Friday, December 31, 2010

Remembering Bellevue Center Mall: Nashville, TN

It will be awhile before I cover anything in Nashville, but for right now I thought I would highlight a sad chapter in the Nashville area's retail history with Bellevue Center Mall.  Bellevue Center opened in 1990 hoping to bring a new upscale suburban mall to the western edge of the city, but apparently the mall faltered due to lack of growth in the region combined with the explosion of mall competition across the city: most notably the expansion of Mall at Green Hills.  It was a sad chapter with the mall only lasting a mere 18 years once carrying Castner-Knott and Dillard's with room for more.  Closing on May 31, 2008 for re-development that has so far been stalled, these awesome videos give a glimpse of this reasonable attractive, but cursed mall.

Welcome to the mall!! Actually, we take that back...go to Sears or get out.

It reminds me of a country song that goes "The lights are on, but nobody's home".  Except, the lights aren't on and you ain't home.  So go home.

These brave urban explorers search the mysterious second level hoping to find clues on how this place met a bad end.

Guy rides a bike through the's that dead.  I dare him to try that at the Cool Springs Galleria.  C'mon, it will be fun!

Still can't get enough of this place?  Continue to TheDarkKnight1983's YouTube page for 5 more videos.  As a former tenant in the mall, he tells the story best.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bristol Mall: Bristol, VA

Covering a mall in Virginia is a first for me, but Bristol Mall is just barely in Virginia, so this counts mostly on a moral basis.  As part of the "Tri-Cities", which includes the Tennessee cities of Kingsport and Johnson City, the city of Bristol itself is divided across the two states.  Bristol Mall is also unmistakably similar to its Kingsport cousin, Fort Henry Mall.  Opened in 1978, Bristol Mall is relatively compact mall with two levels and the fourth mall to open in the Tri-Cities after Kingsport Mall, Miracle Mall (Mall at Johnson City) and Fort Henry Mall.  While the mall has seen better times, it still has three solid anchors and has lasted over 30 years.  It seems overall that the mall is in a market that may be indeed overmalled, so it has had some difficulty keeping the mall filled with stores.  In all, though, I think its the lack of retail as well as population in the immediate area that is why it faces a disadvantage, and I tend to wonder if the mall was built more on speculation than demand.

The layout of the mall is rather strange.  The two levels it has do not exactly matching up, and unfortunately I was unable to photograph the mall directory to show this.  In fact, the lower level is noticeably smaller.  It actually ends in a wall offering your choice of going upstairs to continue on the single level to Sears or to enter JCPenney on the right, so basically a significant portion of the Sears wing is on one level as an extension of the upper level.  Apparently this wall was the previous location of the mall's movie theater, which closed in November 2008.  The theater itself had been closed before, but reopened in 2005 under new ownership.  The top level of the mall passes over the old movie theater as well.  The loss of the theater was coupled with a difficult year where they lost several major tenants including Kay Bee Toys and B. Dalton, both already struggling companies that were already being phased out. 

The above three photos are a view along the bottom level between the main Belk women's store (formerly Parks-Belk) and Belk Men, Home and Kid's (formerly Miller'sand Hess's).  The store on the left in the second photo is Piccadilly cafeteria.  Also notice how the second floor is somewhat shielded from view from the bottom floor in the second photo despite being open.  The first photo is a view from the second floor looking the opposite direction in the same area as the third photo.

This is walking between the two-level court between the two Belk's to the end of the lower level at the closed movie-theater and JCPenney mall entrance.

The court in front of JCPenney and the old movie theater features an elevator to the second level and an artificial rock climbing wall.  Malls seem to have more stuff for the kids these days, but despite a reasonably attractive theme the mall could use a few more plant and water features.  Aronov malls tend to have these, so I sure with they would put some in here.

