Wednesday, October 21, 2009

McAlister Square Mall: Greenville, SC

Greenville is a city that has proven to be either quite significantly overmalled or quite possibly underanchored for the malls they have.  Over the city's history, the city has had four malls.  One of those, long-dead Greenville Mall is at present 90% demolished, and two others were completely repurposed: Bell Tower Mall and McAlister Square Mall.  Ultimately, the winner of the mall race became Haywood Mall, a quintessential shopping mall in every way.  Haywood is, in fact, the perfect 21st century mall.  However, before Haywood and Greenville both came on the scene was McAlister Square Mall. 


While long forgotten, McAlister Square is still very much in existance and very much open with normal mall hours.  However, as one of the two repurposed malls, it today functions almost completely as a multi-college satellite campus.  Five colleges hold classes in the mall with the primary schools using the mall today being Clemson, University of South Carolina and Greenville Tech.  A couple stores also continue to function near the main entrance including a cigar shop and a local restaurant that seems to be doing surprisingly great business.  Overall, though, the mall is completely empty when class is not in session.  It is not a traditional mall anymore by any stretch.  However, it's use as essentially a college campus has given it a bit of an interesting history as presidential hopefuls including later President Obama paid a visit to the mall during the campaign in 2008.  Nevertheless, in normal times if you needed a quite place to study on the weekend after class was over, this would definitely be the place to do it.


An older photo of this entrance showed that a more contemporary facade covered this original plain window and sign.  This entrance looks very, very similar to the original mall entrance to Columbia Mall in Atlanta.


Just inside the mall entrance looking toward the old Belk Simpson.  The main mall intersects ahead.  To the left is the one surviving restaurant and to the right is a cigar shop behind Nationwide.

McAlister Square had brighter, happier times.  Located on SC 291 between the downtown extension of I-385 and I-85, the mall was the very first mall in South Carolina not too far ahead of Dutch Square Mall in Columbia.  In design, the interior design was unmistakably similar to Atlanta's Columbia Mall, which opened in 1964.  It opened in 1968 with Charlotte-based Ivey's and Spartanburg-based Meyers-Arnold.  The mall offered a single level enclosed corridor with modern shopping, but the mall itself was quite simple and plain.  While small enough to be perfect for repurposing, it was actually amazing how long it continued to be successful.  In the late 70's, McAlister Square gained an additional anchor and back wing for Belk Simpson.  The anchor addition was likely a reaction to Greenville Mall, which opened in the 1970's not far away.  The mall also saw two anchor changes.  The first occured in 1987 when Meyers-Arnold became Upton's and the second in 1990 when Dillard's snapped up the entire Ivey's chain.  This new wing brought the mall to a clean symmetrical T-shape and solidified its presence in the city.  Right after this, the mall had trouble on the horizon.


Center court includes this stage and trellis-looking thing over it.




Looking down the east wing toward what was Upton's and Meyers-Arnold, today Greenville Tech's satellite campus.  All the other "stores" are related to the colleges.


The mall has no true skylights, just these narrow rectangular windows that likely looked very plain and ordinary previously.  They remind me of pictures I have seen of Dixie Square in Chicago and definitely of forementioned Columbia Mall (in Atlanta).

Greenville created a witches brew for malls: three malls all within a few miles of each other.  Literally, there were three malls in a row only three exits apart off of then-recently completed I-385.  Nevertheless, all three seem to compliment each other for a time because of a very diverse anchor line-up.  Dillard's buying two major local stores is the biggest factor in why things did not work out.  In 1980, McAlister had Meyers-Arnold, Ivey's and Belk Simpson.  Greenville Mall had J.B. White and Montgomery Ward.  Haywood had Rich's, Sears, Belk Simpson and JCPenney.  Only Belk Simpson was overlapping, but for some reason it worked for awhile.  Ivey's also had their exclusive location at the mall.



Looking down the Belk wing and the Belk Simpson mall entrance, which has never been covered up.


By not covering up, we of course get a peak inside at a store in surprisingly good condition for being abandoned for over 10 years.  It looks like work is being done, but nothing is actually happening.  This is apparently just storage.

