Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mall of Georgia at Mill Creek: Buford, GA

It is one of the largest malls in the country, and it is Georgia's goliath. Mall of Georgia is a monument to 90's prosperity and a symbol of the mall overkill and extravagance that led to the more subdued "lifestyle center" phenomenon. All of that is ironic, of course, because Mall of Georgia is not completely a mall. It is actually an enormous mall-lifestyle center hybrid. While five traditional department stores anchor the crescent shaped mall, the streetscape is one of the most dramatic presentations of the mall featuring restaurants, big box stores and even a conference center. An amphitheater for live music venues is also included in the outdoor part making the mall a complete shopping and entertainment experience. Needless to say, Mall of Georgia is quite the tourist attraction and is just as amazing as the grand name suggests.

Opened in 1999, Mall of Georgia is flanked by both traditional department stores and big box junior anchors. Traditional department store anchors include Dillard's, Macy's, JCPenney, Belk and Nordstrom. Belk originally opened as Lord & Taylor, and Macy's opened as Rich's in 2000. Rich's converted to Macy's in early 2005 and Lord & Taylor closed there later in the year before reopening as Belk in late 2006. The mall's junior anchors include Dick's Sporting Goods (opened as Galyan's), Bed Bath & Beyond, Barnes & Noble and Haverty's Furniture. Dick's and Haverty's both have mall entrances, Barnes & Noble is in the streetscape portion and Bed Bath & Beyond is connected to but does not enter the mall. A PF Chang's is also found in the streetscape portion as well as some of the typical lifestyle center fare such as Coldwater Creek and Restoration Hardware (closing on the visit pictured here). Haverty's is the only home-grown store at the mall, the last of the original Atlanta-based furniture chains.

A look at the Plains section of the mall. The Plains section is one of six distinct sections of the mall, and each section is introduced by a large mural on one side and a named monument on the other.

Inside the mall, most of the mall is two levels. However, a third level in the center tops off the behemoth. This level, however, is anchored only by the 20 screen Regal Cinema & IMAX theater. Last fall I went there to watch the Dark Knight and was greeted in the mall with the largest crowd of teenagers ever encountered. Needless to say, a mall like this will always be hip with the high school crowd, and who could blame them? Next to the IMAX theater on the bottom level is a humongous food court. Centered in an elaborate three-level atrium, the food court is actually pretty standard but offers an enormous amount of seating compared to the typical food court. The food court is part of the lower level main entrance and opens directly into the streetscape portion.

This mall is very hard to explain without a map. I hope this image shows what I can't explain as well myself.

Looking along the west arcade. the two arcades are identical, featuring articial purple-tinged light in an open archway. They are located between the center court and the next anchor over: JCPenney on the east and Belk on the west.

The mall itself is divided into themes representing the regions of Georgia. The eastern portion anchored by Macy's and Dillard's is known as the Coastal Mall. The portion from Macy's to JCPenney is known as the Plains Mall. The portion from Belk to Dick's is known as the Piedmont Mall and from Dick's to Nordstrom is the Mountain Mall. Each mall is very distinct architecturally from the other. The Coastal and Mountain portions offer the most beautiful designs. The Coastal portion features an ornate antebellum ceiling treatment while the Mountain portion features a wooden ceiling resembling an upscale cabin. All sections are very attractive and elegantly detailed. The mountain section is similar to the roof treatment in tiny Three Star Mall put on a grand scale. Basically, in that it is like comparing a grand piano to a pipe organ in a tabernacle. The mall also has two "arcades" flanking each side of the center court between the Plains and Piedmont malls.

A look at one of the courts inbetween malls. The mural on the right appears to be the entry to the Piedmont section.

A look at the coastal section. This is a very neat looking part of the mall, and it is my second favorite. Dillard's anchors this wing with Macy's and Haverty's off the court on the other end.

