Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tryon Mall/Asian Corner Mall: Charlotte, NC

Charlotte indeed has far better malls, but most of those close in to the city are either lost or have seen better days.  As a city that once had a plethora of tiny malls, the advent of larger, more elegant malls in the 1970's rather quickly marginalized these centers.  Regardless, it seems all remained operational up to around 2000.  One of these I am spotlighting here is Tryon Mall, today known as Asian Corner Mall.  While no longer a mall in any conventional sense, the revival as Asian Corner Mall has successfully extended the life of a once two-anchor mall on a not-so-nice side of town to an under-served ethnic market.  While I sincerely doubt this mall will be open five years from now, it is worthwhile to look at a timepiece that was one of the earlier major retail centers of the city.


According to information I found, the mall opened in 1967.  It is much like former Gaston Mall in that one of its anchors was Woolco while the other was a traditional department store.  The department store here originally was The Collins Company, which later operated as Peebles when they were bought out in 1984.  The Collins Company also had locations at Cotswald City and Freedom Mall.  Judging by the locations, I am suspecting that the original department store was a lower-end local department store, the like which were common up until the mid-1990's.  Woolco looks to have been subdivided relatively early on, but the department store appears to have been vacant for a very long time.  The condition of that building and parking lot in front of it leads me to believe that nothing has occupied the space for at least 15 years.  The old Collins Company itself is under different ownership, which keeps the center complicated and that portion derelict since owners apparently are not interested in doing much with it.  The old Woolco looks to have had a Winn-Dixie Marketplace early in the last decade, though it used only part of the space.


The first photo shows the south court area of the mall featuring the (dry) fountain, fake stones and bonsai trees complete with Southeast Asian design features.  It would be one of the more elegant areas of the mall if it was kept up.  I suspect the fountain is original.  The second photo is the southwest entrance wing approaching the south court.  A similar-themed market is to the right, thus the shopping carts.


More detail of the dry fountain.  The wrought iron fence may be newer, but it looks very 60's to me.


A view of the same fountain looking at the dark south end of the mall approaching what was once The Collins Company department store.


A map of this relatively simple mall, but with a missing detail.

The real strength of the mall today is on the front.  Many of these shops had outside only entrances creating a strip mall element, and those most of these shops appear to be typical urban shops in lieu of Asian-themed shops.  That is not the case inside the mall.  The Asian clientele overall is of the Southeast Asian variety instead of East Asian.  Most of the signs are definitely written in Vietnamese and Thai inside the mall.  Any shops found in the mall are exclusively Southeast Asian, and it seems lately that those have dwindled in number.  While it looks the mall may have been successful for several years after the resurrection, the mall is clearly failing.  A similar type center was tried in Atlanta with Oriental Mall in the old Buford-Clairmont Mall, and it also failed before resurrecting as the wildly successful Plaza Fiesta.  Could a similar Latino-themed mall work here?


Here is a better view of the south end of the mall.  Bathrooms are off to the left on what was the Collins Company department store entrance.  The store on the right I believe is the backside of the ethnic grocery store, which is a good place in the city to get Southeast Asian cuisine.  The city is said to be known to have excellent Vietnamese food.


Looking back to the southwest entrance.  This is the healthiest portion of the mall.


A look back into the south court.  Here you can see the rest of the mall and what appears to be an old information booth.


Here, you can see that the mall is not quite so 60's looking with the pitched roof.  I honestly wish that they could have kept the original roof, but I am sure this is much lower maintenance: an obvious necessity in a mall that seemed to be have just that problem.

Inside the mall, it was truly a zombie mall.  I honestly have not ever covered a mall before I could describe like this, but basically it was a mall that looked abandoned yet still open to the public.  Absolutely no climate control existed inside, and the day was hot and humid so it was likewise highly uncomfortable inside.  The floors were also completely filthy, even grainy like a construction site.  Despite this, the owners had definitely made some improvements when it opened.  The original flat roof was replaced in the early 90's with a pitched roof, and South Asian architectural elements were employed throughout.  The yellow paint on most of the walls actually seemed original since malls of that era tended to incorporate that.  The floors, though filthy, obviously were updated as well.  I am almost certain the original flooring was polished concrete.  Much had to be done to fix the mall after Hurricane Hugo did major damage to the mall followed by major flooding from Hurricane Danny in 1999.


