Sunday, April 25, 2010

Jasper Mall: Jasper, AL

The biggest factor in what drove me into blogging about malls and dead stores is the hope of recapturing the way these places looked in my childhood.  While most malls these days have been disappointingly been renovated multiple times, a scant few maintain their original goodness.  One of these is an easy to overlook mall in the small city of Jasper, AL.  Jasper Mall is easy to overlook for the obvious reasons that it is independently operated, located in a very small city and is also a very tiny mall itself.  Anywhere else, it would not last any time at all but it is actually a thriving mall.

Located on US 78 north of the downtown, the mall sits in the middle of the original by-pass route around the city, which evolved into an extensive retail corridor in the 1980's.  Originally, it was anchored only by JCPenney and Kmart when it opened in 1983.  No changes of any kind happened to the mall until recently when Belk strangely added a new store to the back of the mall on what had obviously been previously a rear entrance.  Another oddity to the mall is that it seems to have one of the few remaining operational Garfield's Restaurants: a regional chain serving malls in smaller markets that I had thought was completely out of business.  It is overall very dark inside, but it is a welcome sight for an 80's baby that was raised in dark, moody malls.

A view of the left front entrance corridor.  This actually goes straight back dissected with the Kmart entrance to the left and main mall to the right.  Since Kmart mall entrances tend to orient themselves directly to the mall itself, entrances to them double as mall entrances.  The Kmart at Bradley Square Mall in Cleveland, TN is the same way.  The first photo shows early 80's vintage brick planters in front of the JCPenney.

Beginning down the mall would be like walking into the 80's except for the stores, which clearly are more modern versions of themselves.  Very little natural light is found in any part of the mall.

Here I am approaching center court.

I decided to throw in some detail of the planter.

Since the mall is apparently a living, and actually thriving, museum of 80's architecture, the mall features multiple shades and patterns of light and dark brown linoleum tiles throughout.  Interspersed between them are many brick planters surrounded by benches as well as a few sunken seating areas as well.  The mall also has a continuous slope uphill from Kmart to JCPenney as well as a slightly staggered concourse, which gives the mall presence making it feel larger than it really is.  Any renovation to a lighter, brighter mall would actually make the mall look small and dumpy.  The mall itself sits near the top of the hill with the back parking lot carved deep into the hillside.  The area it is located in is actually quite mountainous, and it reminds me a lot of more familiar Jasper, GA.

A look at the Belk wing, which clearly predates the Belk store.  I assume this originally led to a back entrance.  I wonder how much adding Belk here helped.  It seemed to make no difference in the middle Georgia malls having both Belk and JCPenney.

Belk's gleaming mall entrance with obviously a home store addition on the left and a closed Sound Shop music store on the right.

Looking back from Belk to center court.  The front main entrance is in the background.

The front main entrance features one of the few Garfield's Restaurant locations still open for business.  All of the others I have seen were closed including one at Quintard Mall in Oxford.

I am looking back here through center court.  Chick-Fil-A to the left is in the foreground, the Belk sign can be made out in the background and apparently a new store is in progress on the right.  An American Eagle would be nice.  I'm sure the teenagers here aren't the most pleased by the fact that most stores here are lower end.

Conventional wisdom with malls says that for a mall to survive it must be updated continuously.  However, this mall proves that is only true if there is competition nearby.  That is definitely not the case with Jasper Mall, and the mall was not only busy but full of stores.  In contrast, several smaller malls I visited in middle Georgia that got a massive renovation recently looked to be emptying out.  Perhaps adding Belk made all the difference, but most of all it is the fact it is a mall covering a fairly large region under-represented by retail.  It is also far enough from Birmingham and even further from its prime retail corridor east of the city.  However, only time will tell how much the completion of I-22 into Birmingham will have on the mall.  I-22, currently a "Future" interstate moved much of the major traffic away from the mall, and is currently complete other than a direct connection to I-65 in Birmingham.  Such changes will likely bring major growth to the Jasper area as well as the possibility of another major shopping center closer to the new interstate, but for now everything looks very safe for the 27 year old mall.

It seems the only natural light comes from these elusive skylights and the filtered light through the checkered fixtures.

A look at the JCPenney wing looks almost like an 80's postcard except for the edge of the kiosk on the left.  I love it (except the kiosk).

A little closer to JCPenney, it looks like an old Foot Locker has been converted to a mom 'n' pop operation.  I honestly do not recall any major shoe stores in the mall unless Payless was there somewhere, but you can find plenty of jewelry stores there.

I really got a kick out of the court in front of JCPenney.  Note the sunken seating area in the middle.

The sunken seating area and planters in front of JCPenney are shown in greater detail.  It sure beats a flat spot with those ugly shiny beige floor tiles, over-sized flower pots and tacky chairs.  I hope the mall owners never take this away...this is still attractive!

