Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Columbiana Centre: Columbia, SC

Many of my previous mall posts have detailed cities with older shopping centers that fought off newer, larger rivals to come out on top.  Columbia is not one of those cities whose malls turned out so romantically.  Columbiana Mall, built in 1990, was just right for the time and place.  As the newest mall, it has since emerged completely the leader of the malls of the region despite the fact it is a one-level center in comparison to larger (and older) Columbia Place Mall and Richland Mall, both struggling.  Columbiana Center also essentially replaced Dutch Square Mall, the city's oldest and smallest mall, though Dutch Square continues to operate today.  Columbiana Center is located in Irmo in Lexington County just across the border from Richland County on the very edge of the Columbia city limits.  It is the only mall in Columbia not in Richland County, and it is located at the southwest corner of Harbison Blvd (S-32-2272) and I-26.

Columbiana Center was very much a planned mall years before it was built.  When I lived in the city in 1986, the site was nothing more than a pine thicket, and adjacent Columbiana Drive was known as "Mall Road".  Mall Road was nothing more than a five lane road to nowhere that ended abruptly at a large barricade past Archers Lane, but resuming past Crossbow Drive as a two lane road.   By 1990, around four years later, the mall was completed featuring only two anchors Belk and Sears with an empty anchor pad on the south end and one facing I-26.  The mall was built with a Spanish theme throughout including evenly-spaced repeating arches across all the corridors.


Looking along the main entrance wing toward the main entrance, which is pictured in the first photo.  The entrance is quite attractive on the outside.


The windows next to the main entrance change to roman arches.  It is a nice touch.  I love it when malls blend high windows and overhead skylights.

Looking along the Dillard's wing, which from here looks a hall of mirrors.

1993 saw the beginning of many changes in the anchors at the mall.  This was when Dillard's joined the mall in conjunction with a new wing extending diagonally north, leaving the original two empty anchor pads free.  J.B. White joined the mall in 1995 as the third anchor, filling one of the two pads.  Thankfully, JB White maintained its location at Dutch Square despite opening the new store at Columbiana.  The White's carried an award-winning cutting edge design compared to its brutalist and blocky older stores.  It is not known what the other anchor pad was intended for, but it is assumed that was either for Macy's or Tapp's, whichever came first.  Oddly, neither considered joining the mall at any point.  In fact, Macy's instead had agreed to join Dutch Square, but those plans never materialized.  By 1998, the situation became more complicated when Dillard's bought out JB White.  The problem here was that Dillard's already anchored the mall.  As a result, Belk moved from its former location in the mall into White's with Parisian opening its second location in the city in the former store.


Looking back from Dillard's along the same wing.  Note that the mall has two different types of flooring in different areas.  I like the darker flooring.  It looks elegant.

Two of the courts on the older part of the mall.  The first, I believe, leads to the food court (not pictured) while the second is at the edge of the Dillard's wing.  I did not photograph the food court due to the presence of mall security.

The anchor shake-up at the mall only helped to solidify Columbiana's position as the city's premier shopping mall.  After Dutch Square fell into obscurity over the failed Macy's bid followed by White's entry at Columbiana is when the mall grew increasingly as the leader of the regional market.  All other malls were located much further from the hot growth market around Irmo/West Columbia.  Today, all of the upscale stores of the city are located in the mall as well with the tenant line-up full.  In fact, the mall is reaching complete dominance of the market with all other malls in the city struggling to survive since the early part of the past decade.  The last major change to occur at the mall was when Parisian left the Columbia market in 2005.  In its place, JCPenney opened a location in the mall in the store that had opened as Belk.  The result is that only one original anchor continues to operate in the same location it opened in which is, of course, Sears.


One area of the mall with lower ceilings.


Court area between the main entrance wing, Sears wing and Belk (former White's) to the left.


Mall map showing a once boring, rather small mall nearly doubled with the Dillard's wing.

In all, Columbiana Centre is a reasonably attractive mall.  However, a few things stand out to me.  First, why is the most successful mall in the city only on one level?  In fact, both of the city's multi-level malls are failing.  Second, while the design is quite original it heavily emphasizes the stucco, which makes the mall feel cheap.  However, all that stucco looks to be very well maintained.  I did not see any mildew or deterioration on it.  On the inside, the design is quite original and I like the fact it has a very clear old Spanish theme to it.  It does look, however, like the mall may have been stripped down at some point.  I seem to remember fountains and palm trees which simply are not in it today.  I do not much like the name, though.  I would have preferred Harbison Mall, but of course it is not mine to comment on.  Obviously Columbians approve, because the mall was swamped on my visit. 


JCPenney looks a little odd.  This had previously operated as Parisian and before that was the mall's original Belk store.



Here, I am approaching Dillard's then capturing more detail of the Dillard's mall entrance.  It is pretty straightforward, and it is the only Dillard's in the city that actually opened as Dillard's.  The outside is a clone of all the others from that period.


The Belk entrance is something special.  It was the second to last J.B. White ever built.  Belk took over when White's was bought out by Dillard's.


Sears mall entrance is actually pretty unique.  The tiled design was thankfully abandoned here.

Older part of mall approaching empty anchor pad.  Why did they leave this anchor pad empty while building on for Dillard's?

