Innsbruck Mall today has no department store anchors, but it does have an empty anchor pad for a never-constructed department store on the front side. Despite the presence of a Firestone auto center on the front of the mall, the mall never had JCPenney. In fact, JCPenney had a store close to downtown that moved to nearby Asheville Mall in 1989. Why Firestone is typically a clue is that mall-based JCPenney auto centers all converted to Firestone in the 1970's. What the mall did have for original anchors was Mason's Department Store and a Winn-Dixie. Mason's went out of business in 1975 and was replaced by Brendle's Catalog Showroom. Winn-Dixie also left in 1975 and was replaced by what was then the rapidly-expanding Ingles chain who took over locations of closed grocery stores in those years. Ingles has since grown into the dominant grocery chain in Western North Carolina and remained at the mall until 2006 filling out what appears to have been a 30 year lease on the store. Brendle's also remained at the mall until the chain folded in 1996. However, Brendle's never really "left" the mall considering that the family now owns the mall and leases out their former store.
A random storefront in the mall. Note the old-style display cases and doors as if this were open-air and in downtown. Perhaps this mall WAS originally open-air, but I have no way of knowing. Only the 1950's and 60's malls had these kind of storefronts in malls, and I really prefer those by far.
Looking from the end facing Tunnel Road to the back of the mall. Note that the mall seems to shrink toward the back. It's plain, simple and classic. These early malls were the best part about the 60's.
Both of these photos were taken in center court. On the last photo, I think that in a redevelopment, that brick store would make a very nice Starbucks. What do you think?
Innsbruck Mall obtained its name due to a since stripped down German theme the mall gained in the mid-70's that included such wonders as green astroturf (since removed) and Bavarian design cues, a few which remain in the mall. Before that it was known as Tunnel Road Shopping Center. Tenants in the mall in 1974 included Bailey's Cafeteria, Eckerds Drugs, Gordon's Jewelers, Macks Variety Store, Hickory Farms, Olan Mills, Snack Shack and Webster's. It is unclear where these stores originally were, but many of the tenants even then were mostly local shops. Despite the 1975 changes and later modifications, the mall has managed to hang on to most of its early mall elements in place: a plain, simple design; actual doors to all the tenants in lieu of the later open entrances and a strip mall element attached. It also has many little strange quirks that were generally only found in the first generation malls as builders were still trying to figure out what they were and how they functioned such as the two sets of side steps/escalators providing access to the lower parking lot, a disconnected outward-facing strip underneath the mall, a grocery store that connected to the mall and mystery spaces in the mall that have moonlighted as various offices.
Off of center court is this wing off to Ingles, which is now dark since it closed in 2007. The new store is beside the mall. Just before the Ingles entrance is a store with an outside entrance that was converted into a side entrance to the mall.
A close-up of the vacant entrance and store, which still says "To Ingles" as if its still there. This was the tiniest Ingles store I have ever been to, and I was glad to see it and get photos when it was still operational. I actually wonder if it wasn't the very first Ingles.
Since Brendle's and Ingles closed, the mall has hardly stayed vacant although the interior mall has been looking a little deserted these days. However, quite a few captive shoppers still enter the mall considering the NC DMV is one of the major tenants. Ingles has since been replaced with the less intriguing Plasma Biological Services. Big Lots and Office Depot operate side-by-side in the former Mason's/Brendle's with Big Lots getting to use the original mid-century entrance. Anna's Linens left a void on the lower level of the mall when the chain folded, but Dollar General still operates next door in the former Eckerd Drugs. One thing that I greatly treasure is that I was able to capture and put in this post photos of the classic Winn-Dixie/Ingles when it was in business. This store in business is shown on an earlier post, and I will soon publish the other photos I took of the store in operation. I did not photograph the mall at that point, because the mall is closed at 6:30 during the week and closed completely on Sundays. As a result, I was unable to get in. I returned later for more.
Here, I wanted to focus on this planter in front of the old Ingles entrance. While planters are always nice in the malls, this and all the others in the mall are totally out of control. Someone either needs to prune these or start from scratch.
Nope, this is NOT an emergency exit. It's not even supposed to be a walkway! This impromptu store with an outside entrance is being used as another mall entrance. I hope someday a store can be put back in here, but it will take more than rock bottom leasing terms.
The mall itself does not even look like a mall on the outside anymore. Graced with a stucco facade and inappropriate windows, the mall looks more like an office building than a mall, and that is most likely the direction the mall is headed as the remaining retail in the mall will likely relocate to one of the many golden opportunities across the city due to the decline of so many large chains. This is why I did not take any outside photos much, because the recent exterior renovation disguised its original appearance, and it is quite ugly. Inside, however, the only renovations that ever took place involved paint to make the mall lose some of its somewhat Bavarian-themed appearance. This is unfortunate, as it took some of the charm away and also exposed quite clearly that the mall has some mold issues making it look deteriorated in spots. That is probably to be expected, though, considering that most retail buildings in 1966 were built with flat roofs that notoriously leak.
