Sunday, March 14, 2010

McFarland Mall: Tuscaloosa, AL

Classic malls seem to be an endangered species these days, and McFarland Mall is no exception.  The mall came to life on February 12, 1969 featuring anchors Gayfer's department store, Woolco and junior anchor Pizitz Tuscaloosa (10,000 square feet).  Pizitz Tuscaloosa was a branch of the downtown Tuscaloosa store and operated independently of the Birmingham store.  Morrison's Cafeteria also was in the mall: its first of three mall-based locations in the city.  Also, a free-standing Winn-Dixie store was included on an outlot in the southeast corner of the mall.  It was a huge event when the mall opened, but its landlocked design, lack of department store anchors and small size meant it would be easily replaced with better competition.  What is amazing is that the mall overall held on along with its major department store anchor for 40 years, and for a mall its size that is a big accomplishment!

When the mall was built, the new mall featured an enclosed, dark, air-conditioned corridor: something badly needed in the sickly humid heat of west central Alabama.  Located on one level, the L-shaped mall featured many regional and local tenants, basically duplicating the existing downtown stores but operating in tandem with them the first few years.  McFarland Mall was also locally built and operated, named for the original developer Ward McFarland who continued to own the mall up to May 2009 when it was sold to developer Stan Pate.

Along the northeast wing approaching the former Gayfer's, last operating as Dillard's.  An old Bath & Body Works is on the left.

Mall entrance to former Gayfer's/Dillard's.  The entrance to the Dillard's salon was on the right.  The stand in the center is the mall directory.

Looking back to center court, which is essentially the junction of the huge vaulted entrance/food court wing, which is pictured in the first photo.  Note the bucket on the left for the leaky roof.  It mostly looked to be in good repair, but it gets more difficult when the stores aren't there.

Preparing to turn the corner to the center court.  Goody's is in the background and Athlete's Foot, sporting an older logo, is on the right.

More detail of the classic-styled Athlete's Foot.

McFarland Mall at 400,000 square feet contained 40 stores and reigned dominant through the 70's.  However, in 1980 the mall faced a less certain future when University Mall opened.  Another mall had opened prior to that in 1977 known as Meadowbrook Mall, but there was no real threat from the small discount store-anchored mall.  The only tenant known to be lost to Meadowbrook was Morrison's Cafeteria, which was quickly replaced by Piccadilly complete with the famous gothic motif.  University Mall, however, opened with Pizitz, resulting in the closure of both the downtown and McFarland locations, subsequently ending the Pizitz Tuscaloosa franchise.  The Pizitz Tuscaloosa franchise officially ended business in July 1981.  However, dominant anchor Gayfer's was not included in the new mall line-up, which carved a solid niche for the mall.  Gayfer's retention kept the mall modestly successful throughout the 80's and 90's.  Woolco, however, closed at the mall in late 1982.  The old Woolco never remained vacant, though.  It was replaced by Zayre and later subdivided.  It is not known what happened to the former Pizitz in the mall when it closed, but it is believed this location ultimately became Goody's.

The map here shows the L-shaped layout of the mall showing that I am next to the old Dillard's.  Note the big front entrance wing and small rear back entrance wing.  Four separate stores fill up the old Woolco.  On the outlot in front of the old Woolco is Books-A-Million.

Another view of the front entrance wing with Goody's in the distance.

Looking along the back entrance wing with the doors straight ahead and the closed Fox 12 Theaters on the right.

Fox 12 Theaters in a little more detail.  I wonder when these closed.

Looking back to center court along the back entrance wing.  It is staggered from the main entrance wing with the focus on Goody's.  The "'s" in Goody's is on the left.  GNC still remains operational on the right.  It is usually one of the last chain stores to leave a dying mall.

