Wednesday, May 5, 2010

JB White at Greenville and Savannah Malls

The JB White stores at Greenville and Savannah Malls proved to be two of three outpost stores of the relatively small chain of department stores.  While White's had a history in Greenville, it was a definite latecomer to both the Savannah and Spartanburg markets.  While the one in Spartanburg anchored a very successful mall (causing the immediate death of Hillcrest Mall), the Savannah and Greenville stores seem to have been relatively quirky, flanking malls filled with big promises but last-choice anchors.  The Greenville Mall store is now long gone and forgotten.  However, the Savannah Mall store continues to hang on in an otherwise troubled mall as the lone remaining department store anchor basically stuck due to a lack of suitable replacement sites.  Both malls had ill-fated Montgomery Ward, and both tried Parisian as an attempt to present a fresh, upscale image that apparently instead led to the sale of Parisian later.  While Savannah Mall seems to be on the downswing, it successfully reinvented itself a few years ago.  Millions spent on Greenville Mall, on the other hand, failed to turn around its fortunes in the long term and most of the mall has been demolished.

The JB White at Savannah Mall was among the most unattractive location in the entire chain.  With a combination of brutalism and postmodern design, the store looked like a big brick block with a couple stucco arches thrown in.  They did, however, use the nice script logo found on the stores built in the 70's and 80's.  Dillard's continues to operate here today.  Photo by C. Lewis.

Ill-fated Greenville Mall was one of several malls that the mere presence of White's seemed to be the main thing that kept them viable.  Greenville Mall was largely a failure from the day it opened, and had it not been for White's, the mall would likely have failed sooner than it did.  As one of three malls in the city, only one survives today, which is Haywood Mall.  The White's at Greenville Mall as a whole was a bit of an was essentially carried over from its downtown Greenville location in a market considerably more competitive than Columbia or Augusta.  When it came along, it competed with both Belk Simpson and Meyers-Arnold on the lower end and Ivey's on the higher end.  Rich's complicated the issue when it arrived in 1980.  With such a glut of stores and all choosing to flank the other two malls in the city, this left White's as the only real draw to a mall otherwise anchored by Montgomery Ward.  The sale to Dillard's created an overlap with Haywood Mall as they had already built anew onto Haywood Mall along with a massive addition.  Dillard's was hardly interested in maintaining two stores cannibalizing each other in the long term, and its closure of the Greenville Mall store devastated the mall.

JB White at Greenville Mall prior to the 1995 expansion and re-design of the store.  This store looks exactly like a JCPenney from about 1970.  In such a knock down, drag out retail environment it was in I can see how its design was outmoded rather quickly.  Photo by C. Lewis.

White's reinvented itself into this beautiful, gleaming (appropriately) white store.  Unfortunately, it was still knocked down and drug out less than 15 years later after Dillard's failed to maintain the sparkle.  Photo by C. Lewis.

One of Dillard's major difficulties today is the backlash from the amount of local department store chains it bought out.  While they have managed enough success to remain viable, this change alienated quite a few shoppers who felt Dillard's did not cater to them in any way.  This was very true in the failure of Dillard's at Greenville Mall, but this may have not had any bearing on what happened in Savannah.  In Savannah, White's was hardly a familiar store, but the disappearance of Levy's a few years before made it possible for them to fit into the market better than if they had arrived a decade prior.  This is why the Dillard's location at the mall has remained successful despite the problems in Savannah Mall.  In all, Dillard's has still performed well in the former market of White's, but in these two malls it has proven to be more of a challenge.  How much better really was White's doing in these places before the buyout?  It tends to make me wonder what the company's long-term strategy really was such as White's moving closer to the Atlanta or Charlotte markets.


  1. Are we sure that JB White in downtown Greenville lasted until 1978? I have zero recollection of the store as a kid, and I can't think of where it would have gone; there are no department store-sized buildings on Main St. that could have housed it, whether currently-standing or demolished in the past 30 or so years.

  2. Such a pretty logo, such ugly stores! The Greenville store, pre-remodel, was okay for 1978, but looked a lot like a middle school. The 1995 remodel was a little better, but the updated logo killed the effect. Savannah was just tragic...

    A fiend of mine worked at Dillard's at Greenville Mall and she often said they struggled to keep any customers, no doubt due to newer, flashier Dillard's down the street at Haywood. They kept it as a outlet for a couple of years before pulling the plug around 2003.

