Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cookeville Mall: Cookeville, TN

Cookeville Mall at over 47,000 square feet is one of several tiny malls located in small cities throughout Tennessee. Sadly, Cookeville Mall is near closure and probable demolition since the last time I saw it in 2005. In 2005, the mall was about half full and featured anchors JCPenney and Peeble's. Today, ONLY JCPenney remains. All other stores have either left or were forced out due to a rumored redevelopment plan that might not have been necessary if the mall had ever been renovated, expanded or upgraded in its entire history. JCPenney closed its mall entrance, and the mall was completely void of any stores or life but was still open when I visited four years after last seeing it.

Center court is a classic 1970's-style with planters, steps and linoleum tile treatments.

Information on Cookeville Mall is strangely non-existant, not even in the community of retail history fans. There is no Wikipedia page, photo streams or mention on any of the other sites, so I am featuring this for the very first time. It is impossible to tell exactly when it was built, but by design it was built probably between 1975 and 1980. From what I understand, the mall was originally anchored with the same JCPenney on the west end and had a Harvey's on the east end. Harvey's was sold to Peeble's in 1988, which is why the last anchor there was a Peeble's. The mall also apparently had a now long-closed Cracker Barrel on the south end of the mall that ended up being a very locally run clothing store at the last. Having Cracker Barrel as an anchor makes sense considering the next city over is Lebanon: headquarters of the company.

Harvey's/Peeble's mall entrance.

Harvey's south entrance outside with mall entrance in background.

Looking inside empty Harvey's from mall entrance.

Another look inside Harvey's toward the south entrance.

The hold-out of JCPenney on an otherwise deserted mall is a real fluke. Unless the mall has a very solid redevelopment plan, it is unlikely that JCPenney will want to remain on a decaying piece of real estate no matter HOW appealing the terms. JCPenney historically tends to flee malls before they die instead of holding out to the bitter end like Sears. Nevertheless, it looks to me that the mall pretty much emptied out all at once in 2008. The mall was not in disrepair when I visited, and while the air conditioning appeared to be down or off, I did not detect any foul odors or any major decay other than a few signs of roof leaks.

Penney's mall entrance - sealed off.

Most of the stores that left Cookeville Mall did not leave for another mall...or even a lifestyle center! The majority of the malls tenants instead left for a two-phase strip mall known as Jackson Plaza, which oddly is anchored with mall tenants. The Peeble's as well as most mall stores bolted for Jackson Plaza, which is also anchored by Sears, Belk and Food Lion. The center also had a Goody's, which leaves a very clear vacancy that JCPenney could very easily fill.

Most stores - including Maurice's - left for loaded strip mall Jackson Plaza.

The funny thing, though, about Jackson Plaza is that unlike Cookeville Mall, it is quite far from I-40 or any freeway. The only thing it has to offer, quite frankly, is that it is a "newer" side of town. At this, Cookeville Mall still has the advantage of a high visibility location, and a proper redevelopment could reverse its fortunes completely. In fact, it is rather peculiar how none of this development steered towards the area where I-40 and TN 111 (an eventual future interstate) crosses. Furthermore, the condition of Cookeville Mall in my opinion is sheer marketing failure, and it did well to last as long as it did considering the lack of interest by the mall's owners of keeping it attractive and competitive. It is hoped that Penney's hangs on and the center really does sprout the city's first Target and what comes is better than what they have had.

Looking at the old Cracker Barrel: the ONLY one I've ever known attached to a mall. The former mall entrance for this is somewhere near the Chuck-E-Cheese looking entrance below.

The aboved mentioned mirrored mall entrance off of center court close to where Cracker Barrel once entered the mall. Perhaps this was the entrance prior to the subdividing of the restaurant.

Mall entrance corridor closest to Penney's.

North entrance at center court. The store on the left looks like a restaurant.

Winding mall corridor approaching Harvey's.

Penney's outside entrances north and south, respectively. Note the ambulance in front of the north entrance. Ironic?

More views of center court. The last photo is facing the Penney's.


  1. Cracker Barrel was once attached to this mall as you surmised. The front faced I-40, but an enclosed corridor connected the restaurant to the malls main corridor.

    My guess is the mall opened in the 1976-78 time frame, I know it was there as early as 1979. Thanks for mentioning the Harvey's name, as I knew the second anchor wasn't originally a Peebles, but couldn't remember the name.

  2. The corridor to Cracker Barrel was located just outside of the J.C. Penney enclosed mall entrance. In the photo of the Penney's entrance above, it would be just to the left of the camera. Last time I was in there, it was covered with a wall and had vending machines sitting in front of it.

  3. Cookeville Mall only needed to add another level to stay relevant. A second level with better store selection would have cemented this mall's viability for years to come. The mall had been overrun with mom & pop stores so there was really no draw to it plus it had no food court.

    Sound Shop, Shoe Sensation, Buster Brown, Merle Norman, Hibbett Sports, Service Merchandise, GNC, The Cookie Jar, a Txedo Rental place, an arcade and a handful of local stores were at the mall in the mid-to-late 1990's.

