Sunday, October 25, 2009

Greenville Mall: Greenville, SC

Greenville was indeed overmalled, and having three malls in a city not large enough to support it is bound for disaster. The only reason this worked as long as it did was that the city has a very central location between Atlanta, Columbia and Charlotte, and all three malls had a significant diversity of anchors. Considering that, Greenville Mall existed most of its life as the accessory, never quite catching on. When it opened in the 1970's, it was anchored by Augusta, GA-based J.B. White and Montgomery Ward and served as competition to McAlister Square Mall. While that might have worked early on, it was crippled not long after it opened by Haywood Mall. In fact, it was headed for death in the early 1990's despite having two seemingly solid anchors. The biggest reason for that is that it was otherwise a one-story oddly laid out mall competing against two very solid malls.

Nevertheless, the owners at the time did not quite give up hope on a languishing mall. Instead, they undertook an elaborate and highly attractive renovation to the mall in 1995, attempting to "upscale" it by adding Parisian as an anchor as well as a supplemental Oshman's Sporting Goods as a junior anchor. Inside, many upscale tenants such as Williams-Somona were lured into the mall, and initially the change was very successful. Nevertheless, the addition of Parisian to the mall was far too risky. Parisian was not familiar to South Carolina, and its ability to attract an upscale demographic proved ineffective in the fickle market of the state. A few years after it opened, the owners of Parisian downgraded the store to more mid-tier Proffitt's, an even less familiar store from East Tennessee.

Some left over arched canopies sit between what is left of the mall and a popular movie theater added late in its life.

The downgrade to Proffitt's was proving a devastating blow to the mall. This was accelerated by the fact that Dillard's bought out J.B. White in 1998, which was likely not suspected in 1995. Dillard's already had a newer and nicer store at Haywood Mall than the older, smaller White's, and the store was immediately downgraded to an outlet after the purchase. Montgomery Ward was also in trouble as a company, a sure sign that the mall would soon be as well. Greenville Mall's anchor issues offered little hope of attracting replacements since the upscale anchor plan flopped, and Haywood had all the good anchors.

Walk inside the mall, and this is all you are allowed to see.  More mall is still standing straight ahead, but it is empty and open to the elements.  The Wards mall entrance is to the left.  I found this sight a bit painful to see.  Another Generation X & Y Main Street has bitten the dust.

Proffitt's had pulled out of the Carolinas somewhere in that time prior to the Belk buyout, and this left an obvious void at the mall where Parisian had tried to save it. In 2000, Montgomery Ward also liquidated, and somewhere in that time span Dillard's closed their outlet. At that point, the last remaining anchor was Oshman's, which was bought out around that time by Sports Authority. Despite a major renovation only a few years prior, the mall was doomed. Absolutely nothing could save it no matter how much money had been dumped into it only five years prior.

A bit more detail of the Sports Authority mall entrance and walled off area with a skylight remaining.

In 2006, demolition began of the by then largely vacant mall. It seemed that all was going well in the plan to modify the mall into a new lifestyle center known as "Magnolia Park", but then something strange happened. In the middle of demolition, work stopped and part of the mall on the east end was left standing. This included the former Montgomery Ward, still clad with its last logo used. This also included the still-occupied Sports Authority. Because of this, the mall entrance into the mall in front of Sports Authority was kept open and a portion of the mall still stands today, though all but the area right in front of Sports Authority was sealed off to the public. The credit crisis was part of what stalled the demolition, so what is left of the mall today stands as a very creepy reminder of one of the most colossal failures of retailing.

Despite the mall's pretentions of being a quintessential 90's mall, this extremely brutalist exterior suggests otherwise.  I see nothing here that is not stark and retro.

Wards here has been vacant for nearly a decade, yet very oddly it just looks closed for the night.  Apparently the store got quite a facelift in the 90's, and it shows.  Wards failure was devastating for many malls despite the public's derision of the chain best known for 70's throwback stores and its status as a distant second to Sears.

Nevertheless, a small part of the new lifestyle center was completed. A new Costco flanks the western end of the mall where White's once stood and a movie theater built during the last renovation on the east end continues to do exceptionally well. In addition, the corridor around it was forgiving of the retail disaster: it has exploded since then. In all honesty, it seems that Greenville Mall is cursed. The first mall failed, the second attempt failed worse and now it seems that trying to redevelop it has also been cursed. You have to wonder how a place could cause everybody that touches it so much trouble.  Still, it was a very important chapter in Greenville retail history, and I wish that I could have seen it just before and right after the 1995 overhaul.


