Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Riverchase Galleria: Hoover, AL

Not too long ago, Labelscar did a post on Riverchase Galleria.  For me, I was reluctant to cover a mall they had already done, but since I am covering Birmingham in general, others encouraged me to cover it as well.  I guess it does not hurt to have a second set of photos of anything, because I photographed pretty much every little angle of this mall.  While it definitely manifests the effects of consolidations, excessive competition and a rocky economy, this mall has nothing to be ashamed of unlike quite a few these days.  At the time it was built in 1986, it was probably one of the largest malls in the country and a unique one at that.

What makes Riverchase Galleria stand apart is that it is a mall that incorporated two mid rise hotels into its design.  In other words, they didn't just want it to be a mall: they wanted it to be a major tourist destination.  On top of that, the mall incorporated four anchors and 1.2 million square feet...a very large mall for that time.  Original anchors included Rich's, JCPenney, Pizitz and Parisian.  The following year, Macy's, then part of R.H. Macy, built onto the front of the mall under the Galleria Tower as a three level store...the first in Alabama meaning previous parent Davison's of Atlanta had never had a presence in the state.  Pizitz, however, was very short-lived as it was converted to McRae's the same year Macy's joined the mall.  However, the Pizitz family still owned the building McRae's moved into despite selling the store operations to them.  In all, this was a pretty solid lineup for a moderately upscale mall.  No mall in the region had Rich's, Pizitz and Parisian all together like that before.

The first photo is a view from the small third level balcony over the center court, food court and view through the glass of the Winfrey Hotel in the background.  The second photo is a typical escalator in the mall.

An ad in the mall was advertising Alpharetta, GA.  That is too funny.  What are they saying?  You can do better than this place?  Please fill me in on this!

A typical mall concourse is pretty typical mid-80's as well.  Outside of center court, I wouldn't call the skylights spectacular.  This reminds me a bit of Town Center at Cobb in Kennesaw, GA.

A map of how it all comes together today.  The mall was definitely Belked for sure!

If not for the hotel, office tower and the amazing huge all-glass atrium throughout, this otherwise would probably be just another conventional large 80's mall.  Most of the mall is on two levels, and the center is shaped overall in a simple Y fashion with a big food court on the lower level in the center.  The mall does, however, contain many smaller wings including one to the Winfrey Hotel and two for Parisian.  A small third level overlooking the food court also exists providing access to the office towers as well as offering an overlook.  All of the anchors are multi-level, and the 1990's brought significant expansion to the mall, which was something that unfortunately negatively affected other malls in the area.  1995 would see Parisian greatly expand its store in the mall into a new expansion that gave the store an oblong design as well as the fore mentioned two mall entrances on separate wings.  In 1996, Sears would close at tiny now-demolished Todds Mall in Vestavia Hills to join the mall along with a new wing.  These changes pushed the mall from four to six anchors and 1.2 to 1.9 million square feet.  This would prove to be the peak of the mall's success as it firmly establish itself as not only a premier shopping destination in Alabama, but also much of the Southeast.

The skylights make the court in the is impressive how this much glass is held up without a system of trusses.

Looking from center court into the more typical parts of the mall.

This is bound to look pretty scary during a severe thunderstorm.  Thunderstorms had rumbled through before I took these photos.  Note the third level on the left.  The former Macy's mall entrance was on the two levels below that.

Looking straight on at the old Macy's/Proffitt's/Belk entrance and the lower levels of the office tower.  The office tower here is accessible from the third level visible here.

Department store consolidation proved to be challenging for the mall after 2000.  With six anchors, the mall found itself somewhat overbuilt for a shrinking anchor market.  Macy's merger with Rich's was when things got problematic.  When Macy's closed and moved into the old Rich's, apparently Dillard's was not invited to the party.  Instead, of all things, Proffitt's of Maryville, TN opened up in the old Macy's in 2004 after the subsequent closure of the original 1987 Macy's.  This store was there so briefly that if you blinked you would miss it much like Pizitz originally.  With Saks, Inc. then owning three positions in the mall, they then conveniently closed McRae's, which was the smallest and least visible of all of the mall's anchors.  This move angered the Pizitz family who still owned the building.  Apparently, the McRae's had a major roof leak problem that the Pizitz family, once the head of Alabama's largest regional department store, did not address and Saks, Inc. was unwilling to deal with.  The result was that Saks, Inc was smacked with a lawsuit apparently for breaking terms of their lease.

