Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oglethorpe Mall: Savannah, GA

Shoppers have faithfully flocked to Oglethorpe Mall since 1969, the original mall in the Savannah.  When it opened, it was a very basic and dark dumbbell shaped mall anchored by major anchors Belk Beery and Sears.  Junior anchors were Adler's, Morrison's Cafeteria and Piggly Wiggly.  A theater was also located on an outparcel, which later briefly became Fine's department store.  The mall itself was one level, but both major anchors were two levels, though Belk would not open their second level for years after the store opened.  The mall is located fairly close to downtown along the city's prime commercial corridor, but it is not near an interstate.  In fact, the nearest interstate, I-516, ends a couple miles away from the mall.  Nevertheless, its location on Abercorn Expressway (GA 204) proves to have remained a highly viable area.  The development along Abercorn as a whole is highly unusual, since most suburban development tends to cluster around major interstate interchanges.  In all, Oglethorpe has proved a highly successful survivor that shows no signs of slowing down.


Oglethorpe Mall is unique for several reasons.  First, it was the first mall in not just Savannah, but all of Southeast Georgia.  Second, its Belk Beery location was the very first mall-based Belk store in the entire chain.  Mr. Beery, based in Wilmington, NC, built the store and opened it before the Belk brothers opened their own.  Oddly enough, this store was never signed outwardly as "Belk Beery", but simply Belk.  Third, it is a uniquely successful mall not to be located along a major interstate.  Fourth, the mall proved to be a survivor despite its age and a long-standing threat from newer major competition that proved that age is nothing but a number.


 

 

Along with the first photo, these additional photos show the elaborate design and money dumped into creating a showy center court.  In a city noted for its history and classic Victorian architecture, Oglethorpe could not exactly get away with a plain, simple and dumpy main court area in their malls.  They came through in spades, and this still remains an extremely contemporary look.

While Oglethorpe Mall is only one story, it was expanded greatly in the 1980's.  In fact, it was one of six expansions/renovations to the mall, which occured in 1974, 1977, 1982, 1985, 1992 and 2002 according to the mall's fact sheet.  The 1974 renovation was a very small renovation adding six stores in the back of the center court tied to what is today the JCPenney wing.  The 1977 renovation was tied to the closure of Adler's, which was replaced with the small section near the front of the mall known as the Prominade located near Belk, presumably where Barnes & Noble is today.  In 1982, a new wing was constructed off of center court resulting in a new JCPenney and Levy's.  Levy's was a very local department store with its only other known location in downtown Savannah.  Levy's proved to be too small to compete and sold out to Jordan Marsh in the late 1980's.  Their store at the mall was very small, thus proving to be inadequate and was later demolished.  The 1992 renovation was the most dramatic, transforming the city's first mall into an beautiful mall with elaborate skylight and ceiling treatments, better than average floor treatments and a more elegant appearance overall than your usual mid-market mall.  The 1992 addition also gave the mall a more competitive edge.  The Barnes & Noble was added in 2002 and I'm guessing the food court as well.  Other renovations aside from those renovations have been more subtle with the intent of keeping the mall completely up-to-date in decor and feel.  In all, I have seen few malls this attractive.

 

The 1982 addition continues straight back from center court, located directly inside from the front mall entrance.  All expansions to the mall went behind the original 1969 mall corridor.  The second photo shows the bend in the pathway.



Oglethorpe is a lot like a grunge song...like the soft melodies erupting into hard chorus lines of music, low key corridors open into bright, showy and extravagant court areas. The mall has three of such court areas.  This one is front of JCPenney, and originally in front of Levy's/Maas Brothers as well before it was torn down and expanded to a new Rich's.

Oglethorpe Mall changed because it had to.  It dominated the market for a fairly long period of time, but this all changed when a larger, shiny new mall came into town: Savannah Mall.  Savannah Mall was a very real and ominous threat when it opened in 1990.  Local residents feared that it would kill Oglethorpe Mall.  It had four department stores, two levels and an elegant, contemporary design that kept the mall formidable for over a decade.  Oglethorpe was old, had only one level and an outside appearance that suggested yesteryear.  This is why Oglethorpe tried harder than most malls to stay ahead, further upscaling the appearance of the mall in 1992.  The 1992 project was risky, but necessary, because the mall would have had no hope othewise.  In fact, Oglethorpe did not get a solid foothold on the market until around 2005 when Savannah Mall proved that its anchor line-up was not so strong, and its location not so ideal.


The mall map is the best way to explain how a simple basic straight shot between Belk Beery and Sears became a major mall.  The corridor pointing south was added in 1982 and the wing out to Macy's (former Rich's) in 1992.  It is possible to travel the mall in a circular fashion by leaving the mall entrance next to Macy's and re-entering in the Food Court. 

 

I made this map to show how the mall was laid out in the early years using 1975 as a reference point.  The 1974 addition suggested that the back entrance was originally intended for a third department store anchor.  Was Levy's always planned for the mall?

It must have been tough to be mall manager in those years considering that both malls had Belk, and any anchor loss at Savannah could have resulted in Oglethorpe losing an anchor of their own.  1998 must have been especially worrisome when Montgomery Ward closed their store there, leaving an opportunity for any anchor at Oglethorpe to jump ship.  This was all put to rest in 2003 when Savannah Mall was starting to show its age and subsequently received a two-fold crushing blow.  Both Parisian and Belk (no longer Beery) closed at the mall together almost at the same time  Belk had three locations and was cannibalizing their sales, and Parisian was underperforming.  This left the newer mall looking very precarious with only Dillard's left.  Of course, the truth of the matter was that Oglethorpe was only in danger if they gave up.  Oglethorpe always had the best anchors.  It had the original and largest Belk, Sears, Rich's and JCPenney.  In contrast, Savannah Mall had a sketchy anchor lineup with a more inconvenient Belk, over-expanded Parisian, doomed Montgomery Ward and Dillard's, which was less known and relatively new to the market at the time.