The area around Jasper itself is strange enough.  While the area features outdoor tourism in the nearby Bankhead National Forest, most of the area is predominately rural in nature.  It is also dubiously known for its violent weather including several extremely violent tornado outbreaks which likely discouraged many people from moving there.  Several F4 and F5 tornadoes have hit in or near the area in recent history.  It has also been insulated from sprawl development from Birmingham since most of the growth has moved east/southeast instead of northwest.  Nevertheless, the area is still quite appealing with its big rolling hills and valleys, proximity to nearby hemlock-filled canyons in Bankhead Forest, recreation on Lewis Smith Lake and fast, easy access between Birmingham and Memphis.  Vacation homes dot the landscape north of Jasper up towards Smith Lake.  In all, though, it reminds me a lot of northwestern Georgia about 20 years ago with its blend of rugged scenery, rural back country and small urban areas.

A look down the Kmart wing with three shades of floor tiles featured here.  Not bad.

Kmart's mall entrance features a checkerboard of filtered light above, angular planters and bench seats.  These look like the photos I saw of University Mall in Tuscaloosa in its early days.  I like it still.

Detail of one of the built-in wooden bench seats.

Another view of same court in relation to its rear entrance and adjacent shop (Rue 21).

A look down the back entrance corridor, which serves as a dual mall entrance and Kmart entrance.  Long, empty mall entrance corridors have wisely been taken out of modern mall design.

In all, if you are looking for a big mall with a big choice of higher end stores, then you probably will not like Jasper Mall much.  However, if you live in a small town and want some place to hang out with a few decent stores then you will probably like Jasper Mall.  If you are like me and looking for a mall that looks like the early 1980's over 25 years later, then you will absolutely love Jasper Mall.  For me, personally, I tend to find satisfaction in these small town malls just for the fact they add something interesting to the outlying areas and are rather quaint through their retention of vintage design elements and compact design.  I certainly wish that modern store chains would do more to enhance these junior malls, though, by tacking on to them instead of spreading all over the area killing them in the process. It is just my hope that they never change the way it looks.  While it may not hold a candle to any mall in Birmingham, it is still fun to visit places like this especially when they look the way they were originally intended.  If only the big city malls would do the same instead of embracing the antiseptic hospital-like appearance they love today.

Kmart/Mall entrance from the front of the mall.  At least Kmart, unlike Wal-Mart, tries to incorporate their stores into the malls they're in.

Back entrance to the mall and Kmart from the outside.  This enters the "long, empty corridor" I mentioned in a photo above.

Front entrance to the mall with Garfield's on the right.  The Belk sign is added to recognize its hidden position in the mall.

JCPenney here actually looks pretty decent compared to their stores from 1980.  It is tasteful.

Belk here is the afterthought featuring a stucco-clad Southern-style canopy.  It seems modern Belk stores really try to look like Deep South on a budget.

Jasper Mall's road sign.  No comment really.


  1. LOL on the "Deep South on a budget" comment. It's an interesting relic, but I'm not feeling this mall. It's a little too dated and moody and it needs an update badly.

  2. I got a negative impression on this town the first time I discovered that mall and went in it. While walking toward the front of the mall, a guy in a truck yelled "Get a haircut!" This was late 1992 or early 1993, so I had a negative impression before I even entered the place. I remember little about it except it was a small mall that in my mind was similar to Three Star Mall in McMinnville or Northgate Mall in Tullahoma. I honestly can't remember if I went in it again, although I have driven past it a few times on the way through.

    I noticed that "Sound Shop" is a music store chain that tended to be in the smaller malls.

  3. It reminds me a little of Village Mall in Auburn, AL.

  4. This mall is crap and proves how ass backwards this town is. It lacks variety and has no interesting stores,not even a Spencer's. Can't wait to leave crappy jasper Alabama and go back up to Nashville.

  5. I agree, I literally pulled, parked, and fell asleep. When I woke up and realized I was still sitting in the car I just crunk up the car and left.

  6. Your comments are hilarious!!!

  7. I don't think the sunken areas of this mall are very attractive. They seem to serve no purpose and it looks something no one would use. Maybe people think "I need a rest so I'll walk around this giant planter and sit in a hole in the floor." I do think the dark brick is attractive though on the floors for some reason and I'm basically a 90s kid (born in 89).

  8. What if it became an outlet mall maybe the town would like it better

  9. This mall is very sad I do not waste my time shopping there I shop in Birmingham

  10. This reminds me so much of my childhood and the University Mall in Tuscaloosa! I know it's old and people want shiny & new but I love this! It's like taking a walk back in the 80's!!

  11. This mall is the pits,I go to Birmingham

  12. I take back my comment I made way back in 2011. I don't mind the Jasper mall. They try to do their best with what they have and it is a decent place to find what you need. Still better than going to Walmart.

  13. This mall recently lost two of it's anchors, JCPenney and Kmart. It would do well to diversify these empty spaces with some things Jasper currently doesn't have, such as a movie complex and a Best Buy.