Inside the REAL upper level mall entrance, which was drastically renovated recently (not pictured), is this hallway leading into the main part of the mall. The mall is to the right, the window overlooking the lost anchor is to the left and straight ahead is the doors to the stairs and escalators down to the lower level parking lot. These escalators in specific are a real treat!
Normally I wouldn't cover escalators in this detail, but these are special: in fact, rare. That is because these are very old-style narrow gauge escalators barely wide enough for an average weight person to stand on. They were in fact so skinny I was reluctant to get on them at first thinking they were rickety. These were manufactured by Westinghouse and were all running smoothly at the time of my visit.
Looking up from the base of the stairs and escalator.
The bottom portal. This stairwell and escalator pair has a twin arrangement like this between the Big Lots and center court. Those are also featured here.
Yep, they have a directory. The directory listing (not shown) pretty much shows the mall is over 50% vacant, which is by official definitions dead. I think this could change, though, and I think it could happen without demolishing the mall itself. However, I think the current owners pretty much view the mall itself as office space while the stores with outside entrances and direct parking lot access are viewed still as retail. From the outside, it pretty much looks like ugly offices which is why I did not photograph it.
Here are some shots of the abandoned Ingles inside and out. I think this would make a good location for a Trader Joe's, and maybe even a Best Buy if the store was expanded into the mall. However, I prefer the former option. This actually was not the last "disco Ingles" in operation. Hint, hint...
Looking outside at the lost anchor believed to be Penney's. This entire grassy plot obviously once housed a department store, and I really wonder why it was torn down. That tree out there definitely looks to have been there since at least the early 1990's, and this window is the size and shape of an old mall entrance. Both this and nearby Asheville Mall are situated in beautiful terrain as this view here suggests.
In all, Innsbruck Mall is a really fluky place to still be around in the state its in. In any other city, a wrecking ball would have torn it to shreds sometime in the 90's. I really can't predict how much longer it will be there, and neither can anyone else. In fact, an article written in 2015 was speculating how much longer one of the deadest malls in the country manages to keep on living when so many like it are long gone. Nonetheless, I definitely would not consider it a total loss even though the current perception of the mall is nothing more than an ancient dump with a few offices and no real stores anymore. The mall serves a niche and is located on a vintage part of Tunnel Road that, while dated, is not necessarily a slum either.
Now for a look at the second escalator and stairwell. To me, this is the perfect 60's mall shot. Very mood, lots of glass and some gaudy orange thrown in.
Just when you think it couldn't get any better, just to the right of the stairwell is the perfect 60's combo: mysterious stairs, wall with turquoise brick-shaped tiles, dark brick on old store to the right with long shutters and some wood paneling thrown in on the side of the staircase. This is downright groovy!
Now, take a look down these escalators including the orange panels in the window. Also look outside at the Office Depot and Big Lots. Here, I want to demolish both those stores outside, adding a two level structure outside and replacing the stairs (not escalators) here with a walkway straight across to the second level proposed movie theater and relocated Office Depot. Hands off the escalators!!!
A look at the base of the escalators with the engraved "Westinghouse" logo. I have never heard of Westinghouse escalators before I saw these. I also love those big chunky handrails in lieu of those scary thin all-glass rails that are so hot today.
My previous prediction that the DMV would take over the old Ingles did not happen, but if the owners wish to continue to operate the mall in any capacity they must have something in mind. Not only could the DMV take over a bunch of mall space, but a school/college, government offices or something else non-retail would likely be interested in the property at least in the short term. Unfortunately, any of those changes will lead to the loss of what makes the mall so special: the vintage storefronts that have survived years of tenants entering and exiting the mall that has long been eclipsed by nearby Asheville Mall.
Have a seat!
The back wing is smaller, but not necessarily more dead. The line in the background is to the DMV, which is why I don't have as much detail of that area. Also, I would have liked to have photographed the DMV office with its wood paneling, but I scrapped that idea for obvious reasons. This section of the mall is smaller and seedier. The owners don't seem to like to replace burnt out lightbulbs...a common problem throughout. Even though this part of the mall is isolated, it is actually doing the best. An alterations shop is on the left and a beauty school is on the right.
I have to admit, the clusters of track lights look kind of junky, but I like them for some reason. There is some sort of eccentric charm to the gaudiness of the 60's. The back door is in the background, and considering it opens up only to the driveway to the back parking lot makes its presense seem kind odd. It is nice, though, because it brings light into that part of the mall, and the hillside makes the mall look like it is in the middle of a lush forest.