The Macy's wing blends in well with the rest of the mall.  It seemed owners were careful to maintain a consistent design throughout to make the mall not seem piecemeal.


 

The Macy's court (the third court) features two entrances into the mall, virtually side-by-side.


Gracing all the courts are large, classic-styled fountains.  Unfortunately, none were operational on my visit.  Note that all of the courts give the names of the anchors accessable by the connecting corridors.


Leaving the Macy's wing re-entering the JCPenney wing.

The story of how Rich's came to Oglethorpe Mall is the strangest.  Levy's was first bought out by Jordan Marsh, a major Federated-owned department store located in Florida and New England.  However, Jordan Marsh planned to leave to anchor Savannah Mall soon after opening there, so Maas Brothers, a Tampa-based chain, took over the spot.  Maas Brothers also took over the Levy's store downtown previously.  Family members were intermarried between the owners of the two chains, so Maas Brothers coming to Savannah was more than a coincidence.  In 1990, Maas Brothers was consolidated into Burdine's, Federated's then remaining Florida division.  Jordan Marsh never opened at Savannah Mall, however.  That same consolidation that eliminated Maas Brothers also included them as well.  Burdine's also posed a problem in the frenzy for Savannah as well.  The problem was, Burdine's was exclusively in Florida while Rich's was most dominant in Georgia.  At that point, the mall needed to expand to survive against new competition, thus the smaller Maas Brothers building was demolished, a new wing built, and a brand new two-level Rich's was built in lieu of Burdine's.  This Rich's looks a lot like the stores of today, but was a better constructed building with actual block in lieu of stucco.


Looking along the Sears wing, which is noticeably wider than the added parts.  Many of the stores on the right have outside entrances: a practice that fell out of favor for many years after the 1960's.


Arriving at Sears court, which like Belk's court is less elaborate, the mall continues on the left into the food court.  Also, Old Navy is on the right.  Over time, junior anchors took up several slots on the right (front).  Old Navy also has an outside entrance.  It previously operated as a McCrory's five and dime.

Savannah Mall has since lost many of the stores that were kept from Oglethorpe, and the two tended to overlap on many.  It once had the Abercrombie & Fitch while Oglethorpe did not.  Not long after the anchor closing spree at Savannah Mall, many of these stores either fled Savannah Mall or consolidated into Oglethorpe.  Because of that, Oglethorpe today is nearly 100% leased: in fact, it is likely the healthiest mall in Georgia.  Oglethorpe also gained a group of non-traditional anchors along the front of the mall that added significantly to its appeal including Barnes & Noble, Old Navy and Stein Mart.  It even oddly holds onto its Piccadilly Cafeteria today, suggesting that the mall has something for everyone.  The legacy Belk Beery also renovated its entryways, abandoning its basic arched canopies for a more elegant design more in tune with the legendary local architecture.


Looking down along the Belk (Beery) wing.


The Belk store at Oglethorpe Mall has been a baby of the company for a long time as one of their higher margin and well-established stores.


The older shoppers are provided a Piccadilly Cafeteria immediately outside the store.  This originally opened as Morrison's with the mall, and it has obviously been substantially renovated since it was Morrison's.  Why has the younger crowd so firmly shunned cafeterias?


 

Catty-corner to Piccadilly somewhat facing Belk is Barnes & Noble, which joined the mall in 2002.  I am always happy when Borders, Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million anchor a mall since the smaller mall-based book stores have mostly faded away.  A decent book store provides a reason to shop at the mall besides clothing. The Barnes & Noble here was previously the "Promenade", which was built into what was originally Adler's department store.

Since the 2003 fiasco, the only change to the mall was when Rich's was merged into Macy's: hopefully the last department store merger to affect that store.  All other department stores at the mall were original.  Pretty much all that Oglethorpe Mall lacks today is Dillard's, which is likely hanging on due to lack of space at Oglethorpe among Savannah Mall offering attractive leasing terms, pressure or a long-term lease.  In fact, the only way that Dillard's could reasonably be built at Oglethorpe would be to create some very odd configuration such as tearing down and relocating one of the anchors or creating the confusing mall-thru setup on one of the anchors.  Rest assured, Dillard's will jump if the opportunity arises such as any of the anchors closing or relocating.


I am not back looking from the Sears wing into the food court.  The ocean blue lighting is surreal, but very beautiful.



Design-wise, this has to be the prettiest food court I have ever seen.  While food courts tend to be more comfortable and attractive than most of the mall these days, I want to give them accolades for this one.  Of course, food was always the order of the day in this part of the mall...it previously housed a Piggly Wiggly.


Walking back from the food court is this wavy, neon overhang going back to the Sears wing.  It seems Cumberland Mall in Atlanta employed this look into their renovation much more heavily.

In all, there is absolutely nothing I could say negative about Oglethorpe Mall.  It has everything I like: a fascinating layout, attractive design, interesting fusion of past and present, a good choice of stores and it is located in one of the most historical and beautiful of American cities.  This may sound like a promotion, but I have likewise been very harsh or dismissive about a few malls on my blog.  The thing I like the most about it, though, is that it is a survivor.  Most of us retail enthusiasts are disgusted when we see the classic mall in a city die because some new retail phenomenon came into town and crushed it along with everything around it.  This time, it was the other way around.  The older and wiser mall won the mall war, and a finer and classier mall was the result.


This open court area divides the outside entrance of the food court from the outside entrance into the Macy's wing.  Macy's is the large anchor on the right.


 

A couple views along the front of the mall facing Abercorn Expressway.


The mall's main entrance.  Note FYE also has an outside entrance.


 

Sears remains in its very original 1960's glory outside.  I am not lying, I really think this design still looks cool.  Sears did some interesting modernist stores in the 1960's. 


Macy's (former Rich's) today seems to be mimmicking this design, though this store thankfully uses real block instead of cheap stucco.


