Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Southlake Mall: Morrow, GA

Southlake Mall is a very successful mall, and far from dead, but it has still scored the reputation of being somewhat "urban", and as a result, limited on its better offerings. In that, it is overall your run-of-the-mill mid-market mall catering moreso to a non-white crowd. Considering that, for those living in the southside of Atlanta, truly upscale options just do not exist. That is why so many shoppers in Henry County, Fayette County and Spalding County simply drive right past it to head to the more posh northside malls such as Lenox, Perimeter and Phipps. Since this is the case, either the incomes on the southside just do not support it or those upscale tenants have simply snubbed the mall.

Standing in front of Sears looking back into the mall. This latticework ceiling treatment is found throughout the entire mall.

The Atlanta malls would likely be less successful if the southside actually had a mall that everybody liked, and that was not lost on developers. A proposed mall in McDonough (Henry County) has been planned since 2004, but for some reason the development stalled. Nothing could be better news for Southlake, which is surrounded by spotty blight from closed businesses affected by the usual reaction to an area that is majority minority. That fact alone is the primary reason that Southlake has not only not doubled in size over the years, but also the fact that it lacks the more upscale store offerings in favor of a larger array of urban stores.

View of the elevator from the upper and lower level. Much like everything else in this mall, it is not laid out in the usual way. This elevator is in a random location closer to Macy's (Rich's).

Southlake Mall first opened in 1976. When it opened, it was a super-regional mall, but it opened primarily to serve fast growing Clayton County, which had evolved as a mostly white county in the more industrial side of the Atlanta. The opening of the mall likely was related to not just growth, but also issues of white flight as shoppers looked for options from transitional Greenbriar and decaying Lakewood Mall. Such a story is similar to how Gwinnett Place came into being. When it opened, its anchors were Rich's, Davison's, Sears and JCPenney giving them a mall equivalent to Cumberland in size and offerings on the southside. The mall contains a total of 120 stores, and Piccadilly Cafeteria was also in the mall. All of the anchors were two levels as well as the mall itself. Today, it is still the only two-level mall on the southside.

View from the upper and lower level of Davison's court (roughly center court). There really is no obvious center court as in other malls this size. It has had no anchor connection since Macy's vacated the Davison's location in 2003.

Views of the sealed-off Davison's (Macy's) mall entrance from lower and upper level.

For the next two decades, Southlake was the king of the south, but Clayton County has become quite troubled with white flight issues during the 1990's. In ten years time from 1990 to 2000, Clayton County went from a substantial majority white to substantial majority black as the white population shifted to Henry, Fayette and Coweta counties. During that time, many of the businesses around the mall started closing up. When Macy's consolidated in 2003 and moved into the Rich's, the old Davison's was also vacated. For a long time, no store came to fill the void, and the store was sold early on. Nevertheless, as white shoppers began to largely avoid the mall, the mall did not become any less successful. This was because the non-white neighborhood around it had money of their own, and it was more than enough to support it.

A short one-story wing is found on the upper level connecting the mall to the parking lot across from JCPenney. This mall map was in that corridor describing the offset layout of the mall better than I could.

Today, Southlake has evolved quite well and has pretty much survived nearly free of any nearby competition. The mall was last renovated in 1995, adding a food court and updating much of the decor. Piccadilly left the mall and is today located on Mt. Zion Blvd a block from the mall. The mall has very few vacancies, an excellent food court and the former Davison's/Macy's is now in the process of being renovated and/or demolished for a new conference center. I was also pleased at how polite and friendly the employees of the mall were, which is treatment I am not used to in the northside malls.

A couple views of the JCPenney court. The JCPenney court has elevated walkways crossing over the court similar to what Cumberland had in the 1980's.

While Southlake is not the most unique mall I have ever visited, it is refreshing in this economy to see a local mall still doing so well considering two factors. One of these is that is outside of the upscale periphery, and second is that it is in an area that is dealing with some of the blight that is creeping southward that ravaged nearby Forest Park. I do, however, wish that the circumstances were different so that the mall was more popular regionally since the options down there are so few.

A carousel is found at the main mall entrance, which today is the food court area. The second photo shows the food court ending at a Babbage's, which is actually a Game Stop without the nameplate changed. Too bad Macy's didn't take the same approach with Rich's and Davison's. The food court was added in 1995.

