Sunday, June 27, 2010

Eastland Mall (Farewell Part 1): Charlotte, NC

On June 30, 2010 one of Charlotte's largest and very first large two-level malls will be closing possibly forever and definitely forever as a traditional mall.  Much like Century Plaza in Birmingham, the mall has faded extremely fast from when it was fully successful a mere four years ago.  It is certain that the neighborhood has played a big part in its demise...a lower income neighborhood with very real crime.  This is evidenced today with the plethora of seedy apartments, trashy shops and check cashing places found a block or so away on Central Avenue.  Nevertheless, it is a sad turn of events for a mall that was once the top place to shop in the city and at one point largest in the state.  Myself, I almost missed the opportunity to catch this historic mall at its very end, but encouragement from several people led to me making the 250 mile journey to the Queen City.  I did this partly to document the faded hopes of a mall whose offbeat location in a declining inner ring suburb combined with insurmountable competition to finally bring it to its knees.

When the mall opened in 1975, it was a first for the city.  It was the first to have four anchors, the first with two levels and the first to have its own indoor ice skating rink.  Luring in Charlotte's own Belk and Ivey's, the mall was also joined by JCPenney and junior anchor Miller and Rhoads.  In 1979, Sears would also join the mall on the back side.  With so much to offer, the mall was an instant hit.  In fact, it was so popular that it even surpassed South Park Mall for nearly two decades.  The mall, however, was in a strange place.  Like South Park, it was situated far away from major interstates.  Just that alone would have made the mall easy to replace, but the city grew relatively slowly up until the 1990's and none of the malls located near freeways offered anything comparable. 

Belk here closed in 2006.  No store in the mall had a more dated mall entrance and exterior, but it was dated in a good way...I really liked both.  The first photo is of the road sign, which thanks the hoards of area residents who frequented the mall over the years. 

JCPenney, however, wrote the book on bland.  This last operated as Burlington Coat Factory, which closed early in the year.

A look at the mall outside of Belk.  

Part of the mall on the JCPenney wing.

Looking from JCPenney court.  An old Foot Locker is on the right.

Eastland Mall was a typical swanky 70's mall with fountains and trees in the smaller courts in addition to the memorable center court.  Eventually, a couple renovations stripped much of that away exposing the inadequacies of an otherwise pretty basic two-level mall.  The first renovation around 1989, however, would bring in updated fountains and a new food court.  The mall also saw two anchor changes in that period.  The first was due to Ivey's being bought out by Dillard's in 1990.  Miller and Rhoads would also depart later in the 1990's, converting to regular mall space.  However, the mall at that point also competed only with similarly remote South Park and Carolina Place Malls, which helped the mall maintain a competitive edge by being the most convenient mall in the city .  Even then, half the anchor stores at Eastland overlapped with South Park: both had Belk and Dillard's.  This would all change in 2005 with the opening of Northlake Mall, which I believe had as much of an effect in Eastland's failure as the neighborhood around it.

Northeast entrance wing from the upper level near JCPenney.  The same closed Foot Locker is on the right.  Miller & Rhoads used to be on the left.

In the same wing as above, what was this store?  I am told this was Morrison's Cafeteria.

Disney Store?

Sad.  This is on the same entrance wing as above.

Skylight detail in the adjacent court.  This was only possible due to the big thunderstorm that erupted while I was in here.

Whether anybody realizes it, probably the reason the mall lasted as long as it did was due to a rather limited selection of malls and even anchors such as Sears or JCPenney for a fast growing city.  Before Eastland Mall, the previous community type malls typically had one local department store often with a discounter such as Woolco as the other anchor.  It was hardly a proper shopping experience, and much of that was fueled by the tremendous influence of the Belk and Ivey families.  Charlotte's first mall was not even enough to lure either one: it was originally anchored by Bon Marche from Asheville.  While malls like Eastland eventually killed those centers, a better shopping experience was strongly desired, and Eastland provided that.

View from second level of center court with Dillard's/Ivey's in the background.  The "Ice Capades" are now an indoor soccer field, and the blue looks very garish next to the rest of the court.

Almost the same angle from 1989 with Ivey's in the background.  Photo by Pat Richardson.

