Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Shannon Mall/Union Station: Union City, GA

If any mall could ever completely defy expectations, it's Shannon Mall, today known as Union Station. Shannon Mall is a mall that throughout its existence always seem to have the odds against it, and never was a strong performer compared to the other malls across Atlanta. Rumors of eminent demise have swirled around since the beginning of the decade, but the fact is that the mall is about to make it 30 years intact and in business. However, that success remaining will likely mean tough choices.


Center court with a small fountain.

My earliest memories of Shannon Mall are of a mall that I saw often, but never visited. Its original name most likely referred to the original developer's daughter. There is nothing named Shannon anywhere near the mall. In the 80's, me and my family would be driving south on I-85 from the northside of Atlanta down to Callaway Gardens. On our way down there, the options for dining were severely limited past the Jonesboro Road exit, so we would make our way down Jonesboro Road to eat, usually at Del Taco.


Main mall entrance facing I-85. The sign was changed to "Union Station" in 2007. The two-way mirror glass area on the left covers the food court.

This mall I kept passing intrigued me, but I never saw it in that time. Shannon Mall during those years was in a strange position: flanked by then-declining suburbs on the north and east and overall wilderness dotted with farms to the south and west. At the time, it was pure optimism of guaranteed growth that led the mall to business: much riskier on the slow-growing southside. The reason it worked was because it drew from such a large area. Shoppers in fast-growing Peachtree City, Douglasville, Fayetteville and College Park flocked to the mall in addition to Union City, where the mall is located. Unlike other Atlanta malls built in that time, this was a bit smaller than the others with only one level (except Davison's) and the smallest Rich's in the entire chain. Its only strong competition at the time was Southlake Mall, and with only three malls on the southside, this was a plus. White flight had left older Greenbriar behind by that time, further fueling the initial success of the mall.






All photos above are looking down the Rich's (Macy's) wing of the mall. In the first, the hallway extending to the left on the north court goes to Maxx Fun, originally Mervyn's and later JCPenney. The second is the Macy's (Rich's) mall entrance. The last is looking back towards center court. Original interior and exterior Rich's photos are available at the end of this article.

When Shannon Mall opened in 1980, the mall featured three anchors: Rich's, Davison's and Sears. A Morrison's Cafeteria was also included in the original mall. The mall was built with two additional anchor pads which both served as additional mall entrances. In 1985, it was announced that Mervyn's, along with a new wing, would be added to the mall. The following year, Davison's was converted to its parent company's moniker Macy's and the new Mervyn's wing was completed. Likewise, improvements began to be made to Jonesboro Road (SR 138) including interchange reconstruction at I-85, widening of Jonesboro Road and realignment of SR 138 to better connect to nearby SR 92 and US 29. By then, strip shopping centers soon grew around the mall including two movie theaters, fast food joints, grocery stores and eventually Wal-Mart all in place by the mid-1980's. The Wal-Mart was one of the first in Georgia not part of the former Big K chain. Upon completion of the addition, the mall was renamed Shannon Southpark Mall.






Looking down the Maxx Fun (Mervyn's) wing. This wing of the mall is the most vacant part of the mall. The first is of the corridor, the second is the obscure mall entrance to Maxx Fun (with a climbing wall) and the third is looking towards the parking lot entrance from this wing.


Of course, the fact I was walking through the Mervyn's wing was a sure sign of somewhat improved fortunes for the mall. This section was sealed off in late 2004, as this picture shows. I accidently had the camera on "night focus" setting, which is what created this spooky shot.

The lack of options in Fayetteville, Peachtree City and Douglasville were the largest factor in why Shannon Mall was successful throughout the 80's. Getting to the mall from those places involved long expanses of two lane roads that were eventually widened to handle the increasing traffic. For awhile, all was well but the honeymoon would soon be over. By the late 1990's, Shannon was being hit on two fronts. The first was that a ghetto/white flight element that was present in the Greenbriar area years before finally moved into the Union City area. Second, the growth of Douglas and Fayette Counties resulted in both building their own shopping venues. In Douglasville, humongous two-story Arbor Place Mall opened in 1999 taking much of the traffic from Shannon. Also, to the south, a massive big box shopping complex north of Fayetteville seized business from the other end. Peachtree City was also beginning to build its own retail, reducing the need for those whose incomes depended on the Atlanta Airport having to drive so far to shop. Also, the decline of College Park along Old National Highway was drawing away shoppers that would also frequent Shannon Mall.