In 1988, Zayre liquidated their entire chain.  At that point, the old Woolco was divided into four tenants.  Two of those were TJ Maxx and Michael's.  The others were Sticks 'N' Stuff and Shoe Station.  Unfortunately, the subdividing of Woolco made the mall seem more like a strip mall than before.  By the time the 90's started, it became a trying time for the aging mall.  For one, the mall was undersized.  Also, the increasingly saturated retail market combined with a shift in demographics at the mall resulted in the mall having numerous vacancies.  Nevertheless, the mall continued to have ample business, and it received its last renovation in 1993, bringing a fresh new look to the by then dated and dark mall.  The renovation brought in an elegant vaulted entrance wing that included a new food court.  This entrance wing and food court very strongly resembled what was done in Birmingham to Eastwood Mall in the early 90's.  At the back of the new entrance wing was a new Goody's, which arrived in 1994 to lure in business and provide the mall with another anchor.  Also, Dillard's bought Gayfer's in 1998 after operating there for nearly 30 years.  This was the only Dillard's location in the city since it never joined University Mall.  A small back entrance wing also featured a 12 screen movie theater, which was closed when I visited.  In addition, the old Winn-Dixie would ultimately become Books-A-Million, which remains today.

The longest part of the mall extends from center court to TJ Maxx, which operates in part of the former Woolco/Zayre.  It does not have outside access, and continues to draw great business.  It was supposed to move to a new shopping center this year owned by the developer who bought the mall, but I am not sure what is happening with that.

Looking back to center court.  The lush planters have never been lost in the mall, but I wonder if there was ever a functioning fountain prior to the 1993 renovation.

Detail of TJ Maxx mall entrance with part of the former Piccadilly entrance on the left.  It was so nice to see those gothic trappings again.

The tiles around the TJ Maxx entrance look totally original and very 1969.

Another view lookign back along the main corridor with more detail of the old Piccadilly.  A "Piccadilly Cafeteria" sign used to be on the white part between the entry and the rock/window area.

Here, you can make out the "Dollar Tree" sign overhead, which took up most of the old Piccadilly.

Next to TJ Maxx is this southwest entrance wing.  Note more detail of the old Piccadilly with the dark wood and fake stone.

Piccadilly Cafeteria at the mall, located in the old Morrison's, continued to thrive as well.  It ultimately closed when Piccadilly bought out Morrison's Cafeteria.  After the buyout, Piccadilly relocated to University Mall where Morrison's operated previously most likely around 2000.  I know it was still at the mall after the 1995 buyout, so it must have not closed the dual locations immediately.  Also, TJ Maxx has done great business in the old Woolco along with Michael's.  Michael's, along with the other fore mentioned stores, are also in the old Woolco but not connected to the mall.  My major memory at the mall was eating with family at the Piccadilly Cafeteria in 1998, and it was fascinating to me at the time to see that one of those old-style Piccadilly locations still existed.  Piccadilly had its very own outside entrance as well as a mall entrance where shoppers can directly enter the Dollar Tree today.

This inline store between center court and the wing next to TJ Maxx has an outside entrance.  It looks to have originally been either the Pizitz Tuscaloosa store or an old Woolworth.  Whatever it was, it last functioned as a clothing store of some sort.

Another view of the mall back lengthwise toward TJ Maxx from center court.

Detail of former Goody's entrance in relation to the food court area.

Detail of the food court area.

Only one restaurant remains open in the food court.  This is not one of them.

In 2009, it was becoming clear that McFarland Mall was reaching its last days.  Dillard's closed its location in 2008 after a decade at the mall.  Apparently the store was losing money every day it was open.  About 15 stores remained in the mall with Dillard's closed, and most of those were in the process of closing when I visited.  Even stores like Bath & Body Works are gone, and seeing Dollar Tree in the old Piccadilly shows how far the mall has fallen, though the old gothic exterior strangely remained.  Piccadilly itself left the mall in August 2003 after running stores at both McFarland and University Mall for several years.  Goody's also left early in 2009 with the bankruptcy of the chain.  The Goody's there was a store that received little love by the company itself, still sporting its older logo.  Most likely the mall will end up closing within the next year or two, and the new owner has presented a multitude of plans, but nothing clear yet.  Most likely, the center will be converted into a strip mall much like what happened to its earlier competition Meadowbrook.  Only time will tell what becomes of the classic center, but de-malling is certain.

Overview of the mall from the main entrance area to the subdivided former Woolco.  The red overhang on the right gives a clue on what was in the empty store with the outside entrance.  The Dollar Tree was the old Piccadilly.

Mall entrance next to the old Woolco.

More detail of the old Woolco.