For 20 years, despite the fact that not much retail was built around the mall, the mall continued to thrive.  Trouble brewed when Dillard's bought the Ivey's chain.  Initially, this change proved harmless because they had no other locations in the city.  Somewhere in that period, the mall was renovated to a tasteful late 1980's design that added some style to it.  It was likely renovated previously in the early 80's after a fire struck the mall, according to a post on deadmalls.com.  Even with the fire and its off-beat location and better nearby competition, this anchor diversity proved to be a blessing and a curse.  What also helped was how poorly Greenville Mall was performing then, meaning shopper loyalty remained at then much smaller Haywood and McAlister Square.  Since it was closer to Haywood Mall than Greenville Mall, this likely also made a difference.


Walking back toward the main entrance on the Belk wing.


Turning a corner from the Belk wing to the Ivey's wing at center court.


Looking down the Ivey's wing.  20 years ago, this place would actually have people in it on a Saturday night.


Ahead is the former mall entrance to Ivey's.  A side entrance to the front parking lot is on the left.  Both anchors had mall entrances next to the anchors.

In 1995, the end was imminent for McAlister Square.  Apparently Haywood Mall had aspirations of greatness, and the Dillard's was lured away to a bigger, newer, brighter store at Haywood Mall complete with a new wing, which greatly increased the size of the city's only two-level mall.  In addition, dying Greenville Mall was suddenly given a huge shot in the arm with a renovation including a Parisian: a new upscale anchor for the city.  Suddenly, McAlister Square was truly looking tired and out of the way.  McAlister Square was unable to replace that lost anchor, but the worst was yet to come.  Belk Simpson closed in 1999, leaving the mall with one anchor and a quickly emptying mall.  Belk had the best reason to leave since they already maintained a store at Haywood Mall less than two miles away.  Upton's folded later the same year when the chain went out of business.  When that happened, what was a maimed mall was suddenly a dead mall almost overnight. 


The back entrance of Ivey's maintains its original configuration.  The front has been modified with college labels and logos.


Belk Simpson maintains a very prominent labelscar.  It is a simple, but stately looking store and I am quite happy this last vestige of Belk Simpson remains although it is a bit creepy looking.


Upton's/Meyers-Arnold was an extremely plain, bunkerlike stores in desperate need of updating even when it did close. 

By 2000, all hope was lost of McAlister Square ever functioning as a retail center again.  It was historically significant, but it was by then a very small, boring, empty mall with absolutely no reason to go there.  What was worse was that the big box and other chain retail of the city also preferred the company Greenville and Haywood Malls meaning the mall relied solely on its anchors to keep it afloat.  McAlister likely would have been abandoned or demolished, but apparently the local colleges looking to expand enrollment took over the mall, converting the White's and Ivey's into satellite campuses.  However, Belk Simpson did not find new life in this conversion.  The store has remained vacant since it closed, though the store does not appear to be in disrepair and is still open to view from the mall itself.  The mall itself also does not pretend not to be a mall anymore.  It is still McAlister Square Mall and still has a very early 90's sign posted along the highway proclaiming it.   In all, South Carolina's first mall proved that it was able to last even if nobody wanted to shop there anymore.


McAlister Square also maintains a very late 80's/early 90's sign continuing to flash announcements.  One of those should be "Thank you for educating yourself at McAlister Square Mall!"

23 comments:

  1. I sincerely apologize about the hostile poster here. Apparently he never makes mistakes and has a far superior blog than mine. As you well know, I use this blog format to make corrections when information is missing, and quite a few of you were very helpful in correcting errors in regards to my accounts with Asheville malls.

    It is not as if I have the only blog of this type, and I would have appreciated this guy's information if he had presented it in a more helpful fashion instead of demeaning me.

    Sometimes it takes awhile to correct information such as the dates on Riverbend Mall when the information I have is vague or unreliable sources. With Riverbend, I researched on my own from newspaper archives and found exact dates, but it took me several years before I discovered that information based on a tip. Not one soul corrected me on those dates, and I ultimately updated that information myself. I wish someone else would shed some light on the nasty attitude of that poster and why he was acting that way.

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  2. As a fellow mall blogger; I have to say that your blog is an excellent read and I look forward to your posts. These types of blogs take many hours of time to create and maintain, so give some respect to J.T. for all of his hard work and dedication to preserving these establishments.

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  3. I have some video of the Greenville Mall that I can upload to my computer if you are interested. I know far too little about this mall to do a post on my blog. I was in Greenville back in 2003 training for a job at Ryan's Buffet and I shot video all around Greenville while I was there. I passes by this mall to film the Montgomery Ward building with the interesting sign.

