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.