Looking toward Sears in the center court with a better view of the skylights.

Detail of the skylights.  This is definitely an older style.  One of the nation's oldest malls has this, and another mall in Charlotte also used this style.  I like it, though.

The sun finally pops out here as I cover an angle with the east wing on the right.

Northlake pulled shoppers away from the mall right away when the new mall opened in 2006.  Not only was it in a better area, but it offered a far more attractive shopping experience with far less of a crime risk involved.  Other developments such as the stalled Bridges at Mint Hill also threatened the mall, but Northlake was the only one to actually materialize.  Northlake also has the advantage of direct interstate access, which Eastland never had.  The writing was on the wall and the changes came fast.  The first sign of trouble came in the 1990's, though, when the theaters in the mall shuttered in 1996.  Glimcher Realty bought the mall in 1998, but seemed to take no interest in the property.  By 1999, JCPenney converted their full-line store into an outlet.  Trouble was in the air as the area was declining with rents dropping on nearby apartments with the bad element settling in.  Even worse, no real investment had been made in the mall since it was built.  In fact, it appears the last renovation was done in 1989 with no other changes since it was built aside from removal of the fountains.  Not only were no anchors added, but on the outside the mall pretty much looked the same as the day it opened.

A nice shot of both levels from a smaller court area.  I believe that is the former Belk in the background.

On the lower level is a northwest entrance wing.  On the right is the entrance to the food court.  I have a closer shot, but it did not come out as well.  Was this where the theater used to be?

One of two shots of the food court area.

More of the food court.  The main mall is on the left.

1989 photo of the food court from Pat Richardson.  Note the stairs on the right down to the ice skating rink.

By 2002, the biggest sign of trouble happened when the JCPenney Outlet closed.  Burlington Coat Factory, which is typically a death sentence for most malls, took over the spot by 2005, but it too would not last.  This gave Belk and Dillard's a chance to get out of their own leases since the mall had allowed a non-traditional anchor in a department store space.  Belk closed their store in 2006, helped along by the opening of the store at Northlake just prior.  Dillard's also converted their store to an outlet.  That same year, the signature ice rink would close, though it appears to have since been used for indoor soccer since then.  The interior of the mall was also in decline as much of the big name tenants including stores like American Eagle and Hollister opted out.  Seeing the writing on the wall, Charlotte was interested in buying the mall and tearing it down, but apparently the city has made no action on doing so.

Looking northwest here with the food court entrance in the middle and the main mall on the left.

Approximate photo with one of the big chandaliers.  WHY did these have to go?

Vacant Sears is in the background from this angle.

Sears is in the background here, too...21 years ago.  Photo by Pat Richardson.

Over the next couple years, the mall would go from bad to worse.  Dillard's closed it store in late 2008, Sears departed in June 2009 and the mall's last anchor, Burlington Coat Factory, closed this year.  Anchorless and hopeless, Glimcher found it was unable to sell the giant rock in the middle of a run down area, so it decided instead to let the entire mall be foreclosed on.  On my visit, the remaining tenants were packing out and the air conditioner was shut off making a visit to the mall highly uncomfortable.  The owners made no secret the game was over.  This is why the mall will be closing down next Wednesday ending a once much happier chapter in Charlotte history.

Former Champs's Sporting Goods

What was this?

An old Athlete's Foot.

A view from the second level shows these crossbeams with plants on top.  It would be bad news if someone knocks one of those over with someone below.

With the mall dead, interest in the center still exists.  A Houston-based company known as Boxer Realty wants to buy the center converting it into a mixed-use site catering to the multicultural aspects of the neighborhood.  Boxer currently runs a place known as Plaza Fiesta Carolinas.  With this, it seems possible that the mall could become something akin to the wildly popular Plaza Fiesta Mall in Atlanta...except this would be a much larger project.  I had actually suggested such a project on an earlier post for fading Asian Corner/Tryon Mall.  Boxer's plans, however, are modeled after a dead mall they revived in Fort Worth, TX  into a Hispanic-themed center.  The company is citing its success in reviving Fort Worth Town Center into La Gran Plaza as to why they could do the same for Eastland.  Hopefully, this is genuine so that this mall does not become for the consolidated city of Charlotte/Mecklenburg County another enormous rotting corpse of a mall like Regency Mall became for consolidated Augusta/Richmond County, GA.