  1. This place never should have been built, but the retail mentality of the 1970s was very different than that of today. J.B. White and and Montgomery Ward would likely not have been welcomed into McAllister Square or Haywood Mall at the time due to space and competition issues, and freestanding stores were almost unheard of at the time for mainstream department stores. So you end up with a white elephant. Sad.

  2. I love Greenville! I wish I could move back there!

    Okay -- now that that's out of my system...

    Neat post. I haven't been back since they leveled most of the mall, and it looks fairly odd to see what they have left.

    Couple of items to add:

    -- You're right, the Ward's did have quite a facelift indeed in the 90s. Monkey Ward's actually used to be in the Sports Authority (formerly Oshman's) spot. The story I've read is that Ward's built that new spot in sort of a "test" format. Guess it didn't pan out, unfortunately. As late as 2004 (last time I was there), the mall entrance had the Ward's logo up, including an "Electric Avenue" part, and if memory serves me there was a set of windows above the entrance, but I don't know what was behind them. By the time I arrived in Greenville, MW was well on its way out (it survived fairly long in the process...I think it closed in 1999. I can remember seeing ads in the paper for Ward's when I arrived in 1998...and of course, being stupid, I never went inside.)

    -- As mentioned above, the Sports Authority used to be the MW. Last time I drove by, which was 2007 or so, you could still see the labelscar of the old 1968-1982 type logo on the back entrance. If I ever remember to bring my camera with me (and assuming they haven't repainted the exterior, but I figure if they haven't done it in 15 years, what's a few more?), I'll try to snap a picture of it.

    This really was quite a nice little mall, but department store consolidation killed it, and Woodruff Road has become "the place" to avoid because of the absolutely horrible traffic between the old Mall and...well, all points east. The fact that the back of the mall butted up against I-385 also severely limited expansion. I always liked shopping there, but pretty much everybody knew that if Haywood would ever find a couple of storefronts for Eddie Bauer and Williams-Sonoma, they'd bolt over there in a heartbeat and it would pretty much be over.

    Always glad to see your posts, JT. I sincerely appreciate the time and effort you put into them!

  3. You choose to blog anonymously; what's wrong with readers commenting anonymously? I'm sorry that you don't see any value in my feedback, and you're wrong to assume that I know you and/or have ulterior motives in criticizing you. I was, in fact, an occasional reader who kinda-sorta liked what you're doing but could see problems with your sloppiness. And when it came to a mall, McAlister Square, that's a meaningful part of my personal history, I wasn't content to stay silent when you couldn't even be bothered to get the most fundamental fact about the mall -- its opening year -- correct.

    Generally, I'm bothered by self-proclaimed "retail historians" who act like any information that isn't instantly available can't be verified. I'm quite sure society's records of, say, the 1970s haven't yet disintegrated. If you, for example, feel compelled to write about when Belk Simpson opened at McAlister Square and what that means in the bigger picture of Greenville retail life -- then do that research. (Belk literally has a *book* in the corporate history section of its Web site; look there. Or e-mail the corporate office, or the chamber or commerce, or the library...) Or simply skip over that subject. Publishing misinformation just isn't helpful.

    You're blogging about an interesting topic. But by all means, if you don't want a wider readership, don't change a thing. I'm out...

  4. Okay, I let you post this to address what you said. First, I am not as anonymous as you think I am. Second, it is easy to assume you were attacking my work by your tone and the fact that has literally happened to me in the past, but not related to this. Third, "sloppiness" is not a fair assessment. This information is NOT easy to come by.

    Libraries, state archives and other institutions tend to snub modern history as a whole, and most newspaper archives are not available on the internet. Good luck on finding pictures of most of these places when they're new. I go back and improve on information when I find it or actually have the time/money to get it. I have done all that you have asked, and I got no results. Because of that, I rely on commenters to help me correct mistakes and hopefully submit content, which tends to create more quality results. Commenters helped me make posts on two malls with poor documentation very accurate when originally they were frought with speculation. On a third, I had to sort through conflicting accounts.

