The very first two-level shopping mall in South Carolina was Columbia Place Mall, opening on the northeast side of the city in 1977 near the convergence of then-incomplete I-77, I-20 and the newly constructed SC 277 freeway. It is an ideal location geographically, and it was uniquely large for the city and its time. With all it had positive, it appeared it would eventually become dominant. The past year, however, was not a good year for the mall and it is clear that this mall was not what it once was. After all, Columbia Place is a fairly large mall in a city that is absolutely over-malled, and the scene today presents many challenges for the 33 year old center.
When looking at the mall around 2000, the anchor line-up looked solid for the mall with Rich's, Dillard's, Sears and JCPenney. The Rich's location, South Carolina's first location of the iconic Atlanta institution, was the only such store in the city. It arrived along with three mini-malls scattered across the city anchored by their discount division Richway, so Columbia Place was at the time a very ambitious arrival. It was also undoubtably worrisome for older and smaller Dutch Square Mall. People in the city were obviously impressed, because the mall stayed largely successful for over 25 years. The only problem was that something was not being considered: none of those stores were Columbia's stores. Regardless, that did not seem to matter since Columbia in that period was increasingly resembling a junior Atlanta retail-wise.
Looking from the former Dillard's wing toward Macy's. The first photo is of the center court, decked out on Decker Blvd.
Walking towards the former JCPenney along the main mall concourse.
Mall map, which shows a very basic two-level mall. It is at least up-to-date.
In layout, Columbia Place is also ironically similar to Cumberland Mall in Atlanta. Sears was the south anchor, JCPenney the north anchor and Rich's the west anchor on the back side. A food court opened on the upper level near Sears. The mall was also always a two level mall, catering to a similar super regional demographic like Cumberland Mall. The only difference was that the east anchor opened as Belk instead of Davison's. In fact, Belk's position there was strange when considering that there actually was a Davison's operating downtown when the mall opened that suprisingly did not join the mall. Belk did not have any other mall-based locations in the city when it opened, either. Over time, the mall became somewhat of a run-of-the-mill mall, but it was one of only two two-level malls in the entire state up until the time that Richland Mall was built on the site of a much smaller open-air mall.
While the mall has vacancies throughout, no part of the mall seems to be having more trouble than the former JCPenney wing. Piccadilly Cafeteria and other shops hang on, but it is quite empty. To the left was a two-story built-in Old Navy, which recently closed along with many other inline stores. While this mall failed to impress me, that does not mean that I like seeing this happen.
JCPenney was split in two after they left at the peak of the lifestyle center craze. The upper level functioned as Steve & Barry's until early 2009 while the bottom level continues to operate as a Burlington Coat Factory.
View of the court area in front of the former JCPenney. These Christmas lights tend to make the mall more festive, but are a bit frustrating for photo purposes. I say that as if they were planning on me coming and taking photos.
Columbia Place was a retail rock up until the turn of the century. By that time, the mall was beginning to see changing demographics as the prosperity began to move further out in the county. The first change occurred in 1998 when Belk was replaced by Dillard's, which initially looked to be an upscaling of the center. However, nearby Decker Mall, housing Kroger Sav-On and Target, emptied out in 1999 with both stores moving further up Two Notch Road. Nevertheless, the mall received a complete renovation in 2002 that was meant to keep the mall competitive. Nevertheless, the retail scene had changed dramatically since it opened. What was two malls in the city in 1977 became four malls with Columbiana becoming the dominant regional draw and Richland Mall diluting the customer base of Columbia Place. The sucker punch, though, came in 2005 when a shiny new lifestyle center opened at the intersection of Two Notch Road (US 1) & Clemson Road known as Village at Sandhill. Not only did this draw retail from the periphery, but it also stole away JCPenney. The mall did manage to fill the void, however, bringing in Steve & Barry's on the upper level and Burlington Coat Factory on the lower level. 2005 also saw the transition of original anchor Rich's into Macy's, the first time the Macy's name had returned to the city since the downtown store closed more than a decade before.
Moving now into the Sears wing, the mall's escalators tend to drop down in non-descript central locales away from center court. The little girl is actually an advertisement by the mall encouraging advertisers to buy a banner. These banners are one of the ugliest things to happen to malls as of late, but I guess they're needed to pay for the enormous heating and air-conditioning bills.
Standing in front of Sears. The food court is off to the left.