JCPenney, like Levy's before, was built too small.  Levy's was demolished, but JCPenney remains, looking straight out of 1982.  While plain, it still looks like new and somewhat eye-catching.  Perhaps its just the era I was born in?


 

Belk Beery retains its classic arches on the back.  Apparently it was too difficult to modify it when it was tied into the parking deck.  The front, however, was drastically modified from my last visit.  The front looks nice, but something just doesn't seem quite right about it to me.


Piccadilly was also greatly modified.  I wish I knew what this looked like originally.  I wish I could send modern architects and builders to Stucco Anonymous.  It looks cheap, period.


The mall logo looks great, though the sign obviously lacks the Googie flair.  The logo is fun, stands out and makes you want to shop there.

In another post, I will be adding pics taken in 2004 of Rich's at the mall.  Because of the length of the post, I am posting this separately like I did with the Mall of Georgia post.

25 comments:

  1. Piccadilly was originally Morrison's, thus it always lacked the gothic theme that Piccadilly used throughout the 70's.

    I agree that the redone Belk entrance is attractive, but maybe it's a bit out of scale with the store or perhaps it's simply odd to see this design on a Belk.

    JCPenney is very typical of its 1980's stores, simplistic and attractive at the saem time. Few seem to pull this off, but JCPenney tends to build conservative yet attractive stores that age better than other mall department stores.

    Now if only Macon Mall could pull off an Oglethorpe Mall style comeback. But with Parisian shuttered and Dillard's jumping ship to the Shoppes at River Crossing, Macon Mall has a tougher road to haul. Belk intended to open a second store at River Crossing, fortunately for Macon Mall, Belk has postponed the store due to the economy. As long as Macon Mall retains Sears, JCPenney, Belk and Macy's, it still has a regional draw, but is too large in this era of lifestyle centers and consolidation of department stores.

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  2. Amazing! I lived in Savannah from 1973 1994, and every time I thought that I'd throw in some additional information, you beat me to the punch.

    But here goes with some perspective and some minor details:

    In 1973, Savannah was basically a mid-size seaport and paper-mill town that had only begun to realize its potential. The historic district grew sporadically for 20 years, but it grew very methodically. Retail-wise, prior to the opening of Oglethorpe Mall, shopping was concentrated downtown on Broughton Street, which was anchored by Levy's, Hogan's, Penney's, and Belk. By 1957, Belk also had a "mezzanine store" at Crossroads Shopping Center on the east side of the city.

    Nothing left downtown when the mall opened except for Belk. While the Belk store had been built as two levels, the upstairs remained unused for about fifteen years until a total re-do of the store in 1985. Prior to the remodel, the store was the typical "grandma Belk," complete with a budget store. It also had a weird configuration, in that once you entered from the mall, the whole sales floor skewed at a 45 degree angle, and you totally lost your sense of direction.

    All of this fit Savannah just fine, however. In both the department store and grocery markets, it seemed that Savannah tolerated B-level stores. Those with money saved their "real" shopping for Atlanta; those who couldn't afford that were satisfied with what Savannah had to offer.

    This began to change with the addition to the mall in 1985. Until that point, Oglethorpe Mall was basically a repeat of downtown's Broughton Street. For 15 years after the mall opened, many locally-owned stores maintained two locations in the city. Among them: Lesser's Men's Quality, Harris the Hub, Lady Jane, Town and Country, Levy Jewelers, Globe Shoe Company, and Morris Levy. The national/regional chains in the mall when it opened were by no means upscale, and included Zales, McCrory, 5-7-9, Lerner, Chess King, ThomMcAn.

    Additionally, when the mall opened it also housed a Piggly Wiggly; this was one of only three stores in Savannah, and it was part of the Piggly Wiggly Carolina operation. This store was located where the food court is today.

    Also, there was another anchor - of sorts - when the mall opened: Adler's. Adler's had been Levy's major competition downtown until a fire destroyed their 5-story store at the corner of Bull and Broughton Streets in 1957 [?]. After the fire, Adler's opened a store in the Victory Drive Shopping Center, directly across from the Belk. They moved from a full-line store, however, to a store which only carried ladies, children's, linens, and toys. They kept this store after opening their Oglethorpe Mall store, but operated it as a budget store. Adler's was located in-line immediately adjacent to Belk, and directly across from Morrison's/Piccadilly. While it was almost as large as the future Jordan Marsh store would be, it only carried girls and women's wear, as well as cosmetics. The store closed in 1976.

    AND...attached to the back of the mall, but not accessible from inside, was a theatre. Oglethorpe Theater was the last one-screen movie house to operate in Savannah. When the theater closed, Oglethorpe Mall goofed. The theater became home to Fine's, which was a decidedly upscale women's store that had been located on Broughton Street for decades. Fine's turned the theater into a beautiful two-level store, but - while it was attached at the rear to the mall - there was never a mall entrance. The store didn't last in that location for more than two years.

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  3. The two expansions:
    In 1974, it was big news that the mall was expanding...by adding six stores! The expansion was in the center court, immediately opposite the corridor from the main entrance. Until that point, there were doors to the rear parking lot. The mall simply filled in an indent in the back of the mall with these stores. I can only remember Casual Corner as being a part of this expansion.

    In 1977, the former Adler's store was gutted, and a short corridor called "The Promenade" was opened. It was to be a row of upscale stores anchored by Nine West on one end, and Laura Ashley on the other. This was never very successful, as stores opened and closed on this short corridor on a regularly-scheduled basis, it seemed.

    1982 saw the corridor with Penney's and Levy's/Mass Brothers/Jordan Marsh. It was at this point that many national chains located in Savannah, with The Limited and Gap making their first appearance in town.

    1985 saw the opening of Belk's second floor, and the building of a parking deck adjacent to Belk.

