The original Macon Mall was supremely outlandish compared to today. Filled with seemingly millions of lightbulbs, dark browns and dark reds it was a disco relic within a short time. Nevertheless, it was attractively designed with plentiful fountains, space and popular stores of the period. Its quickly dated and expensive to maintain appearance, however, led to the mall's first renovation in 1983. Three years later, one of its original anchors Davison's would revert to Macy's. At this point, its only competition came from smaller Houston Mall while fading Westgate would revert to an outlet mall and would lure Wal-Mart in a desperate bid to survive. Nevertheless, both malls found themselves in a prime retail corridor as Eisenhower Pkwy (US 80) filled with new strip malls between the exits on I-75 and I-475 to take advantage of the traffic from the huge mall. Macon Mall, however, was placed in a strange spot located halfway between the two interstates instead of within view of at least one of them. Westgate had that advantage, but they were never able to take advantage of it since I-75 was not completed in the area until around the same time that Macon Mall opened.
The first photo shows Macon Mall in its 1970's disco-era glory. Photo is from Malls of America. The second photo shows a contemporary view of center court between Belk and Macy's (former Davison's and Rich's). Note the presence of amazing fountains from the period built straight into the floor. These fountains survived the 1997 renovation, and this is not the only fountain found in the older part of the mall.
Throughout most of its history, the mall was in a unique position in that it did not have any real competition. This was hardly the case in Columbus or Augusta where a mall rivalry was ongoing that Macon Mall was spared from due to Westgate's poor timing. It seemed like the mall was invincible and able to draw from all of middle Georgia from where it stood. This led the mall to renovate again, this time expanding the mall on the other side of JCPenney in 1997. Incorporating JCPenney as part of the mall, this allowed a huge new addition on the other side, which upscaled the mall bringing in Dillard's and Parisian. It should be noted how odd it is that JCPenney ends up sandwiched in as part of the mall itself when the mall decided to expand straight through it. Malls expanding through JCPenney seem to happen more than one would think. As to Dillard's and Parisian, both stores were in major expansion mode in that time, and this solidified their presence in Georgia. Curiously, neither Gayfer's nor JB White ever located a store in Macon, and Dillard's arrival came prior to the buyout of Mercantile Stores. It is a shame that none of those stores had considered Westgate beforehand, however.
A look from just outside of Macy's toward Belk across center court from the upper level. This mall is so full of eye-catching appeal throughout if only it had retained some of the color that it had originally.
A look along the Sears wing reveals the troubles. On the left appears to be a vacant Old Navy. The Old Navy moved down the road to a very large power center a couple years ago.
Sears mall entrance view from second level. The landings at the base of the steps surrounded by a rotunda of plants is something I wish I would see more often.
View down an entrance wing along the second level near Sears. Baskin Robbins is on the right.
The same stairway as viewed from the base in front of Sears.
The addition of Dillard's and Parisian brought a four anchor mall to six anchors, and suddenly the largest mall in Georgia...until Mall of Georgia opened. Now at nearly 1.5 million square feet, to all appearances the mall was invincible. Two new parking decks were constructed to handle the increase in business and decrease in parking. Rocky Creek was also relocated on a new course further away from the mall to allow for the expansion. Previously, it flowed approximately where Parisian was. In the years following the expansion, the mall was packed all the way to the highway due to its near monopoly on regional retail. What is also nice is that in the last renovation that the mall did not strip out all of the planters and fountains, which is something I appreciated much. Curiously, Macy's changed the following year after the 1997 renovation over to Rich's, apparently an early attempt to test how successful Rich's was outside of the Atlanta area. Rich's would then change back to Macy's in early 2005. As late as 2006, the mall was in a distinct position of dominance with a huge selection of stores and a complete selection of department stores from low-end to upper-middle. How could this go wrong?
Any mall that refuses to put in planters quite frankly deserves to go under, so it is a shame that the ones that actually kept things like this are the ones that seem to be struggling the most. This mall would feel a lot more empty and drafty without such features as this. This is on the lower level heading away from Sears.