The big entrance suggests a far more elegant mall.  The design is straight up 1993, too.  It is out of character with the mall and gaudy both inside and out, but it provides presence the old mall never had.

View of the now empty Dillard's/Gayfer's that closed in 2008.  It was a considerably large store compared to the one level stores at University Mall, which may have helped keep the mall viable longer.

Dillard's failed to remove the sign indicating the Salon inside the mall itself.  I also took in the corner of the main store for artistic effect.

Books-A-Million is found on the outlot that once housed a Winn-Dixie Supermarket.  Winn-Dixie moved more than once from this location.  A Winn-Dixie they were constructing down the road that replaced it was destroyed by an F4 tornado in 2000.

Overview of the mall from the southeast looking northwest.

The McFarland Mall sign is subdued, ugly and uninspiring.  This was not always the case, however, as the mall opened with a huge and distinct sign that has long since been removed.

My next post will feature photo clips of the original mall to show how much it has changed over time.


  1. That's a remarkably well-preserved old Woolco.

  2. First time I went to Tuscaloosa, my first stop was at this mall. I went inside and went to the "Turtle's Records" store, which is a long-gone chain that used to have many locations. They had stamp books you could fill up to get $5 off a purchase, and you'd get something like 1 stamp per dollar spent, I think. This would have been 1988, I think. I was never impressed with this mall, but I remember the 1993 remodeling and was hoping it would come back to life and become nicer, but it never really did. I didn't like that some of the stores were not accessible from inside the mall (I guess those were the divided Woolco stores).

    I remember eating at that Picadilly and noticed that it was very large compared to many I'd been to. It was obviously a very high-volume operation at some point.

  3. Dillard's only lasted as long as it did because, despite its condition, it had the market cornered. After Belk took over the dual Parisians down the street and severely downmarketed it/them (even more so than elsewhere), this was the only place from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to purchase a suit.

    The location wasn't hugely unprofitable, especially compared to the others that were shuttered last year. The problem was the building wasn't going to be viable going forward. It was in terrible shape, and closed a month ahead of schedule after wind damage to the roof.

    Dillard's had originally signed on to be a part of a development across the street from University Mall, but the store was never constructed.

  4. The whole mall was dangerously close to the F4 that hit there in 2000, so I guess that might explain the wind damage a's kind of in a typical path of severe storms.

    I do have to wonder why Mr. McFarland did not try harder to make the mall competitive with University Mall. As to Dillard's, what in all was wrong with the store? Bad roof, just never renovated, what? Definitely from the outside and mall entrance it was firmly stuck in 1969, which I'm sure Dillard's didn't like one bit.

  5. IMHO, I think what the mall needs is for Target to replace the old Woolco, Dillard's to rebuild on the same location and (unfortunate to say) move the tenants in the old Woolco into the mall space. The mall just is not big enough to sustain itself...the same thing that killed another mall in town.

  6. JT-

    The Dillard's that were once Gayfer's have pretty much all never been touched. In a few cases, that was ok, as they had been renovated in the final years of Gayfers, but in general, Mercantile had spent very, very little on their stores in the last 5 years that they owned them. The horribly dingy Pensacola store comes to mind.

    This one was along those lines. It was badly outdated in several ways, but wasn't nearly profitable enough to justify a renovation. I'm not sure a renovation would have helped at all, really. It still would have been attached to this place.

    Like I said, Dillard's had, at one time, signed on to be in a development across from University Mall, but backed out when the development was delayed.

  7. As for Target, there's a fairly new Target and Walmart less than three miles away. On the other side of the interstate there are several new retail developments that are less than 5 years old that have provided new stores for the kinds of tenants that even a de-malled McFarland would try to lure.

  8. I did some research on the Zayre space. TJ Maxx and Jefferson Home Furniture opened at either end of the old Zayre/Woolco building in late 1989, leaving a gap in the middle which was filled in 1990 with Drug Mart. Also, Heilig-Meyers took over the Jefferson chain in 1991, but they must have reduced the size of the Jefferson store, since there was space left over for a Crafts, Etc. store between Heilig-Meyers and Drug Mart in 1993.

    Come the late 1990s, Drug Mart had closed and Michaels took over the Crafts, Etc. store; Shoe Station took over the Drug Mart by 1997. Of course, Heilig Meyers is now Sticks & Stuff.