A view of the upper level entrance wing between Belk Men's (former McRae's/Pizitz) and Macy's (former Rich's).

Looking along the same entrance wing.

A view of the mall near a smaller court area from the second level.

A view from the third level balcony toward JCPenney.  This was kinda cool.  Third levels in mall are rare in any form.

The wing connecting the center court to Winfrey Hotel lacked the grandeur of the other parts.

When Belk came along, the lawsuit simply fell into Belk's hands.  Belk opened in the former Macy's/Proffitt's with no intentions of opening in the old McRae's initially.  Apparently, the agreement was settled when Belk ultimately opened a Home store in the upper level of the old Pizitz/McRae's while moving their store otherwise to the former Parisian.  Belk moved again into the old Parisian since they bought them out the same year.  Apparently, Belk decided that the old Parisian was a more appealing store than the old Macy's, so by 2007 the 20 year-old Macy's would finally go dark.  Today, this leaves 1 1/2 anchors in the mall dark in a mall designed for far more department store anchors than are typically available today.  In a reasonable scenario, Dillard's would take up the old Pizitz/McRae's spot, but so far that has obviously not been considered.  The original Macy's, however, awaits a Nordstrom.  It is rumored that Nordstrom plans to open in that spot, and the Nordstrom would be the first in the state.  No doubt if this works out this will be a huge deal.  Apparently the success of the Saks Fifth Avenue at the Summit has created the right conditions for a further upscaling of Alabama's (and one of the South's) largest mall.  Whether they will use the existing Macy's building or not is unknown, however.

One of the three entrances to the main Belk store (former Parisian).

The second entrance to the main Belk store (former Parisian).  This is probably the original 1986 store in lieu of the 1995 addition.

Here is the third entrance to the main Belk in the wing next to Winfrey Hotel's entrance.  Behind me (not pictured) is the side entrance to Belk Men's (former McRae's/Pizitz).

Nothing too terribly unusual about JCPenney right here from the inside.

Since Sears and Macy's make up different ends of a Y-shaped split, these overhead signs are in place.  These remind me of similar found all over Oglethorpe Mall in Savannah, GA.

Macy's entrance is the most elegant.  It was Rich's up until 2003, and their 80's designs inside and out were elegant and very cutting edge.  I couldn't say the same for their stores from the 1990's on.

Sears...meh...very cookie-cutter.

In all, while not my favorite mall design-wise, it is a truly massive and impressive structure in every way.  Its glass skylights are the most expansive and open I have ever encountered giving the mall an almost outdoor feel, and its massive size is almost overwhelming.  The two towers over the mall also make the mall feel like it is part of a huge downtown instead of a typical suburban center...a rare and unique arrangement in malls at any point.  Few malls have ever incorporated either an office tower or hotel, much less both, into its design like Riverchase has.  Its array of six huge anchors, two mid-rise towers. a large food court and such an enormous amount of stores speaks of optimism and excess we may never see again.  It was a time when malls seemed to be in a race to be the biggest and the best...finally culminating with a few monoliths in the 90's such as Mall of America and many leaner versions such as Mall of Georgia.  It is also still a traditional mall in every sense...maintaining its size without the trendy "lifestyle" addition that flanks many malls today including later-built Mall of Georgia.

Macy's original store  The huge arched design over the small doors was pretty stark indeed.  This is still a pretty brutalist three-level store here I must say.

JCPenney's store here was apparently cloned for Asheville Mall.  The designs are identical pretty much.

The old Parisian, now Belk, was kinda neat.  Of all the anchors, this one had the most appealing and eye-catching design features while still keeping it simple.  Winfrey Hotel is to the left.

Sorry this picture came out blurry.  The McRae's/Pizitz here was all about arches as well.  

This had to be one of the best designs for a Rich's department store ever.  It is so classy looking.  The Macy's logo intrigues me.  It actually looks like it must have come off of its original 1987 store and was replaced on the old Rich's.  It is definitely not the newer "red star" logo, and this must have been done at the request of mall owners.  Was the original Rich's sign here white?  I never saw this store with Rich's nor have I ever seen any photos of it.

I kinda figured Sears arrived fashionably late when I saw this store.  It opened here in 1996 and is a match to the store at Arbor Place Mall in Douglasville, GA that was built in 1999.