An original court area under reconstruction in 1989.  It looks naked without those trees today.  Photo by Pat Richardson.

An earlier view of probably the same court from 1980.  They don't make 'em like this anymore.  Photo by Pat Richardson.

I sure miss the shops with the Bavarian themes.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

Inside Lerner Shops.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

Inside Radio Shack.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

While I am hardly the first to cover it, I am glad to be able to post on Eastland Mall showing you some of my photos combined with photos of the mall at various times in its history from Pat Richardson.  Many, many people are sad about this mall departing as it was once the premier shopping destination for Charlotte.  35 years is not really long enough for a mall of this size to go from boom to bust.  It reminds me of so many malls from my childhood including a few that have gone away, so I fully understand this must be hard for many people to see how a place of their youth has come to this.  It looks as though Eastland could find new life, but never again as the way that people remember it.  However, many have come along over the years capturing photos of it in its various points in history, so unlike many other malls it will be remembered well with images preserved for years to come.


  1. AWESOME review and documentary, as well as your photos and the AMAZING historical photos. I visited this mall a short time ago, and it was just a weird feeling being in a dead mall.

  2. Thank you for getting this mall photographed before it is gone. I wonder if anyone got Century Plaza In Birmingham just before it closed? Boxer is involved in the PlazAmericas Mall project in Houston as well. I have covered that project extensively, and the company has made several changes to that mall in the past year. Here is the link to that mall.

  3. Quote: "I wonder if anyone got Century Plaza In Birmingham just before it closed?"

    I did. LOL. I should have linked it in that post, sorry. It is the very first mall listed here:

    To the first poster...I'm hardly through with historical photos. I have more that will be combined with a few more photos of my own. I am personally amazed at the excitement the death of this mall has generated.

  4. Great post- thank you!

    I visited this mall in the '90s a few times and then frequently in the mid-2000s. By 2005, the mall still had some national chains in it (mostly in the Belk wing) but no typical Charlotte suburbanite would go there.

    To answer the queries about the stores:

    C entrance: that was the Eastland Technology Center or something by 2005
    Disney Store? Maybe at some point, but it was an Ashley Stewart by 2005
    A entrance: Mom & pop music store

    The website still has a store listing from around 2009 on it- on the networtk.

  5. Actually, 35 years is not a bad run for a mall--you could look on any of the mall websites and see many once dominant places that lasted that long or less. Many of the old non-downtown urban business districts that were killed off by post-WWII shopping centers had heydays of that length. The mall can go ethnic only if the population base is big enough--Charlotte probably does not have the Hispanic population base of a Fort Worth. The mall is a good example of why developers build lifestyle centers now--most malls eventually die or limp along for years and when that happens they become white elephants. Your commentary is great, though, in terms of how mall develop evolved. Often, the first malls were in middling places and they eclipsed older developments with fewer or less attractive anchors. Upscale areas came later to accepting malls and the survivors tend to be in areas that can draw upscale shoppers or at least shoppers from a wide area.

    Crime is a killer of malls, esp. if the crime involves people who aren't white. A tacit, little discussed appeal of malls has always been the appearance of safety, although there's always been plenty of car theft, shoplifting, etc. and I saw my first public drug deal in a very mid-market, respectable mall. Mall shoppers may not like white "juvenile delinquents" but they're not threatened by them. I suspect that it's not coincidental that mall building in the South was post-Civil Rights. The lunch counter protests, etc. threatened the status quo of downtown businesses. But once the bubble around malls breaks, they lose shoppers, including middle class people of color, pretty rapidly.

  6. To add: the Belk and Dillard's buildings are owned by those companies--they are not leased.

    "I suspect that it's not coincidental that mall building in the South was post-Civil Rights."

    Mall building throughout North America and Europe took place mostly post-1965. I don't see a need to make malls a racial issue.

  7. how is this NOT a racial issue??

  8. i lived in charlotte one summer in the mid-80's near eastland. it was in it's prime and it was a great mall. the belk store was huge and the ivey's was elegant. miller and rhoads was already jcpenney. there were a few rumors that friday nights were to be avoided, but generally, that area of town was in good shape. it didn't hold the glamour of southpark, even then, but was doing well.