    1992...what a mess! In addition to razing Jordan Marsh and building a new corridor to a large Rich's, the whole mall was being rebuilt into the award-winning showcase it is today. Shopping at the mall by walking through tunnels was just something to be tolerated for over a year, but it was well worth it.

    I was gone by 2002, but that would have been the adding of the big box stores along the front.

    And it just dawned on me...this is the only mall I have seen that has no outparcels. Other than a bank on one corner, and a former Sears auto center on the side, there is nothing else because there is actually no perimeter road around the mall. It's landlocked by four heavily-traveled surface streets, and outparcel development would have made normally bad traffic even more miserable.

    Keep up the good work...and I guess Savannah Mall is going to be next. I promise I won't be as long-winded about that one.

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  4. Wow...excellent information there (and a lot to correct)! So some former junior, etc anchors to the mall included Piggly Wiggly, Adler's and Fine's. I also saw Hogan's mentioned...I'm guessing that disappeared early in the game? The last seemed to be the one WASP store in the city.

    Also, please tell me if the Levy's/Jordan Marsh/Maas Brothers sequence I got correct. I got two separate accounts on how that all happened. What was Levy's like? What was their logo like?

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  5. The sequence was Levy's/Maas Bros/Jordan Marsh.
    Levy's was acquired by Allied at some point, not sure when, but prior to the 1986-87 forced merger with Federated by Campeau. Maas Bros was based out of Tampa, while Jordan Marsh FL was out of Miami. The banners were consolidated with Levy's into Maas Bros then Maas Bros into Jordan Marsh. Once Federated decided to merge Burdine's with Jordan Marsh, Savannah posed a problem as Federated was positioning Burdine's as the Florida department store. Rich's was then chosen for the rebuilt anchor, and likely the decision came late in the game as the store lacks Rich's exterior treatment. Incidentally none of the Allied/Federated chains had a Jacksonville presence, as Cohen Bros had come under May ownership and most locations were sold to Maison Blanche while others went to Mercantile's Gayfer's(Maison Blanche would eventually be a Mercantile banner), and ultimately wound up as Dillard's with overlap going to Belk, resulting in Belk being poised to re-expand into Florida.

    Levy's downtown store was a full line store. I never went in the mall during the Levy's/Maas Bros/Jordan Marsh era, but the store was smallish, so likely focused on clothing, cosmetics and footwear.

    Savannah was considered to be an underetailed market that had more potential than had been tapped by the late 80's. Savannah Mall was heraled as the "next coming" to an underetailed region. In this day and age of retail, it's hard to imagine that a medium sized city could be underetailed, but Savannah has only entered the radar of national chains over the last 2 decades. Target was late to Savannah, despite a distribution center in Valdosta and an established Atlanta and Florida store base.

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  6. You're right...Piggly Wiggly, and Adler's were originally junior anchors; Fine's came much later. At the time Fine's moved to the mall, Broughton Street was in a severe decline, and additionally the Fine family sold the store to a chain based out of Virginia. It seems like it had the word "silver' in the title, but they kept the Fine's name.

    Morris Levy could almost be called another junior anchor. The were the local "Hart Schaffner, and Marx" store, and also sold upscale men's and women's clothing, as well as accessories, cosmetics, and shoes.

    Hogan's was a three-story soft-lines department store at Broughton and Barnard Streets. If the downtown department stores were to be rated by "upscaleness," Adler's would be the most upscale, followed by Levy's, Hogan's, and another store, Asher's, which was about equivalent to Atlanta's Kessler's chain. Belk, when it was also downtown, would fit somewhere in the middle.

    Hogan's also had a suburban store in the Westside Shopping Center in Garden City. It anchored a shopping center with A&P, localy-owned [and seemingly everywhere in town] Elliott's Drugs, and Woolworth. Hogan's closed their stores around 1977.

    My partner and one of my best friends made up the "visual merchandising department" with Levy's downtown. They were with the company during the transition to Mass Brothers. We talked about it a lot, and I had a special interest in Mass Brothers since I grew up in Florida and went to school in Tampa, where Maas originated.

    Since Levy's was a member of Allied Stores, describing the change didn't seem to be as much of a buy-out as it was a streamlining of divisions. Levy's was for a long time one of the few Allied members with only one store; when the change occured, they only had two. I never heard anything about the Jordan Marsh name being used first; the situation seemed to be that since Maas Brothers had stores in north Florida [Gainesville and Ocala], they were closer to Savannah tnan Jordan Marsh was, so that name was chosen. I'm sure it wasn't as simple as that, but that's the story we heard.

    About the time Campeau bought out Allied, the Jordan Marsh and Mass Brothers stores in Florida - for a couple of years - all sported the name Jordan Marsh/Maas Brothers. At least they did in their ads, on their shopping bags, and on their gift boxes. The names outside of the store didn't change. For some reason, the Savannah and Hlton Head stores both remained Jordan Marsh, and they closed the downtown store when the name change occured.

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  7. Levy's - or 'Levy's of Savannah' as they promoted themselves, had been in Savannah since the late 1800's. By 1973, they had a block long 3-story full-line store at the corner of Broughton and Abercorn. At one time, the store also had a mezzanine, but it had closed by 1973. They had a very popular restaurant - The Azalea Room - which opened before the store did every morning to serve breakfast.

    The downtown store carried the basic Allied Stores variety of merchandise, but because the buyers were local, they knew what the community wanted and supplied it. [One example was ladies cotton panties. Levy's carried them; Maas Brothers wouldn't hear of it until the ladies of Savannah got in an uproar over it.] The store was kind of creaky, and the top two floors were extremely narrow and dark. There was an escalator to the third floor [housewares, notions, toys, linens, china, and crystal]. There was, however, not escalator down so one had to go down a set of creaky wooden stairs to get to the second floor.

    The mall store was the typical mall department store, and while it was nicer than Belk at the time, didn't have any of the "flash" that people were expecting. Federated Stores [Rich's] always featured a sense of drama, while Allied Stores tried to be more elegant...but often it was done cheaply, and the Levy's at Oglethorpe Mall was a victim of this.

