Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mount Berry Square: Rome, GA

A previous post I made detailed Riverbend Mall, the predecessor to Mount Berry Square. From that post, I basically detailed how Mount Berry Square was directly responsible for the death of that mall when this mall opened in 1991. Built by Crown America, then owner of Hess's, this mall today is a troubled mall in a very odd location. Mount Berry Square is named as such for Berry College close the mall and Lavender Mountain to the north and west, thus the "Mount". Mount Berry Square was isolated when it was built, and today remains just as isolated. Basically, it is located about 2-3 miles north of Rome beyond Berry College near Armuchee and is located a considerable distance north of the by-pass. Shoppers must drive past the college campus to get to the mall. In fact, chain retail stores are few in number around the mall, and what stores are there are all located on outlots of the mall. While it maintains three major department store anchors, it was a poorly conceived and poorly planned mall that has never been completely successful, though it has maintained an A-list tenant roster since it is today the only mall in the city.

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.


  1. I went in this mall the weekend it opened and it was extremely crowded despite few stores being open originally. Within a couple of years, the mall seemed to reach its peak. There was an NRM music store (National Record Mart) in the Belk wing that went deeper in their oldies selection than most stores, and through the mid 1990s it was fun to go in there. There was a Camelot music up in the Sears wing that seemed like one of the smallest stores in the chain and it must have done so poorly that it remained a Camelot after Camelot became "fye" everywhere else. The store closed later. It seemed around that time, another CD store opened after the other two closed, but I can't remember which it was. With Circuit City selling CDs for $5 less than the mall store, the store didn't last long.

    I remember a guy who sold tie-dye shirts from a kiosk in the mall, and my first ones bought came from there. He was there in the early and mid 90s and it seemed that the mall lost some of its charm after he was gone.

    As for the location, in the early 90s, there was tons of talk about a Huntsville-to-Atlanta freeway and I'm guessing that the location was chosen because that freeway would have crossed US 27 close to the mall. However, that freeway has never come to fruition and likely never will. The mall always seemed isolated and I figured there was some "grand plan" for a new highway up there or for more development.

    I went in this mall very often through the 90s when my parents lived only 25 miles away in Cherokee County, AL. I'd visit them on some weekends once every month or so and would always drive to Rome at some point.

    By the way, this mall caused the demise of that stand-alone Sears store you mentioned, which I have tons of memories of as a kid. I'd love to know the year that Sears opened on 2nd Avenue.

  2. I like the center court and food court and the exterior design is nice in that early '90s postmodern on a budget way, but the overall design reminds me of the New River Valley Mall and other Crown American properties: very cheaply done and disposable. I hope it doesn't die, but it's not too looking good.

  3. Mount Berry Square Mall has actually grown and is now pretty popular. Rome is also a pretty big city, being any where in the range of 10th to 20th largest city in Georgia(out of all the cities in GA!) The population is almost 40,000, with 4 colleges(Shorter University, Berry, GA Northwestern, and Ga Highlands)Every time my family visit's Mt. Berry Square mall it is always crowded and booming. I do not see a death any time soon for this mall. The mall is almost completely full now with still the 3 anchors(Belk,JCPenny, and Sears) and about 50 specialty stores. The food court is just about completely full as well now. With Rome being the largest city in Northwest GA it is a perfect mall for Rome. It is not that far from Downtown. Only Like 5 to 10 minutes north.

  4. I will have to check it out, but I am glad to hear it's doing better. The mall will survive as long as a lifestyle center does not end up draining it (and one is planned). I could definitely tell from the sign posted in these photos that there was a concerted effort to improve the place. Is the mall under different management?

  5. It is under new management. They are trying to fix the place up. As the article says the inside is poorly designed and could be done A LOT better.

  6. I visited this mall a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting friends in Rome. Many vacancies to the point I'm surprised it's still open. I'm guessing it survives since these are the only locations for Sears, JCP and Belk in the area. The mall/dep't stores were dead, except for the senior walkers and a couple of moms (and employees, of course). It was a weekday, but I've seen more people at the same hour at Greenbriar.

    If location was based on an interstate that isn't even on the drawing board, it was very foolish. Perhaps their research also indicated growth was expected to move in this direction.
    At any rate, the area doesn't seem to be able to attract businesses.

    I have friends in Rome, professionals, that will drive to Town Center in Kennesaw to shop. They are disappointed many national retailers aren't interested in Rome, though this area could support them. The center that replaced Riverbend has some of these shops, but not many. Their biggest complaint is that Rome doesn't have a Target, but has TWO Walmarts and a KMart. The closest, in Cartersville, is 20+ miles SE. It would be a great shot in the arm to the mall for Target to open nearby.

  7. Remember this was Crown America that built this. Almost none of the malls they built today are successful, and in every case they put perfectly good malls out of business overnight. Riverbend was a highly successful mall before this mall opened, and now it's gone for good. I think a new mall is needed east of town along US 411 that is close to where the Loop 1 interchange is planned. This would draw people from Cartersville, and it would be close to the original mall where most of the retail district STILL IS. I guess the owners at the time felt the suburban development would push towards Armuchee, but Rome really has not grown that much.

  8. I visited this mall today. First of all, I do agree that it is in an odd location. I pulled up the address from the mall's website, but I was taken to the wrong place. I was so confused. I remembered this website said that the mall was located past Berry's campus, so I just followed the signs until I finally found it. It looked like it was in good condition and I saw plenty of people milling around in it. I was expecting an almost dead mall with only a few stores, but I was surprised to see Victoria's Secret, Express, etc. I was also surprised to see all the vacancies as well. The corridor leading to Sears is flanked with vacancy after vacancy. The food court has several places to choose from. I lived in Cleveland and experienced the joy that is Bradley Square Mall, and I would take Mount Berry any day over Bradley Square. This mall is lovely and I hope it turns around and fills those openings.

  9. I think the restaurant used to be a Piccadilly. My grandma used to take me shopping when I would visit her in the early 90's.

  10. Hull Storey Gibson has bought the mall. Not good news for the fountain.

  11. Get ready for a *4(5*^3^&*^!%*& HSG renovation. I don't think Proffits will be filled any time soon. Bad news to the mall.

  12. In the last 10 years, I believe that the restaurant at the front was a Mexican restaurant, then a community church, and maybe a coffee shop.

  13. I live near clevand tn BS mall got a face lift maybe since BS mall owns this place it will to

  14. I got a terrible haircut there once. Spent 4 (okay, 4 and a half) years in Rome and probably went into the mall 3 times.

    But I hate malls in general, so it's not really a reflection of the mall's quality.

  15. Sears is closing this spring

  16. I like Belks store but I hate that music they play so much I cannot shop long in there. They need to turn it down and change it to a more relaxing type of music. Despise it!!!