  9. I agree with todd's post. My parents were in town visiting in 1991 and we went to Eastland instead of SouthPark. SP was the "nicer" mall but Eastland wasn't to be avoided; it seemed fine.

    "how is this NOT a racial issue??"

    Mall-building in general? The mall boom across the Western world- from the US to the UK to Belgium to Sweden and more- took place starting after the mid-1960s. That the Civil Rights era had started in the US was irrelevant for most of those places where the mall boom took place.

  10. I was there the day after it opened, way back when. Really sad to see it dying/dead. It was a great place, in its prime.

  11. Fate is a strange thing. My boyfriend remembers going to Eastland with his dad on opening day, where the two of them were photography by a Charlotte Observer photographer. He worked there for a year or so in the late 80s/early 90s. Starting sometime next week, he will be back to provide on-site security for Boxer Realty.

  12. Labelscar caught the Dillard's/Ivey's court as a Dillard's:

    It bears more resemblance to the "dead Dillard's" pic.

  13. To add: yes, the movie theater is/was next to the food court, in that corridor.

    I never recall seeing a Hollister at Eastland. Correct that there was an American Eagle, in the Belk wing, downstairs.

  14. I lived nearby, three blocks away from the mall in 1985. Great place to go. Wife felt safe to work there in Belk"s Store. NEVER SCARED.

    FAST FORWARD to 1996- After moving BACK to Charlotte, I visited the mall one evening around 7:30. I walked through the Belk Store's lower level and into the mall entrance to find 4-5 young black kids CLIMBING and WINGING form the branches of the tree that was in the middle of the stairwell. NO ONE SAID A WORD TO THEM. PARENTS WERE NOWHERE TO BE SEEN. Forget about feeling safe. Forget about shopping there.

    It IS a shame. I would drive 135 miles from Asheville,NC just to walk through the place and admire the skating rink. I would inevitably end up eating there and/or buying something there. I feel like I have been kicked in the gut when I drive in that area now. And, YES, IT IS A "RACE" thing. When an area's population turns ethnic, the area goes into decline. Just check out Freedom Mall and Tryon Mall areas. I would recommend that you lock your doors and DON'T stop as you very likely will be robbed or raped. Check the crime rates for yourself. THEY DON'T LIE.

    Rest In Peace Old Friend. Alot of folks loved you and already miss your sorely.

  15. I grew up in Charlotte in the 80's/90's.. I remember requesting the ice rink's DJ to play "parents don't understand" by Fresh Prince...

    Towards the end of the 90's the only place of note was one of the last gaming arcades around.

    Despite it's later reputation, Eastland, and the neighborhood around it aren't particularly dangerous. All the same there were a couple infamous fights which caught the local media's attention.

    I'd like to point out that Eastland has roughly the same proximity to downtown Charlotte as SouthPark (though the eastland area was developed earlier than much of the area immediately adjacent to SouthPark). This is a non-issue though, since downtown wasn't a residential area during most of the mall era.

    Eastland's decline could be linked to the decline of affluence of its surrounding neighborhoods (which during the 90's was solidly lower-middle and working class). The opening of Carolina Place in the early 90's ensured that Eastland would lose a large portion of its affluent south Charlotte and suburban shoppers.

  16. Eastland Mall was in my Great Grandmother's back yard. She lived on Walora lake Rd. As a young child we could walk across the parking lot at the age of 7 or 8 years old alone and be just fine to go to the mall alone. This mall closing is like loosing a family member! Eastland was and still is a beautiful mall and the area used to be a beautiful area of Charlotte.

    The downfall of the Mall and the area in general is the same problem we have in out school systems across America. The parents have no control of their childern and teenagers and accept no responsiblity for their actions. When I was younger I remember older teenagers being escorted by mall security to the mall office and calling parents to come and get their kids for smoking. As I grew older I always felt safe there, like I was at home! I did manage to take my own little boy there before it got too bad! I remember looking around in 2002 and wondering where securtiy was, why there were groups of people standing around cursing and shouting at each other. What happend to the Mall Ploice and why was there not more enforcemnt? If all this was taken place in a more affluent are more would have been done. If the Mayor or Chief of Police lived in that area more would have been done to keep the area clean. I guess the sad reality for me is that the old saying is true, " the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer" I loved Eastland Mall and still do, because of the fond memories I have. Too bad we dont have people in office who no matter what just do the right thing.