Here, I am looking down a narrow side wing that goes to what looks like a closed-off back entrance.  There was never a parking lot behind the mall, so I can imagine this part was always harder to fill.


A walk back through the main part of the mall shows how basic and small it really was.  The old Woolco entrance is the current wall in the background.


Go Go Gifts has an older-style entry found only in the earliest malls.  I noted a similar style in a shop at Innsbruck Mall in Asheville, and I really like these.  They appear to be typical only in the earliest malls.

Despite those improvements, the place was foreboding at best.  A blue-toned dry fountain near some fake stones, bonsai trees and a wrought iron fence looked like a spruced up, but later abandoned scene from 1965.  The side entrance hallways were dark with more original dropped ceilings and mostly abandoned.  In one hallway, it appeared there were remains from either an old Morrison's Cafeteria or Hickory House Restaurant.  Anchor entrances were plainly walled off like nothing was ever there.  The old Woolco entrance contained some artwork, which helped some.  In all, the reuse of the mall was inventive and creative, but apparently the owners lacked money for even the most basic operation other than keeping the roof from leaking.  The average upper middle class suburbanite would have been truly frightened to have visited such a place.



This rear entrance wing in this photo has its back entrance closed off with a webbed steel screen (for lack of better term).  Notice here the former restaurant on the left, which I failed to get a better photo of.  This very much looks like either an old Morrison's Cafeteria or Hickory House Restaurant.


Here is the old Woolco mall entrance.  They did a pretty nice job covering it up.

In all truth, I am pleased that the mall was not abandoned.  In the past, it actually was abandoned.  For a period of time in the 1990's, the mall was closed down before reopening in its current reincarnation.  Most likely, though, the interior mall portion will eventually be sealed off while the strip portion in front will continue to operate.  I was not there in early years to see if this ever really worked at all, but empty stores in the mall suggest it was at least 50 percent full 10 years before.  Five years ago, builders would likely be offering to redevelop the center into a more lucrative strip mall, but the severe downturn has suspended any possibility for now.


A look from the Woolco side along the northwest entrance wing.


Looking from the old Woolco entrance south toward the old Collins Company department store.


The west entrance wing where the old cafeteria was from the main mall.


Another Vietnamese shop just before the south court.  Most shops are here seem to close at 5:00 PM.

For me, the fact that the mall is still there seems like an opportunity to make it better, and apparently this would be the case if the owners of the mall space owned the entire center instead of just the mall space.  It would be nice if they could have something akin to the Buford Highway Farmers Market in Doraville, GA, which would be an excellent fit for either the old Collins Company location or part of the old Woolco.  In fact, I think they should study all of Buford Highway in Atlanta, which hosts much of the same demographic.  I see plenty of possibilities, but I also think that considering the condition of the area, this may be complicated.  The city has bigger priorities with the closing of Eastland Mall, so likely any reinvention of the struggling mall will have to wait.  No matter what happens, I was glad to see a piece of early retail history in the Queen City while it was still there to see.


Both front mall entrances feature a Pagoda-style with lots of stucco.  What did the originals look like?


An overview of the center (except The Collins Company/Peebles).


The old Collins Company Department Store is not under the same ownership as the main mall, and its parking lot is absolutely atrocious.  The building itself is creepy and imposing.  While it actually appears to be two levels, I believe it is in fact only one with high walls designed to make it look bigger.  This imposing structure is a drag on the mall.  Does anybody have any idea when this actually became Peeble's and how long it was there?


A view here shows the deterioration of the store entrance and an additional store attached on the opposite side that looks like an old drug store.  I have no idea what it was.


This inverted check mark design is almost a dead giveaway that Winn-Dixie located here around 2000 or so.  Winn-Dixie completely left North Carolina in 2005. It is also not owned by the owners of the mall, and it makes up the right side of the old Woolco.


The left side, however, has the clear signatures of the older 1960's Woolco stores hidden somewhat by paint.


Looking at the corner of the old Woolco along the length of the front of the mall.

24 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. I accidentally deleted your comment, sorry. I was trying to delete my response and deleted yours instead LOL.

    I was thinking Peoples and Peeble's were two different things. I researched it a bit and cleared it up...so it was Collins originally that later became Peeble's. When did Peeble's close there?

    I also couldn't agree more on your comparison of Eastland to Phipps next to this place LOL.