Exterior view of main (food court) entrance.

Two sets of mall signs: one at the Jonesboro Road (SR 54) entrance and a tall sign for traffic on I-75.

Considering this, the future of this mall pretty much depends on the future of Clayton County, and lets hope that future keeps the mall at least as viable as it is today. With that, Clayton County must keep Morrow from being the next Forest Park. Forest Park strangely never had a mall of its own, but it bears the scars of chain retail long abandoning much of it. These challenges are especially important considering the mall is over 30 years old in an atmosphere that has been trained to believe that enclosed malls are all dying. The truth is, if malls like this die then it is a reflection on the economy as a whole or too much competition, not a reflection of this well-managed bustling mall.

Mall entrances of Sears and Macy's (former Rich's). Too bad all Sears mall entrances look exactly the same these days. Photos of the Macy's as Rich's are shown at the end.

Exterior view of Davison's then and now. The Macy's labelscar was very visible in 2004. Today, the store has been completely repainted in earthtones as part of a repositioning of the former anchor.

Exterior views of Sears, Macy's and JCPenney. Note the obvious old logo labelscar on Sears and Rich's labelscar on Macy's. Compare to the earlier Rich's photos below.

Exterior shots of Rich's day and night. Photos taken late December 2004 and February 2005.

Rich's mall entrance day and night. This folded glass design was also used on stores at Lenox, Cobb Center, Cumberland and Century Plaza. This is the last one remaining of that style.

UPDATE 1/24/11: The future is not so bright for Southlake Mall anymore now that JCPenney is announcing they are closing the mall's location.  This leaves only two anchors with Macy's (former Rich's) and Sears with the former Macy's (originally Davison's) still never filled after it closed in 2003.  This all comes on the heels of the closing of Shannon Mall including the Macy's store there.  This is also a reflection of how much the foreclosure crisis and terrible economy in the Atlanta area is beginning to affect the malls here.


  1. Thanks for this posting! Atlanta has the strangest pattern of white flight I've ever seen. Almost amoeba-like. Creeps in and creeps out, then reverses itself, then reverses itself again, all while expanding outward.

  2. A prototypical Seventies mall. Too bad they're not getting the upscale stores. Seems like a great location.

  3. I've been in that mall once. I never knew where it was since I rarely explored southern Atlanta and one day at night saw it off the interstate, so the next time I went to Atlanta, I checked it out. I didn't remember anything about it being really memorable. I think it was during the time when Macy's and Rich's were combining and all of the Macy's stores seemed to be going away, which to me was the biggest decline of shopping in Atlanta I'd ever seen.

  4. @Jonathan: It's not unlike a lot of places, including DC, Chicago, and LA (where the flight is more Hispanic focused--in Chciago is a mix). There was some gentrification beginning in the 70s and it sped up after the Olympics. Some of the early gentrification occurred in places that either remained largely white or never entirely lost their white population: Midtown, Grant Park, Inman Park, Ormewood Park, Candler Park, Virginia & Poncey-Highland, East Point, etc. and then proceeded to places like East Lake, Oakhurst, Kirkwood and areas northwest of Georgia Tech. Then it began to slowly begin around the edges of immigrant areas in the Buford Highway corridor and also has taken off in the old white working class areas of Brookhaven, plus a new generation of people have refreshed the middle class areas between Clairmont Road and Northlake.

    In other cities, faded areas with character and some remnants of a white middle class population get renewed first and slowly the changes go into more "speculative" areas. As the children of the black middle class in DC have moved to the suburbs, older areas with solid housing stock in need of some up dates have opened to whites. the sam ething seems to be happening in places close to North DeKalb and a bit N of South DeKalb malls.

    In some ways, its moved faster in Atlanta than some other cities because its so easy to build (developer-friendsly county govts, and cheap, relatively open land), as well as because the population has grown so fast, but the chandges probably have happened even more quickly in DC (which has a more liberal white population and a somewhat more complicated racial environment).