    Also, here's a list of stores at the mall in 1990:,4508753&dq=mcfarland-mall+drug-mart&hl=en

  9. Thank you much for the info. Even with the newspaper archives, it was easy to miss things. Heilig Meyers seemed to like taking up old spaces in malls, but that business model apparently wasn't the most wise one considering they are no longer around. Their logo was pretty hideous, though.

  10. Around the mid-90's, 1994-1996, many cadets from MMI would drive to Tuscaloosa on weekends to "get away". My fellow cadets and I spent many hours in the Fox 12 theater watching first-run movies and enjoying the mall's food court, as well as the *decent* population of young lady shoppers.

    Sad to see McFarland has wasted away...

  11. I've lived in Tuscaloosa/Northport my whole life. I used to get my hair cut at the Gayfers(and then when it was Dillards) Salon. I had my first kiss in the Fox 12, since Cobb wasn't around when I was 13. It's wonderful to see such a solid record of this place. I'll be honest, I'm still here and had no idea that Goody's or Bath & Body Works had closed. Only reasons I ever go are TJ Maxx and a good friend's mother runs a bridal shop next to it. That store with the outside entrance was a Holliday's, discount women's clothes. It targeted the African American women, mostly. Another sentimental bit: I'm a dancer and have been since I was 5 years old. A long time ago...probably early 2000s, there was a store called Dancers in this mall and I bought my very first pair of ballet shoes there.

  12. Oh my goodness! And I just remembered: There used to be a daytime talk show hosted by Kip Tyner(some big to do around here) and they filmed it in the center court of the mall! I was on least three times. Once for the Alabama Choir School, once because my elementary school's Knowledge Bowl team won the county competition, and once for a TCT(Tuscaloosa Children's Theatre) Production. I can't believe I forgot about Kip Tyner!

  13. Laura, enjoyed your Tuscaloosa memories here. This is the town I considered going to college in at one point, and I got kind of acquainted with the malls in that time: mainly McFarland, because it was always the one we stopped at passing through. I came to see the malls, but in my 2010 visit knew something didn't feel right (I guess a premonition of the tornado). I'm glad to hear something happy coming from this town after all you've had to deal with this year. As to the it still open? It seemed to be on its last legs as an enclosed mall when I visited but I have not heard anything since.

  14. Wagner's Shoes, Orange Julius, Adrian's (right outside the mall Gayfer's entrance) and Baskin Robbin's. Those are my memories from McFarland Mall in the 70s and 80s. I can't imagine how may movies I saw there in my 29 years in Ttown. Thanks for putting this together.

  15. Thanks for this article. I lived in Tuscaloosa until I was about 8 (20 years ago). I found this article while I was doing some googleing on certain things I remember because I happen to have a business trip to Atlanta (a mere 4 hours away) in 2 weeks with a day to spare so I think I'm going to pay a visit to Tuscaloosa, my first since my parents moved me away from all my friends long ago.
    I actually was wondering about the theaters in McFarland mall. I seem to think there were 2 theaters right across from each other at the mall (which probably explains the box office being in the middle of the mall). I believe the "Fox 12" in your picture was the original one, however whether or not it was called that or had 12 screens I cannot remember. We simply identified our two local theaters as McFarland Mall and Bama Mall. Shortly before I moved (this would in 1991) I feel like the theater on the other side opened. 12 screens seems like a lot for the one side though (also a lot for a mall that size) and I don't seem to remember it being much bigger than Bama Mall, so I'm wondering if the "12" referred to both sides or if the 1993 renovation or something else may have resulted in an expansion of the original theater. Looking at the mall directory in your photos, it doesn't look like a store space could accomodate a movie theater across the way.
    PS: I was around for the Zayre -> TJ Maxx/Drug store conversion. Back then there was a Laundromat next to TJ Maxx and an Aladdin's Castle just up the hallway. Is the mall still open to the public? This is sure to be a stop if it is.

    1. The theater was originally only two screens and was called the Fox Twin. Across the hall from the theater was the View Carre lounge and a pizza place (Pasquale's?). There was also a local photography shop next to theater, Swiss Colony, Revco Pharmacy, The Little Gallery, and Alladin's Castle, a game room. There was also a laundromat next to Woolco.

