Childhood memories of malls by and large involved Georgia malls for me, but there is one notable exception: Dutch Square Mall. In time, I have attempted to learn more about this mall that remained vaguely in my memories for years since I briefly called Columbia home. At the time, I lived in West Columbia close to Columbiana Mall, but the year was 1986 and Columbiana was still in the planning stages. Because of that, Dutch Square was still very much the place to shop in the Irmo/West Columbia area, which has remained one of the fastest growing and most prosperous areas of Columbia since the time I lived there 23 years ago. However, Dutch Square itself has changed considerably as the neighborhoods around it have aged and competition has marginalized it while the mall itself has changed little in layout since it was built.
Dutch Square was first built in 1969 as the second major shopping mall in the state. That seems laughable today with only 650,000 square feet of retail space, but in fact Dutch Square is actually amazing on how it survived as the smallest regional mall in a city that evolved into having four regional shopping malls. I reason that loyalty means a lot, because while it is an ailing mall it survived 20 years past the opening of Columbiana only four exits up I-26. To me, one of the most interesting things about the mall today is the fact that it is built on top of a hill with a constant slope through the mall. In fact, the slope in the mall is some places uneven enough it almost makes me wonder if the place sunk at some point. What is also interesting, though, is the keystone Belk store at the mall, which opened as Augusta-based J.B. White. This was no ordinary White's, either, featuring three levels of merchandise. At the time it was built, it was Columbia's second suburban White's location. Unfortunately, Belk closed the third level not long after taking over the store in 1998.
Pictures do not do adequate justice showing the constant slopes through the mall. I am not quite sure why they felt the need to build ramped sections all through the mall like that. Columbiana and the Richway malls were like that, too. The first photo is of the center court area.
Front main entrance corridor. The doors on the front look straight-up 1969, but the renovations have toned it down a bit. This mall was extremely dark in the 80's.
Dutch Square also contained one of three locations of Columbia-based Tapp's, an upscale department store that formed the opposite end of the mall from White's. More distinct, though, was the third anchor of the mall, a Woolco discount store flanking the south side of the mall. The mall also contained a two-level Annabelle's restaurant, though I have no recollection of where this was at or when it closed. I know it was still operational as late as 1990, because I ate there with my parents and some friends of the family. I recall it outside of an anchor, so I'm presuming White's. In the last visit, I saw a big empty junior anchor next to Belk, but it looked more to be the size of a Goody's or McCrory's in lieu of the restaurant I remember. Due to its vintage, the mall also has many stores with both interior and exterior entrances mostly on the front of the mall.
AMC Theaters flank the east end of the mall, which was the mall entrance to Tapp's for most of its existance. That kid there seemed very odd sitting there just staring by himself. Who lets their kids do that anymore? This place probably won't still be standing when he gets to be my age...if he actually does.
Entrance to Burlington Coat Factory, previously Woolco and Brendle's. Woolco anchored malls typically did not do well, but this was not the focus of the mall nor its strength. This Burlington Coat Factory arrived around 1999 after Brendle's closed in the same location. Brendle's and Office Depot subdivided the location much in the way they did Sky City at Innsbruck Mall in Asheville.
Belk has been on a spree lately renovating their mall entrances. I absolutely hate it when they do that, too. I wonder what this looked like when White's was still there.
Dutch Square was relatively small, but it had help across I-26 on the same Bush River Road with Bush River Mall, a much smaller mall anchored by Kroger and Richway. Bush River opened eight years after Dutch Square opened, but its small size and discount anchors were never a threat to the mall. This meant that anything that couldn't fit into Dutch Square could find space across the interstate, and the two malls complimented each other for years resulting in a red-hot retail corridor throughout the 1970's and 1980's. The mall at first had no competition until Columbia Place opened in 1978. However, .the location of Columbia Place completely across the city maintained a balance that had no effect on the mall.
A view from Burlington Coat Factory to the back entrance. A built-in makeshift food court flanks the court ahead. To the right is AMC and to the left is the long haul to Belk.
Looking toward the back entrance at the food court area (first photo) and back into the food court (second photo). A Chinese restaurant is to my right.
In these successful years, only one major change occurred as third anchor Woolco went bankrupt in 1983, which was quickly absorbed by catalog merchant Brendle's and Office Depot, which subdivided the store. As a result, Office Depot had no connection to the interior mall. Office Depot may have previously been an A&P since information I ran across suggested it was at the mall in the 80's. The prominent position of Dutch Square changed, though, when Columbiana Center opened in Irmo a few exits up in 1990 after two decades of dominance. Richland Fashion Mall also opened a year prior, but its unique positioning and anchor line-up did not have as much of an impact as Columbiana.
Looking back at center court from the other direction. As empty as it was looking in this photo, it is strange to realize how swamped this mall was as late as 1989.
Columbiana Center did not seem to have a dramatic effect on Dutch Square right away. Uniquely, the two malls actually at first looked like they would compliment each other. The only anchors the two malls shared were White's, and White's thankfully decided never to close their three-story store at Dutch Square. In fact, it looked like the mall's fortunes may actually have begun to improve at that point. That is because in 1990 the downtown Macy's, which was a legacy Atlanta-based Davison's, was looking to move from downtown to Dutch Square complete with an expansion. As the old downtown Macy's store prepared to close, the plans were set to build a larger three level, 220,000 square feet Macy's at Dutch Square complete with an expansion. The plans were set in 1992 to have the store opened by the following year, making Dutch Square a tough contender in the market. Unfortunately, something happened and the project never came to fruition. It should be noted that at the same time, RH Macy Co. was preparing to go bankrupt only to be "saved" by then-Federated Department Stores, which operates Macy's of today. Federated Department Stores, which already owned then-Rich's at Columbia Place, was apparently uninterested in building at the mall.
