Standing in front of Sears looking back into the mall. This latticework ceiling treatment is found throughout the entire mall.
The Atlanta malls would likely be less successful if the southside actually had a mall that everybody liked, and that was not lost on developers. A proposed mall in McDonough (Henry County) has been planned since 2004, but for some reason the development stalled. Nothing could be better news for Southlake, which is surrounded by spotty blight from closed businesses affected by the usual reaction to an area that is majority minority. That fact alone is the primary reason that Southlake has not only not doubled in size over the years, but also the fact that it lacks the more upscale store offerings in favor of a larger array of urban stores.
View of the elevator from the upper and lower level. Much like everything else in this mall, it is not laid out in the usual way. This elevator is in a random location closer to Macy's (Rich's).
Southlake Mall first opened in 1976. When it opened, it was a super-regional mall, but it opened primarily to serve fast growing Clayton County, which had evolved as a mostly white county in the more industrial side of the Atlanta. The opening of the mall likely was related to not just growth, but also issues of white flight as shoppers looked for options from transitional Greenbriar and decaying Lakewood Mall. Such a story is similar to how Gwinnett Place came into being. When it opened, its anchors were Rich's, Davison's, Sears and JCPenney giving them a mall equivalent to Cumberland in size and offerings on the southside. The mall contains a total of 120 stores, and Piccadilly Cafeteria was also in the mall. All of the anchors were two levels as well as the mall itself. Today, it is still the only two-level mall on the southside.
View from the upper and lower level of Davison's court (roughly center court). There really is no obvious center court as in other malls this size. It has had no anchor connection since Macy's vacated the Davison's location in 2003.
Views of the sealed-off Davison's (Macy's) mall entrance from lower and upper level.
For the next two decades, Southlake was the king of the south, but Clayton County has become quite troubled with white flight issues during the 1990's. In ten years time from 1990 to 2000, Clayton County went from a substantial majority white to substantial majority black as the white population shifted to Henry, Fayette and Coweta counties. During that time, many of the businesses around the mall started closing up. When Macy's consolidated in 2003 and moved into the Rich's, the old Davison's was also vacated. For a long time, no store came to fill the void, and the store was sold early on. Nevertheless, as white shoppers began to largely avoid the mall, the mall did not become any less successful. This was because the non-white neighborhood around it had money of their own, and it was more than enough to support it.
A short one-story wing is found on the upper level connecting the mall to the parking lot across from JCPenney. This mall map was in that corridor describing the offset layout of the mall better than I could.
Today, Southlake has evolved quite well and has pretty much survived nearly free of any nearby competition. The mall was last renovated in 1995, adding a food court and updating much of the decor. Piccadilly left the mall and is today located on Mt. Zion Blvd a block from the mall. The mall has very few vacancies, an excellent food court and the former Davison's/Macy's is now in the process of being renovated and/or demolished for a new conference center. I was also pleased at how polite and friendly the employees of the mall were, which is treatment I am not used to in the northside malls.
A couple views of the JCPenney court. The JCPenney court has elevated walkways crossing over the court similar to what Cumberland had in the 1980's.
While Southlake is not the most unique mall I have ever visited, it is refreshing in this economy to see a local mall still doing so well considering two factors. One of these is that is outside of the upscale periphery, and second is that it is in an area that is dealing with some of the blight that is creeping southward that ravaged nearby Forest Park. I do, however, wish that the circumstances were different so that the mall was more popular regionally since the options down there are so few.
A carousel is found at the main mall entrance, which today is the food court area. The second photo shows the food court ending at a Babbage's, which is actually a Game Stop without the nameplate changed. Too bad Macy's didn't take the same approach with Rich's and Davison's. The food court was added in 1995.
Exterior view of main (food court) entrance.
Two sets of mall signs: one at the Jonesboro Road (SR 54) entrance and a tall sign for traffic on I-75.
Considering this, the future of this mall pretty much depends on the future of Clayton County, and lets hope that future keeps the mall at least as viable as it is today. With that, Clayton County must keep Morrow from being the next Forest Park. Forest Park strangely never had a mall of its own, but it bears the scars of chain retail long abandoning much of it. These challenges are especially important considering the mall is over 30 years old in an atmosphere that has been trained to believe that enclosed malls are all dying. The truth is, if malls like this die then it is a reflection on the economy as a whole or too much competition, not a reflection of this well-managed bustling mall.
Mall entrances of Sears and Macy's (former Rich's). Too bad all Sears mall entrances look exactly the same these days. Photos of the Macy's as Rich's are shown at the end.
Exterior view of Davison's then and now. The Macy's labelscar was very visible in 2004. Today, the store has been completely repainted in earthtones as part of a repositioning of the former anchor.
Exterior views of Sears, Macy's and JCPenney. Note the obvious old logo labelscar on Sears and Rich's labelscar on Macy's. Compare to the earlier Rich's photos below.
Exterior shots of Rich's day and night. Photos taken late December 2004 and February 2005.
Rich's mall entrance day and night. This folded glass design was also used on stores at Lenox, Cobb Center, Cumberland and Century Plaza. This is the last one remaining of that style.
UPDATE 1/24/11: The future is not so bright for Southlake Mall anymore now that JCPenney is announcing they are closing the mall's location. This leaves only two anchors with Macy's (former Rich's) and Sears with the former Macy's (originally Davison's) still never filled after it closed in 2003. This all comes on the heels of the closing of Shannon Mall including the Macy's store there. This is also a reflection of how much the foreclosure crisis and terrible economy in the Atlanta area is beginning to affect the malls here.