    Interestingly, the very attractive Spartanburg store lasted the shortest amount of time of the South Carolina White's stores. it pretty much opned and closed in a year, and Proffitt's lasted only slightly longer before it, too, closed.

  3. I, too, think that JB White in downtown Greenville might not be entirely accurate. I know of only Belk, Ivey's, Penney's, and Meyers-Arnold downtown, with Sears about two miles away.

    That aside, I think you scored a major coup de grace here with the pre-renovation Greenville Mall store! I have never seen a photo of it, and honestly...I think could have survived without it. Yuck! I agree on the analogy to some of the 70s JCP stores. Definitely.

    My boss when I lived in Greenville said she used to shop at that store all the time, but once Dillard's came in...well...

    Of interest (or maybe not) is that when Dillard's got the Greenville Mall store (at least per my foggy recollection) they put everything on the first floor, and converted the second floor into a clearance center. And when I say clearance center, I mean they literally moved merchandise in there and didn't bother removing old signage on the second floor. (Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little bit.) Then, gradually, over the next two years, the clearance center migrated downstairs too, and then the store just plain closed. Such a shame, really, as I always liked shopping at Greenville Mall, even though my heart always was with Rich's. Still, with two (conceivably three, but I think McA had closed at that point...right?) stores within two miles of each other, what can you do?

    Everything these days just seems like such a race to the bottom...soon we'll have the choice of three airlines, three department stores, three grocery stores, and three everything else. Not necessarily good, in my opinion.

    2003 seems like such a long time ago!

  4. J.B.White was in the store once occupied by Ivey-Keith after Ivey-Keith moved to the new
    building at the corner of Main and North. The J.B.White store was on North Main, where a currently newer building is with lofts and Jersey Mikes Sub on the street level. Here is a link to a photo:

  5. Wow, I had no idea. The replacement for the former JB White building was built in 1986. Thanks for the link to the photo.

    Matt from CLT's recollections about the Dillard's at Greenville Mall are also 100% correct. I went to that mall constantly after '95 and from time to time beforehand- the only attraction before '95 at Greenville Mall was JB White.

    I still don't think that the JB White store downtown lasted until 1978, but I could be wrong.

  6. This is interesting about JBWhite downtown in Greenville. I asked my mom and she said her and my grandmother shopped there frequently. She said to the best of her memory, it was 5 floors. She couldn't remember what year it closed, but she thinks the mid 70's. One other thing, my mom said Ivey's and Meyers-Arnold were known as the better stores, and JBWhite and Belk-Simpson were known as the moderate stores.

  7. That picture of the pre-1995 Greenville Mall store must have been taken when the mall was not open for business. The parking lot in the photo always had plenty of cars in front of it when the store was open.

  8. The Savannah Mall store not only looked brutalist on the outside, it approached it on the inside, as well. It seemed as though the store was full of a lot of empty space and a lot of dead-looking air from the day that it opened. It was pretty much like they had too much room for the merchandise they had, and nothing about the interior of the store suggested any form of elegance. Both Parisian and Belk were more comfortable-feeling stores. I haven't been in the store since it became Dillard's, so I don't know if anything has been done to soften the interior or not.

    As for White's's interesting to compare White's location to a high abundance of military personnel. Augusta and Columbia both offered military installations nearby, as did Savannah. The middle-class, blue-collar market seemed to be their niche, and if that was actually a part of their expansion plans, then it was a smart move. They would never have survived in Atlanta, Athens, or Charleston. Macon, perhaps.

    I have only been in three Mercantile Stores chains...Whites, Gayfer's, and Castner-Knott. They pretty much resembled today's Kohl's with higher ceilings and minus the shopping carts and front-door checkouts. Were all Mercantile stores this way?

  9. I worked at the Savannah Mall White's when it first opened. Parisian was still a year off, but management was determined to offer better service than the stories we heard about the newest newcomer.

    Like North Point in Atlanta, the mall was so long that you couldn't walk from White's to the food court and get back in the half hour they allowed salespeople to take.

    White's was much nicer than Kohl's. Like many small department stores, they carried Hart Schaffner & Marx as their best line, putting them on a par with Dillard's and Belk. There was a fur salon, which like men's shoes was a leased department. The Savannah store had a home department but no furniture or design services.