    If I had found this information easily, then I would have a lot more historical photos. Of course, if this was all easily available, what would I really have to cover? We do what we do because it seems that our parents are content on erasing our whole childhoods as if they were never there. They treat anything built after WWII as ugly and disposable while glamorizing the congested downtowns and antique lifestyles we never knew, and for sure they only caught the tail end of.

    I attempt the best I can to get the facts straight, but they just aren't there as a whole. Sometimes you can find newspaper records, but not always. Sure, I could travel to Greenville and study newspaper archives, but I live 150 miles away and rarely visit. Nobody else has offered to do so who lives nearby, and it would have been nice if someone like you had gotten me that information instead of blasting me for reliance on third party information. You could have posted, for example, McAlister Square opened on April 17, 1968 and Belk Simpson was added in 1979 (made up dates). I would have gladly corrected that if you had provided something like that.

    Most of what I have on this blog has never before been covered in any form online: sometimes even completely lost to the world before I can even cover it such as this mall. And FYI I looked through that book on Belk, and it did not exactly shed light on every store. They covered the store in Savannah, but even they did not explain about the oldest Belk location in Thunderbolt. I saw no mention of many Belk partnership stores (Rhodes, Simpson, etc). Sometimes I have to educate myself about the places I cover, and in Greenville that is absolutely the case. When the locals don't care, I do.

  5. Somebody's bitter.

    On the contrary to the anon. post, I've always found that JT is very receptive to comments and corrections.

    Nobody knows the history of a given mall better than people that grew up going there. JT didn't frequent many of the malls he posts here. He has taken the time and effort to chronicle them here for our enjoyment. If you have information on the malls he posts, put it in the comments. I've seen several examples where he has changed a post based on information from the comments.

    Look, the site isn't perfect. Neither is LiveMalls, Mall Hall of Fame, Labelscar, or any of the other great sites that we all visit. They are only as good (and as accurate) as those of us who read and post on them. We all have our areas of knowledge. JT knows all about Atlanta, Steven Swain and Pat Richardson are experts on the Charlotte area, I know nearly everything about East Tennessee. Sharing our knowledge is what makes all of these sites better, and I enjoy reading every one.

  6. I've run into many similar issues when investigating the history of movie theatres in different cities. The best source of information are newspapers since the grand opening ads can be found efficiently by "binary search". By that, I mean finding a time when it didn't exist, and a time when it did, and going halfway between the time points until the correct newspaper microfilm reel is found (usually within 15 minutes), then going through it to find the grand opening ad and associated articles. Sometimes, this has helped me find mall opening dates as well if the theatre opening coincided with a mall opening, as many did back in the 1970s and 1980s.

    Malls and stores aren't as easy to investigate using this method. Theatres advertised daily in an easy-to-find area of the paper, making the "binary search" easy, while stores advertisements aren't as consistent (although some large chains advertise regularly and list their locations in town in their ad, making those easy).

    When investigating history of establishments online, I find as much wrong information as correct information sometimes, but it's the only starting point.

    Another lesson I've learned is to never trust people's memories as anything other than a starting point for investigation. People are very bad at remembering years that things happened, in general. People will swear that they went to a certain theatre or store a couple of years before it actually existed. Even those history books that people write summarizing the years that businesses opened can be riddled with errors.

    Newspaper articles written about the past are also often in error. The original article written at the time of an opening or closing usually is the most reliable source, but it requires traveling to the city in question and spending time in the library, hoping they have a decent microfilm reader and a complete newspaper archive and let you "help yourself" to the reels rather than checking them out a couple at a time.

    I agree that the "middle historic age" of the 1960s through the mid 1990s is currently the most in danger of being lost. It's the main reason I tried to find the openings of so many early multiplexed in cities that have been closed or replaced with newer or larger complexes. While people care about the old theatres downtown, they neglect the ones built from the 1960s through the 1980s. A historian will someday look at the records and see the old downtown stuff and the gradual transition to what exists now will be lost.

  7. Greenville Mall- my favorite- and so heartbreaking to see it in its mostly-demolished state!

    I grew up in Greenville and Greenville Mall, when it re-opened in 1995, was so terrific- it went from being a mostly-vacant, run-down '70s mall to a pretty elegant one. I remember walking through it for the first time since the re-opening, in late 1995, and was just stunned at how nice it had become.

