Richland Mall in itself is in a strange location. It is far enough from the interstate that it does not benefit from it and close enough to downtown that it does not take advantage of the suburban markets as much as the in-town potential. Its location is at the intersection of Forest Dr (SC 12) and N Belt Line Rd (SC 16). The reason for its strange in-town location is obviously that it was built before the interstates arrived: a situation that caused the failure of quite a few mid-century shopping centers that did not plan for the impact of interstate travel. In layout, it was likely similar to former Harding Mall in Nashville, TN. It had one major anchor, a large three-level J.B. White department store built in the center. Other stores in the original mall were Berry's on Main (a mid-20th century downtown department store), Colonial/Big Star, Winn-Dixie, S&S Cafeteria, Woolworth's and a movie theater on an outlot. A skating rink was also in the original center at one point. It was the city's first mall, possibly the state's first mall and a classic first generation mall, which tended to make sentiments toward the massive redevelopment somewhat less than positive. Photos and information are difficult to find on the early center, and no aerial photos seem to be available showing what it once looked like.
Entering from northeast entrance next to Barnes & Noble. Note the fountain and elevator ahead. The first photo is the same court and same fountain from the backside.
More views of the southeast court and fountain. This is the biggest mall fountain I have seen since Cumberland Mall's pond and waterfall was dismantled in 1989.
The radical transformation to small open-air mall to large two-level shopping center came in 1989. The mall adjacent to White's was demolished and the two-level enclosed mall there today was built in its place on each side of the existing remaining JB White store, making the existing White's the integral and literal center of the new development. Shoppers had to pass through the White's to go from one end of the mall to another. What was once a mid-market mall with local offerings was replaced with a behemoth featuring two unfamiliar and expensive stores balancing a mall with likewise high-end shops above and beyond what old Richland Mall offered. To deal with the small footprint, the mall was also surrounded and even covered by parking decks in a city spread out enough not to normally need them. More than likely, the original mall was dying in the face of newer, bigger, more convenient climate controlled malls across town, but the market research that produced re-developed Richland Fashion Mall was non-existent and offensive to local shoppers.
Mall entrance to what was originally Bonwit Teller on the lower level. This later operated as Dillard's and, briefly, Blacklion.
Looking along the lower level between Belk and the southeast entrance. With the help of Barnes & Noble, this is the most successful portion of the mall. Barnes & Noble is on the right.
Barnes & Noble mall entrance from lower level. While this appears from the outside to be two levels, it actually is in fact is a one level store. Barnes & Noble was added onto the mall later.
White's at Richland Mall is ironic. It was the first department store at the mall and it appears to be the last. It stood there twice as the mall around it sank into obscurity. White's was joined in 1989 with Birmingham-based Parisian and New York-based upscale Bonwit Teller [another link]. Both department stores, however, were completely unfamiliar to the market, and their inclusion led to the currently rocky history of the center. Parisian hangs on almost forgotten in Michigan with all of their Southern stores (their home market, ironically) merged into Belk. Bonwit Teller has long since entered the retail graveyard. Nevertheless, all three anchors managed to stay alive for around 15 years since the overhaul. Other major tenants in the modern mall include a large Regal Cinema on the top of the mall (and on top of the White's...quite possibly part of the original White's), Barnes & Noble, TGI Friday's and S&S Cafeteria. A Gymboree, GNC, Bath & Body Works and a couple other chain stores also hang on in the lower level. A Verizon Call Center, which will be leaving soon, took up the former space of a large food court that closed around 2000 and a wing wrapping around the back of JB White. However, the mall does not have hardly any of the "mom n pop" tenants typical of ailing malls as the owners have obviously kept the prices high in the mall to prevent the mall from downscaling. The mall was built with grandiose expectations on giving a big city high-end shopping experience to a much smaller, conservative and less prosperous market. Part of why that was so bold was that the city was still loyal to its local department stores at that time. "National" chains had not quite caught on in the pre-internet age.
Note the thousands of lightbulbs along the ceiling, many of them burned out. Natural skylights are impossible along these corridors since this is buried under a parking deck. The design otherwise is pure 1989, which in all honesty looks pretty decent over 20 years later.
The upper level of the southeast court. 80's architects could not seem to get enough of taupe and teal green.