  5. I had posted in the Shannon mall blog...Southlake mall was the Sh*t back in the 80's up until 1992 when things started to change and things really changed right after the Olympics( BTW there where some Condos down from southlake that they wanted to turn into public housing. I think they wanted to move the techwood residents there. I seem to remember alot of commotion about that...but in a year or so, I would be living on the northside so i don't know what became of that) I feel for clayton county( I lived there from 1983-1997) Things started to fall apart when Eastern airlines went belly up and people had to move away to find other jobs at the time forest parks demographics had begun to change I.E "white flight" and North clayton would soon follow and then it would flow into riverdale, pointe south... Jonesboro & Morrow seemed to stay quite diverse and hold their propterty values. My parents still live in clayton county. i can't help but to notice a lot of crimial activty in clayton when watching the news. Plus problems with accreditation in the school system... I hear news that most of the doctors offices in that area are empty and that the hospital is struggling to stay open....anyways i am steering off course. Southlake was a very awesome mall full of very cool stores...They had a pet store close to sears upper level, an arcade next to that.Kinney shoes,sears, macys, riches( remember code 1 @ riches got many schools clothes there) Merry go round( for the top 80's fashion) it was THE hangout place on a friday night let that be no mistake. I haven't been to that mall in ages but the last time I went they did have a Hot Topic...but then again what mall dosen't have a Hot topic, or so it seems. yep good times my friends!

    1. I so agree with you on every word! I have alot of precious memories there especially with my kids and around every holiday for MANY years..

  6. I loved Southlake back in the day..

    Anyone remember the store that just sold Popcorn? I loved the popcorn ball on a stick with candy face.
    The Goldmine!
    The maple nut goodies and swedish fish at sears candy center.
    The Atari and ColecoVision area at sears.I mustve stood there playing for hours a week(goldmine was more about hanging out).
    The huge suspended pendulum ball in the atrium that made a tiny circle in the sand each day to measure the rotation of the earth.
    The original Black Tube Elevator!
    York Steakhouse...take a number, your steak will be out shortly.
    The ornamental Black wrought Iron gates that closed up Chik-fil-at night.
    The Waterfalls in the food court eating are from back in the day..

    Good times

  7. I remember back in 1981 (I know; old story that's on another thread) our high school group from Macon GA stopped by a Southlake pizzeria and ordered beer. They were dumb enough to serve it. Of course the servers and kids were caught and I heard the restaurant closed as a result.

    It went down the drain in the late 90s. The local-yokel restaurants in the food court replaced the Frank N' Furter and Piccadilly I so loved. I was one of the last customers at the Piccadilly.

    Regardless of Southlake's success, its urban clientele must spend money or the mall will be dead in eight or ten years.

  8. I'm often envious of cities that have multi-level regional shopping centers. For whatever reason, the two-level mall craze just never gripped the central gulf coast, an area of a million or so residents.

    Southlake itself isn't a horrible design, although if I were the developer/architect I would have added a bit more landscaping to the site.

  9. You were here recently. I can tell. I see the Clear Atlanta signs. ;-) I love this mall. I'm only 26 years old and my father bought me my very first suit in this mall. We used to own a laundermat in the area, even though we lived over in College Park. Johnathan is correct, Atlanta has the strangest white flight patterns in the nation. I am African-American myself and I've seen people leave the northern Fayette area, to the point where many people just avoid the Fayette Pavilion. But this mall is great, just wish there were better stores and shops, because this mall could pull in a lot of money from Henry.

  10. I was here at the mall in 2006 or 2007 first, but failed to get any pictures other than the Rich's sets I got back in 2004. Realizing that, I went out of my way to go back and get a full photoset of the mall mid-summer this year. I was more leery of getting mall photos in the past, because post 9/11 issues were still on the forefront and I had not yet learned about the mall cops and how they feel about photography.

    Southlake is not convenient for me at all, but it was part of my goal of covering all the malls of Atlanta. I am lacking two major malls and six minor malls. If you e-mail me, I'll tell you which ones I lack. I also never got a complete photo set of Gwinnett Place...another missed opportunity in 2006. I did not get full photos on my last visit because it was already covered on Labelscar.

  11. Southlake is now what I consider my "home mall" as I work near there and my in-laws live in Jonesboro. I started going there when I enrolled at Clayton State (College at the time, now University) and that's what initially pulled me away from Shannon Mall.