The mall is otherwise a T-shape with the two Belk's on the each side of the top of the T and Sears on the bottom part with JCPenney on the east side in the middle.  The Belk portion is completely two level with the bottom part of the T also two levels up the the old theater and JCPenney mall entrances.  The mall also has entrance wings extending near Belk Men, Home and Kid's (Top of the T), Sears and across from JCPenney.  The design in the mall also seems to somewhat shield its two level orientation, which seems to overall have to do more with the terrain than size.  Indeed, the extremely mountainous terrain in the Tri-Cities area created some complex building issues, but in this case it resulted in a very fascinating little mall, though the design does share many similarities with sister mall Fort Henry Mall.

Beyond JCPenney, the upper level of the mall reverts to just one level extending to Sears.  A makeshift food court fills the center part, though, with only Chick-Fil-A and Great American Cookie Co. qualifying as a chain restaurant.   This works, because a food court would be a poor investment for the mall due to a smaller market.  Many smaller malls have phased out their food courts such as Gadsden Mall that I covered.

On my way to Sears.

Sears court is lower than the rest of the "upper" level giving the mall a small court with a bit more presence.  The "Mountain Music Museum" is to the left next to Sears.

 Here I am looking at a small entrance wing to the right of the Sears court.  Note the ramp on the right.

A look back at the step-up from the Sears court to the rest of the mall and upper level.

When Bristol Mall opened, it featured a more local flavor than was offered today.  The mall's south anchor was Parks-Belk with its north anchor Knoxville-based Miller's.  While both stores were two level, the other anchor Sears was one level.  While Parks-Belk was typical for the period Belk stores in design featuring distinctive canopies, the Miller's store was rather strange.  Its upper floor is a conventional sized store, but its lower level only contained half the footprint of the upper level.  It was laid out on that floor as basically a half-basement with the store seemingly tapered with the hillside instead of dug down into it.  Miller's eventually became Hess's before becoming Belk Men, Kids and Home.  Parks-Belk also was a little different in that it actually became Belk directly instead of converting to Proffitt's inbetween, thus Belk has always had a presence at this mall.  Had this mall been in Tennessee, perhaps Proffitt's would have taken that spot.

A look at the beginning of the lower level from the second floor.

Looking back from the end of the lower level toward Sears.  Note that the mall steps up and is elevated along most of the one-level portion of the Sears wing. 

A look back at the upper level from JCPenney to the Belk wing.  Note that the first level is rather obscured from view.  I tend to think this would hurt businesses on the lower level to have such a poor view, and indeed I noticed the lower level lacked many stores.

Belk Men's, Home and Kid's, formerly Miller's/Hess's, mall entrance from the upper level.  It is not a very large store at all.

A look along the upper level of the Belk wing from the junction of the Sears/JCPenney wing to Belk, formerly Parks-Belk.

The mall in many ways has not really shed a lot of its 1970's elements, but it has been renovated at some time: most likely in the 1990's.  The 1990's was when JCPenney added onto the mall creating a fourth anchor and the third two-level store with arrival likely around 1995.  Other notable tenants in the mall include a Piccadilly Cafeteria and a rather unique feature with a museum dedicated to the local music history next to Sears.  Bristol was the birthplace of country music, so a museum was placed in the mall to pay tribute to something of great cultural value to the city  Also similar to 70's-era malls, Bristol Mall does not truly have a food court.  A couple restaurants are grouped on the Sears wing near a side entrance on the upper level, but these hardly constitute an official food court.  Sadly, the mall seems to be languishing in terms of fashionable chain stores...something that it seems Johnson City won the war on.  As the city in the region with the smallest population, this is a real problem.  Bristol TN/VA has less than 50,000 people.  Both Kingsport and Johnson City are far more populous with Johnson City the largest.  While the population is enough to maintain the mall as is, it is not enough to make the mall competitive or fashion-forward like its Johnson City rival.  Most of the stores in the mall are similar to what can be found in modern upscale strip centers such as those anchored by Target and Kohl's.

Belk, formerly Parks-Belk, mall entrance.  Belk clearly renovated this within the past 10-15 years.

Looking back along the solidly two-level Belk wing toward Belk Men, Home and Kid's.