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  4. That would be awesome, I'd love to see it! I have some creepy night shots of what's left of that mall that should be published today. I had to piece together information for a post myself.

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  5. Belk Simpson must have done pretty well here into the 1990s. The pink marble floors are a hallmark of the late '80s/early '90s Belk remodels, and they wouldn't have made the investment if the store wasn't performing.

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  6. I can't believe how well that Belk Simpson labelscar has held up!

    I visited the mall a few times when I lived in Greenville, but only once when it could still have been deemed a "live" mall (fall 1997). I remember I was looking for a new red tie, so me and 3 of my hallmates piled into my car and set off for McAlister. I don't think the three of them knew what they were getting into when I told them we were going there instead of Haywood...

    Belk did seem to be doing okay at the time. I remember it to be full of merchandise and didn't think it to be devoid of customers. The menswear department was on the first floor, so I never ventured upstairs, but I do remember that on the doors there was a sign for Jeni Lee's (can't remember the spelling), which was a little sandwich shop that used to be in there. I don't know if they were still in operation at that point, but I do know that they moved that location over to Haywood when McA closed.

    The mall proper was decidedly much more quiet. The only store I really remember was a bookstore on the Upton's wing almost at center court. I want to say it was a Waldenbooks, but I'm not going to swear to that.

    I also went to Upton's, which is where I found my tie. They had sealed off the second floor, but the escalator wells were easy to spot.

    That restaurant has changed hands a couple of times, but something is always there, so I guess the location must be okay. And that cigar shop has been there as long as I can remember. Did you happen to notice any radio stations there? I know that Rock 101 and their sister stations moved out there to space in the Ivey's wing, but I have no clue if they're still out there or not.

    It still amazes me, though, that we had so many malls within such a small area. I've always maintained that Greenville wasn't overmalled from a population standpoint but rather a geographic standpoint. But then again, back in 1980 when Haywood opened, the only anchor overlap between the three malls was Belk at McA and Haywood. My, how quickly things change...

    ********

    On a fairly unrelated note, I was shocked to see that "anonymous" poster's comments. Hopefully he hasn't put you in too bad of a mood!

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  7. I made a guess on which store was Upton's and which was Ivey's, was I right? I kind of assumed the bigger store was Ivey's.

    As to Upton's, I really wondered what happened to them. They advertised constantly, and it seems to me their buyout of Meyers-Arnold was a bit odd. I don't know anything about Meyers-Arnold, but I was a bit surprised to find Upton's anchored so many malls in unfamiliar markets in stores probably too big, and it did not seem they were a good fit in comparison to their jazzy streamlined 80's image. I always just saw them as a strip mall store on par with Marshall's or something.

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  8. I think you did indeed get them correct. Walking in through the main entrance of the mall into center court, Belk Simpson would be in front of you; Ivey's would be to your left; and Meyers-Arnold would be to your right.

    When GT became involved, they first redid the Ivey's spot, which between Dillard's and the college had been used for a gym. I can't remember the name of it, but it was one of those places similar to Peak or Bally's. If I recall correctly, they didn't do much to the exterior other than paint it a shade of tan and put the college names on the outside as you observed. I never went inside the old Ivey's anchor, so I can't really say what they did to the inside, but I assume you'd never know it were a former department store if you were to go inside.

    GT next moved down to the Meyers-Arnold anchor and gutted that place. They finished up right as I left in 2004, but didn't use it immediately. (Just as an aside for those who might not know, the main GT campus is about a mile south of McA on Pleasantburg). I remember them working on the exterior entrances, but I can't for the life of me remember what they used to look like. I don't believe they painted the exterior while I was there. Every time I drove by I wanted to get out and look in the doors, but alas, I was too chicken...

    The interior of the mall has remained relatively unchanged, other than the obvious boarded-up storefronts, and the entrance to Ivey's was all but removed so that you could see quite a distance into the interior.

    A couple more interesting tidbits to add:

    -- The Publix in the outparcel was originally a Winn-Dixie. I don't know when Publix took over. There happens to be a substation of the Greenville PD in the store (which may or may not be a little unnerving).