Now owned by Simon, the Mall of Georgia was the remaining legacy of one of the great Atlanta mall builders. This was D. Scott Hudgins last big project before he died, though his eventual plan was to build another Mall of Georgia type center in Canton. Mr. Hudgins was well known for his Atlanta mall projects with the company Cadillac Fairview, who was also known for earlier projects such as Gwinnett Place, Shannon Mall and Town Center at Cobb. In all, the mall encompasses 1,797,000 Sq. Ft, according the property facts sheet.

A look at the Piedmont section of the mall. The Piedmont section is inbetween Belk and Dick's. The Bath & Body Works on the last photo is apparently a second locatoin in the mall. Another location is also pictured here on the upper level west arcade. I didn't find out how many duplicated stores were in the mall, but I'm sure there are a few.

Malls like this would not be nearly as successful without all the distinct touches. In that, this mall has many interesting elements adorning it that I have seen in no other mall in the city. The mall features four fountains. One is a faux mill chute with water dripping down the chute into a pool below surrounded by fake stone. This is found in the Mountain Mall. The second fountain in the Coastal Mall is a more subdued Italian fountain like one you would find in Savannah or a city park. The third is a small one in center court, and the fourth is the showy jet-stream fountain found in front of the food court atrium. Also, the arcades are lit up with an arched lattice, which gives a surreal arbor effect. A carousel, standard in many 90's malls, is found next to the food court. Outside, a statue of Button Gwinnett adorns the top of the mall above the theater, and an outdoor walkway connects two parts of the mall on the second level with faux outside store entrances. The mall also features an empty anchor pad for a future department store. This pad currently serves as a lower level mall entrance and is walled off on the upper level.

Center court in the mall is absolutely massive. It is also the only three level portion of the mall. The third floor functions only for the Regal 20 Cinema & IMAX Theater.

A look at the ENORMOUS food court atrium. The first photo is from the third floor looking down and the second is from the actual food court itself. The food court doubles as the main entry from the east while the main entrance from the west comes from the second level.

Mall of Georgia, in my opinion, is far more impressive inside than outside. That's because its outside is an unfortunate 90's legacy of stucco galore outside of the streetscape. Most of the structure is fronted with stucco, which tends to mildew rapidly in Georgia heat and humidity. It is making the mall look more ragged around the edges already than it would if it was some other material. Dillard's and Nordstrom both are largely stucco structures. The streetscape side, however, is much more attractive with brick facades dominating.

Now for the heavenly "Mountain Mall". The Mountain section is absolutely incredible to me...a real standout in mall design. Of course, I am also a sucker for malls with wood-framed ceilings, and to me this is Three Star Mall with class and on steroids. Needless to say, in an era of so many bland malls, I have absolutely no complaints here.

Of course, it tends to make sense that the most elegant part of the mall would have the most elegant anchor in the mall. Nordstrom's mall entrance makes you think of the most ornate cathedral. If there was stained glass above that sign, it would be perfect.

It is a bit ironic calling it the "Mall of Georgia" when considering that the mall retail-wise hardly represents anything actually from Georgia. Imagine if all of the Georgia-based long-gone department stores across all the towns had a store in the mall. The anchors would be Rich's, Davison's, White's, Kirven's, Levy's and of course Belk, which actually came later. Each small store in the mall would be a store that had been around as much as 100 years in some downtown in the state. The mall's restaurants would represent popular local chains offering the best in Southern cooking and fine dining. The mall would also feature as junior anchors stores like Ellman's, Cullum's, Mansour's and other home-grown favorites. A farmers market would also be in the mall selling Georgia-grown produce, which is what Georgia is best known for. What mall representing the state wouldn't offer peaches and Vidalia onions? While this is fantasy, this to me is what a true mall representing the state would contain. An introduction of real Georgia in the mall would enhance the experience and increase tourist appeal.

My biggest complaint with malls today is the lack of unique touches such as lush indoor gardens, fountains and the replacement of raised and sunken seating areas with obnoxious kiosks. Mall of Georgia made an exception and provided not just one but four fountains. One in the food court I don't have directly pictured, but this one is the most fascinating with an apparent faux mill/mine shaft draining into a tiny pond. If they had made this 3-4 times larger and added vegetation, it would have been a sight to behold. This fountain is between Dicks and the empty sixth anchor entrance.