    Levy's logo was - until the mid-eighties - done in green script, with an enlarged "L."
    Their last logo went to block letters, with the "L" being enlarged and the 'evy's' sitting inside the 'L'. It wasn't too impressive.

    After I posted the last comment, I remembered that when Levy's became Mass Brothers, the paired the names for awhile. It was amusing to see the newspaper ads. When they merged, Maas Brothers and Levy's were the same size, separated by the hyphen. On a weekly basis, the Levy's name continually got smaller until, after about six months, it disappeared altogether.

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  8. Personally I'm quite fascinated about Jordan Marsh and Maas Brothers coming to Savannah...they seemed so odd at that. Both were so strongly associated with Florida, and S Florida at that. On Oglethorpe...I thought the mall was well covered online, so I was a bit reluctant to do a post on it. I thought my main advantage was that I had a full photo set of it, but I see I've really found quite the interest in the place. It seems to me Savannah is a city that people just don't know how to interpret. It's still a bit under retailed if you ask me, but it's partly because so much emphasis is still put on its historic district.

    It does seem a bit odd to me that Richway skipped over Savannah completely and headed for the Miami suburbs on their course of greatness...I imagine the costs involved proved a bit of setback in that plan, but it is interesting to hear people way down in S Florida fondly remembering a chain so strongly associated with Atlanta. The people in Columbia, SC crack me up the most calling the big skylight wedges "Mazda RX-7 garages".

    Were any of those secondary Savannah department stores located at those strange mid-GA malls such as Hatcher Square, Brunswick, Statesboro, etc? It seemed to me they made room for an anchor that definitely does not exist anymore. I'm guessing Big K/Edwards, Gibson's or one of those lost Savannah department stores (Hogan's or Asher's most likely), and I was told Wal-Mart was there once at some of those...seems a strange fit. I remember seeing a Gibson's abandoned in Brunswick in the late 1980's, which I'm assuming was the long-demolished Brunswick Mall.

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  9. Savannah was too far from Jacksonville and Atlanta to attract many national chains,other than supermarkets, that were found in the two cities. It was too small for the upper echelon of retail to consider, and in the shadow of a more famous Charleston.

    I recall a coastal discount store chain going by the name Allied Department Stores, not associated with Allied Stores, having a couple of Savannah locations, but where exactly escapes me now, but I want to say one was either at Montgomery Crossroads or maybe closer to Oglethorpe Mall. They disappeared around the same time that Wal-Mart arrived in Savannah.

    My first recollection about Oglethorpe Mall is c. 1980. It was the largest two anchor mall I had ever seen and fairly busy. Both the Belk and the Sears seemed large for a dumbell shaped one level mall. By that time Adler's and Piggly Wiggly were gone, and JCPenney and Levy's had built on. But I could tell Savannah was a different market from the rest of Georgia. The neighboring Kroger Sav-on was the largest pure grocery store I had even been in up until that time, and a far cry from the Kroger superstores common to the Atlanta area, it still operates today, bannered simply as Kroger, many times remodeled, and one of Savannah's busiest grocery stores and one of Kroger's Atlanta divisions busiest locations.

    Although I didn't know it at the time, the Piggly Wiggly's were unrelated to the other Piggly Wiggly's in Georgia(and still are) as part of Piggly Wiggly Carolina of Charleston.
    Local M&M seemed to be everywhere in Savannah and wasn't yet part of Kroger. Judging from some of the stores pylon/shoebox design, I have wondered if any began life as Food Fair/Pantry Pride.

    Maybe JimBobGa will know if my memory is correct about a centennial A&P being in the Crossroads Shopping Center with Belk off Victory Drive or at least nearby.

    The interesting thing about Savannah's post war suburban growth is that it was overwhelmingly southward along the Abercorn Extension and is just now beginning to approach I-95 at the Abercorn exit. And only over the last 15 years or so has a westward momentum along US 80 towards Pooler and I-95 been significant.

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  10. J.T. - Savannah isn't nearly as under- reatiled as it was ten years ago. I haven't lived there since '94, but I get down there at least once a year, and am amazed at what I see happening. Even Broughton Street is once again a vibrant shopping street, although with the exception of Gap and Banana Republic, the stores are mostly upscale local retailers totally unrelated to those along the street thirty years ago. The one exception is Levy Jewelers, which held on until the street came back to life.

    The local stores didn't have any anchor sites in any other spots in Georgia. Both Brunswick Mall and Statesboro Mall were anchored by Belk-something-or-other and JC Penney. I don't believe that Edwards made it any further into the state than Savannah. Gibson's didn't exist in Savannah, but Savannah did have two Cook's Discount Stores; I'm guessing it was an easy place for their trucks to stop on their way to their few Florida stores.

    As for Mass Brothers/Jordan Marsh...you're right about the odd fit with their Florida ties. Savannah would have loved to have an "Atlanta store," but Rich's stayed close to home after a bad experience opening in Knoxville, TN., and Davison's somehow skipped Savannah when it built in Athens, Augusta, Columbus. Since Levy's was affiliated with Allied, and Allied needed to consolidate, they didn't have many choices. They could either turn Levy's into a Florida name, or use the next closest Allied name available...which was Cain-Sloan in Nashville. That name was even more unfamiliar than JM and MB. That's my take on that one...but it may not be correct.

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  11. Ken...
    About Charleston: Savannahians didn't go there to shop. Actually, Savannahians didn't admit to going there at all!

    I had started to mention Allied Department Stores, but left it out because it just didn't seem to fit with the others. Allied was a locally owned company, with only one store downtown on the "wrong end" of Broughton Street. Allied - in Savannah, at least - catered to a mostly African-American clientele, as did most of the other stores on the western end of Broughton Street. They only sold men's, women's, and children's clothing. They operated stores in several county-seat towns in southeast Georgia and southeastern South Carolina. I'm not sure what one would compare them with today, but the quality of their clothing was much lower than that of, say, Goody's, Upton's, and even Wal-Mart.