The Harbison Community was already a major area of new development long before the mall was completed.  However, prior to the construction of the mall the development was entirely residential including many new subdivisions and apartments.  Regardless, the mall was part of the master plan in one of the earliest less recognized examples of huge new planned cities similar to Columbia, MD and Peachtree City, GA.  In fact, Harbison itself spans two cities and two counties.  Like those developments, it was commenced in the 1970's and completed much more recently.  The completion of the mall resulted in an explosion of retail near the mall, but covenants have resulted in this development largely restrained to Harbison Blvd.  Such careful planning may be a significant factor in why Irmo stays a popular area for younger and more affluent residential growth and why Columbiana Mall has emerged the leading shopping center in the region.



The mall's original two anchors fully employ the faux Spanish architecture even though JCPenney originally opened as Belk.


Belk, formerly J.B. White, is the showiest anchor.  The glass cylinder definitely is a design standout.  It's hardly Spanish-themed, however.


  1. I like the design of this mall. The basic layout is nothing to write home about, but the Spanish Colonial theme was ahead of its time, and probably looked really good with the original trees and fountains. The anchors look really good, too, Belk especially, though the exterior detailing on Sears is a little odd looking.

    Belk's mall entrance looks like it took over part of the corridor leading to a former exterior mall entrance. The effect is unique, as it blends seamlessly into the mall proper.

    The original Belk became Parisian in 1995, when the Belk store group based in Columbia sold out to Dillard's.

    I think if Macy's hadn't filed for bankruptcy around the time this mall was built, they would have taken the empty anchor pad near JCPenney. They could still do it if they pull the plug on the Columbia Place store, but it'd be middle market department store overkill at Columbiana if they did.

  2. Yes, this White's store is a great one. I find it fabulous.

    I know I've asked this before somewhere, but...I seem to remember the Proffitt's at Westgate in Spartanburg to have a similar design, although smaller. Maybe it's just the common windows in the middle theme. Any relation? Did White's originally have the store in SBurg?

    When I first went to the mall I thought it much older than I later found out it was. The interior reminds me of a much older 1960s era mall, solely because of those square windows near the top of the walls. I couldn't help but be reminded of the interior of McAlister Square on my first visit. But hey, what's old is new again, right?

  3. White's built the Spartanburg store (which was largely identical to the Columbiana store) as an expansion of WestGate Mall and a companion location to the other local White's at Greenville Mall. When Dillard's bought out J.B. White's parent company, the store was sold to Proffitt's, and the Parisian at Greenville Mall was converted to Proffit's to be a companion location to the WestGate store.

    Confusing? You bet.

  4. Yes, the Westgate Mall Proffitt's in Spartanburg was a JB White- it was acquired when Dillard's bought JB White and when the Greenville Mall Parisian was switched to a Proffitt's.

  5. I seem to remember a brewhaha on Sunday shopping when the Dillards moved into the mall.

    As JT mentioned, the mall is at the border of two counties, Lexington and Richland. Lexington was a rural county until recently, and still has blue laws.

    I think Dillards added on their wing (in lieu of building on the anchor pads) to locate in Richland County to avoid the Lexington County blue laws and open up earlier on Sundays.

    The Columbia Free Times mentioned the issue in Feb. 2008, and describes how only the Richland County part of the mall opens at noon on Sundays, with the rest of the mall opening at 1:30.

    I don't know if the mall still has the weird Sunday opening dichtomy, and would love to hear more about the blue laws and the Dillards wing.

  6. Adding on to my last post, I remember the mall had a carousel in the food court entrance. I don't think the carousel is still in the mall. Does anyone else remember this?

  7. The carousel is still there and running. Dillards wing of the mall opened in 93 and it's in Richland so yes it does open about an hour earlier.

  8. I had forgotten that Belk was originally in the Parisian store. There was about a three year period where all Belk stores were closed in Columbia. They returned in 98 when White's closed. Parisian must have moved in around 95. The only reason I can think of for the anchor pad not being used for Dillards is because they had some restaurants on that end with outdoor seating.

  9. A Bit late but I just moved to Columbia this year and must say I love going to Columbiana despite it being VERY crowded on the weekends and holidays. Love all the stores especially the Abercrombie one and the interesting two-level Belk store. I'm surprised to learn that JCPenny didn't go to the mall until 2005 why did it take so long?

  10. Dustin the reason why JCPenny took a long a time to go to Columbiana is because they had a very successful store at Columbia Place, JCP doesn't like multiple/redundant stores, and a lot of SC native shoppers prefer more upscale stores. Contrast this to the upscale Belk's who has five stores(if you count the one in the outer suburb of Lugoff) in the Columbia metro area. I've heard a sixth one might open up soon in Lexington.

  11. I never knew the Belk-Parisian-JC Penney shuffle that went on at this mall. Great information!

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  14. When was the carousel installed in the mall?

    1. Probably about 2006

    2. The carousel has always been there.

    3. Also, don't know if this was mentioned, but the Dillards is in Richland county. At one point that part of the mall opened earlier on Sundays.

  15. That White's store was stunning. Their parent company, Mercantile, started using that design for their new stores in the mid 90's.
    I know of the Spartanburg one as well. Also, Gayfers West Oaks Mall & Gayfers Oviedo Market Place in the Orlando market. Joslins SOUTHGLENN Mall & Park Meadows mall in the Denver market.
    Nobody did it like Mercantile did....

  16. Belk did not move directly into the former J B White store. Belk closed all 3 of their Columbia stores in 1993 and did not return to the Columbia market until Fall 1998 when they bought the Columbiana, Dutch Square, and Richland Mall locations from Dillard's. Seeing as Dillard's already had 3 stores in the Columbia market, the Federal Government forced them to sell off the JB White location to another company, Belk, as so to not create a monopoly in the Columbia market.