When Mount Berry Square opened, its anchor stores were Hess's, Belk Rhodes, JCPenney and Sears. JCPenney jumped ship from Riverbend Mall the minute this mall opened, but both Belk Rhodes and Hess's maintained stores at both malls for a time since their leases had not yet expired at Riverbend. This was problematic for the new mall as stores at Riverbend did not leave right away, meaning the mall was mostly empty when it opened aside from the anchors. However, it was not lost on the stores still at Riverbend that the mall was looking old, cramped, dated and had a history of costly, unpleasant things such as floods. The problem was that stores in Riverbend did not all go to Mount Berry Square by default. A few remained until the end and many others relocated to nearby strip malls or standalone locations in lieu of Mount Berry. As a result, Mount Berry never completely filled up. To say the mall is on death watch is a bit ironic since the mall has never been a really big hit. Maybe the mall is just too big.
Looking at the inside of the mall entrance on the Belk wing.
A look along the Belk wing of the mall. The mall is typical early 90's fare with a mostly whitewashed looks and a few well-placed plants and trees. They really went on the cheap with skylights, though. The Belk wing has always struggled and had few tenants even during its peak years.
After the Rhodes sign was removed off of Belk Rhodes, the facade was left with many holes. Nevertheless, from a distance the sign looks decent, and at least it was centered properly.
JCPenney has a mall entrance on the Belk wing, but not the ONLY mall entrance. The other comes off the front court across from the former Proffitt's.
Looking back into the mall from the JCPenney mall entrance.
In 1992, Mount Berry saw its first anchor change as Hess's was sold to Proffitt's. Proffitt's, however, was not at all interested in the old Riverbend location forcing Bon-Ton, which purchased Hess's northern division to take over the remainder of the lease at that store. Later in the 1990's, Toys 'R' Us and Circuit City both found homes on the available outlots. A couple other restaurants are found on outlots, but not of the variety of usual malls such as Applebee's, Red Lobster and Chili's: all of which are found near, you guessed it, old Riverbend Mall. The next anchor change came in 1998 when Belk Rhodes dropped the Rhodes family partnership to become a company Belk store. The 1990's were the peak success of the mall, though it can never truly be said it was raging. The part of the mall near Belk has many stores that were never occupied.
A look along the Sears wing, which looked way emptier than the last time I visited.
This Sears store anchors the north end, and is relatively successful. Much of the mall business was found on this end until recently. This store moved from a free-standing location south of downtown when the mall opened.
Toward the center of the mall, the mall appears to have the most life. Here, an American Eagle joins several other A-class tenants situated mostly between the Penney's and former Proffitt's in the main mall corridor. The former Proffitt's entrance is to the right.
Proffitt's former entrance comes off the Sears wing, but like JCPenney it also has a mall entrance in the front court. This store also operated briefly as Hess's and at the last as a short-lived second Belk store.
Similar to Bradley Square Mall, Mount Berry had a quirky design. Both Proffitt's and JCPenney were built with two mall entrances accessable both from the main mall and the front entrance wing. The mall was typical 90's in design with light tones and very shiny faux marble floor tiles. The center court has a large fountain with muted planters, and a carousel forms the center of the front court. The mall also has a built-in food court, which is only about 50 percent full. The mall also contains a few other planters with trees, which were last common in malls built in the early 90's. No part of the mall has two levels, not even the anchors. In all it is a pretty standard mall for the time it was built, and the major advantage it held over Riverbend was size, a contemporary design and...no risk of flooding. Few other building sites in Rome proper are not at risk of a devastating flood, and the entire downtown sits directly in the flood plain.
The mall map is shown here. Note the dual entrances for the former Proffitt's and JCPenney. The mall is a pretty straightforward design, and definitely offered much more in terms of space and anchors to Riverbend. The problem is, much of this space is not being used, and the mall today has the same amount of anchors of its predecessor in the early 1990's.