    M&M...this was a local chain owned by the Melaver family. Long-time Savannahians had a loyalty to M&M, but transplants like myself who had been able to shop in places like Publix and Kroger were appalled at what Savannah folks would tolerate in a grocery store. M&M stores were dirty, junky, and reeked of Clowhite [a locally-produced bleach, so much loved that the word Clowhite was used in place of the word 'bleach' in sentences.] Of the four M&M stores in Savannah in 1973, the original store at Habersham and Gwinnett in the historic district had been a former A&P. The second store was at Gwinnett and Pennsylvania Avenue, and was housed in a converted barn-type of arena building. Their third store was at Skidaway and LaRoach Avenue, and it was built as an M&M, as was their last store which was located across from Oglethorpe Mall in the spot where Barnes and Noble and HomeGoods are today. Later, M&M added stores on Wilmington Island, Ogeechee Road, and then even farther out Ogeechee Road. They even expanded to Waycross, Statesboro, and Dublin before being bought out by Kroger. This explains Kroger's presence so close to the Florida line. [At least I'm guessing they are still in Waycross.]

    Kroger-Savon had two stores in Savannah within a year, and within five years, they bought M&M from the Melaver family. Only one store had not changed as of a year ago...the decrepit Ogeechee Road/Liberty Parkway store, which M&M had taken over from the even-dirtier Augusta-based Gurley's chain.

    There was never a centennial A&P in Savannah. The Victory Drive store which was in the shopping center with Belk, Woolworth, and Elliott Drugs, was a normal mid-sized store with a large pylon on the right corner of the store. It sat in the middle of the shopping center where the Piggly Wiggly is today.

    Two oddities: Kroger and Publix both opened their largest stores to date in Savannah. Kroger's survived; Publix never built another 120,000 sq. ft. store. Also...if there is another city in the US in which the downtown area is located right at the edge of the city, I'd like to know where it is. Until recently, once you went north from downtown Savannah, you were treated to 10 miles of marshland, followed by another 10 miles of lowcountry scrubland. Savannah's growth was pretty much totally dictated by the fact that over 50% of Savannah's borders consisted of water.

    On to Carey Hilliard's. I'm craving some onion rings!

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  12. Discounter Allied Department Stores went on to become CitiTrends, an off-price urban clothing retailer.

    I visited Oglethorpe Mall in 2000 on a trip to Savannah. Save for Belk and the re-badged Macy's, it looks pretty much the same. That's a good thing, because it has one of the beautiful interiors I've ever seen in a mall, especially center court. I had a great picture of my late aunt Barbara posing on the center court fountain, but my camera opened up and the film got over-exposed.

    At the time I was there, at least one old-school downtown store was still there: Globe Shoe Co. My mom bought some shoes there and I marveled at its vintage interior, including showcase windows that led in from the mallway as if it were a mid-century downtown street. The amazing thing is that they're apparently still in business, at the mall AND downtown.

    The recent neoclassical pediment treatment on Belk looks top-heavy, and the column in the center is a distraction. Belk did something similar in Greensboro, N.C. on the Four Seasons Town Centre store, with similar results. The original arches, the work of legendary Belk designer Jean Suratt, looked a lot better, I think.

    I don't know about today, but in 2000, Belk only used about half of the second floor. There was gorgeous "old Savannah" style escalator well that led upstairs and featured a glass elevator, but there wasn't much to see when you went upstairs.

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  13. My take on Charlestonians is that they don't admit to going to Savannah either. There was a Low Country rivalry among the two and Charleston gained more national notablity for at least its extensive Naval yards and the notoriety of being where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. Savannah remained a locally kept secret, its historic center, the largest in the US, was left intact due to the city being bypassed by national chains.

    As to the A&P, I was recalling from childhood, and upon my last visit to that area of Savannah, found the Belk with a Piggly Wiggly that looked nothing like an A&P. I had passed off even remembering A&P as an error of memory given that Piggly Wiggly had a long Savannah presence, and the store was obviously not of recent vintage.

    The M&M pylon store I recall was the Skidaway Road store. It was been replaced by a Kroger on Diamond Causeway nearer to Skidaway Island. The Ogeechee/Liberty store had a mansard roof but could not be mistaken for being a former Winn-Dixie, which I believe had 2 short lived 1960s stores in Savannah. I had seen Gurley's in Augusta, but did not know they had made it to Savannah, and they survived in Augusta until around 91 or so.

    The M&M at Statesboro Mall looked very Colonial/Big Star like in appearance. It may have operated as a Kroger for a couple years before being sold to BiLo. The Waycross Kroger is alive and well, in a Kroger built replacement on the same location. Jesup closed in the early 00's, and M&M under Kroger ownership expanded to Dublin in the late 80s with and M&M that differed from a Kroger only in name. The M&M on Ogeechee at Abercorn, near the Georgetown area was argueably the nicest M&M in Savannah, differing from Kroger in name only. It was relocated to Richmond Hill in Bryan Co. and Walmart has opened a supercenter behind the old store at Abercorn and Ogeechee. Last year, the Garden City Kroger/M&M closed and its replacement opened on Ogeechee Road north of Abercorn, returning Kroger to the same area.

    Colonial and Winn-Dixie despite having a strong and long standing presence in surrounding areas of Georgia and South Carolina never had a strong Savannah presence, perhaps due to the strength of M&M and Piggly Wiggly more than anything. Food Fair had locations in Brunswick and Waycross that were peripheral to their Jacksonville stores and even a couple of Charleston locations, but evidently skipped Savannah.

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  14. Ken...you threw in some things I had forgotten, and some recent closings of which I was unaware.