In front of Macy's is this more standard fountain, although it is still very eye pleasing.

The effect of Mall of Georgia, like many megamalls, was far reaching. Buford was relatively quite and rural before the mall opened. Afterwards, an explosion of retail and residential development occurred that included the reconstruction of the I-85 interchange and relocation of SR 20. Two new roads were constructed around the mall, and the population shifted predictably to match it. Its effects were not all positive, though. People began to fear that Gwinnett Place Mall would die, and Lakeshore Mall in Gainesville has been visibly affected by this mall. Lakeshore in particular was once protected by its sheer distance from Atlanta, but Atlanta grew to it instead, and the mall has lost quite a few stores since it was last renovated. While Gwinnett Place is alive and relatively well, the area around it has seen a lot of businesses closing and a huge demographic shift from when the mall was first built. Gwinnett Place also had much difficulty filling its empty Davison's/Macy's, which has only been recently acquired by a non-traditional store. Mall of Georgia also took the crown of the largest mall from North Point as well as a lot of its business.  It is even affecting Athens' major shopping mall, Georgia Square. Today, North Point struggles to find itself surrounded by a wealthy and fickle market though it continues to thrive on a more local level. In all, malls like Mall of Georgia tend to eat the competition with exception to malls too far or too well established such as Perimeter and Lenox.

Here is a look at the empty sixth anchor pad inside and out. In 1999, there were a lot more department stores to choose from, and this was probably intended for an eventual Parisian. It is doubtful this will be filled any time soon.  I am betting this was intended for Sears, which remains at Gwinnett Place with enormous success.

A look at the court between Dicks and the empty anchor from the second level toward Dicks. There is an outside entrance on that end as well.

This view is of the main entrance wing from the second level. Behind me is the three-level court. Valet parking is the only close parking to this entrance.

The main sign on the road looks like this. It is very subdued in comparison to the gigantic signs used for much smaller malls in the 60's. For example, note my previous post on "The Mall".

In this blog, I realized that not having a post on the largest mall in Georgia was defeating the purpose of the blog. After all, to many people an old dead or dying mall is dying because, quite frankly, the place was a dump with no decent stores to shop at. Malls with tarnished images are covered here, because people tend to miss these places when they're gone, but this is not a "dead malls" site. Who knows if one day there are not enough stores to fill this mall and it dies like an amusement mark that people stopped coming to? There is the "remember when" then there are photographs of "remember when" in its prime, like the photographs I continue to seek for Cumberland and Cobb Center. This is the mall in its prime. I have only visited this mall a few times, because the mall is so far from my neck of the woods. Nevertheless, I am glad that I am finally able to provide a complete view of the mall of malls in the Deep South.

If you thought the mall was it, I'm heading outside now. This is the oddest part of the mall, an outside walkway with no actual entrances connecting the entrance in front of Haverty's to the entrance across from JCPenney. This is only the beginning of what is found in the outdoor streetscape, known as "The Village".

The main entrance from the west is massive. This is from the second level, which suggests how large this really is. It even appears there is a fourth level here, which if so must be where the IMAX theater itself is located. On top is the Button Gwinnett statue.

Outside the mall is another huge fountain. This was pictured from another angle on the first photo. This one sits in front of the large food court entrance, and it exists as the center point of The Village. The girl playing in the fountain reminds me of many newsreels of hot summer days, and the day I took this it was scorching.

Another view of the streetscape with the big food court entrance in the background. The windows are shaped like a turkey's feathers plumed out. They should make them rainbow colored so it looks like the NBC logo. The same fountain in the previous photo is barely visible in the background.

Beyond the fountain is something unheard of any other mall: a small amphitheater. Live music is played at this amphitheater on weekends. Of course, don't expect to see any honest Nine Inch Nails or Jay-Z covers here.