Fountains are a prominent built-in feature in center court. The only problem I see is the risk of falling in this one. It is like a bathtub in the middle of the mall. This is the same fountain featured in the second photo.
My camera did not want to focus on this very well, but with some sharpening it came out almost right. Here I got more detail of the sprayers in the fountain as well as the tiled "islands". I like it a lot. Now bring them back everybody else.
This one I think I liked the best of all of them...a terraced cascading fountain built around the stairway in front of the west mall entrance to JCPenney. This used to be the east end of the mall until the mall was routed straight through it to a new wing added in 1997.
More detail of the fountain in front of JCPenney. This reminds me of the terraced waterfalls found in parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This also unofficially marks the entrance to the food court wing.
The problem was, trouble was brewing on the horizon in some very painful ways. First, the wave of department store consolidation was about to hit Macon Mall. Second, the area around Eisenhower had seen a noticeable decline since the mall opened. In 2006, parent company Saks, Inc who owned Parisian was hoping to unload the chain, which was not performing to the company's expectations. Hoping to focus all of their attention on Saks Fifth Avenue, the company went up for sale in 2006 with Belk outbidding Dillard's to purchase the chain. Belk did not intend to keep the Parisian name, so this posed a big problem for malls with both stores. In the case of Macon Mall, Belk simply closed the Parisian and kept their existing store in the old Belk Matthews, which had just dropped the "Matthews" part of the name the year before. This was the first major vacancy. The more glaring problem, though, was the obvious fact that the mall had a growing crime problem. With no other options, the stores in the mall simply dealt with it, but General Growth provided the escape by opening up a new open-air lifestyle center called "The Shoppes at River Crossing" in 2008. A tornado hitting the mall in May of the same year doing minor damage makes me wonder if that was some kind of omen...it also damaged Westgate Shopping Center on the former Westgate Mall site.
Entering the newer wing of the mall just outside of the east mall entrance of JCPenney. This previously led to Dillard's and Parisian but now leads to nothing. A few stores linger on this stretch as well as some local art shops, but it is largely empty.
A look down the Parisian mall entrance wing to a store that has been vacant since 2007. If Parisian still existed, I wonder how the fortunes would have been for this part of the mall. Belk might have used this store for awhile, but any hope of this was shattered when the lifestyle center opened.
Empty storefronts abound on this part of the mall, but this is by no means a slow process. Much of these stores closed within the past two years, and they do not look dated at all. If only...
Approaching here is what was once the Dillard's mall entrance. While it is efficient in this horrible economy, it still makes me cringe to think of this becoming a courthouse.
When looking at this map, the answer seems pretty obvious: keep the Dillard's for the courthouse but knock down the rest of the 1997 mall addition east of JCPenney. From this map, the rest of the mall looks like it would be fine if that excess space was removed. I love the current mall logo by the way. A mall named after the city it is in seems like a general good plan, but the alliteration of "Macon" and "Mall" has a nice ring to it.
"The Shoppes at River Crossing" has been a thorn in the side of Macon Mall. The new center opened in the wealthier part of the city away from the crime and worsening decay on the opposite side of the city where Macon Mall sits. This new center opened in former vacant land at the intersection of GA 87 and New Forsyth Road (Old GA 148) just north of I-75. With it, the center took the Dillard's from Macon Mall leaving the whole east wing added only 11 years before void of anchors. Even worse was what is taking place along Eisenhower. Strip malls are emptying out, including the redeveloped Westgate, which once housed Media Play and Home Depot and now is down to nothing more than Burlington Coat Factory...a sure sign that all is not well in the area and that the area is overbuilt. Nevertheless, a major strip mall down the road housing a relocated Home Depot, Dicks Sporting Goods, Best Buy and other tenants proves that the area is still viable. Unfortunately, that strip alone is also pulling from the mall as well as much of the other retail in the area.
Another view of the dead weight on the mall looking back toward JCPenney. A mere three years ago this was a swanky addition with two nice department stores. Note the dead Hollister on the left.
The upstairs tells the same story.