  12. Before Southlake came, those of us living south of town had to go to Greenbriar or Cumberland so it was HUGE when it opened. I remember vividly spending hours at Record Bar, 5-7-9, Lerner's, Spencer's and Davidson's.

    For those of us from Fayette County, it was THE place to go on Friday and Saturday nights. You would go to Bennigan's for some Death By Chocolate, hit Southlake and then go to one of the movie theaters nearby. I saw a sneak preview of "Top Gun" at one of them. My first date was with an employee from the Southlake Chickfila. One theater always seemed to show "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" as the midnight movie, and I attended quite often.

    On Sundays, my family would go to Picadilly for lunch after church a lot. Or we might eat at Wendy's at the end of the food court.

    Like David McKenney, I went to Clayton State College (1988-1989) and continued to shop there. I worked in Riverdale at a dry cleaners to pay for gas and books.

    I moved out of the area in 1996 when I got a job in Alpharetta. When I would go back to Southlake, I would notice how much the demographics had changed in the are but that business was still pretty darned good at Southlake, which made me happy.

    I have not been to Southlake in many years although I do meet my mother near it for lunch at Truitt's Grill on Morrow Industrial Blvd. That stretch of road has tons of stores and restaurants that seem to be doing quite well.

    One update you might want to know about is that on one side of the Southlake property, they've built a set of new shops that look almost like a little village. You can see it from the interstate. A friend of mine stopped by and said few of the stores were open but it was almost like a ghost town. I don't know if it is actually part of the mall or a separate endeavor.

  13. Living on the southside of town, my family had a laundromat near this mall and we would often visit it. I really hate that this mall doesn't draw from the surrounding areas. I mean, there can't be any fear, there's not really any white flight in the area. This area still does pretty well economically. I agree with the reader above, this mall does need some better landscaping.

  14. Southlake (for whatever reason) has gotten a worse reputation than it deserves in my opinion. There are a lot of rumors about rampant gang activity etc that I just don't really see evidence of in this mall.

  15. Unfortunately, a lot has changed since you posted this info, and the economy has claimed another tenant of this mal. According to the AJC, 01/24/2011, JC Penny is closing three area locations, including the Southlake Mall location, eliminating more than 135 jobs; retail in not the place to be employed, at least for the next five years. They are also closing The Home Store at Gwinnett Place, and the Forest Park location, number of employees are unknown at this time. See link:

  16. I grew up in SW ATL and Newnan it was huge when this mall opened. Before Southlake, we had to hike up to Cumberland. We avoided Greenbriar due to crime concerns. As a younger kid, I also lived near Greenbriar, and my family was part of the white flight, sorry to say, to Newnan. I loved and visited both malls growing up. Greenbriar at the time - early '70s - was already diverse and I remember it being very vibrant with shoppers black and white. I bought my first KISS album there - Record Bar maybe?? My dad and I even saw Maynard Jackson, mayor of ATL there once.

    Visited Southlake more as a teen, (the giant ball pointing in the sand!!!!!! I remember!!!) and spent many dollars and time there. Sorry to see these malls decay, but the represent fond memories for me.

    1. Thank you Thank you Thank you for mentioning the giant ball dragging in the sand...I was mentioning it to my boyfriend and he thinks I'm crazy even though he grew up hanging at that mall too! I rember it but he doesn't! I am going to use this comment as PROOF!!! I've been looking for pictures of it but cannot find any.

    2. I remember the pendulum in the sand!!!! It was huge and hung from the cieling.I grew up in the 80s and went to Southlake all the time! I remember the t-shirt shop and Perfect Place (hello kitty) and the tabacco shop (the tinder box) that smelled so good when you walked by. I would love to see some old pictures too!

  17. Despite what some may say, the lack of a variety of different types of shoppers has affected this mall. As the white, middle / upper class shopper base shifts more to Henry county, so do the retailers. Truthfully, without a large variety of different types of shoppers, most large retailers have no desire to service malls such as Union Station and Southlake. Older malls with a declining customer base tend to draw more ethnic -focused, small / local businesses which do not interest large retailers.