Zooming in on the back door. I didn't go out so as not to disturb the smokers enjoying their break. What is amazing is that just outside the door to the right is a dry cleaners named Hour Glass Cleaners. They are completely hidden from view behind Ingles, and they do not have a mall entrance. Now I wish I had went out there, but I will be back.
This empty store next to the back door fascinates me. It actually had a pretty small footprint, but it is genuine retro. What exactly was this ever?
Zooming in on the skylights. These skylights for some reason are not directly visible, hidden by these glazed glass panels somewhat yellowed with age. These have to be original. While plain, I really like this style actually in comparison to modern skylights. It gives a really nice glow to the mall.
If a redevelopment back into a retail mall were to occur, some major structural changes would be needed. This would include vastly modifying the strip mall section that made up the former Brendle's. What I would do there is demolish the Office Depot and Big Lots, rebuilding on site as a two story enclosed strip wing to the mall with Costco on the bottom floor. On the upper floor, the portion closest to the mall would have a replacement Office Depot and a 16 screen movie theater on the left. The Costco could be built oblong into the back parking lot to allow an adequate sized store. A parking deck would be built over the front lower lot. In the front of the mall, the empty anchor pad would be filled with a sporting goods store such as Bass Pro Shops, Dick's, Cabela's or Academy Sports with two levels so that the top level opens directly into the mall. Although the two level wing would modify the inner lower level entrance, the narrow gauge escalators would remain adding a level raised walkway to the new second level enclosed hallway part with steps put in near the theater with additional escalators. The large window would also be removed since this area would be opened up. The other escalator/stair entry would not be modified.
This Firestone is a dead giveway that JCPenney used to be there. The fact is that when Penney's abandoned the auto centers, they sold them all to Firestone. This sits right at the foot of the lost store and it looks like its from the era. If so, the Penney's here would have closed in the 1980's when it moved down to Asheville Mall.
Here is the lower level mall entrance. Anna's Linen's is on the left and the grassy lost anchor spot is on the right. Inside are the escalators featured in the first set of photos.
Anna's Linen's (now closed), Dollar General and Ball Photo make up the lower level of the mall. They have no access to the upper level from the inside, but the area underneath goes deep. This is the area I think would make a good DSW location. In the background is Big Lots with an arched facade that was formerly the Brendle's entrance. Brendle's was closed last time I saw it: obviously for a very long time.
A look at Big Lots (former Brendle's) and Office Depot, which took over part of the Brendle's.
As to the mall it self, keep the mall as is, but clean up the place a bit adding more contemporary flooring, updated lighting (retro 60's only) and replant the planters. All ceiling tiles will also have to be replaced as well as fixing sagging spots. Also, repaint the ceiling and non-store walls to a more muted contemporary color scheme. Do NOT replace the escalators. Do nothing to the general structure inside the mall, though, as the 60's design with the new anchors would make it more of a niche and interesting touch. Also, do not allow anchor tenants to modify the original storefronts even if they need to expand into several stores for adequate space. The vintage entrances should remain as part of the charm. On the outside, however, I would definitely go for an all-out bavarian design to match up with the name. Make it look like Biltmore Village!
In 2009, I drew up this redevelopment plan, which could work with a few modifications if enough retail stores were interested. From these Google Maps photos, I pieced together this redevelopment plan. Note the light blue area, which would be a new enclosed hallway fronting the lower level where I am recommending a Costco. DSW would take over the existing three tenants on the lower level. This would also be the lower level of Outdoor World, which would front the improved mall.
The upper level plan is a bit more dramatic featuring a new parking deck, relocated Office Depot, new movie theater, new bookstore, new Trader Joes in the old Ingles and some renovations to the mall aside from a new multi-story Outdoor World. The parking deck would provide direct access to Outdoor World and Office Depot via the upper level enclosed walkway.
The fact is that Innsbruck Mall may be old and dated, but it is a survivor in a nice area in a prime retail corridor. So many of us are pretty stunned that such a vintage mall with no real anchor has remained open all these years later when many other far superior malls died off. Note the modified aerial photos included here that show my idea for the mall. I only wish that Asheville and the Brendle family could come together and discuss some really creative ideas to improve on and rescue this mall. A real investment with creative design might just bring a mall that most citizens of Asheville wrote off decades ago into a real destination for both locals and tourists alike that provides far more excitement than the line at the DMV.
FOUR videos of the mall along with a 1970's ad of the mall are available on YouTube featuring a dead mall whose popularity only seems to be increasing:
The Most Dead Mall in America: Innsbruck Mall, Asheville, NC [um, there are deader]
Tour Asheville's Nearly Dead Innsbruck Mall [Zombie mall!]
Exploring the Dead Innsbruck Mall [but you can still walk right in without being arrested!]
Exploring the Dead Innsbruck Mall [same title, different person]
Also see this awesome (yet completely cheesy) ad from 1987!
In addition, these aspiring rappers apparently felt the mall had some street cred.