  16. The last news I heard is that it's getting a hybrid redevelopment keeping the mall portion from TJ Maxx to center court but demalling the portion to Gayfer's/Dillard's. I am am betting it ultimately will just be converted to a strip mall with no mall portion at all, but I could be wrong.

  17. A few more stores I remember are Spiller Pet Center, Hickory Farms(they had a deli in the back of the store), Lorch Diamond Center, Pasquales Pizza. There was a drug store in the mid-late 70's that served breakfast. It was not too far from piccadilly but I can't remember the name of it. We parked in the back, and walked through the laundromat to access the mall because you could always find a park in that area. I worked at Lorch's in the late 80's. I loved Gayfer's. I don't live there anymore...sad to hear it is no more.

  18. I'm the "Anonymous" from Feb 17. I did in fact pay a visit to the mall. It is open, but there's only a couple mom and pop stores in there without parking lot access near TJ Maxx. There were in fact two movie theaters there, which together made up "Fox 12". If you look closely in the first picture you can see a marquee to the left of the box office. Here's some history I was able to dig up on the Fox Theatres. They originally opened as the "Fox Twin", and were owned by NGC theaters. Somewhere along the line [the former] Cobb theatres purchased it, and in the early 80's (also around the time Bama 6 opened) the theatres were subdivided and it became "Fox 4". Almost immediatley after the subdividing, they were looking into expanding, so two more screens were added within a couple years, and it became "Fox 6". This makes sense, because I thought Bama and McFarlands theaters were similar in size. Around 1990 (this is about the time I remember going there) the theater expanded yet again by adding 4 more screens across the hallway, in what one account claims was the former Pasquales Pizza. This made it the "Fox 10", 6 screens on the original side and 4 on the new side. I guess for all practical purposes it was always 1 theater at McFarland mall, but as I young kid, I thought there were 2 (the new one and the old one). Each side had it's own concession stand, but they shared the Box office as they were right across from each other. I don't know when it became Fox 12, or which side the 2 new screens were added onto, but Regal purchased [the original] Cobb Theatres chain and it became "Regal Fox 12". The Fox theaters closed in September 2004, just before the new Cobb Hollywood (owned by the new Cobb theatres chain) opened in November of that year.
    One source claims that Cobb bought the Regal Fox 12 simply so they could shutter it and be the only game in town (allowing them to charge more), seems hard to believe, but you'd think the Fox would at least try to compete for a few months before calling it quits, instead of closing 2 months before hand, like Bama did converting to a dollar house. There's still a nicely preserved "Fox 12 Theatres" sign that can be seen from I-20 on the back of the mall.
    Stan Pate (McFarlands new owner) is also the landlord for the Cobb Hollywood, and does not feel it's viable to have the Fox reopened.

    1. Actually, the Fox Twin Theatres were originally owned by Mann Theatres Inc., then sold to ABC Southeastern Theatres Inc. in January, 1975. I am not sure when they were later sold to NGC.

  19. I worked at Shirin Diamond Center in Mcfarland mall when I was 17. This was my first 'real' job, and I stayed there for three years, but can remember going there when Dillards was Gayfers, and when Piccadilly was there. Our store was located right behind the information booth, and had a great view of Kip Tyners daily morning show. I have hated to watch this mall die as it has held so many memories for me, and would love to have the new owner do something to bring it back to life.

  20. I recall going to this mall back when there was a Gateway Books and I remember going to whatever movie theater it was in 1980 to see EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Lived the cafeteria. It was Morrison's then Picadilly. Originally, it had curved handicap ramps all through the mall and also these big round things with seats in them. There was another store, Raymond's (or maybe Raymon's...I can't remember). I just loved this mall. Santa Clause used to come in on a helicopter and Gayfer's remained a popular store, despite no renovations until it sold out to Dillard's. It's painful to see it in this condition. However, Kip Tyner still tapes his show there. Malls have a limited life span. This one has endured a lot longer than others. Century Plaza in Birmingham didn't last nearly as long. Eastwood Mall is now just a Walmart and a few other small stores. McFarland is breathing it's last...but is still going for the meantime.