A view along the cross street in the street scape toward Bed Bath & Beyond. Typical lifestyle center tenants found their home here.

The backside of the amphitheater features the mall's name as a centerpiece of the grand entrance to the mall through the outdoor streetscape portion. Barnes & Noble is on the right and appears to be one of their largest locations.

A look at all the department store anchors from their outside entrances as well as the two-level Dicks, which opened as Galyan's. I decided not to show the pic of Bed Bath & Beyond.

Other department store entrances, not previously photographed. Historic photos showing Rich's and Lord & Taylor will be published on another post due to the length of this post.


  1. It is a bit ironic calling it the "Mall of Georgia" when considering that the mall retail-wise hardly represents anything actually from Georgia. Imagine if all of the Georgia-based long-gone department stores across all the towns had a store in the mall. The anchors would be Rich's, Davison's, White's, Kirven's, Levy's and of course Belk, which actually came later. Each small store in the mall would be a store that had been around as much as 100 years in some downtown in the state. The mall's restaurants would represent popular local chains offering the best in Southern cooking and fine dining. The mall would also feature as junior anchors stores like Ellman's, Cullum's, Mansour's and other home-grown favorites. A farmers market would also be in the mall selling Georgia-grown produce, which is what Georgia is best known for. What mall representing the state wouldn't offer peaches and Vidalia onions? While this is fantasy, this to me is what a true mall representing the state would contain. An introduction of real Georgia in the mall would enhance the experience and increase tourist appeal.

    That gives me a good idea for a "Mall of Texas". The only Texas department store nowadays is Neiman Marcus but up until 2006 it would've had Foley's. Hmmm.

  2. Spectacular! One of the best, most comprehensive posts you've done here.

  3. "It is a bit ironic calling it the "Mall of Georgia" when considering that the mall retail-wise hardly represents anything actually from Georgia." This has been true of just about every mall built since the late 70s/early 80s. It's probably one reason why malls die so quickly. people's loyalties to them aren't very deep. There's usually a nicer or bigger one 10 miles down the road with the same humdrum selection.

  4. I've been in the Mall of Georgia only twice, I believe, since it's such a long drive from where I am. I remember it being far larger than any mall I'd ever visited. I'm thinking 2003 was the last time I went in there. I'd go there much more often if it were closer to me.

  5. The immense scale of this regional development borders on arrogance, that isn't to say that I'm not impressed with the architecture and layout.

  6. The lack of a Macy's in the initial 1999 lineup tells me that Federated was considering consolidation even back then and elected to only open a Rich's at the mall.

    I know alot of people at the time were surprised at the lack of a Macy's, although Federated then cited the 200,000+ square foot store just down the road at Gwinett as being one of their most profitable outlets at the time as a reason for not opening a MoG location. Of course that didn't stop them from opening a Rich's at MoG, nor did it stop them from abandoning that "amazing" Gwinett location for the mirrored Rich's across the mall when the consolidation took place.

    Still, looking back at Macy's store construction in the south in the early part of this decade, it suggests to me that the thoughts of consolidating went back alot farther than when the process actually began, like 5-10 years before it actually happened.

    Of course, another explanation is that Federated merely didn't want to compete with themselves, but it didn't stop them in the past. Just a thought.

  7. Great write up! Although I live close to this mall, I hardly ever go to it. Not the mix of store that I prefer to shop at. Instead I make the extra few minute drive and go to Discover Mills..which I think has one of the most unique mixes of stores for a mall. I think you should definitely do a write up on it..

  8. I think Federated had made up its mind by 1995 that they intended to proceed with one nameplate in the Atlanta market but let the stores run concurrently to see which one had more potential. Initially, it was Rich's, because they already owned the stores and historically have had high shopper loyalty, but as Federated's strategy started to evolve, they figured that Macy's could potentially have more nationwide marketability. hence, Rich's-Macy's, then Macy's.