    -- Across Pleasantburg from the mall is a strip (actually, two strips facing each other) called Pleasantburg Shopping Center. Belk Simpson had a furniture and rug store at the far western end of this center. It was a two-story deal (probably more like one and a half, though), with the main entrance on second floor and secondary and service entrances on the back side of the lower floor. (Note that I never actually went inside.) Strangely enough (or maybe not), the furniture and rug store stayed open for a decent amount of time after McA closed. Maybe Steven or Pat Richardson can shed some more light on the Belk way of selling durable home goods, but I always found this annex interesting, both because I can't recall ever seeing another, and the fact that it remained open after the main store closed. I don't believe anything ever "moved" over to Haywood or nearby (definitely not into the store proper for lack of space). I don't know when the annex opened or what might have been there before, as the shopping center was built before McA proper (there's a picture floating around somewhere showing that). Today the spot is occuped by Kimball's Furniture.

    And finally -- Upton's. I have no clue on the history around their buyout of Meyers-Arnold, and I have no idea what Meyers-Arnold was actually like. There were a couple of other locations involved in the deal, including Anderson Mall. In my personal experience, I would equate them to a Kohl's. I agree that they did end up with some "odd" mall locations late in the process, and I still remember scratching my head when they just decided one day to close everything.

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  9. Belk-Simpson, like many of the Belk stores in larger cities, was a full-line operation until the 1990s. The Pleasantburg Shopping Center store was an early suburban branch and likely did not feature furniture at first, because that need was being filled downtown.

    Apparently when they opened at McAllister Square, Belk-Simpson closed or scaled back its downtown Greenville store and relocated the furniture department to the Pleasantburg store.

    Like Matt said, the furniture store lasted until the late '90s at least. Belk phased out of the furniture business when it bought up its partner stores and streamlined its buying operation.

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  10. I grew up shopping at McAlister Square, from the '70s until its demise.

    The Belk-Simpson opened in '75-ish. McAlister was the only "regular" mall in town and was doing really well then. (Bell Tower Mall was more of a discount mall.)

    McAlister was renovated in 1990. It had been renovated before- I'd guess in the early '80s. I don't remember when Belk's was renovated- probably sometime in the '80s.

    The Publix was built, oddly enough, in the late '90s, after Ivey's/Dillard's closed, I think. There was a Winn-Dixie, but it was next to the movie theater, on the other side of the mall parking lot.

    Unfortunately the line in the article about people being at McAlister Square on a Saturday night 20 years ago is not true- I recall having a date at the movie theater, and in between dinner and the movie, we walked through the mall. Not a soul in sight.

    The mall also lost its more upscale stores over time- Heyward Mahon (a Hart-Schaffner-Marx store), a higher-end jewelry store next to Meyers-Arnold (can't recall the name, but there was also one downtown), Ivey's, etc. After Dillard's closed, while the mall wasn't run down or downscale, it wasn't upscale, either- it totally did not attract the higher-end market, and it didn't have the size of Haywood (and thus had only limited selection), so its fate was sealed.

    The downtown Belk's store closed in 1980, when Haywood opened. Unfortunate, as I think that there would be a market for one now, with the total void of retail now between downtown and Haywood.

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  11. Wow...if McAlister was already that dead 20 years ago how did those stores survive in the mall at that point? I saw the whole truth of the Saturday crowd tonight...one mall ailing and the other a wall of people. Honestly, I did not see anything that would make you want to go to McAlister Square other than the stores itself. I'm also totally unfamiliar with the "Hart-Schaffner-Marx" thing that is being mentioned here.

    As to the downtown Belk-Simpson...I was guessing that was the metal-sided greenish building I saw when driving through there. It looks to still be closed. Downtown, however, looked to be very lively when I drove through in early 2009 but looked to be straining some by the time I came back later in the year.

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  12. Hart-Schaffner-Marx was one of America's premier suit manufacturers and is still a very popular brand of tailored clothing.

    In the '60s, the company got into the retail business, buying up any number of conservative menswear stores all over America. When sales of tailored clothing hit the skids in the 1980s, HSM divested its retail holdings, including Heyward Mahon.

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  13. 20 years ago McAlister did fine- it was definitely a strong #2 in town, after Haywood. Back then, Haywood was dominant, McAlister was doing fine and Greenville Mall was completely dead, except for the anchors, and downtown and Woodruff Road didn't have anything. You could see the writing on the wall though by the mid-90s- in the evenings, McAlister was completely empty, as was the Belk's most of the time (hidden away on the back of the mall).

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  14. In the article you said Meyers-Arnold was Spartanburg based. That is not correct. It was Greenville based, with a downtown store on Main Street. At it's peak, it had 8 locations, including Asheville Mall in NC.