Now back to Macy's. Note the staircase has not been fully renovated unlike the rest of the upstairs walkway judging by the very 70's corduroy concrete. Macy's mall entrance, which still carries the Rich's design, was a bit of a disappointment. As one of only two Macy's and formerly Rich's in South Carolina, indeed such detail was probably not given as much priority.
A closer look at Macy's. While the sign is backed by black reflective glass, it is also cut into the diagonal shapes so popular in that period that were commonly used for cedar-sided buildings.
Looking up to the ceiling from downstairs in the center court. These octagonal skylights are definitely from another time. What I do not like, though, is the ceiling includes the introduction of the industrial ceiling treatment, which made an unfortunate debut in the late 70's and exploded in popularity in the 90's. Why cant it go out of style like now?
Since the 1990's, medium-sized cities with multiple malls like Columbia have discovered multiple malls found it more difficult to compete due to store consolidation, retail saturation and declining demand. This caused weaker players to fall behind with one mall emerging as the strong, leading mall. Columbia Place is in that awkward position right now with Columbiana clearly emerging as the superstar of the city to the west and Village at Sandhill poised for eventual dominance in the east. Beginning in 2009, the situation went from bad to worse when Dillard's decided to bail out from the mall, leaving only one location in the city at Columbiana. Old Navy, a large two-story junior anchor, also left on the same wing where JCPenney was. On top of that, Steve & Barry's also left when the chain went bankrupt early in 2009. The mall now only retains Sears and the only Macy's location in the city, though Burlington Coat Factory keeps the old JCPenney half-occupied. The survival of the mall completely depends on the retention of Macy's, which is bound to make management nervous considering the available anchor pad at Columbiana, space intended for Dillard's at Village at Sandhill and the empty anchors at Richland, which despite Richland's dying state has still maintained a semi-upscale status.
Approaching the former Dillard's, which opened as Belk. Dillard's renovated the interior but made no such attempts on the exterior. It is likely the only instance I know of where a Dillard's took over a Belk. It lasted there 12 years and thoroughly employed those Belk arches.
Here is a closer look. Any ideas on who might like this store?
A look inside from the lower level. Seeing this ominously reminds me of when I was able to look straight into the closed Belk/McRae's at Century Plaza.
A view of the Sears mall entrance from the lower level. Nothing special here, unfortunately. Sears and Macy's seem to have a special place in their heart for older malls who lost most of their other anchors. If they didn't, there would be quite a few more abandoned malls.
The mall itself is also not a very enjoyable shopping experience. The parking lot at the mall was noticeably empty compared to other malls, and most national chain stores have left the mall. Not only was the mall lacking in selection, but mainly it was boring. The departure of Dillard's could not have happened at a worse time. If they had left back in 2005, the mall could have possibly retrofitted with a lifestyle addition, which would be difficult to finance today. It is possible the mall has some solid plan to turn around, but the prognosis is not good. However, Belk may be interested in taking its former store location back, so who knows?
Macy's from the outside. Because the lower level is actually buried, the west entrance is open with a catwalk connecting the upper level entrance. Inside is an atrium with stairs on the left, an elevator on the right and a strange nook showcase room next to it. Inside that room are mature trees which scrape against the glass on the elevator. The metal trellis is also showing some signs of deterioration with significant rusting on part of it.
A view of the showcase room, which was being used as the Christmas shop. Someone took a video of the elevator looking into this room, which can be found on You Tube.
A look at the former JCPenney, now Burlington Coat Factory on the lower level, and the Columbia Place mall entrance.
I only hope that somehow if Columbia Place does completely die that it will be for the gain of Richland or Dutch Square. With three troubled malls and one dominant, I believe that one of the three troubled malls might emerge rejuvinated provided what Macy's decides to do. Macy's holds the key to save any of three malls. If Macy's jumps across town and joins Columbiana, all three will eventually fail. If instead Macy's holds on or joins the two weaker malls, then two malls will survive, giving multiple shopping options to the growing city. Only time will tell how this will end when the dust settles, because the retraction of Dillard's and exit of Parisian from the market prior to the Belk buyout has been difficult for the malls in the city. It would help if a dark horse entered such as Nordstrom considering a location at Richland, for instance. Columbia Place has served the city well, but I only wish that it had been made a bit more appealing. While this is only one factor, I tend to think that if it was more interesting, it would be more competitive.
Former Dillard's/Belk. This is one of the worst Belk designs.
A not-so-good shot of the Sears from the parking lot. Lighting was poor around the mall in many areas.
I took this while leaving Columbia Place. If I don't make it back for two or more years, will this mall be here when I get back?
For more views of Columbia Place, check out this You Tube video.