  9. If I recall correctly, the BB&B/Haverty's anchor was planned to be an Upton's. Also, Belk used to be a Lord & Taylor.

  10. The BB&B/Haverty's was always planned to be what it is. The Upton's store was built and ready to open in 1999 across Woodward Crossing Blvd from the mall where American Signature Furniture now stands (in the Target/Best Buy shopping center).

    The BB&B will be relocating from the mall across Buford Drive to the former Linen's N Things in January 2010.

  11. As a 'local', I would also point out that another feature of the Mall Of Georgia is the presence of historical displays and memorabilia. You can walk through this mall and in the process get a history lesson on Atlanta and Georgia. BTW, the enormous food court was designed to resemble the historic Atlantic train depot, and there is a display complete with historic photos overlooking the food court from the 2nd floor. The historic displays featuring Atlanta (not necessarily elsewhere in Georgia) appear to be similar in nature to that of Underground Atlanta. The large fountain outside is designed as an interactive play area where kids (and adults) can actually walk through it, which as one can imagine, is refreshing on a hot summer day!

    For a great shopping destination as well as a crash course on Georgia history, Mall of Georgia is the place!

  12. When the Mall of Georgia opened, it was not long before Christmastime and I needed to earn some extra cash. Through an ad in the Atlanta paper, I got a one-week temp job there processing credit card applications at Nordstrom's. I remember thinking then, "WOW, this is one heck of a mall!"

    The temp agency asked me to stay another week but out in the mall at a table to give out slips for a drawing for a new car. I think the most fascinating thing about it was watching people from the more rural parts of North Georgia come in to shop. I am pretty sure a few of them had never even been inside a mall before. My favorite memory was the family of four in which Mom, Dad, teenage girl and little boy were all wearing "Hooters" t-shirts. HA!

    I still like to go up to Mall of Georgia because it has just about every anchor store AND specialty store you'd ever want to shop at. They also have a Nordstrom Rack and Home Goods right next door to the mall.

    It is also worth noting that the decor is very warm and inviting. At one end near Dick's, they have comfortable rocking chairs. When my son was a baby, I often gave him a bottle in one of those chairs. The wood is beautiful and takes away the sterile feel many malls have.
    The carpeting makes life easy on the feet, too.

    There are a gazillion dining choices around the mall, too.

    The last time I was there, it was a Saturday and the place was packed. It is indeed very popular with teenagers but they all seemed pretty well behaved. Exuberant but well behaved. The IMAX also draws people far and wide.

  13. I wonder if Von Maur could open in the empty anchor pad. When they announced they were opening at North Point Mall, they mentioned opening two other stores in the Atlanta area as well. It would make sense, I think, to open here as well, with the third store either in Cobb County or in the Lenox/Phipps area.

  14. I personally think Von Maur is making an error starting in Atlanta, and that they would be better off starting out in a hungry market like Knoxville. I guess they are hoping to build a stronger image by hitting the classier, but also more fickle market of Atlanta.

    As to the two other locations, my guess is that they will open one in Cherokee County in lieu of Cobb County. Neither of the two malls left in Cobb County are what they used to be. The only place in Cobb County that would be a possibility is the Avenues at West Cobb, but that's it. However, I would venture they will open in Woodstock or Canton. A lifestyle center is planned in Woodstock once the I-575 interchange (currently under construction) is completed. I expect Von Maur and Dillard's to open there as the two anchors most likely.

    1. I could see Von Maur opening at MOG in the anchor pad. I'd rather it open at Phipps between Nordstrom and Belk, but MOG is more likely.

  15. George P. BurdellMarch 1, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    Which interchange is under construction? I haven't been up that way in a long time.

  16. The craziest thing that was done was to build the Mall Of Georgia. It isn't so much that it shouldn't have been done. It was good for metro ATL. However, I've always been baffled with the fact that the M.O.G was built in a county(Gwinnett) where two other malls exists. Worse, all of them are at least 5 miles away from each other.

    With all of these malls in close proximity to each other, some one was going to be affected. From what I have noticed, Gwinnett Place Mall is slowly going down. Discover Mills is still good, though I have no idea of how they are doing profit-wise.