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  15. The Meyers-Arnold on N. Main St. in Greenville is a department store again- Mast General Store.

    The Belk's on Main St. was next to the Poinsett Hotel. It's now demolished and replaced with an office building, Poinsett Plaza.

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  16. First, this blog about MacSquare (as we employees called it) brought back a lot of memories.

    The MacSquare fire occurred the first week of December 1981. It started in a store called "World Bazaar" - a store that sold wicker furniture. I was working in Eckerd's Drugs the night the mall burned. I have a 1982 photo of MacSquare on my blog where you can see workmen repairing the mall's roof (from the 291 side) between Ivey's and Eckerd's.

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  17. My mother used to shop at this mall very often when I was a kid. Unlike most malls, this mall never had a food court. I do remember that it once had a Morrison's Cafeteria that was accessible from the front side of the mall. Back in those days most Eckerd's Drug stores included a sit down cafeteria and the Eckerd's in McAlister Square had a full size restaurant that was located at the corner inside the center of the mall. One guy posted earlier that there was a bookstore in the mall It was not Waldenbooks. the name of it was 'The Open Book'. They evenually opened a store across the street but are not out of business.

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  18. Thanks for the walk down memory lane. When I was a kid, we lived off 291 & Mauldin Rd. We always did Christmas shopping at McAlister Square. That was a long time ago.

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  19. Does anyone have a photo of the old bell tower mall when it was a mall and not county offices?

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  20. As a child, my family lived in Taylors 1967-1975 (my age: 6-14) and my mother shopped at McAlister Square weekly. She would always go to the beauty shop just inside and to the left of the main entrance to get her hair done. (I think) I remember there being an Orange Julius, Chick-fil-A and a Record Bar in the mall. Also, the only time I ever sat in a mall Santa's lap was at McAlister. All the photos above were taken long after my family left Greenville in 1975 and look much more modern and contemporary than I remember the mall being. Interesting article and I'm sorry to hear the retail shopping mall died, even if the building lives on as a school campus.

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  21. Through the 70s and 80s I visited my grandparents in Greenville regularly, and going to McAlister Square was always a big treat. Funny that you mention the Saturday nights -- a usual Saturday night for us in town would be going to the Baskin Robbins there and having a sugar cone of mint chocolate chip. One of the reasons I always loved going to Greenville. Makes me sad that it didn't survive, but I guess given the location, size and shrinking universe of anchor stores, the writing was on the wall.

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  22. I grew up going to McAlistair Square on a weekly basis on Saturday afternoons. That was and still is the thing to do. However, I have to reply to Anoymous' post. The bookstore in the mall was Waldenbooks and the Open Book was at Pleasantburg Shopping Center, up the street. What killed the mall basically, I believe, was the fire in 1981 and the proliferation of the size of Haywood Mall, even before their expansion. Bell Tower Mall, which was opened after McAlistair's did never really had the business that McAlistair's did because of the location. Camelot Theatre was a mainstay of the area around McA's, but it also had its trouble and closed and reopened as a play theatre, and closed and reopened as the Camelot Movie Theatre again.

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  23. I recall going to Greenville in the last 70's with my Mom and Grandmother for "high class" shopping. Living in Spartanburg, we had Westgate, but McAlister Square always seemed fancier with a better quality of anchor stores and shops. In the context of those times and our decidedly lower middle class existence, going to a bigger city with a classier mall was a big deal, especially to an 8 year old kid like me.

    As a sidebar Spartanburg has always played second banana to Greenville, and the malls were no different. Westgate has never been a match for Heywood, and Greenville even had a better lousy mall (for all its issues, Greenville Mall was still superior to the ill-conceived Hillcrest Mall).

    Anyway, the days of visiting McAlister Square were always marked with about 2 hours of shopping, then lunch at Morrisons, the only restaurant I remember. I was too young to recall any specialty stores, but I do remember Ivey's which my mother must have thought was Nieman-Marcus. The Meyers-Arnold was also a little nicer than the one in Westgate, and I remember that store as superior in quality of merchandise than the Uptons that succeeded it. MAM may have also had a Crutchfield's sporting goods store, which later became Sam Wyche sporting goods. Needless to say, this was a long time before Dicks and Sports Authority.

    It's a little sad to read the mall is no longer being used for that purpose, but at least it's used for something. I would have guessed it got torn down and the site redeveloped. When Heywood opened we started going there instead, and I don't think I've been in McAlister in over 35 years.n

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