    Now, Sears is closing between 100 and 120 locations over the next few months (with the Southlake location being considered as one of those that will be affected). There are now also a few rumors circulating that Macy's is considering a move to Henry County in the Southpoint Retail complex so that they can be a part of a more upscale and vibrant retail environment. Honestly, If Sears should close, Macy's will inevitably be close behind as they seek a more profitable location.

    For a while, in the late 90's / early 00's, it looked as if the business boom along Mt. Zion and the renovation of Southlake in 1999 would keep the region growing well into the future. But as quickly as it began, the appeal of the area began to wane as it outgrew itself, changing retail tastes took out a few players (Circuit City, Media Play, CompUSA, etc.), and the main customer base began to shift south along with some stores such as JCPenney and Hobby Lobby.

    With all of this in mind, I would expect HHGregg's Mt Zion location to close within 2012 since it is virtually alone in the back of an increasingly empty shopping complex and not doing well with sales.

  18. I find it to be rather interesting that the Atlanta Regional Commission would not support a Mall for the Henry County area for fear of it's affect on the Southlake area. However, it seems as though the area will die it's own slow death regardless.

    I have many fond memories of Southlake Mall. I spent a lot of time and money within it's walls. It's sad to see it fall into a state of decline, but with the retail environment changing as it has with Henry County's continuing boom, it's not a big surprise.

    In a way, Mt Zion ended up drawing the business center away from the mall. When Henry Co. began to boom, Southlake kind of became the "northern tail" of the once busy area and it has suffered. Luckily the AMC 24 is still a popular place, this despite the fact that the shopping center immediately around it is suffering with a lot of vacancies.

  19. The list of Sears / Kmart store closings has been updated as of the end of February. The updated list is located at: ... Although the Southlake location is not included in the list, as I understand it they are not finished yet and are still evaluating some locations. Someone had also mentioned that General Growth Properties, that owns Southlake, wants desperately to keep the Sears store open there. And as mentioned above, I have also heard the Macy's rumor. Don't know if it's true, but it sounds reasonable considering Southlake's continuing struggle.

    As for Henry Counties Southpoint complex, the growth obviously isn't finished there. There was a story in the Clayton News Daily in December ( in which Jim Baker of Baker & Lassiter (developers) talked about new stores, mentioning the names of six of them. Then toward the end of the story, it says "He did not disclose the remaining three retailers". It's a big complex and there is still a lot of space to fill, so anything is possible.

    In another article in a Furniture Store trade magazine, it mentions Haverty's relocating their Southlake Mall store ( That's not necessarily a huge secret, but it should concern GGP/Southlake that retailers continue to desert the Southlake Mall area as they examine their "profitability threshold".

  20. I moved to Henry County 2 years ago, and have visited Southlake a few times. Even though it is Majority Minority I have always felt safe there. The word I hear though, from the construction industry in Henry is that the mall's days are numbered and it will close absolutely with two years.

    I do have a question, and hope someone can/will explain something to me.

    The story says that blight began taking over the surrounding area after the majority when from white to minority groups. The article specificly said that blight typically follows that trend.

    The question is: So why is that? If people are people then why does blight set in and crime rise just because the demographic for an area becomes "majority minority"? This is especially since the minority has been supporting the mall's stores in that the article says they have money to spend.....

    So why does it happen...

  21. While doing a little research, I came across the following outdated page about a shopping development planned for the Jodeco Road / I-75 area in Henry County: ( You will notice the anchor tenants being Dillards and Macy's.

    Although the page says "2012", the deal fell through a couple of years ago and never happened due to multiple financial and legal problems as outlined in this Wordpress blog:

    Of course, with all of this being said, this makes it even more possible that Macy's may indeed pull out of Southlake Mall. If they were serious about it then, they are probably considering it now.

    And as a side item ... it didn't occur to me that the LaZBoy Furniture Gallery moved to McDonough when they closed the Southlake Festival Store: The exodus continues...