While the mall today may seem excessive, it brought Birmingham a true big city shopping experience that most other malls in the city never offered.  With exception of two-level Century Plaza and the peculiar Brookwood, all other malls in the city were not only quite small but also plain.  Their success relied on the lack of competition from a major shopping destination like Riverchase.  Perhaps Eastwood, West Lake, Century Plaza, Todds Mall and even the Five Points West mall addition might still be around today if this mall would never have been built, but you can be sure that local patrons would be disenchanted with what they would see as outdated, second-rate and outmoded offerings.  This is a problem that would have led to Birmingham residents skipping the city altogether to go to Atlanta instead.  Local developer Jim Wilson, who originally built Riverchase, was not about to let that happen.

I did manage a night shot in 2007 of the Belk store at Riverchase when it was still Parisian.  I should have done more.

This older photo from 2005 I believe came from Birmingham's newspaper, but I am not positive who to credit this to.  This shows McRae's at the mall after it closed. 

Indeed, it seems that Birmingham has been moving full speed ahead both before and since.  Even today, only Riverchase and Brookwood remain viable malls in the city as both now have to deal with another Birmingham first...the lifestyle center.  Both malls today compete with tony The Summit in Mountain Brook and the newer Pinnacle at Tutwiler Farm while Western Hills Mall seems to be making the last stand in the older suburban retail scene.  Even Riverchase may have to change soon to adapt to a market far different than the mall was when it opened in 1986.  I would expect the future to bring a demolition of one or more anchors and possibly the creation of a lifestyle-type addition in the place of those anchors.  Perhaps the mall may even be turned inside out with the roof removed and replaced with an outdoor plaza.  Time will tell, but for now the mall is a stunning monument to the runaway popularity of the mall era.


  1. Beautiful mall, except for the original Macy's. I'm glad you posted this.

  2. Yeah, I agree with Steven about the original Macy's. Given that it opened a year after Town Center's original Macy's, I was expecting to see something similar, and therefore more postmodern and elegant, here. This store actually looks like it could pass for originally being a Davison's.

    I would say that this place is due for an update though, especially if they're trying to get Nordstrom on board. It does kind of have that "stuck in the 80's" vibe to it that works against the mall in this case, because except for the glass ceiling, there's nothing else too remarkable about the design of this mall. They should use Galleria Dallas' recent renovation as an inspiration.

    Also, my idea for the lower level of the old McRae's would be to just convert it into additional mall space. They did the same thing at the old Lord & Taylor/Thalhimer's at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, NC. At that mall, Hudson-Belk (Yes, they still use a hyphenated moniker in the Research Triangle area) moved their Men's Store out of the main store to the upper level of the old L&T and converted the lower level into more mall space leading to the adjacent parking deck. To me, that would be the best solution considering the lack of a selection of anchor stores.

    1. Forever 21 is now opening in the lower level of the former McRae's. It will be um... interesting...

  3. If I remember correctly, the Belk (Parisian) entrance that has the steps (no escalator) in front of it is the new part of the store. I seem to remember there being nothing there at the end of that corridor until Parisian expanded.

    The original Macy's used to be one of my favorite places to shop for clothes. They had a great selection and I found all kinds of interesting shirts and pants there. By the mid 1990s, the selection had gone downhill considerably.

    The wing leading to Sears used to end shortly after the post office (if the post office on the lower level is still there).

    JCPenney seems the least changed of any department store there. It seems to be just like it was when I first visited the mall in 1988, but I'm sure it's been remodeled in some way. The TVs that were playing the Achy Breaky Heart video by Billy Ray Cyrus in the mens' dept. on the lower level aren't there any more. :-)

  4. In all honesty, I really did not enjoy covering this mall much. While the skylights are massive and impressive, I found the mall to be way too plain and architecturally unremarkable. I think even just adding some color and making it darker would do a lot, but I think that if the mall is going to be a showplace it needs some eyecatching elements like fountains, trees, sculptures and even re-arranging the escalators, crosswalks and such so that the mall feels more exciting. If nothing else, I wish they would dig up the old architectural plans for Cumberland Mall in Atlanta's center court from the 70's and recreate it in the current center court.

    The possibilities are endless (though certainly not cheap) and I would even go so far as to suggest a complete redo of the skylights outside of center court to something more complex or cutting edge such as the truss workings at North Point Mall in Alpharetta or even coming up with a design that filters the light to give a distinct glow. Perhaps more muted skylights all set in different colors like stained glass? There are so many possibilities that mall owners will never embrace any more.

    Overall, though, I think that what could be tried is to remove the roof on all but center court...restructuring it to covered walkways with a lush court area dividing the stores. I'm not talking lifestyle center...I'm talking two-level open-air mall.