  17. I grew up in Charlotte in the 80s and early 90s and am sad to see this once crown jewel of the city fall into such disrepair.

    I have many fond memories (say 83-1991) including celebrating a birthday at the skating rink. (I learned how to skate there as well).

    That said, its demise should come across to anyone who live in the city between 1995 and 2000. I would contend that it was during this period that the mall started losing its upper-middle class and upper class shoppers. Simultaneously, the mall began to attract urban and redneck youth in greater numbers. These crowds made shopping at the mall increasingly unpleasant--especially when a much more pleasant shopping experience (at South Park) was a short 15 minute drive away.

    My family who would exclusive shop at Eastland from '77 to '90, stopped shopping at the mall all together by 1996 for the reasons listed above.

    As per the location, I would contend that retail could flourish in this space. I'm just not sure an enclosed mall makes the most sense here. The surrounding neighborhoods are solidly middle class (perhaps more lower-middle and middle-middle) and they would support new and modern retail.

    Having gone to school at UNC, I wouldn't mind seeing this area redevelop in a way that South Square Mall was redeveloped in the mid-2000s.

  18. I grew up at Eastland Mall too. I was a teenager in Mint Hill NC from 1980 to 1985. I saw all the big movies at that theater. There used to be big paintings of John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe on that big wall by the door to the underground parking lot where our parents would pick us up after the movies. So many of my friends worked at stores in the mall. The Record Bar, Napoleons Grocery, T.Edwards. In the 90s I lived on Central Avenue and worked at the Hollywood Video in the Parking Lot of the mall in front of Harris Teeter. So many memories, most of my young life spent there. So sad it will never be the same. Thanks so much for this article.

  19. I once played a hockey game on that ice when I was playing for the UNC Club team in 1990! Thanks for the memories.

  20. I started going to Eastland Mall even before it officially opened in 1975. The ice skating rink was the first thing to open. It was wonderful. Much nicer than SouthPark (at the time) and except for SouthPark there was no other mall in Charlotte then. It used to be decorated so nice at Christmas time too. Wonderful memories there and I was in my 20's and everybody I knew hung-out there. In the mid 70's Central Ave (and East Charlotte) was a haven of white middle-class and you felt very safe... we would even walk to the mall from Glenn Hollow Apts where I and a bunch of my friends lived. You were not scared of being in a drive-by shooting or being car-jacked or worse.

    Over the years I visited the mall less often. I remember friends in the 90's telling me of gangs of loud youth mobbing the mall on Friday evenings and it was to be avoided. Then in the 2000's sometime, there were those 2 different riots of black gangs fighting each other. In my opinion that KILLED the mall. I blame mall security and the city of Charlotte for busing kids from the West side to the mall, only to get into gang fights with black East side youth. It scared off any decent shoppers, be them white, black or any other ethic group. Just sad, very sad.

    I just hope you are old enough to remember how nice East Charlotte and Eastland Mall USED to be in the 1970's. A memory is all we have now.

  21. You say JC Penney wrote the book on bland, sadly after the remodel yes - but prior to that it was not bland.

  22. Nothing stays the same. I remember visiting this mall many times in the early nineties 90-93. I was a young man out of high school and would visit friends who went to Winthrop in Rock Hill. You can never go back again.

  23. I live a few blocks from Eastland now and its currently being demolished....

  24. I used to worK In Several Different Parts Of The Mall At Different Times In My Life. I Worked At Sears, Kb Toys And Hollywood Video. my Favorite Store was Waves Music Store. Also Loved ElectronIcs Boutique And Spencers Gifts. Really Miss That Place.

  25. I used to go here from 2002 to around 2005 - 2006 as a kid. I don't actually ever remember the JC Penny ever being open, it had already closed by then. It was still a really nice mall, and it was only when the gangs or whatever took over that I stopped going.

  26. There's a great essay here about the end of Eastland Mall. So sad to know it's no longer there.