  21. Best. Piccadilly Cafeteria. Ever. We ate here every Sunday after church (late 80s/early 90s). In addition to its whacky "Ye Olde English" motif, it had a two service lines to accommodate what were always big crowds.

    McFarland Mall had a lot of mom-and-pop stores in the late 80s. Following a renovation in the early 90s (the addition of the food court area, addition of carpet over the polished concrete floors, removal of the 60s-mod inverted pyramid columns), a few national chains set up shop (GNC, Athletes Foot, Bath and Body Works). But I think the food court addition was too big. Only a handful of restaurants ever opened (even when the mall was doing well). Instead of making McFarland seem more modern, it just made it seem a little more empty.

  22. I lived in Tuscaloosa for a couple of years with my husband in an apartment complex off of Skyland Blvd. and I used to go to that shopping center quite often. It was one of those places that you could walk into and tell that it used to be a decent place. I originally grew up in Birmingham and it reminded me so much of the old Century Plaza and Eastwood malls. It was nice to have a little reminder of home, even if it was a little dilapidated. My husband and I have since moved back to Birmingham after the birth of our first child, but we have friends in the area, and the last I heard, the Books-a-Million was closing and some restaurant called Cheddar's (I think) was being built next to where the Chile's was/is.

  23. Sadly, McFarland Mall is in the process of being demolished. Stan Pate is building some sort of boring, outdoor shopping centre.

  24. Does anyone else remember the Vieux Carre lounge in the mall? I decorated the windows for Thomas Jewelers when the mall first opened (I had worked for Thomas Jewelers in both of their downtown locations) and later worked for Zales Jewelers which had the leased jewelry department in the Woolco store. Still have my plastic name tag! Good memories! Oh yes--when I was in high school (THS--class of 1972) you were nothing if you weren't seen on Saturday mornings at the mall shopping with your hair in curlers, which indicated that you had a date for Saturday night! LOL

  25. Thanks for this post! I visited this mall this weekend kind of by accident; I just wanted to shop at TJ Maxx. I was visiting from out of town. The mall is much more decrepit now than it was when you posted 5 years ago. Part of it has now been torn down, and almost all of the stores are closed. Your third picture down shows a planter with three palm trees; the tree on the left is snapped at the center now with the top resting on the floor of the planter. The trees all have Christmas lights wrapped around the trunks, even the broken one.

    I'm posting my pictures on my Facebook and linking to your article here.

  26. I recently went here (this morning, in fact), and it is depressing. You seem to forget there was a Chili's in the parking lot (right by the Books-A-Miilion). A Cheddar's Casual Cafe was built where the new sign was placed; it closed October 2016. The Chili's closed in 2015? Anyway, it currently consists of three stores: Dollar Tree, a shoe repair shop (weird, I know), and a salon. Dillard's has been torn down for a long time now, & that section of the parking lot is fenced off. The new Goody's expansion is being torn down at an extremely slow rate. TJ Maxx, Sticks-N-Stuff, Michael's, & Shoe Station, which made up the Woolco space, have all found homes except for Shoe Station, which is looking for a place as if this writing. TJ Maxx & Michael's are in the Bama Mall/McFarland Plaza, & Sticks-N-Stuff is a block down the road on Skyland Boulevard. The former Books-A-Milion store is used as a baby boutique during the holiday sesson, & Sticks-N-Stuff is the location a temporary Halloween store. I believe University Mall will be Tuscaloosa's next casualty, since another lifestyle center has been built right beside the old one. Even still, T'Town has a fantastic retail scene, keeping people away from Birmingham. And that's the goal, right?

  27. 2016 has pretty much seen to the death of McFarland Mall. TJMaxx and Michael's moved to a newer shopping center, the re-developed Bama Mall (now called McFarland Plaza). Shoe Station closed with plans to re-open eventually elsewhere in town. Stix and Stuff closed; where it went, I'm not sure. Even Cheddar's, which was supposed to usher in the mall's next incarnation, closed unexpectedly.

    Now, the remaining two of the mall's founding tenants, a cobbler shop and a barber shop, have closed. (The cobbler retired and the barber shop is moving to another shopping center.)

    Now, it is only Dollar Tree standing between McFarland Mall and total death. I see no reason for Dollar Tree to stay beyond its current lease.