Belk (former White's) south mall entrance in the background from the second floor. In front of me is the three-level escalators. The level above is the parking deck entry. Belk has two mall entrances and forms the center of the mall, but they look exactly alike so it is difficult to tell from photos truly which is which. Shoppers are required to go through Belk to get from one end of the mall to the other, so if Belk closes the mall will close just as quickly.
Its conversion in 1989 was scandalous, one of the ill-fated LJ Hooker projects. LJ Hooker still exists today, but its venture into American shopping malls including control of four different high-end American department stores proved very risky and poorly executed. This was all taking place during the era of leveraged buyouts, which left many scars and radically modified the whole retail scene forever. Not only did LJ Hooker not properly research the market, but also control of those department stores including B. Altman, Sakowitz, Bonwit Teller and Parisian proved disastrous to all four department store companies with the stores landing in markets that neither knew them nor could support them. Only Parisian survived the LJ Hooker era while Bonwit Teller, the other anchor, eventually died off completely. LJ Hooker believed in such instances that dropping an upscale mall into markets such as Columbia, SC and Cincinnatti, OH (Forest Fair Mall) would be successful. Richland was envisioned to be sort of a Phipps Plaza for Columbia, but instead it is looking more like Century Plaza.
Looking at the north wing of the mall from the other side of Belk.
Approaching the northwest court. A small, dumpy food court is to the right that was not worthy of pictures. One restaurant in the court was the cringe-worthy "Cheesesteak Factory".
For a mall designed to be upscale, S&S Cafeteria sure seems like an oddity, but it operated here since the day it reopened. It also operated in the original open-air mall as well, which is why it is here. This is the first time I've ever seen an S&S Cafeteria (standing for Smith & Sons) operating in a mall.
On the lower level approaching the former Parisian. Parisian left the city in 2005, closing this store in the process. Macy's needs to consider this store.
A look inside the empty and dark Parisian. What a shame, and what a waste of space.
Richland Mall speaks of the excess that went into it, and it rests awkwardly in the middle of a saturated market hosting three other major enclosed malls and one lifestyle center. The mall is covered from end to end with probably a million light bulbs lighting up the ceilings and other areas. It has two levels with escalators going up to a parking deck built on top of the mall with multi-story parking decks also found across from the mall. Elegant features are found throughout. A very large pond-like fountain sits on the south court near the entrance of what was originally Bonwit Teller. In contrast, a very small, uninspiring food court (which replaced a far more grand one) is found off the north court. In all, it is very fascinating to look at but also very depressing. The second level is almost entirely vacant aside from Belk in the center, and the fore mentioned original food court is sealed off as part of a Verizon call center. The lower level is mostly vacant, though it carries far more stores helped along by street-level access and the presence of Barnes & Noble, which joined onto the mall in 1997 along with a relocated entrance. In the center, of course, is Belk, which absorbed the JB White location in 1998.
Looking toward the vacant Parisian from the second level. The mall here is completely deserted.
Here, a set of escalators drops down disconnected to the parking deck. To the right, the walled off store seems to take up more mall space than the other closed up shops, and the online mall map shows this is a sealed off wing. Why only this wing? What did that used to be? The mall map shows it connecting either to the parking deck or "Richland Centre Verizon Wireless". Isn't this being used as a college campus of some sort?
A look at the northwest court from the second level. Notice the "Food Court" sign on the bottom level.
The rest of the northwest wing on the upper level looks equally lifeless. The escalators to the parking deck and lower lever are ahead just past the bend. This is walking back toward Belk.
Three-level escalators on the northwest wing looking toward Parisian.
Upper-level entrance from northwest wing. The doors open to a catwalk to the large parking deck beside the mall.
Belk mall entrance from lower level of northwest wing. GNC routinely seems to be a hold out when everyone else is gone. That is so strange to me.
The situation is undeniably dire today. Most people are wondering how the mall survives at all, and a retail miracle is needed to save it. Belk is all that keeps this mall alive, but it must be doing adequate business to stay there. Dillard's, which took over the Bonwit Teller site after it closed in 1993, vacated the site in 2003. Blacklion, a furniture store from North Carolina, was in that site briefly but closed within a year. The other anchor, Parisian, hung on until 2005, closing a year before the buyout by Belk. When Parisian closed, it completely left the market, also closing the location at Columbiana Mall. Even before this, the mall was troubled with vacancies, but the closure of two out of three department store anchors is leaving a bleak future for the mall. Surprisingly, however, many stores do hold on since the neighborhood is actually right for them. However, rumors of imminent demise have swirled since Dillard's vacated the old Bonwit Teller slot in 2003.
