ruby Tuesday's was). Winn Dixie moved across the street to that long strip mall sometime in the 80s. I think it's a gym now. (Not the strip mall with Lancaster Music, but the one at the corner John W. Morrow Pkwy. and Pearl Nix.)

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  19. The mall was recently purchase by at auction by another firm for $6.8M. They said its a good redevelopment opportunity but who knows what will happen. I feel like after they demolish half of the mall just to bring in Dicks Sporting good was a big blow and with Sears in danger of closing its stores, I wonder how the mall would survive that.