    As for the Piggly Wiggly near the Belk at Crossroads SC,when A&P closed that shoe-box with pylon location in 1974, Piggly Wiggly moved in immediately. They had a big square yellow pig up on the pylon where the A&P circle originally was. Woolworth's was next door, and that location held out until the company closed the stores. When Woolworth vacated their space, the both the former A&P and the Woolworth were razed and a new Piggly Wiggly was built. That explains why it doesn't look anything like an A&P.

    Winn-Dixie: in 1973, there were only two WD locations in Savannah. The older store was a 50's street-front store in the habersham Shopping Center...a pretty neat center considering it was somehow a combination of new shopping center and old tax-payer strip. The other location was at Abercorn and Montgomery Cross Road next to, but not a part of, KMart. Around 1975, Winn-Dixie started expanding, albeit in an unusual way. They opened two inner-city stores in small strip centers designed to rejuvenate lower-income, blighted areas. One store was on Waters Avenue north of Henry Street; the other was at Stiles Avenue and Gwinnett Street. A third was built on Garden City, the industrial area of town. These stores were all gone by 1980, with WD citing that advertising was too high for the stores to be profitable. Lame excuse, since they still advertised in the Savannah papers, as well as on local TV becsuse of stores in the surrounding area [Statesboro, Beaufort, Hilton Head].

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  15. Colonial was gone from Savannah by the time I arrived in 1973, but there was evidence of several former Colonials: W. Henry Street at Whitaker; Victory Drive Shopping Center, Waters Avenue at Montgomery Cross Road on the southside. Oddly enough, only one of the Colonials became Big Star, even though they all remained grocery stores. I'm not sure when the name changed, but by 1973, Big Star had locations near to both KMarts, as well as the former Colonial location in the DeRenne Shopping Center [at Abercorn]. There was also a location in Garden City at the Traffic Circle SC. These stores kind of faded away one-at-a-time, with them all being gone by 1977.

    In order to explain Gurley's presence in Savannah, another local chain needs to be explained. Food Town was a family-owned chain that had small, run-down locations in mainly lower-income areas, as well as in the historic district. These locations were West Broad [now MLK] at Oglethorpe [former A&P]; East Liberty Street at Habersham [probably the original]; West Bay Street across from Fellwood Homes, and I believe there was a location on GA 21 in Garden City. There was also a store in the former Colonial on Henry Street, and they built a new store on Ogeechee Road in about 1980.

    It was strange that the Liberty Street location was named Food Fair rather than Food Town. Their ads all said "FoodTown/FoodFair." This store is the only grocery store I have seen that's built in the shape of an 'L.'

    FoodTown sold out to Augusta-based Gurley's somewhere around 1985, and all of the stores carried the Gurley's name. They came into town trying to get folks to believe that they were Augusta's #1 supermarket, and that they had the best beef in town. It must not have been, because they left town without a whimper about a year later. I heard somebody say that it looked like they hadn't swept the floors since they opened.

    Savannah also had a bunch of local grocers, and many old-time Savannahians remember their loyalty to stores like David's, Bargain Corner, Donaldson's, and - above all - Smith Brothers, who still had produce boys to mark prices on paper bags on green beans as late as 1990.

    This has strayed a long way from the Oglethorpe Mall topic...but there WAS a Piggly Wiggly there...so the circle is complete.

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  16. JimBobGa...no worries...this comment area is for all readers, not just me. While I am not all that familiar with Savannah like you are, I love to hear about old chains and their background. In many cases, I wouldn't know any of this otherwise. I really loved hearing about the old Savannah department stores. That was why I started up the original blog, and it is why it is tremendously advantageous in comparison with a website (which I am considering for older posts later on).

    Unfortunately, in my location I am somewhat limited on what I can get. Maybe on my next trip down there I can get some ads/photos on these places from old newspapers. A friend of mine down there I've asked as well...he seems good about that, but I know that any request of photos/scans is a tall order. That is especially true when photo taking results in a mall security nightmare.

    This day in age I am surprised that some odd places do exist while most by and large are gone. A local chain known as Moore's was still operational in NE GA recently, but it was absorbed into Peeble's. Unfortunately, I did not get a direct photo of the place. I was also floored discovering a very odd low-end local department store chain over in Alabama the other day that was still operational: basically a rough cross between Goody's and Kessler's. This will be discussed on a later post.

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  17. I just took a few pics in Savannah...mainly older grocery stores; I didn't get as many as I would have liked, however. The ones I really wanted to get were torn down in the last two years, and I only found out when I discovered that the store wasn't there anymore.

    As for Moore's...there were Moore's as far south as Cordele and Fitzgerald, GA, but I was never in one of their stores. I just remember seeing their script logo over the entrances.

    Peebles is a different story altogether. I've been in five of their stores, and haven't figured out what they are supposed to be yet.

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  18. Was the Stein Mart originally another anchor?

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  19. Stein Mart is located in the area that used to be McCrosy's. It faces the Abercorn entrance to the mall,as does Barnes and Nobeland Linens and Things [I think.] I'm not sure how long McCrory's last at the msll; it's possible they held on until the variety stores disppeared/

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  20. My first impression of Oglethorpe Mall was in roughly 1980. I recall it being the largest one-level 2-anchor mall I had ever seen. As the only mall in town, it was packed.

    To this day, I have driven past Savannah Mall, yet never ventured into the mall. I've circled, looked at the exterior, went into the Kroger, now closed Publix, and now closed Wal-Mart, but not the mall. I was told by several Savannahians that Savannah Mall developers openly stated the new mall would put Oglethorpe Mall under. As to whether or not this was actually said or not I can't say, but if the locals believed, that would explain some of Savannah Mall's lukewarm reception and Oglethorpe Mall's continued popularity.

    Oglethorpe, like Lennox Square, has re-invented itself and moved upscale, though not as much as Lennox. It has proved to one of those locations that has continued to be well chosen over time, like Lennox. Witness the changes surrounding Gwinnett, Northlake, Southlake, Cumberland, etc. that have drastically altered their clientele, while others-Columbia/Avondale, Cobb Center, Shannon Southpark/Union Station, etc. either failed or cling on life support.