    Needed/Lost to Jackson Plaza:
    Bath & Body Works, Belk, Sears, Pier 1 and I am sure many more since I left town.

  4. Where was the Service Merchandise in this mall?? Was it there where the Harvey's was before it became Peeble's? As to the mall itself...if not a second least an expansion should have happened. I have related this mall to Quintard Mall in Oxford, AL: a too-small mall that got a big expansion that reversed its fortunes. When I first saw this mall, I thought it was the smallest I had ever seen. With this being a college town and the only mall there, it seemed to me that this mall should have not faded away like this. Is the mall still standing today or what is going to happen to it?

  5. Service Merchandise was located on the east end of the mall between Harvey's/Peebles and the center court. The building is still standing, but J.C. Penney is the only retailer left. I don't know if the doors are locked now or not, but the rest of the mall is empty and the lights are turned off inside.

  6. The Service Merchandise was a concept store only 7500 square feet in size. It was later a Shoe Sensation store.

    Also, here's a 2004 directory:

    And here's a listing indicating the presence of the old Service Merch:

  7. Uncle Bud's replaced Crackerbarrel before the clothes store came into being. I believe that Harvey's became Caster Knot's brefily before becoming Peebles; however, I may be incorrect.

  8. Castner Knott wasn't in Cookeville. Peebles took over some of the Harvey's locations in the Nashville area, including Cookeville. The Service Merchandise was a concept store aimed at reinventing the retailer before ultimately failing completely.

    This mall was often referred to as the "Mall*" (mall-asterisk) or the "sMALL" by TECH students.

    This mall could have been saved with an expansion. Unfortunately, at the time, Cookeville was not on the radars of many national or regional retailers. The city may be an economic hub for the region but overall the population is less-affluent and less likely to need/desire higher-end products and goods. Not knocking the people or the area, just plain truth. The money just wasn't there.

  9. Mall and JCPenneys are still standing. I shopped at JCP in April of 2011.

  10. The mall is still standing. You can't access any other entrance other than JCP. JCP looks to be in poor shape as well. The store hasn't had an update in some time and, in my opinion, probably hasn't been updated since it opened. The lighting is poor, the tiles and carpet are in rough shape. The JCP salon is just as bad. The Jackson Plaza shopping center has been in a constant state of boom since I moved to Cookeville in 2005. There are still plans for a few more things to come to that particular section of town.

    So far, some of the bigger stores on that side of town include: Belk, Sears, Goody's, Rue 21, Rack Room Shoes, Bath and Body Works, Kirkland's, PetCo, Old Navy, Merle Norman, Hibbett's, Dunham's, GameStop and Maurices just to name a few.

    That area also includes a few fast-food selections including a Taco/Hut (Taco Bell & Pizza Hut, Zaxby's and McDonald's.

    Tennessee Tech University (located here in Cookeville) grows by approximately 1,000 students per year and is currently just shy of 13,000. TTU is often referred to as a "suitcase college" because so many of the students pack up and go home for the weekend ... every weekend. Many of those students come from Nashville or Knoxville and each of those cities is swimming in retail-heaven.

    Employment in Cookeville is decent, all things considered and Cookeville/Putnam Co. is currently working jointly on the Highlands Industrial Park with companies/manufacturers already sending in RFIs.

    The boom is here and there's no shortage of shoppers but it's not looking good for the Cookeville Mall. That area of town remains so congested with traffic. (Being so close to the interstate isn't so much of a blessing for the mall and other businesses around it.)

    There has been all kinds of talk about businesses coming in to Cookeville but we're not on Target's radar and other "big box" stores may have to wait for Cookeville to really grow before they'd take the chance of coming in. Maybe once the Industrial Park is completed (by this time in 2012) and has some businesses secured will there be any hope for the Cookeville Mall.

    BTW, the "Chuck E. Cheese looking entrance" was the entrance to "The Fun Tunnel" which was the mall's arcade. I think it was one of the last attractions within the mall to remain open.

    I hope this helps clear some things up and paint a better picture of the Mall and the Jackson retail mecca.

    1. BTW, The Fun Tunnel was known as pirate's Cove. Best arcade games in the area at one time. It used to close later than the rest of the mall. While I was a Tech student I used to play lots of video games there, got glasses and my first contact lenses at Horner Rausch, music tapes at Port O' Call Records, clothing at JCP and a smaller store called Marshall's(no relation to discount Marshall's) and Harvey's/Peebles...And rented Videotapes there too. Ate at the Cracker Barrel... Sheesh, probably could a lived there if they would have let me.

  11. It's now official that the mall will become a 126,000 sq ft flea market. JCP will remain in it's position.

  12. I use to visit my friend which worked at GNC @ them time...good memories

  13. The Mall is now back open and if you look on facebook and type Cookeville Mall you will see that there are 17 stores now open 7 days a week with JCPenny.

  14. The reason JC Penny's is still open and not moved from the mall is because they have a free lifetime lease. When the mall first opened in 1976 the mall needed big named anchor stores and the mall promised JC Pennys a free lifetime lease if they came to the mall. The mall was very active until 1999. There was even a pet store. I can remember when you could not find a parking spot to park.