Now for much happier scenes, the bright and airy center court (taken in 2009). The first photo is approaching the court with the closed Davison's (Macy's) mall entrance visible on the right. The flag apparently is covering the Macy's labelscar or something. The second is a more detailed view of the court with the fountain visible.




These two photos are both from Christmas-time 2004. The first shows more detail of the beautiful skylights, and the second is taken from the main entrance corridor towards the court with the most detail of the old Davison's entrance.

1999 was a bad year for Shannon Mall. Despite new renovations completed that year and a renaming back to Shannon Mall, trouble was brewing. Davison's, which became Macy's in 1986 closed their location at the mall. It was the first Davison's mall location to shutter in Georgia since the Columbia Mall location closed in 1992. Tenants started bleeding out of the mall as identical stores appeared at Arbor Place. The movie theater on the mall outlot also closed. While the renovation was successful in maintaining tenants and traffic initially, it was not enough. With an older smaller mall and an increasing crime problem, JCPenney, which replaced Mervyn's in 1996, left the following year relocating to Fayetteville Pavilion. JCPenney would reappear also at Arbor Place after bankrupt Upton's vacated its location 1-2 years later. The entire JCPenney wing that opened 15 years earlier was sealed off and it seemed the bleeding would not stop. Over the next five years, it seemed the mall's demise was eminent and redevelopment plans began to be considered.








The Sears wing has remained the most vibrant and successful part of the mall. Most of the chain stores that remain in the mall are on this wing, which has a direct outside entrance on an unbuilt anchor pad that crosses over to the still very successful food court. The first photo is looking down the wing. The second is at the court with the food court entrance on the left and outside entrance on the right. The third is a view of the outside entrance and the last is the Sears mall entrance. Note the unmanned kiosk for Maxx Fun in the third photo. All photos taken in 2009.

But alas, the resilient little mall may have been kicked down a notch but it was still very much alive. In fact, long dormant South Fulton became a new powerhouse for growth in its own right as part of the housing boom in the mid-2000's. New middle to upper middle class subdivisions began to spring up all over the area stretching from Red Oak down to Palmetto. South Fulton Parkway, then completed all the way to SR 154, was also drawing new interest in the area. Traffic began to increase again on Jonesboro Road and vacant businesses found new interest. It was a total shot in the arm for the mall, which actually found itself holding on for awhile longer.




View of the food court entrance from the Sears wing followed by a view of the food court from the main entrance wing. Photos of the food court were difficult because of concentrated mall security.

In late 2005, Maxx Fun would join the mall in the old JCPenney. This new anchor reopened the sealed off wing. In 2006, plans for redeveloping the mall were announced that included a 16 screen movie theater (in the old Davison's?). By 2007, Shannon Mall was given enough fuel to survive. What it was also given was a new name, Union Station. While the mall even now is still looking in the death throws, the fact is that the mall did not deteriorate nearly as noticeably from 2005-2009 and the parking lots seemed to be fuller in 2009 than they were five years ago. Handled just right, Shannon Mall might just spring back to life and join the ranks of other successful Atlanta area malls. 






Photos of the active anchors at Shannon: Macy's (former Rich's), Sears (original) and Maxx Fun (former Mervyn's and Penney's). The Sears is very drab and plain on the outside. Note the typical Mervyn's style doors on the entrance. Later, you will see how it looked before.

Today is different, though. The economy is much worse and foreclosures across Atlanta are high. Macy's (in the former Rich's since merging in 2005) and Sears remain the only major anchors at Shannon Mall. Maxx Fun did help fill an empty anchor, but overall it does nothing for that part of the mall with only about two stores operating on that wing: one with two entrances. Most chain stores have left the mall, but local stores continue to fill many of the voids in the center. The bright side is the Food Court, which remains very successful with almost no vacancies at all. Even better is Gladys Knight's Chicken & Waffles will soon be opening in the former Buffalo's Cafe. Piccadilly Cafeteria remains in the former Morrison's as well. From this, it is fairly apparent that redevelopment is not as sure as before, but interest in the mall has not waned at all. However, it still remains one of the weakest malls in the area similar to struggling North Dekalb Mall. Let's just hope that community and owner interest remains high in the mall's future.




Two views of the closed Davison's (Macy's) on the outside. The first is a closeup of the north entrance. The second is a more broad shot taken in 2004 from the south side. The south entrance pictured in the second photo has had all of its black glass destroyed since the last time photographed.