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  21. The Globe Shoe Company closed not to long after 2000. It's now Cache, a new corridor to mall management offices and the Select Comfort store.

    The Barnes and Noble store began construction in early 1999. I remember peaking through the sheet rock barriers into a completely gutted space. The store opened in May 2000. Hey, it's been there 10 years.

    McCrory lasted until its first rash of closings in 1994. They also had locations downtown, and in Garden City. Stein Mart quickly took over and opened in 1995.

    The Old Navy opened in 2004 in spaces that were vacant for quite some time. If I remember correctly the vacated spaces were Thom McAn, Lechter's Housewares, Dollar Tree, and Waldenbooks.

    The food court was originally announced in 2000. Prior to that, Chick Fil-a [ which has been in the mall since 1969] and Sbarro had full service restaurants. After Piggly Wiggly vacated in the 70s, the space opened up as a new corridor like the Promenade was on the other end of the mall. The mall must of anticipated this expansion in the 90s because stores began to relocate around '98 or '99. The wall barrier with a vivid mural of the new food court went up in 2000. The anticipated opening was May 2001. The mall kept the right string of stores in the existing corridor intact but gutted the left side and constructed an expansion wing for the food court. It opened a year later than expected in 2002. At that point the old Chick Fil-a and Sbarro were closed as the new walk-up stores went online. They later became Claires and Underground Station respectively.

    In 2005, the mall went through an upscaling of sorts. They attracted Build-a-Bear Worskshop, Aldo, The Sharper Image, and a few others which resulted in a major reshuffling of many of the stores. This continued into 2008 with Forever 21 and Buckle opening. I think more work could be done to attract more upscale stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic, J.Crew, etc.

    As well, I've felt for quite some time that the solution for Dillard's would be to work out some deal with Sears. Since Kmart owns Sears they could remodel the existing Kmart shopping center less than half a mile away into a new Sears store. It would certainly spruce up that shopping center which recently lost Piggly Wiggly. [They seem to be downsizing in Savannah as Publix and Food Lion aggressively expand into the area.] Dillard's could subsequently take over the pad that Sear's owns and build a modern store that more appropriately matches the mall.

    And, although the renovation in 1992 was impressive and has lasted very well, some elements of the mall need sprucing up. The floor, for example, has seen 20 years of tile replacements with slightly different dye-lots. A newer marble floor could compliment the greenery and skylights. I also wish they would remove the suspended ceiling tiles. I'm sure there is some sort of mechanical system prohibiting that but it would greatly open up the corridor space and allow for more skylights to be constructed.

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  22. I'd like to say...thank you for helping me re-live my 'Glory Days" in Savannah. I haven't heard names like McCrory's Downtown Kress,,M&M,Clary's Drugstore,Candler Hospital near Forsythe Park,(Morrison's our first experience of a buffet),Levy's Asher's Globe's I haven't heard them in SO many years!!.Altho I think Food Fair was on Oglethorpe & Price right?.....My husband and I grew up in Savannah...Graduated,and left to pursue our lives...Of course Savannah has "dolled" itself up, but it is NOT the same!....During the times when those stores mentioned were around,Savannah was a safe haven for growing up....and we had BIG fun!.Back then as a child you could run barefooted in the Squares!....Great Memories!-Thank you so much!

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  23. I worked at Belk's in Oglethorpe Mall for 22 years as receiving manager starting in Nov, 1973. I can remember going to Weinersnitzle's for lunch (5 hotdogs less than $3). It closed and later opened again under "Hot Dogs and Then Some". When they opened the stores in Hilton Head, SC and in Savannah Mall, that made 4 stores (including one on Victory Drive). We did all the receiving and marking for all 4 stores (like a small distribution center) and delivered the goods to the other three stores. Of course when we renovated in 1989, a new and bigger marking room and receiving area was created to handle the large volume of freight coming into the Oglethorpe Mall store. I spent a lot of time (and quarters) at the arcade during lunch and after work. I went to the theater quite often (along with my ex-girlfriend of 10 years whom I met at Belk's). I remember the sign in the back side of the mall (before they built the new JC Penny wing), "It never rains inside Oglethorpe Mall". Lastly I remember when the display crew made floats for the Christmas Parade and went on the roof year after year to hang large Xmas decorations. So many years, so many memories and so many friends now gone. I enjoyed working at Belk's and especially enjoyed the fact it was in a mall where I did a lot of shopping and eating. I'm now 61 years old and so can also remember growing up and shopping "downtown" and going to the theater's, The Weis, The Savannah, The Lucas and The Avon.

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  24. I couldn't find a place to submit general feedback for you and the site, so I'm just putting it here. Obviously, you can remove it or choose not to post it as it has nothing to do with Oglethorpe Mall.

    The next time you're on your way to Savannah or anywhere near there, you might like to stop by Statesboro (exit 116 on I-16) in Georgia to check out the Statesboro Mall. I haven't been there in years, so I have no idea what it looks like now. When I was a student at Ga Southern University, it was a 3 anchor mall (Belk, JC Penny, Goody's), one story, and maybe 20-25 tenants. Most of GSU's students came from metro Atlanta and so we always liked to call it the S'mall (comparing it to Atlanta malls). I'm sure it is still there, doing wonderful business and perhaps has even grown as the enrolment at GSU is over 20,000 now to provide plenty of shoppers. Check it out. I'd love to see what you find out about it and maybe some pictures, too.

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    1. This comment was actually totally appropriate. I'm way behind, and a friend of mine took photos of the mall for me that I am yet to publish. The Belk recently was expanded at the mall, and the mall was renovated. It is doing better than most of the Hatcher malls due to its proximity to GA Southern. I covered one other Hatcher mall in Milledgeville if you haven't seen it already.

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