 Looking back along the upper level of the two-level portion of the Sears wing from the Belk wing.

Escalators in the middle of the Belk wing looking towards Parks-Belk.  Note that the escalators are the older narrow gauge style.

JCPenney's mall entrance from the lower level.  It is a particularly bland one at that.

While it is an interesting mall, its location in the long run did not turn out to be so prime.  The vacancy problem is not a small issue with each city in the Tri-Cities fighting to have the best of the three malls.  Fort Henry Mall is trying to redevelop and The Mall at Johnson City turned out to have the best location as I-181 morphed into a new major interstate highway, I-26, linking to Asheville and points south.  Not only that, but the entire market seems to be under-served in retail.  Not one mall in the region contains any department store more upscale than Belk with neither Macy's nor Dillard's showing any interest in opening stores there.  Perhaps Von Maur might consider the market one day?  Any mall upgrades as is will probably be steered to Johnson City since Fort Henry Mall is having major troubles of its own.  This was not always the case, though, when Miller's was still around.  All three malls in the region are under different ownership, and it seems this one would be doing better since Aronov took it over in 1999.  Aronov runs successful malls in Alabama and Georgia, but it seems this mall has proved to be more challenging. 

 Here is a look at the ramp down from the single-level portion of the Sears wing toward the two-level portion.

Now, I am looking down into the lower level from the down-escalators along that wing tying the end of the lower level to the rest of the Sears wing.

 A view of the escalators from the lower level.  I forgot where this was.

Outside mall entrance to the upper level.  This is across the mall from JCPenney.

Outside sign with theater marquee still intact.  Piccadilly also has a banner, and Sears Auto Center is in view.

While I thought Bristol Mall was a nice mall, I could definitely sense the mall was at a crossroads.  A mall without even an American Eagle is clearly a subpar mall, if not a troubled property, and the time I was there on a Friday evening before Easter it was not busy at all.  For now, it appears to be sustaining itself, but it seemed the anchors were doing far better than the mall itself.  In fact, Sears recently signed another long term lease at the mall, and the other anchors are committed to leases that will sustain at least that for the next decade.  It is not uncommon, though, to have malls these days where the anchors are doing fine with a dead mall inbetween.  Two malls I covered including University Mall in Pensacola, FL and Shannon Mall in Union City, GA are basically dead malls with successful anchor stores.  The trend of anchors and malls being so clearly divorced from each other is a relatively new development at that, because they were once very co-dependent.  As to the mall itself, if Fort Henry succeeds at renovation and expansion, it will definitely pull more customers away from Bristol Mall, which is exactly what it does not need.

Belk here, formerly Parks-Belk, is an absolute clone of the store at Fort Henry Mall except the fact it never carried the Proffitt's moniker.  Note that the labelscar shows up here as well.

Belk Men, Home and Kid's, formerly Miller's, and Hess's before becoming a second Belk store.  This store is a timepiece and also a clone of the now-closed Fort Henry Mall store.

Sears also matches Fort Henry Mall in all except the fact it maintains the older logo.

Due to attracting unwanted attention, I was not able to get a good picture of the JCPenney store, which is a more recent addition.

The problem with this mall is that there does not seem to be a good way to really increase this mall's appeal more than what has already been done.  Pulling in a Books-A-Million and new attached theater would possibly help, but the theater space is a mystery to me.  Perhaps the theater space could become an expanded lower level?  Since the city does not support much retail, efforts should be made to funnel all retail normally found in strip malls into the mall itself.  Bringing in stores like Rue 21 shows that such a plan can work.  I believe the mall is still in demand, though obviously not like it once was, and keeping it modestly viable will not require anything more drastic than some good management, a few cosmetic changes and better marketing.

