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.