I was 17 years old when this addition opened, and to me it doesn't seem that long ago. Time flies too fast.
Next to the food court is this dead restaurant with no attempt made to even hide it. Was this Panera Bread?
Looking along the upper level of the food court wing, which seems to be a combination of mostly vacant shops and seating areas. In the back is a carousel, but I was unable to get a better shot.
Macon Mall is surviving, and it is hardly dead by any means. The original part of the mall continues to keep all four of its anchors filled including Belk, which maintains its location in the mall. However, the number of vacancies is creeping higher and many national stores have fled the mall recently. While I would hardly say the situation is hopeless, I definitely think these are serious problems the mall is facing. What the mall should do right away is to force all tenants in the old Dillard's/Parisian wing to relocate into the older part of the mall. After this is completed, the mall should then seal off this part and demolish it like it had never existed. The spirit of competition has historically discouraged such drastic measures as simply downsizing a mall, but in this case I think that it is pertinent for them to seriously consider this. The chance of anchors coming to fill these spots is slim, and the mall is successful enough right now to maintain itself in its original size. Pride aside, the mall has four successful anchors that appear to be staying right where they are, and the oversizing of the mall in 1997 came more than 20 years after the original mall opened.
I was having so much trouble getting my camera to focus on this trip. Better pics from "cantnot" can be found on LiveMalls.
Looking down below is a fountain I absolutely did not notice when walking through before. This one is just east of center court. I feel like I need to get more of this place, but at its size it was quite difficult to cover everything.
One other shot of the fountain in front of JCPenney looking toward center court with a corner of the food court on the left. I was unable to get any pics of the food court, either. It was half-empty.
This is showing the Belk mall entrance when it was still Belk Matthews. This was taken by Edric Floyd in 2006.
Personal views aside, Macon Mall did not rate high in comfort when I visited. The huge Macon police presence suggested that the crime problem has soared, and this was confirmed after doing a little research. Not only that, but the mall has been changing hands and losing value. Its last owner, Colonial Properties, went into foreclosure with the mall today owned by Jones Lang LaSalle. Furthermore, apparently plans are underway to convert the old Dillard's into a new Bibb County Courthouse. While that sounds highly efficient, that also sounds highly tacky if they keep the mall in between. I can't think of many stores that would want to locate on the "courthouse" wing. In my opinion, if that is the grand plan then definitely tear down the mall back to JCPenney so that a tasteful degree of separation exists. Of course, perhaps the idea is if the mall fails it will all convert to county offices, which is still a bit presumptuous at this point.
Macy's, which opened as Davison's and also operated as Rich's. This store was a little different from the prototype used in the early 80's.
This photo from 2005 came just barely after the change from Rich's, and left behind here is a Rich's label scar hidden under the new sign. Why I didn't just photograph everything at the mall that day I will never know. I would have loved to have seen this mall in its prime, because I didn't expect what happened would actually happen.
Dillard's is gone, but the evidence remains. It closed in late 2008.
JCPenney is plain, blocky and sandwiched between a very big mall.
Belk, which operated as Belk Matthews later than most Belk partnership stores. This store is a clone to the store at doomed Carolina Circle Mall in Greensboro, NC.
In March 2005, I captured this photo of the same building when it was Belk Matthews. I included this photo on an earlier post.
Parisian attempted to bring upscale retailing to the Deep South, but today the store is vacant as a victim of consolidation with Belk in 2007.
In all, I hope for the best for Macon Mall and it is a bit sad to see a mall that was once a shining pinnacle of retailing lose its luster. It is just hoped that while the mall remains in a viable position that the owners will consider downsizing to remove the obvious weak points of the mall. Many factors are hurting the mall including downward shifting demographics, new competition, a souring economy and a retail market that is overbuilt, possibly on purpose in order to move the better stores away from the area. Whatever happens, hopefully it will work out because it is one of the more fascinating malls I have visited with a rather grand history.
Curiously I still covered this mall directory just because it said Rich's. This shows when the mall was owned by Colonial Properties Trust. Then it was called "Colonial Macon Mall". Note Belk Matthews shown here as well.