The future of Shannon Mall is that it may still be around awhile, but it is apparent that something needs to be done drastic soon to remove the tarnish. Simply renaming the mall is not going to change its fortunes. It didn't work for either Cobb Center or Columbia Malls, and the owners should study what they did and why it did not work. Demolition of parts of the mall with a lifestyle wing is almost essential, because it is not an attractive structure on the outside. Since March 2007, the mall must also compete with newcomer suburb Newnan...now with a beautiful outdoor mall offering far more than the entire retail strip of Union City.


While Maxx Fun does not look like the most promising anchor, it gives life to this end of the mall. Shannon really looked in trouble when this photo was taken in early 2004. This photo shows the original name and abandoned Mervyn's with the JCPenney modifications. The mall entrance here was also sealed off, since this entire wing described above was sealed off as well. This photo I originally distributed to deadmalls.com during that time, but I asked to have my description and photos from that site to keep bad press from the mall. The photos remained, unfortunately. I regret that entry, because I blame it on the stupid renaming. This is why this is not another "dead malls" blog, and I want this mall to succeed.

While Shannon Mall's 30 years of success and survival is impressive, it is past time to try something new with the mall. Moving Macy's back into the old Davison's (IOW, instead of a theater) and demolishing the entire Rich's wing would be a start. Don't forget that a failed multiplex was put in Columbia Mall in the old Davison's when considering that move. Providing a larger store that can be renovated cheaply in an existing structure is essential to keep Macy's at the mall since this is one of the smallest stores in the chain and may ultimately leave the mall if the economy does not recover. Maxx Fun could also be freestanding or moved into a new building at the mall since that wing of the mall never recovered. A lifestyle addition to the mall, including big box tenants, is desperately needed there, and preferably within view of I-85, which is why the Rich's/Mervyn's wing is the best choice for demolition. A Target would also be a great addition since the old Target/Richway location on Old National closed over a decade ago. In all, Shannon Mall is overall a success story, but if it does not make significant changes that aren't just band-aids, 2010 will be the end of that story.

Rich's photos below from 2004 and 2005:








Night shot, mall entrance and two exterior photos. This is the smallest of all the Rich's stores and built under Federated. All but the third photo taken in early 2005. The third photo was taken December 26, 2004.

April 2010 Addendum: Apparently I was far too optimistic on the future prospects of this mall when I wrote this post.  I will have further information about the troubled mall in the near future.  I want to add that Maxx Fun closed since this last post.

22 comments:

  1. Atlanta has enough enterprenueral spirit that it winds up with "hospice malls" more than true dead malls. Unfortuantely, the local stores turnover rapidly as has been evident at North DeKalb and, to a lesser extent, Northlake. Ultimately, that can'ts ustain a mall and it either dies or gets redone as something else. This looks like a mall that should be made smaller and augmented with some big boxes as you suggest.

    Its future probably would be worse if Delta had not consolidated at its Atlanta hub and served as the successor in the merger with Northwest. The mall might benefit from the continued gentrification of East Point, College Park and adjacent areas of Atlanta, although those depend on Delta, the slow revitalization of the industrial areas nearby, and a successful repurposing of Fort McPherson. People in those areas often do big shopping on the other side of Atlanta, but might be tempted by a healthy mall, esp. if the reputation for crime diminishes. South DeKalb has even better proximity to gentrifying areas in and near East Atlanta and Avondale Estates, but has not been able draw those customers.

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  2. Wow what a great post. Between Shannon and Southlake, those are the two malls I visit most often.

    I think it's unlikely that Target will enter the fray at Shannon. In 2007, Walmart closed their original old-style tiny store and moved across the street into a new supercenter Walmart. The old Walmart site is now dead and mostly empty, anchored by a Big Lots and a Dollar Tree and even they are struggling. There used to be an Ingles there but they bailed when Walmart moved across the road. So there's a lot of dead storefront there.

    Meanwhile, Target has a store at the decently thriving CampCreek Marketplace, just 10 minutes north, and another Target 10 minutes south in Fayetteville Pavilion. So it's kinda tight.

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  3. This is another mall where it stuck me as odd that Macy's abandoned the old Davison's location when they combined the Rich's stores. Town Center is another example, as is Cumberland.

    I can certainly understand that Macy's was trying to hold on to the Rich's base by doing it during that awkward Rich's-Macy's period, but at some places the Macy's location was much larger/nicer and more favorably positioned, both in the mall and out.