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  3. I want to say the store on the right side of The Collins Company was an Eckerd, but I'm not positive.

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  4. There was also a Family Dollar store (complete with an anti-crime grill covering the windows) at the mall at least around 2005-ish.

    Not sure when Peeble's closed but that mall was in such poor shape when I went (5 years ago) and when I lived in Charlotte before (off and on in the 1990's), the mall was completely off the radar screen so it was probably closed by the '90s.

    Bell Tower Mall was really a total clone of this mall- perhaps Woolco had stock plans that were used for its malls?

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  5. South Asia = Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka; SE Asia = Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore. You seem to be using the terms interchangably.

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  6. Thanks...corrections made. For a geographer, that was a rather shameful error LOL.

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  7. The Woolco space was Furniture Liquidators before Winn Dixie moved in, according to DeadMalls.com. Also, a search on Google News has Peebles closing date as early 1992.

    Also, Eckerd->Family Dollar makes sense.

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  8. The pitched roof looks kind of ugly, and I heard this place had problems with air conditioning. Personally, I'd go ahead and renovate it as to only face outside with a redubbing of it to something like "Chinatown Charlotte"...but that's just me.

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  9. I remember the animal ststues in the play area you could crawl on in the center court. And I beleive there was a cafeteria toward the center part of mall too. Went in the early 70's because it was close to Hidden Valley. Oh, and the movie house next door had the kids movies once a week and the parents would just drop you off (could not do that today). Great memories!

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  10. The drug store was definitely Eckerd's. In the mid 80's there was an Olan Mills studio there. I remember Tryon Mall pretty well. My grandparents moved into Hidden Valley in 1964, I was born in 1969. I don't know how much is left of the outer buildings in the parking lot, but there used to be a Park-n-Shop grocery store on the corner of Tryon & Sugar Creek. There was also a gas station there, I don't remember the name. There was a Hardee's there too. I remember the theater too. The last movie I went there to see was The Karate Kid in 1985 or 1986. I remember being dropped off for kids movie days too. They had the same thing at the Village theater on Freedom Drive at the Freedom Village shopping center. I grew up on the westside near Freedom Drive. I spent alot of time at Freedom Mall too. Oh yeah, in 1985-1986< Tryon Mall had a book exchange store that was really cool for a teenager that liked to read.

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  11. There used to be a small self-service post office in the center of the parking lot. It was a one-stop shop hut for mailing letters, packages and buying stamps. They tore it down a few years ago. There was also a Firestone located near the Sugar Creek entrace, but it burned down. To this day, many believed it was arson because of disputes between the store and operators of a rinky-dink carnival that would set up in the parking lot twice a year during the 80s (I think it burned in like 88-89). I also remember Eckard's later Olan Mills. The strip mall across the parking lot housed a jeans store (darn I'm old). The gas station in front of Parking Shop was a rare jewel because it was a drive-thru gas station. I also remember the original exterior of the mall. It kind of looked like the old Collins/Peeble's building with two large disks with "Tryon Mall/TM" adorned the entrances. Looking at your pictures, the fountain used to have water and a bridge. I also remember a hot-air baloon sculpture. But the wrought iron fences and the info booth hasn't changed since the 70s. The movie theatre was the joint back in the day when my parents would drop me and my friends off. I wish I could remember what that restaurant was. The Winn-Dixie store closed in the late 90s. Oh the memories.

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  12. I had forgotten about the bridge over the fountain! It was one of those fountains you'd toss coins in and make a wish! Kay Tee, you also jogged my memories of the Firestone, post office hut and that carnival! Thank you! The carnival was pretty seedy. My stepsister & I went to the Olan Mills to have our pictures done in the summer of 1986. After that, we went to Hardee's, where two of the carnies harassed us. We had to actually bolt for the door and make a mad dash to the car. I think that was the last time I went to that mall, now that I think about it.

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  13. My mother worked at the Woolco for several years before the store closed. There was a library next door. A jewelry store. Morrison's Cafeteria. A record shop. Holloway's Men's store. An ice cream shop. A nightclub/tavern. A beauty salon-Peona's. The mall was a bustling hub of activity....