The mall map still shows Parisian as well as the fact that one of the upstairs wings is completely sealed off.
Along the same entrance corridor are found the two odd first-rate signs of life, TGI Friday's and Barnes & Noble. This mall still has so much to offer, so why is it not working?
The reality of Richland Mall is that its future depends on just the right factors coming together. For one, the initial redeveloped mall was obviously geared way too high and unfamiliar for the market, and subsequent anchor tenants could not survive with multiple locations in the city since neither had local market dominance like White's, Tapp's and Belk all had. This could be remedied, though, by offering stores better catering to the market with less overlap. For second, the number of regional malls in the city will have to drop enough to recharge the mall without it becoming a casualty itself. The old Parisian is a perfect fit for Macy's, which currently is in fading Columbia Place Mall. Also, Macy's has long been an institution in the city originally operating as Davison's and closing its downtown store in 1993.
The mall on the outside is largely obscured by parking decks, so the building defies photography. Note the theater on the second photo built directly on top of the mall and the Belk/White's. Did this used to be part of the White's or was the top level demolished or what?
Barnes & Noble located outside along the front of the mall near the east entrance to the southeast wing. You would think having such a strong anchor tenant would have been enough to shore up this ailing mall. Most malls did not get Barnes & Noble until much later.
As I stated on a previous post, the future of this and other malls on the city swings on Macy's decision in regards to Columbia Place. Relocation or expansion of Macy's to the mall would allow Macy's to operate a better store than what is at their current store. Sears may succeed in the old Bonwit Teller, but this could also be a new test market for South Carolina's first Nordstrom...a potential draw for the entire state, and entirely appropriate for that location. Perhaps Belk and Macy's could swap the old Parisian for the old White's to give Macy's the largest store. It could get interesting, and the potential is there. Possibly downsizing the mall to a two-anchor mall, demolishing the other half might help, too. That would eliminate the need for the parking decks and would provide a more appealing location for an in-town department store like Macy's It should be noted that Phipps Plaza was a very small two-level mall up until 1993 when it was expanded greatly for a Parisian that is now an A-class Belk. However, renovation of the center will be necessary as well...perhaps a return to an open-air mall similar to Bell Tower Shops in Ft. Myers, FL. Obviously, the mall is attractive, but it also is too dark and dated. I at least hope they keep it looking distinct and keep the fountain if they do such a project. Instead, it sounds like the owners are actually looking to largely de-mall the center, and according to posters here they are bankrupt and the mall is apparently now in holdings, though I cannot confirm that. I understand part of the plan was that the old Bonwit Teller would be replaced by a hotel along with other significant changes. The mall has changed hands twice in the past five years, and it was significantly devalued on its last purchase, which proves that redevelopment or abandonment are certainties, though abandonment in upscale Forest Acres is hardly likely. Its latest owners were planning to do just that: redevelopment, and they renamed the mall Midtown at Forest Acres in 2008 to lead it off.
Former Bonwit Teller/Dillard's. In the first photo, a labelscar is barely visible to the left of the sign. In the second photo, the French doors speak of more upscale origins of the store.
Single entrance and side view of the Belk/White's. I am assuming the original store pretty much resembled Dutch Square. As the oldest standing building at the mall, I would love to know what in all they did to it in 1989.
Parisian sits empty and forlorn at the mall. Does anybody else see Macy's here?
In all, Richland Mall would not have survived in its original form, but maybe it should not have survived period. Perhaps even the market was there just to keep the original open-air mall alive as sort of a community mall much in the sense that Ansley Mall in Atlanta has survived and thrived. Considering that, an upscale 60's-style open-air mall may not be such a bad idea today with a couple trendy chain restaurants, and this would likely be popular with USC students. Richland's redevelopment was executed poorly in a city that already had more malls than shoppers. Nevertheless, the result is a mall that is unique for the city and could be somewhat more appreciated. While it has never been fully successful, it did manage to maintain all of its anchors for almost 15 years since it was first built. Losing this mall would be a big loss and major blight on the area, but unlike others I do not believe this mall is past the point of rescue, but it will have to be downsized, refurbished and marketed correctly. While two malls in the city appear to be in irreversible decline, Richland has the opportunity to come back as an upscale boutique to Columbiana Mall. However, timing and the right factors are crucial for this, because otherwise I do not see much of a chance of this place surviving in its current form.