  22. I was the one above who originally mentioned the pendulum ball and black tube elevator at southlake..after reading the subsequent comments I thought I'd add a little of my thoughts on the decline of clayco as we used to call it. I was born ijn 1974 and lived in clayton county until I went to college in 1991..we lived at first in cherry Hills / north clayton then in Gatewood in pointe south/Jonesboro, then finally Lake Jodeco where my parents still live (just inside Henry). As a kid, and I mean early 80's, the old national area had begun to decline..having had only a short prime period from about 1970 to 1980..the Arrowhead area was still very viable and Southlake was the pinaccle of southside retail. By the late 80's Arrowhead had hit deep decline and southlake was still very viable , but morrow Industrial was declining south from arrowhead toward the mall and all the development was now on mt zion south of the mall, starting with southlake Festival.

    I would say even before the demographic change, the rot in clayton had set in because the north part of the county had been destoyed for residential ..who wants to live next to the ever expanding largest airport in the world? and of course, the demise of the second largest employer in clayco, Eastern Airlines. In my neighborhood in pointe south, EVERYONES parents were either Delta or Eastern. I think the airport expansion, more than anything, led to the very short Prime life span of Old National, Arrowhead, and Southlake, in that order, because once blight sets in, it just expands.

    I do not know much about what killed the Forest park area..I know the Treasure Island/Richway stores there predate southlake, but they seemed old and busted even by the early 80's, then Treasure Island became Home Depot.

    BTW Richway was ten times cooler than Target or Wal-Mart!

    To all PSJH Viking ALumn.. P S J H a little louder! (Old cheerleaders never die, we just pull muscles)

    1. I was born in '74 too and grew up in the clayton county area. I went to Clayton Christian School.I remember the pendulum in the sand at Southlake Mall. Eating at Picadilly after church on Sundays. Going to Perfect Place. I remember even in the 80s we considered the Old National area "scary" and avoided it. I have since moved away and hear that now southlake is just as bad.

      You are right about Richway being ten times cooler than target or walmart!!

  23. Kind of a sad day for 70's and 80's southsiders today, for nostalgia reasons..

    Southlake Mall was foreclosed upon on 2/6/2013.

    So now it is no longer part of General Growth Properties.

    As I understand it, this did not effect the sears , macy's, vacant jp penneys, or the old davidsons(clayton county offices now) as the 4 anchor stores apparently are seperatly mortgaged/owned by the stores themselves, but it does include all other interor sections of the mall and food court.

    With only 2 anchors after JCP left, and 40% interior mall vacancy, per the AJC, it would not, in my opinion, be such an attractive or quick sale at a reasonable price..wonder how this will effect morrow further...

    I am thankfull that my childhood memories.. York steak house, k b Toys, perfect place, the Goldmine, the Gap, chess king, and the Tinderbox did not live long enough to have to suffer thru this humiliation!


  24. I worked at Southlake for Reeder & McGaughey Sporting Goods , some of the happiest were those spent working at that mall . I still miss it after nearly 30 years .

  25. It's sad how far the mall has fallen. I moved to Morrow in 1980 when I was 8. I remember El Chico, Piccadilly, Reed Drug, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks, Milton Bradley, Record Bar, Old Swiss Colony, KayBee Toys, Camelot Music, Spencers, etc. Went there many times growing up. When I moved back to Morrow again in 1997, I could tell that the mall was on shaky ground, figuratively speaking. Stores started pulling out left and right. I haven't been there now in probably 2 or 3 years.

    1. I was wondering if you remember the name of the pretzel place that was there in the early 80's. I remember getting a pretzel with chocolate sauce as a kid.

  26. It really sucks that JCP is now gone from the mall. I live between in the area right between Stockbridge and Conyers off 138. Now the closest JCP to me is at Stonecrest. So I do most of my mall shopping there now days. I fear that Southlake will soon be in the same boat that Gwinnett Place is in. I mean even the Disney Store and GAP pulled out of Southlake a few years ago. I knew it was starting to be the beginning of the end when both of those stores left. This mall might have its death soon if retailers continue to avoid this mall.

  27. Southlake is very similar to South DeKalb, on weekends, no body but teens, that just " hang out ". Keeps the older crowd out. A lot of closings. Was there today, and can still remember in 83 when the "real" Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore came for picture taking.

  28. plus harassment by Morrow PD did not help, once that crap sets in folks stop coming around. I saw the same thing in st louis county at a popular urban mall. the police would run road blocks on the main street,that killed a lot of business but that's st louis county. ferguson was not the only one running ticket scams