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  14. The store to the right of Collins was an A&P grocery store. It closed in the late 1970's. The Eckerd's was to the right of the right entrance to the mall (near the fountains).
    The bridge over the water was an arched, covered bridge. It started falling apart in the late 70's and they replaced it with a a flat bridge.
    I worked at a shop in the narrow side wing. It was actually fully occupied while I was there because the rent was cheaper. There was a toy store, fabric shop, plant shop, dance studio, TV repair shop, optician, and men's clothing store. By the early 1980's all had gone out of business or moved.

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  15. Collins was in fact only 1 floor. It was my first job just out of high school in 1977 and I worked there until 1979 during college. The store just to the right was a grocery store, I thin it was either an A&P or Colonial Store. Collins became Pebbles around 1984. This mall is dead...needs to be grazed. It was opened in 1968 and my Mother took me to the mall for the opening. The fountain inside had a covered bridge with a very high arch. I am sure this would not past code in today's world. I have many fond memories of this mall growing up and then working there in the late 70s. Just leaving Collins heading into the mall and on the right was a Beauregard's Sandwich Bar and just past that on the right was a cafeteria. The library was a the other end just leaving Woolco's and going into the mall. other stores inside the mall were Eckerd Drugs, Kay Jewelers, a dentist office was located near the back entrance. The Wrnagle Wranch Jean store, a small Record Bar and many others were located in the mall during it's prime. it wa dying in the early 80s and really saw decline by the late 80s. The Tron Mall Theater was also in the parking lot just to the right of Collins and the grocery store.

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  16. I grew up in Hidden Valley and we used to love going to Tryon Mall on Saturdays. When Woolco closed in 1982 the mall started going down hill I think. My sister and I used to get ice cream at a shop inside and go to the library every week. We also used to go to the movie theater.

    Phyllis

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  17. Tryon Mall was located on the site of the old Southern States Fairgrounds. Plans for the mall were announced in 1965. Woolco opened in the fall of 1967. The A&P store at the other end of the mall opened a few months later. The mall itself opened in the spring of 1968. At that time there was no Collins Department store at the opposite end from Woolco. That was built about a year later. When Tryon Mall opened, I was hired as a temporary stock boy for Eagle Stores which was similar to Woolworth's. The cafeteria in the mall was called Bailey's. Tryon Mall had a Bressler's Ice Cream Parlor which offered 33 Flavors. This was several years before Baskin Robbins opened at South Park. Tryon Mall was a popular destination for kids growing up in Hidden Valley. We could ride our bicycles to Tryon Mall. I drive by Tryon Mall daily. It's sad to see how that once vibrant shopping area has deteriorated.

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  18. Definitely a theater down on the end. I remember seeing movies there as a child in the 70s. Also memories of eating at the Hardee's and buying used records at the book exchange as a teenager.

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    1. The theater is a separate building near the road. There was no theater physically attached to the mall.

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  19. Wow, I just stopped at this "mall" yesterday. I've only lived here for about 2 years so the history interested me. Thanks for all the info!

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  20. The store to the right of Collins/Peebles was an A&P grocery at one time. It closed around 1977-78, about the same time they were closing stores throughout Charlotte. Later it was some type of bingo parlor, I think.

    Eckerd was at the main south entrance inside the mall - it had a small grill/diner inside, just like the Eastland Mall Eckerd once had until a later remodel got rid of it.

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  21. Anyone remember Panama's & Panama's II? The entrance to both was on the back side of the mall. When I got out of the Air Force in '85, my buddies and I would float between there and Dixie Electric around the corner.

    Also, anyone remember the gold lion statues in front on the Tyron Mall Theater before the remodel to three theaters in 80? After the remodel (they added a larger lobby and cover the front with crappy sheet metal) the place lost all its luster.

    In '85, Weird Al was in town and choose Tyron Mall Theater for a promo of "Dare to be Stupid".

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  22. I leaved over in Derita and as a kid spent a lot of time at Tryon Mall.(Late 60s-early 70s) It was a bustling place. Wasting time at the Wololco as my parents shopped, scooping change out of the fountain in the midway, using the public library and eating vegtables at the Morrison cafeteria. I think in their hayday, there was a stereo store, a couple of shoe stores, a pet store and more. In the late 70s saw movies next door and went to Beauregards to hang out...back when 18 was legal. I live in Ohio now and haven't seen this mall in years.

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  23. Also there was an Allied Radio store in the mall (immediately beside the mall entrance to Woolco), before the company was swallowed up by Radio Shack. It was converted to RS and remained there for years.

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