  5. I think the lack of greenery and fountains is what's making this place look so bland. Just adding that would really improve things.

  6. This mall I believe had a huge center court fountain which was removed. I recall seeing it in tourism literature from back in the 80's.

  7. I stopped here shortly after the Macy's opened. The size and skylights were impressive, but it seemed like a big nothing of a place that could have been dropped down anywhere. Perhaps if they can attract a Nordstrom, they could diversify the store base, although Birmingham probably cannot support an upscale version of this and truly upscale lifestyle centers.

  8. Yes, I remember the fountain being where the carousel is today. By the way, the Rich's sign was green like all the other ones. What time was it when you took the pictures? Because usually there are a lot of people walking around, especially at the food court. Sometimes at dusk and night, the arches of the atrium have blue and red neon light fixtures. But they hardly ever have them on when I shop there. If they're on, I'll take some pictures.

    1. The Rich's sign was white. It was required of all the outside signage.

    2. The Rich's sign was actually brown:

  9. Thank you very much for the tour! But what I hate is that in both trips to Riverchase you made our Galleria look like a desolate mall. I have no clue what quality you have that makes stores close and people leave but, it seems to work. I'm guessing based off your information that you took these in wake of the severe storms that rolled through awhile back. Riverchase Galleria is an extremely popular mall almost at full occupancy, and it is nearly impossible to get a seat at the food court on any given day. Aside from the missing Proffitt's and half of McRae's, the Galleria is an extremely viable retail center and the pride of retail in the Hoover area. I see the Riverchase Galleria a staple in Birmingham's retail for at least 15 or more years to come.

  10. I seriously wasn't out there trying to cast a bad light on your mall LOL. I was rather pushed and came at a non-peak time. I think what happened is that both of us must have showed up there at 8 AM precisely 2 years apart about the same time of year. The mall wasn't quite open when I visited except to mall walkers, and I suspect it was the same case with the other guys judging by their photos. Both of our photos show tarps over the kiosks meaning that the shops hadn't opened for the day. When I visited there were indeed severe storms the night before, though none became tornadic. It really wasn't my priority to visit the mall, but curiosity and a need to cover one of the premier malls in the Southeast definitely was a driving force.

    I think Riverchase is a great mall, and a friend of mine who was there loved it...I just tend to offer constructive criticism to any mall I see with a few rough edges or bland points: you will see that consistently throughout this blog. I've played down hip malls and beefed up dead, decrepit ones. I do wish some trees and fountains like the mall had in the 80's would make a comeback, though.

    Also: Is there any way I can know if Nordstrom is coming?

    1. Nordstrom is still planning their store in Birmingham. If it goes into the Galleria to join the new Von Maur, it will take the Sears pad. However, Bayer,(Summit) has brought the Rack in down the street from the Summit and is courting them. He usually gets what he wants, however GGP is one of Nordstrom's largest landlords so if they want it to replace Sears as they have done in several centers this year, I would say it is a toss up right now.

  11. Sadly, Nordstrom is not coming due to the bankruptcy of GGP (General Growth Properties). Forever 21 has made interest in expanding their store somewhere in the mall, to create a "Fashion Department Store". The 2012 renovation would have included more fountains and "tropical" scenery that would have been very appeasing to the eye; the Sears wing as a top priority. Nordstrom, as of now, is not coming. Nordstrom will continue to look into the viable Birmingham market, though. The mall is considered by some to be, bland, and that will be addressed in the future. In 2004 McRae's had looked into the old Macy's space, which, most likely, would have changed the fate of that space. We are hoping that we can attract more high-class retailers (Such as Nordstrom, White/Black Market, Godiva etc.) to prove that the Galleria is a major source of retail. We have had many people looking into the Macy's/Proffitt's space and are hopeful that one plan may actually go through. Currently, you can look through some openings in the paper coverings on the windows and see inside the store, most lights are still on. For now, no-one knows what is going to happen to that space in the mall, but we are very hopeful. The caroseul will remain in the mall, as it is a Galleria landmark, but with such an expansive food court and wings we will surely find space for fountains. Earth tones in malls (ex. Colonial Brookwood Village, University Mall) are very popular right now and we are looking into all options.

  12. There was a fountain. It was covered by the carousel during the Christmas season and they charged kids a dollar or so for a ride. Someone figured out the fountain didn't make money the rest of the year and so there you go.

    What was interesting was the size of the fountain. It really filled the vertical space. Most impressive.