NOTE: I made a correction.  Proffitt's never existed in this mall.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fort Henry Mall/Kingsport Town Center: Kingsport, TN

When it comes to malls, Kingsport seems to be falling behind.  After Kingsport Mall closed and was torn down in 2002, it was a ripe opportunity for Fort Henry Mall to shine, and it appeared for awhile that elements were coming together to make that happen.  While the plans have been laid to rescue this mall from its unfortunate trip to tacky land, apparently shoppers have not been very happy for awhile considering how much this mall has lost ground to its competition in Johnson City.  Even worse, it seems the mall is falling into the Cookeville curse with tenants actually being lost to area strip malls in lieu of a newer mall or lifestyle center.  The mall was still very busy for a Friday night, but nowhere near the mob at The Mall at Johnson City.  This should not be the case, though, with Fort Henry Mall offering over 500,000 square feet of shopping, three solid anchors and two levels of shopping.  In addition, Johnson City is still 25 miles away and Fort Henry Mall sits at the center of a thriving retail corridor.  The fact that the mall is still not fixed may just be a case of bad luck, bad timing and/or a bad economy, but maybe there is there something I do not know?

When it opened in 1976, Fort Henry Mall was on top as it wiped out downtown shopping bringing in a first-class mall experience to the mountain city.  Anchors when the mall opened included Parks Belk, Miller's, Sears and JCPenney.  It was the biggest and best mall in the region dwarfing the then-Miracle Mall in Johnson City and drawing shoppers around a large radius including bordering areas of Virginia and North Carolina.  Close-by Kingsport Mall, only five years old at the time, could not compete and began its long, slow death over the next 25 years.  Bristol also did not have its own mall yet, which helped it gain traction as a super-regional center.  The completion of TN 137, now I-26, also helped bring in shoppers despite the fact the mall is somewhat difficult to get to from any freeway.

The two scenes above along with the lead photo are along the lower level in the main part of the mall starting in front of Belk (Parks Belk) continuing to the theaters (Miller's) in the last photo.  Shouldn't garden malls have more plants?

The completion of Fort Henry Mall left Bristol envious and Johnson City's Miracle Mall reeling, so Bristol was the first to challenge the mall.  Bristol Mall was similarly large like Fort Henry Mall, and it opened in 1978 eroding parts of its base, but the malls seemed to co-exist peacefully for many years to come.  Bristol Mall also was apparently built by the same developer with a highly similar design and identical anchors.  Miracle Mall at this point had to go much further to survive, more than doubling the mall's size in 1982 and anchor offerings as well, changing its name to The Mall at Johnson City.  Fort Henry Mall then assumed a less substantial position in the market, but still a dominant one for years meaning that the Tri-Cities could clearly support three fairly substantial malls with similar stores and anchors.  Kingsport Mall, meanwhile, lurked in the shadows like the bullied kid it was.

Here, I am looking along the JCPenney wing, which extends from the upper level in front of Miller's to the store entrance.  This appears to be the healthiest wing of the mall.

Close-up shot of the JCPenney mall entrance.

Over the years, the successful mall would see a few anchor changes.  Miller's was the first to change in 1987 converting to Hess's and again to Proffitt's in 1992.  Parks Belk would change next with Proffitt's buying them out in 1995.  The result would be two Proffitt's stores in the mall.  With Proffitt's, the former Parks Belk would become the main store while the former Miller's/Hess's would become the men's and home store.  In 2006, Proffitt's was bought out by Belk with the original Parks Belk store again become Belk in 2007, just without the Parks.  The second Proffitt's became a men and kids store, but only briefly with Belk closing the store in 2008.  The lower level of the second Belk, which operated previously as Miller's, Hess's and Proffitt's ultimately became Marquee cinemas.  The upper level, closed during my visit, was being prepared for a future new food court.

I am not sure what went wrong, but my camera would not cooperate, so I got a lot of blurry shots.  Apparently my camera was having problems with the freaky color scheme.  This is on the lower level wing extending from the Miller's court to the open-glass window that forms a never-filled anchor pad.

This is the same angle as the above photo, but on the upper level.  This part of the mall had the most vacancies as well as mom 'n' pop stores.