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  4. This is indeed a good post! I thought that Shannon was Looooong gone! I grew up in this area and have very vivid memories of Shannon( lots of christmas shopping...mainly because Southlake has always been a pain the a$$ to find a parking spot during the Christmas season)I remember buying tapes at the bargin bins at the record bar & camelot music. They had a cool western store that had really cool snake skin cowboy boots and a place called Jeans West that had all the latest 80's style for young men! I would buy my Jordace jeans at the Riches there! I had a couple of mall dates there ( although Southlake was the place to hang out with your girlfriend on a friday night etc) If I remember correctly they had a big ole rock formation outside the mall we used to call "stonedhenge" man the stories I could tell....

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  5. This mall here?? I just don't know what happen. I remember when they named it Shannon Southpark? What was that all about. Now they named it Union Station, which is the name of apartments back on Flat Shoals. It's sad almost tearful to see this mall just die a slowly death. I grew up in the Welcome All area in College Park, so Shannon, Greenbriar and Southlake were the malls to go to..I really just don't understand what ruined this mall. No crime, no urban decay. I would have thought the folks from Coweta would come up, but nope.

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  6. I Was surfing and found your blog on net and blog very interesting i would like to have more photo.

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  7. I took a trip over there on Thursday, May 27, 2010. With Maxx Funn gone it's definitely a more depressing place. Down that wing there were two teenagers (who appeared to have nothing to do) charging their cell phones in one of the floor outlets. I don't think anything was open in that part of the wing. IIRC there may have been a tattoo shop (!) on that same wing and the other entrance to the big furniture store. The mall itself looked better than I would have though physically, but there's a bunch of vacancies and shops that look like they could be gone next week. It was kind of sad for a kid who grew up in that mall to see it in that shape.

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  8. union station mall is very unsafe,young black males are always coming in the store stealing in running out with clothes,customers are very aware of this cars are been stoleing,and broken into.security is not very helpful.i am always watching my back at this macy;s store .

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  9. Shannon was the other southside option for those of us living in Fayette County in the 80s and 90s. Getting there seemed to take forever on those winding two-lane roads. But it was a nice change of pace from Southlake, which could get incredibly congested during the weekends.

    I do remember getting hired at Rich's during the summers to do inventory for a few weeks. It was a coveted job at the time. You got paid decent wages and go to hand out at the mall. I remember being late once because I got stuck behind a cement truck going 30 mph on one of those little rural roads!

    Camelot Music and the Gold Mine were always busy. And you could get yourself an Orange Julius while talking with your friends.

    I have not been to Shannon since the mid 90s because I live in North Dekalb and don't get over there much. According to my mother, who still lives in Fayette, it does still seem to be alive and kicking. She tells me she will go to the Shannon Macy's before she'll go to the Southlake Macy's because they have a much better selection.

    I do remember the Stonehenge-esque rocks around the perimeter of the mall! I think they are gone now, though. I also went to many movies (including "Mommy Dearest") at the movie theater there.

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  10. Looks as though it has had it now though. They cut the power and the water due to not paying its bills for months and property taxes for even longer. What was once a wonderful and beautiful mall looks so sad now I can only sit here at my computer and cry. If there is anyone who can help this poor mall out, please take it over and bring commerce back to Union City. It is still a nice city but this mall is now a sore spot that needs to be cleaned up, sanitized, and given tender loving care in hopes to bring it back.

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  11. Looks like Union Station's days may be numbered: lots of media coverage on 11/02/2010 about how the mall's owner "Big Poppa" hadn't been paying the power bills.

    Most of the mall lost electricity yesterday when Georgia Power finally pulled the plug. Sears and Macys apparently have their own power feeds. Everybody else is shutdown and the main part of the mall was locked up.

    The mall is also behind on water bills and property taxes. All totaled it was somewhere around $500,000 in past due bills. Might have been others not mentioned.

    News footage showed tenants rushing to pack up and get out before the lights were cutoff.

    Even if the bills get paid, it's going to very hard to get tenants to trust the landlord now. I suspect the place will end up like Greenbriar or Mall West End where there are tons low-paying tenants looking more for a good rent deal than guaranteed power.

    Income like that is not going to cover the cost to run the mall so it puts the viability of the place in question, even more than it already was.

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  12. i wonder how macy's and sears will do now that the mall has close.and will it bring more crime to there stores.