    My recollection and Evans', above, are very similar.

    The kiosks came I believe in the early 90s. This is still important retail, but it has been off in recent years in my sporadic and infrequent visits. Though some of the original stores inside are still there, a few of the buildings orbiting it in the loop are sadly husks like Comp USA and Just For Feet. Most of the failures in this retail corridor can be blamed on larger, corporate problems rather than local shopping trends. That area is still hopping. The neighboring multiplex, which shared the Galleria name, is the one exception. It was aging badly and was worn out and exhausted when Rave moved into neighboring Vestavia Hills and then right behind it. The Galleria movie theater is now a beauty salon college.

    Galleria is being squished by The Summit to the north and Patton Creek right on it's backdoor. Pinnacle is another threat, just 20 minutes or so away, but there's still plenty of traffic in that mall.

    That flyover from 459 is interesting, and feeds both Galleria and Patton Creek, which is one of the outdoor lifestyle spaces.

    A security guard once took me up to the highest point in the Galleria structure so I could shoot photographs of the developing flyover. He pointed out the Patton Creek land to me. His land, he said, was just beyond what those Patton Creek developers bought. He woulda, coulda, shoulda been rich. If only they'd expanded a few more feet.

  13. I just did a search on Bing Maps using the "bird's eye" function and the image still show Proffitt's and Parisian being at the mall.

  14. Von Maur is coming to this mall instead of Nordstrom.

  15. Love this post J.T. I would like to say that the Belk Men's store is in the former
    P-A-R-I-S-I-A-N store along with the women's store. The Home and Children's store is in the former McRae's. (You mentioned in photo captions the former Pizitz/McRae's as the Belk Men's, yet you said it was the Home store in the text.) With the new renovations the Wynfrey Hotel will open in June as the Hyatt Regency- Wynfrey Hotel. Also Von Maur will open in September of this year.

  16. If you ever go Texas way, check out the mall that inspired the design of Riverchase Galleria, the Galleria in Houston. It too incorporates office towers and has a(n extremely) haphazard layout.

  17. An update on what's going on at the Galleria:

  18. The Galleria was originally tree lined down the long hallways, once malls started putting carts selling junk in malls, the Galleria was remodeled and the trees left and the areas were tiled over.... therefore... no more greenery

  19. This month the center's changes are being completed in the common areas. Some new store will open starting this month and then through Oct. and Nov.. One of the most exciting changes it the 'sails' that have been suspended from the glass ceilings throughout. These will be the media for light shows throughout. They are especially huge in the ten story grand atrium. They were designed and installed by the company that did the architectural fabric at last years London Olympics and their work is predominantly found in Europe. The garages have had a great deal of change both in appeal and a sense of comfort. Every service has be changed and or refreshed. The new Von Maur is a great architectural addition to the center. The center will pick up in 2015 for the second installment for this total concept with the ability to move forward with spaces whose leases will be ending in that year. It is expected as GGP had done with other centers that Nordstrom will take the pad that Sears now occupies. It has always been GGP'S intent, but during their re-organization the court would not let them spend the large sum to build out for Nordstrom. All in all, in a world that believes the mall is dead, this is not one by any means. It had done well even before these needed changes against the Summit and they seem to be working off of each other quite comfortably with little true direct completion. In fact a full day of shopping just includes both. Somewhat like it used to be at Lenox/Phipps before Phipps started sliding so bad. Oh, one other thing, the consolidated Belk store will start a full remodel after Christmas and will be the western region flagship for the company.In their second largest store after Southpark. (Birmingham is the base for the western region which soon will see a new store at Galleria Dallas) We lost Parisian because of Belk and it will never be fully embraced here but they seem to feel good about their sales figures and will now have two flagships here. I believe that Von Maur will rest in the hearts of those who can't except Belk because of its lesser merchandise mix.

    1. I really hope Nordstrom comes to Riverchase. The mall needs a shot in the arm since the Summit has stolen much of the thunder, and I've heard that the owners of The Summit are nasty people to deal with. Since Sears is definitely going under, this would shore up the mall's position and make the mall truly competitive with The Summit while ridding the mall of a potential future vacancy.

  20. Hi! You will need to come back to the Galleria in Birmingham again soon. We now have Von Maur and the elevators have changed. Now also an Old Navy in the mall. Lots of changes, both good and bad, but mostly good!

  21. I went to Pelham High School when the Galleria had it's opening day. It was just generally accepted that most people would skip school that day and go. That's pretty much what happened too.