    Devastated to see what happened to that place, since Urban Retail Properties clearly put a ton of money and time and effort into it.

    McAlister was convenient but once Haywood and Greenville malls expanded and renovated in '95, its fate was sealed.

  8. Wow.

    I'm late here I know, but it's saddening to see Greenville Mall like this - that interior all boarded up just struck a nerve.

    I spent a lot of time there from 2003-2006 studying, walking the mall for exercise - it was safe (very good security, even up until the end), and so clean you could almost eat off of the floors if you wanted to. Unlike so many "dead malls", this mall was, at least, maintained pretty well up until the end. That was what made its closure so sad, it was still in perfect shape (I do remember the roof leaking, however) the day the door closed for the last time.

    I believe, if the new plans ever come to fruition, that Wards is being saved for part of the new center. I would think they are keeping that mall portion because if they destroyed that, it could pose risk to the Wards building and the Sports Authority. Too bad they destroyed that Parisian/Proffitt's building, it was top notch. The Wards building has been vacant twice as long as it was occupied!

  9. Don't worry about being "late" with comments. I have people comment on threads going back to the first posts in 2006. This blog isn't about the latest's a slow and steady collection of retail history so (almost) anything goes in comments based on the subject.

    I actually do appreciate your memories there...from what I saw from a flickr album it was a very attractive mall with just too much competition and a shoddy bunch of anchors, which is the primary reason it failed so badly. From the I-385, it looked just like the back of a strip mall instead of a shopping mall.

    What you describe is actually very typical...overbuilding of retail treating it all as disposable. If that wasn't true, fascinating malls would not be renovated into dull ones and all shopping centers would be built only according to the need in the area only. The thing with retail in general is that it is big business. If this had been a government building, it would probably still look like 1978 and would be considerably run down. I really think tearing it down was very hasty, though. I don't think retail is the best re-use of the site. I think it needed to be used for something else like a school or something since the city obviously did not grow at the rate they thought and it was over-retailed.

    It shows with Greenville Mall and any mall/shopping center that nothing is sacred. As to Ward's and Sports Authority...I think Ward's was probably supposed to be torn down from what I understand. Sports Authority, however, is there to stay. As to the "good security to the end", I probably would have been run off for taking photos of the place LOL.

  10. As someone who lives in Spartanburg, SC, but goes to Greenville quite often traveled to Greenville to go to the Greenville Mall, I have memories of it from the late 1980s. Does anyone have any photos of the Greenville Mall pre-renovations circa 1978-1994 or so?

  11. As someone who has many memories of the old Greenville Mall, it saddens me to drive by there today and see a Costco and Rooms To Go sitting on the perimeter of the old mall parking lot. While the rest of the mall, minus the newer Montgomery Ward building and the old MW/Sports Authority has been demolished. I preferred the mall before they tried to go upscale in the mid-90s. It had a unique feel that was welcoming to people of all demographics, after the renovation, it seemed to obtain an arrogant feel to it, minus Montgomery Ward, which like Sears seemed to be more blue-collar and middle class oriented retail stores. Does anyone know of any place online with any photos of the mall as it appeared from 1978 up until 1993 or 1994 when the renovations commenced. I rememeber going to see Home Alone at the OLD theater that used to be inside the mall up until the early 1990s to see Home Alone when it was released. Also have fond memories of playing on the playground that was in the mall as well as eating at the Burger King, Chick-Fil-A and Morrison Cafeteria that were all located inside the mall. Other retailers I remember from the late 80s include Camelot Music, Leisure Time Hobbies, Kay Bee Toys, Rite Aid Pharmacy, Greenville Baseball Card store and a friend told me he remembered a store that was called Oh Caluctta. I remember the tall bright neon green columns with light fixtures attached that stood outside of the old Montgomery Wards. I appreciate this site as it brings back memories that I just do not feel by going to Haywood Mall, Greenville's lone surviving mall currently.

  12. I was thinking about how much I miss this mall, and I realized that most every store that the mall had either merged (JB White, Parisian) or went bankrupt (Eddie Bauer, Montgomery Ward) or was killed by the Internet (Camelot Music, Intimate Bookshop).

    It just had the wrong stores. They were nice stores, but they didn't last in any mall, and Greenville Mall was populated by little else.