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  13. The Tenth Amendment Media Group recently held the 30th Anniversary of the mall back in August. The website is www.unionstation30.maecorpusa.com. While this was a great effort by them, they had live radio broadcasting, networking, carnivals and concerts, however this did not bring in the anticipated traffic. Other event organizers have used the mall to find their events sparsely attended.

    Chick-fil-A pulled out in February, Picadilly pulled out in July, Finish Line left in March, Simply Fashions moved to the Wal-Mart plaza and Glady's and Ron's Chicken and Waffles is going to the newly reconstructed bowling alley down the street.

    The owners and management need to make some tough decisions concerning the fate of this mall as debts are high, vacancies are high but foot traffic is low. Many are wondering if the mall will reopen after this fiasco with the lights being disconnected. Several merchants have moved out on the final day of the lights being on and others are threatening to move in the immediate future.

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  14. Went by there on the way home from the Georgia Tech/Miami football game. So strange walking to the end of Macy's and seeing a handwritten sign that said, "Do Not Enter Mall's Closed." Sears and Macy's are the only thing opened. Sad, sad...

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  15. From the looks of it, all of the dumpsters for the mall except for the Sears and Macys Dumpsters have been removed now as well (as of Nov. 24) There is also a rumor circulating in some of the business community of the area that the owner has actually "lost" the mall. whether the city took it i do not know but the rumor is he lost the mall

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  16. I went to this mall in 2007 and it reminded me of Columbia Place mall in Columbia, SC: a somewhat struggling, somewhat successful mall that had gotten a decent renovation. I thought that the mall was attractive inside, and it had some decent stores in it.

    The Maxx Fun wing was totally dead then.

    Chick-fil-A closed? Usually the sign of the end of a mall.

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  17. Unfortunately looks like the rumor is true. Macy's is closing at this location. Its over, and the rumors must be true about the foreclosure happening on the rest of the property on the mall. Sad really, I had lots of great memories of this mall from the late 80's and early 90's.http://www.ajc.com/business/macys-to-close-at-795196.html

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  18. Very sad. I lived in Peachtree City in the mid-90s back when a drive to Shannon Mall was an easy 10 miles or so up mainly rural (but four-laned) SR-74. When we were willing to drive 45 minutes for better shopping, we would head over to Southlake. But usually, the promise of bumper-to-bumper traffic through Fayetteville, Jonesboro, and Morrow was enough to steer us toward Shannon.

    Even then, the mall was somewhat dated (except for the wonderful food court), and the area around the mall had been developed haphazardly, with a lot of pretty junky retail stuff thrown up here and there. The beginnings of urban blight were evident, too -- there was a nascent seediness setting in and it seemed that many of the retail property owners were unwilling to spend much money upgrading their holdings.

    Still, this is where I shopped for many Christmas and birthday presents, and where I bought much of my clothing from that time. I'm a sentimental person anyway, so I always hate to see something from my past die away.

    Empty buildings are sad, but few are sadder than an empty mall. It's not just the death of a retail establishment; it's the death of an entire era. I don't get "lifestyle centers" -- who wants to walk from store to store in the sweltering summer heat or in the rain?

    At any rate, I don't see this property coming back or being redeveloped. It's too close to the creeping Atlanta blight, and places like Newnan and Peachtree City have their own upscale retail now. Heck, what used to be a beautiful drive in the country from Newnan to Peachtree City is now pretty much bumper-to-bumper urban sprawl. No need for the people who live there now to drive to a dead mall in another town.

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  19. Update: Sears, which remained opened while the rest of Union Station Mall completely closed in late 2010 announced on August 17 that they will close their store here by December, 2011.

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  20. Fayetteville's JCPenney is NOT in the Pavilion. It is located in the Banks Crossing shopping center in the old KMart location.

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  21. This mall was demolished today to make way for a new movie studio. I'm sure people from the area will appreciate your detailed post and photos to remind them of what once was.

    http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/local/shannon-mall-demolished-new-movie-studio/nhsq9/

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  22. Thank you for your pictures and blog. We lived in Union City when the mall opened in 1980. My mom worked part time in the book department at Davison's for a year and a half or so until she was too heavily pregnant with my baby brother to be on her feet so much. I was there for the building of the Mervyn's wing and have fond memories of shopping at Payless there in 6-7th grade. Even after we moved away, we still came back to Shannon Mall because it was closest. I moved completely out of the area after college so it makes me so sad to see how it declined and is now gone.

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