This mall, unlike Riverbend, is very front facing. There is absolutely nothing behind the mall. It is very much oriented facing US 27, yet there are still back entrances and ample parking behind the mall. After the 1990's, the mall pretty much was holding its own until 2006 when Proffitt's was sold to Belk. Belk suddenly had two stores at the mall: the last time two Belk stores operated in Rome since the Riverbend overlap. Apparently, the lack of sales and traffic in the mall drove Belk to quickly abandon this arrangement, closing its second store in 2008. Now, the mall faces a vacant anchor with few potential tenants and a bad economy. In fact, the mall has very recently actually seen a decline in inline stores: especially on the Sears wing. In addition, Circuit City closed their location at the mall with the rest of the chain.
Looking along the front entrance wing toward the center court and food court.
Now I'm looking toward the front court and carousel. It seems carousels were as essential in 90's malls as fountains in 80's malls.
A full shot of the carousel.
The carousel with the front court Penney's entrance on the right.
Next to the former Proffitt's is this very hopeful banner on an empty storefront asking local citizens what they would like to see at the mall. Their heart is in the right place, and I hope it works. A junior Dillard's would be nice in the old Proffitt's and Best Buy in the old Circuit City.
To the left of the closed Proffitt's front court entrance is this abandoned restaurant. It is impossible to tell what this was, and it looks to have been closed for quite awhile.
The empty front court Proffitt's entrance. Very depressing indeed. This store was open, alive and assumed well only three years prior before the buyout.
Today, Mount Berry has an uncertain future. Now 18 years old and on a national list of malls in danger of failure, the mall has much working against it and not enough for it. The only reason it has survived this long is due to the lack of any other legitimate mall options in the city. If anything resembling a mall or lifestyle center with department store anchors opened closer to the city, the chances of survival would be dismal. As it is, the mall has had difficulties due to the redevelopment of Riverbend Mall. While the old mall is today a strip center, it features many tenants normally found in or around malls. In addition, the majority of retail in Rome remains situated near Riverbend Mall. The fact that the big box stores have never moved closer to Mount Berry has always hurt the mall. In all, it seems to have been built assuming the retail chains would all move closer to embrace it. That just did not happen. The bright side is that at present no new major shopping centers have been planned in the area.
Center court is open, airy, lush and features this basic but attractive fountain.
The reality of the mall having to redevelop partially or completely in the future is quite high. This is not lost on the mall as they have placed a large banner and comment card offering the public suggestions of what they would like to see in the mall. The reality is that Rome does not have a strong economy on its own, and many people commute to Atlanta for work. If this was not the case, the mall would be in better shape. Mount Berry is not located in an area that takes advantage of that. In fact, what keeps the mall alive for the most part is the fact the city has three colleges, and much of their business comes from high school and college-age students. This is why what is in business in the mall tends to be A-list, and youth is the most important demographic in higher end retail.
The food court in the mall has always struggled with vacancies, and opened basically empty. Today, it features a few restaurants that fill about 40-50% of the possible tenants. This food court is just too far from most of the core market lunch crowd.
Mount Berry in the future will go one of three ways. It will either maintain status quo for several more years to come, the mall will see a renaissance due to a renovation and interest in the currently vacant stores or it will succumb to competition that does not currently exist. Of course, there is also the possibility the mall may just die with no close competition, but if so that would be a symptom of a greater problem (such as a complete economic collapse). Any way you look at it, I have cause to be concerned about the future of this mall. While I think it is a decent and relatively attractive mall, I think it is in dire need of renovation and I think it does not adequately serve the needs of the area. Maybe I am wrong, but this mall is not in a favorable position.
Shown here are exterior shots of the smaller mall entrance into the Belk Rhodes wing and the main sign on US 27. Note that there is not much in the way of retail development across the street.
Here is a look at the outside of the lost anchor, Proffitt's. How I wish I had gotten a mall entrance photo!
Here is a look at all the anchors today fron the outside. A previous shot of the Proffitt's was included on my Proffitt's post. The door to the former Proffitt's still says "Welcome to Proffitt's" despite being a second Belk briefly.