  13. I grew up in Greenville and remember how exciting it was the day this mall opened. It was a two car packed trip. I remember seeing Purple Rain about 15 times at The Plitt. I also was caught in a funnel cloud there and thinking the great looking sky light would fall in.
    It does break my heart to see this mall so thrown away everytime I go by. It was the mall equivalent to the Pavilion at Myrtle Beach.

    1. Ahhh the Plitt! I saw The Empire Strikes back there! Remember Der Dawg Haus? Or Aladdin's Castle? Loved that mall-McCrory's was down at that end and a sweet little pet store that I bought turtles at when I was a kid

  14. I grew up in Greenville in the 80s and early 90s, and I remember the old Greenville mall well. My mom would take me there on the weekends - I'd play on the indoor playground while my mom shopped at The Limited and Express. The playground equipment was made of concrete shaped like dinosaurs and abstract hollow trees, all painted in bright, cheery colors. On rare occasions we'd get a cheeseburger at the Burger King, which had the bright yellow and orange bench seats. At the end of our visit we'd stop at the giant gazebo-shaped kiosk near the front exit, and I'd get a chocolate/vanilla swirl Chupps lollipop from the lazy susan display on the counter. It was a happy place, and I was sad to see it go. Haywood is a great place to shop, but the Greenville Mall is where I grew up.

  15. I really enjoyed this reading this blog & the comments that followed. I currently live in the Greenville area, and grew up nearby. Yesterday my husband (for some odd reason) wanted to visit Sports Authority (typically Dicks & Academy have everything he needs, so we don't even think of the oddly located Sports Authority). The vacant, run down mall had a ghostly feeling and look about it. The Sports Authority had a large trash can standing in midst of shoppers to catch water dripping from somewhere overhead. In the back of the store, the entry that leads out to the middle of the mall was like the one at the front of the store- boarded off. However, the huge windows that typically have window displays, clearly gave an inside view of the haunting-like mall. Puddles of green alge water stand in several places over tiled floors. All the while, mold is growing and creeping up the wall directly across from me. I was quite shocked to see such graphic display- with only a glass window in between me & all of the hazards mentioned above. Will tear down ever continue? Or will the remainder of the mall just continue to decay under the elements- while shoppers purchase soccer cleats and bicycles all under the same roof? Seems dangerous- and sad.

  16. Drove down Woodruff Rd this weekend - hadn't been to Greenville in years and although it looks like it's in process of demolition, an open 2-story piece of Wards is still standing.

  17. The mall is gone now just destroyed whats left

  18. I moved there in 95. My brother and I used to go to Greenville Mall a lot because no one was ever there. The pizza place there was really good and they had KB Toys outlet that sold toys that you could no longer get in other stores. There was also a baseball card store and I remember they had Andruw Jones from The Braves sign autographs one Saturday.

  19. Plitt Twinn Movie Theater, Morrisons Cafeteria, Squeeze Pleeze, KB Toy, K&S toys, Alladins Castle Arcade, The Record Bar, The Coin Shoppe, Baseball Cards Plus, and Oh! Calcutta just to name off a few of the great stores in this mall. As a child of the 80s, I had fond memories of this place. Many birthday parties at Alladins Castle!

  20. Greenville Mall created so many memories for me. I grew up in Greenville. My second job was at KB Toy and Hobby at Greenville Mall. Tina was the manager and Frank the assistant manager. I was in Frank's wedding. When I turned 18 a few months later I went to work at Radio Shack. My first manager, John Hensley was awesome and he taught me a lot. 2 Guys Pizza was so good. Like I said... Lots of memories. BTW - this was 1980... I even remember when Chick-fail-A did not have waffle fries! Wow! I know I shouldn't live in the past, but there were some good times back then. Robert W.

  21. Greenville Mall created so many memories for me. I grew up in Greenville. My second job was at KB Toy and Hobby at Greenville Mall. Tina was the manager and Frank the assistant manager. I was in Frank's wedding. When I turned 18 a few months later I went to work at Radio Shack. My first manager, John Hensley was awesome and he taught me a lot. 2 Guys Pizza was so good. Like I said... Lots of memories. BTW - this was 1980... I even remember when Chick-fail-A did not have waffle fries! Wow! I know I shouldn't live in the past, but there were some good times back then.