A look at the second back wing containing Piccadilly Cafeteria.
Piccadilly Cafeteria opened as Morrison's and was converted to Piccadilly when Morrison's was purchased in 1995.
The 1990's saw many changes at the mall. First was the bankruptcy of Tapp's in fall of 1995. This closure left an obvious void at the mall, which was not left vacant for long. Instead of waiting to bring in Macy's or another department store, the owners simply demolished the Tapp's and rebuilt the location as an AMC theater. In the late 90's, Annabelle's left the mall as well. The next change was in 1998 when Belk acquired the White's location at the mall in lieu of Dillard's, who had just bought out White's. Last was the arrival of Burlington Coat Factory in 1999 after Brendle's went bankrupt in 1995. Burlington Coat Factory left flagging Bush River Mall to join the mall. Ironically, Burlington Coat Factory absorbed many of the prime Woolco locations in the early 1980's and still operates in many of those old Woolco stores today so even though they arrived late it was a natural fit.. This swap was because Dillard's sought other locations owned by Belk at that point. This was for the best, because Belk at the mall has remained a draw. The mall also was renovated in that time period, losing its 1970's trappings such as the dark linoleum tiles. The Belk, however, has apparently not changed at all, still maintaining the same appearance as when it operated as White's. Considering the colorless, boring remodels of today, that is actually somewhat pleasing to see.
Dutch Square, plain and simple. Macy's, they need you here. You promised them.
Looking down the mall toward Belk. It always puzzles me why if a mall is ailing, the emptiest part of the mall is the Belk wing. The whole mall tilts downhill toward Belk. Hopefully that's nothing symbolic.
Twenty years after Columbiana Center opened, Dutch Square amazingly lingers on. Bush River Mall, near the mall, has long since died and been demolished, now operating as a nearly new Wal-Mart despite the fact the area around the mall is looking somewhat empty. The redevelopment of that site has undoubtedly been helpful since anchor Target left to join the retail explosion around Columbiana Center. Regardless, the fact is that Dutch Square has an excellent location just southeast of the intersection of I-20 and I-26. Indeed, the mall today is looking emptier than past visits with a relatively high level of vacancies. However, the fact that the mall is the oldest in the city and has survived after being eclipsed by two other malls says that it has definite staying power.
White's in general had a very distinct way of doing escalators. The down escalator was staggered slightly offset and thus lower than the up escalator, and they ran side by side. While this works in two level stores, I can see this was problematic for this store, which operated three levels under White's. The lights above suggest those upper escalators, but when I came up to them, I could see they were clearly walled off. A dark third level in a store is always creepy.
On the outside, White's stores built in the 70's were stately but dirt plain. This store featured the older elegant script "White's" logo in lieu of the "J.B. WHITE" in skinny black letters found on the last generation stores.
The owners should remember what almost happened in 1993 with Macy's as well as the fact that they are holding ground in an over-malled environment. Perhaps they should consider expanding the mall again, tearing down a nearby shopping center and building a multi-level expansion. Columbia still only has one Macy's location, and the one currently operational is in a struggling mall. Since only two of four malls in the city are likely to survive, it is my hope that Macy's will consider joining either this mall or Richland in lieu of other horizons. Now would be the opportunity to lure in Macy's as well as a few other stores under-represented in the area to keep Columbiana and the new lifestyle center on the other side of town from completely dominating the Columbia retail scene. Perhaps Burlington Coat Factory should be replaced by a Borders Books and some new stores introduced into the market at the mall. Dutch Square Mall turned 40 years old last year, so it deserves some attention after serving the city longer than any other mall.
I am betting these were renovated original signs, because signs this tall are typically not allowed today. As you can see, the front highway sign lists all the major stores...well almost. I do not recall where West Marine was in the mall. I think listing Piccadilly Cafeteria would have been preferable to the dubious "Super China Buffet". I'm guessing Super China Buffet was previously a sign for Annabelle's. Maybe that's why Macy's opted out.
Never dare to let the mall entrance retain a vintage look...at least in mall management world. This 90's stucco monstrosity is supposed to fool you into thinking this mall is not as old as it looks. It usually takes more than a facelift to bring a person back to youthful beauty, and likewise it usually takes more than a stucco entrance blob to hide the real age of a mall. The problem is, plastic surgery is a lot cheaper than a major mall overhaul. Is this the equivalent of mall botox?
Luckily, the front side (or back?) doesn't go as overboard with the stucco. I really like the stores with the outside entrances. You typically find that in the oldest malls, and I think it casts a positive light on the mall. Note Belk/White's in the background.
Burlington Coat Factory, an anchor to the mall since 1999 opened as Woolco, which went bankrupt in late 1982. The store was subdivided in the 1980's between Brendle's and another store, which is today Office Depot. Burlington Coat Factory absorbed the location in 1999. The small vertical grooves in the brick are a dead giveaway of its Woolco origin.