Upper level here of the court in front of what used to be Miller's.  A new food court is planned here in the near future behind the walls of the empty anchor.  The style of this court is ugly in every way.  The ceiling for sure needs to be raised with high windows, skylights or something.  The new lighting only highlights what looks wrong.

In addition to the four anchors, the mall was also clearly retrofitted for a fifth anchor from the beginning located on the southeast entrance of the mall.  This pad is two levels and features a large glass window on the second floor with steps going down to the first level in front of it.  It is unclear what the mall hoped to attract, because Montgomery Ward was obviously disinterested in leaving Kingsport Mall and the better department stores in other cities were still overlooking the region.  Perhaps they were thinking Thalhimer's, Stone & Thomas, Ivey's or Castner-Knott would give them a full deck, but obviously not.  People in the region still hold out hope for Macy's and Dillard's, but so far Dillard's only seems to be interested in parking at The Mall at Johnson City.

I have to say I really liked this style of mall entrance that Parks Belk used here.  It is simple, but distinct looking.  It was also nice to capture the old-style Belk logo here: an endangered species.  Labelscar captured this mall entrance while it was still Proffitt's.  This store was Proffitt's from 1995-2007.

The mall, while somewhat troubled, is not in a time warp.  Fort Henry Mall would see two renovations since it opened. One of those was in 1989 and the second came in 2005.  It is not clear how much was done in the 2005 renovation, but at least one of those renovations resulted in the gaudiest carpet ever encountered in a mall.  This carpet is in a groovy psychedelic pattern that defies all good taste, which is a mistake I am sure they are overeager to rectify.  It seems that both renovations were purely cosmetic as items such as railing and other interior decor still resemble much of what was in the original mall.  I am sure the 2005 renovation was primarily commenced to remove much of the greenery and water features that may have survived in the 1989 renovation.  I am sure the original mall, like many malls of that period, was quite a sight for the area residents who probably were somewhat disappointed in Kingsport Mall.

Here are a couple views from the upper level of the mall along the main mall concourse.  The first photo is looking towards the former Miller's/Hess's and the second photo is looking back towards Parks Belk/Proffitt's.

The terrain of the Tri-Cities region is very mountainous, which makes retail development difficult.  All of the malls of the Tri-Cities have bizarre floor plans designed to deal with this issue, and Fort Henry Mall is no exception.  While the mall is two levels, the two-level portion only extends from Belk (original Parks Belk) to the now-closed second Belk (originally Miller's).  JCPenney is located at the end of a one level wing off the upper level on the original Miller's side.  Sears is located at the end of a one level wing off the lower level on the original Parks Belk side.  This overall gives the mall a backwards "S" shape.

I am back to the extension of the upper level from Miller's to the big glass front anchor pad.  This is by far the most fascinating part of the mall since it offers a view from the upper level as well as a rather unusual mall entrance.  Stairs connect the end of the hallway to the lower level.

A view of the stairs and windows overlooking the parking lot.  The outside entrace is visible behind the glass in the railing.

Here is a view from the top level outside.  You can see Sears in the background.  The mall redevelopment will extend the mall beyond this window back to the Sears providing two mall entrances to Sears and expanding the mall greatly to hopefully attract better stores. 

Overall, Fort Henry Mall was doing fine over its first 30 years of business.  The problem has a lot to do with the current ownership, which has so far been full of big promises, but have delivered little.  However, it does appear that some progress is underway.  Somera Capitol Management owns the mall, and they also own Laurel Mall in Maryland: another mall desperately in need of reworking.  With General Growth managing the mall, very ambitious plans surfaced to renovate and expand the mall.  In the process, the mall was renamed Kingsport Town Center: at least on paper.  This new renovation would update the decor, extend the mall from the empty anchor pad back to the east entrance of Sears, add a new food court inside the upper level of the former Belk Men's, Home and Kids, vastly improve the plain and dated mall entrances and update the lighting.  As of late 2009, about the only thing actually completed was the lighting, which only helped to spotlight how garish it still looks.  The owners, still publicly optimistic, produced a You Tube video detailing these plans, but just as they had finished shooting the video several major chain stores departed including Chick-Fil-A, Waldenbooks and Radio Shack.  Belk also consolidated their operations into their original Parks Belk store the following summer as well, though that is actually part of the redevelopment process.