    From what I've heard about M.O.G, they are struggling a little,possibly because of the malls' location.If I was going to build a mall, I certainly wouldn't put it where other malls are a skip and a hop from each other. I guess the builders wanted a mall that is similar to that in Minnesota.

    To me, malls like that should be built in areas that is at least 25 miles from each other and/or isn't surrounded by too much of anything. It seemed that the builders were too excited about Gwinnett's growing population to the point that the forget about the other malls. Someone's mall is bound to suffer.

    P.S. Underground ATL is in some SERIOUS need of help. It changed from a jewel of Atlanta to a basic glorified Flea market. There is nothing amusing about it anymore. Maybe Kasim Reed should do something about it. If I was a tourist, I would get bored with it.

  17. Mall of Georgia is simply too big and too traditional for the amount of actual stores available today. It was strategically located, however, where it could tap into South Carolina, I think. Also, the income levels around the mall are the highest in the suburban realm. Realistically, a mall like this should have been built in Canton or Cartersville (underserved by malls), but the income and population levels are lower in that region. I guess all that area will get are a couple lifestyle centers.

    Also to note the list of malls struggling due to Mall of Georgia: Gwinnett Place, Lake Shore Mall and Georgia Square. Gwinnett Place is also being hurt by the Forum at Peachtree Parkway.

  18. "Realistically, a mall like this( Mall Of Georgia) should have been built in Canton or Cartersville".

    I agree. Population and income are the unfortunate factors in the creation of malls. The owners really played Russian roulette with building M.O.G. If Cartersville and Canton had both, it surely have been great for both of these cities.

    Wow! up until you mentioned it, I really didn't know just how many shopping venues,other than the malls I mentioned on my post, was near Gwinnett county. Whether it's East, West,North or South, there are no shortages of them in that place.In spite of the additives of population/income that Gwinnett have, this was one of the most foolish things that the owners could have brought there. I just would have left that project alone. There are other counties that need shopping venues besides them.

  19. It's ironic and sad that Scott Hudgens, the guy who built this mall, ended up killing his own Gwinnett Place Mall in the process. It's not just the mall that has been affected, but the surrounding community (which he called home) that has had to live with the negative reputation now associated with the mall. I remember how insanely successful Gwinnett Place used to be... funny how things can change in 10 years. Sadly, living up to their fickle reputation, Atlantans showed no loyalty and all but abandoned GP soon after the newer malls opened up north on I-85. All in all, the surrounding area itself is not as bad as some people make it out to be. But the damage has been done.

  20. I have never fully understood the reasoning behind placing such a large mall only 10 to 15 minutes away from two other malls. Not so long ago, Gwinnett Place Mall was the place to be. Now it seems as though the area is greatly over-served. Take a look a this new article in the AJC about Simon Properties relationship with Gwinnett Place: http://www.ajc.com/business/gwinnett-place-malls-future-1385310.html ... very interesting and informative article about the area.

    Gwinnett Place has fared the worst by the abundance of shopping destinations, but Discover Mills hasn't escaped unscathed. I have seen the shops change to less recognizable, more discount focused retailers at Discover. With the looming demise of Gwinnett Place, The Mall of Georgia may yet get the Sears store that they lack. I doubt that Discover Mills will benefit from it considering its increasing amount of small problems.

    However, the Mall of Georgia is far from being a premier shopping destination itself. It is much too large to support some of the shops located in out-of-the-way areas, the village appears to be vast with no focus and receives a minimum of foot traffic at times when the mall is packed with shoppers, and the food court selection has changed to the point of having Taco Bell and Checkers. Ultimately this mall will continue to be successful well into the immediate future, But it will be interesting to see how the changing retail environment in the region affects it.

  21. I live within 5 minutes of MOG and frequent it a lot, as beautiful as it is, I never realized the different parts were named after the regions in Georgia. I enjoyed reading this post and learning all the history of the mall. Very nicely written, thank you!