I am now moving along the Sears wing extending from the lower level from the Parks Belk court to Sears.  An entrance wing intersects this wing in front of Sears.

Sears here sports the latest logo.  This must be a reasonably profitable store.

I gave in and added this blurry photo for a reason.  Piccadilly Cafeteria is on the right, but on the left it very curiously looks like an old Morrison's Cafeteria.  Did Morrison's or Piccadilly move to the current location from that one or was this something else?  This is the fore-mentioned entrance wing next to Sears.

One fact remains with Fort Henry Mall, though, is that this mall has dived to B-mall status, so this redevelopment is in rather desperate need of moving forward if the mall is to avoid ending up like its beleaguered cousin Bristol Mall.   Both malls have been bleeding popular chain stores while The Mall at Johnson City seems to have drawn in the best of the region without even trying.  I would suggest to the owners, however, to drop the pretentious and grossly unoriginal "new" name with Kingsport Town Center.  This is not a cookie-cutter lifestyle center imitating downtown, it is a MALL and to all appearances will stay one.  Additionally, the current name is very unique and original kept as is, and from comments I have viewed other people really like the original name as well.  What about just Fort Henry Center?

Piccadilly Cafeteria sports a modern classical look for a mostly silver crowd.  As a rather traditional, conservative area places like this are bound to do well. 

If my description of the mall is rather confusing, this should help.  Note the main two-level wing, the two single level wings connecting JCPenney and Sears, the two-level entrance wing exetending off the blue court and the small entrance wing next to Sears.  Note the mall map still says "Fort Henry Mall".

Fort Henry Mall's two-level main entrance from the outside.  Unfortunately, they refuse to light up the red "Fort Henry Mall" sign since they have decided to retire that name apparently without any public input.  I would say until you can afford the new signage, light up what you have.  They had the sign along the main road dark as well.

Here is the two-level mall entrance from the side from a distance.  The old Miller's/Hess's is to the right of the entrance.  I was unable to get a decent photograph of Miller's because of the poor lighting and darkness.

Another idea the mall should consider is luring in a new anchor distinct to the region to increase its appeal as part of its renovation.  The mall definitely has room for Dillard's, for example, and the current anchor line-up offers no advantages vs. the other two malls in the region.  I would also suggest a standout renovation for the mall.  Seeing the drawings, the interior renovation looks pretty generic 2000's, so why not experiment with a more distinctive, elegant, moodier look?  Bring in something special like a spectacularly designed center court complete with high windows, a vaulted ceiling and an elegant wood-trimmed ceiling treatment coupled with an elegant water feature at the base.  One mall they could look at is the beautiful Northlake Mall in Charlotte whose design would better fit in with the region.  If they incorporated the food court and center court together in the fashion they did with Northlake, that part of the mall would be far cozier and more enjoyable.  Even the more basic ceiling treatments like those used in Three Star Mall would look nicer.  Sure, this may be Kingsport, TN, which hardly invokes images of glitz and glamour, but it is a region that is starving for better malls thus the overcrowded success of its Johnson City neighbor.  While I am sure the current redevelopment plan will help, I definitely think much more could be done to make this mall special and truly competitive.

JCPenney from the outside lit up for the evening.  The white pine tree looks spooky in front of the sign in the second photo.

Belk here is caught in a time warp with this store, but I still like it.  If you look carefully in this photo you will make out the Parks Belk labelscar behind the Belk sign.  Proffitt's apparently did not leave any labelscar from when they were here, but apparently they painted the awnings to match their green signs.

MORE: See Labelscar's post on this mall, which was photographed when Proffitt's was still at the mall as well as a few other angles I failed to capture.