Sunday, July 4, 2010

North Park Mall: Charlotte, NC

Federated Department Stores in the 1970's took a rather unique approach to expanding its regional discount format Richway, which it had just acquired as part of the sale of Rich's from the Rich family.  The Rich family started the concept, but on a far more limited basis with Roswell Mall in Atlanta one of its prototypes.  While the company built many freestanding stores, including one in Gastonia, the company also combined forces with Kroger to build small discount malls connecting the two chains.  Perhaps this was done to create a more grand entry into the market, but it clearly was a passing fad with the malls and stores both too small to be competitive long-term.  Columbia, SC was one of the markets that Federated (now Macy's, Inc.) tried this in, but they also did the same in Charlotte.  Like Columbia, these "Richway Malls" as I call them had two built on a similar design in Charlotte connecting Richway with Kroger Sav-On with a third older mall built on a different design.  North Park Mall is one of those malls.  The other was West Park Mall.  Freedom Mall was also a Richway Mall, but that was the one with a different design and opposite anchor.


Freedom Mall was distinct for several reasons.  I cannot give a completely accurate history, partly because the date of construction is a bit hard to pin down and I did not cover this mall on this trip.  The mall may have been older since it was anchored on one end by The Collins Company, later Peebles.  Labelscar, who did their own post on it, states it was built in 1964 and other sources cite 1974 and other dates.  If it was 1974, it was an original Richway built as a test market.  If 1964, then definitely Richway bought the location after Grant's folded.  This is rather important since an early date of construction suggests that this was originally a Grant City while a later date would be an original Richway.  The Freedom Mall store had the distinct wedge skylights, but it was configured much like a mall with Grant's would be meaning they may have been added later.  Freedom Mall was also converted to offices a couple years ago, so it bears no resemblance to its former retail purpose.  It is similar to former Woodhill Mall in Columbia where a local department store anchored one end of the mall in lieu of Kroger Sav-On and the mall carried a different design.  Perhaps Woodhill Mall's Richway was originally a Grant's mall also?


North Park Mall is plain and simple with rounded "space age" features.  It looks to have gotten a stucco refacing later in its life, however.  Compare to my earlier Decker Mall post to see the difference.  The first two photos here are of the entrance third from left.  Richway Malls always had four entrances, all front facing.  This is looking toward what was originally Kroger Sav-On.


Looking toward the former Richway/Target, now Kimbrell's Furniture.  The entrance in the background was actually the entrance to Target/Richway, which was accessible only through the mall itself.

West Park Mall was an original Richway Mall, but it is lost.  Located on Tyvola Road (City 4) just east of I-77, it was one of three malls within a short distance: the other two being Tyvola Mall (a de-malled former Woolco Mall) and South Park Mall.  West Park was demolished in the late 1990's after Target moved to the intersection of I-485 and Pineville Road/South Blvd. The mall was in a more prime location than the other two Richway Malls on Tyvola Road in a better side of town, so the property was quickly redeveloped into a new Costco.  Costco is also standing alone, so most of the mall buildings are now part of the parking lot.


Inside the only open part of the mall, which today is part of Kimbrell's Furniture but used to be the mall/outside entrance to Target/Richway.  A similar setup was in place at Decker Mall, but it was walled off from the open mall due to its current use as a storage place.

North Park Mall was also an original Richway Mall, and only because of lack of interest in the area is it still standing.  Its date of construction is unknown, but it was most likely built in 1977 considering the date of construction and design of the similar malls in Columbia.  Its design, however, was not entirely identical with a level, direct concourse and an architectural theme that likewise also did not match exactly.  Skylights around the entrance courts are definitely of a different look than those at Decker Mall in Columbia and entrances are located differently.  The mall is also in far worse shape than Decker Mall having been closed for some time.  This makes Decker Mall the last original Richway Mall still in operation.


A view from the entrance to the mall under the "North Park" sign.  Note that the skylights are identical to those used at Eastland Mall over the center court.


More advanced deterioration was underway at another entrance.  I cannot remember which one this was, however.  That looks like an old Foot Locker straight ahead, but I have a hard time believing they would locate in a discount-oriented mall.  Maybe it was a Hallmark shop? 

It is hard to say when North Park Mall closed.  The circumstances are rather mysterious, and it looks to have happened within the past 5 years.  The mall actually was not empty at all when it closed.  It had quite a few tenants inside that were basically forced out to a nearby strip mall.  I am guessing the owners simply went into foreclosure and the property simply has been abandoned.  Nothing outside even indicated anything has happened, but the doors are locked and the beginning of deterioration in the interior is underway as evidenced from the photos here.  The parking lot is also a mess of craters as maintenance has been deferred probably for decades.  Nevertheless, one tenant still holds on in the center...a local furniture store operating in the old Richway/Target.  It is a very low-rent type store that apparently did not even have climate control.


More outside detail here of the Richway/Target, now Kimbrell's Furniture with the signature wedge skylights clearly visible.  I can think of no discount store more distinct looking than Richway was.

North Park Mall holds the distinction of being on a rough side of Charlotte.  It is located at the intersection of Eastway Drive and Tryon St (US 29), and it never had the benefit of an ancillary major shopping mall to boost its business.  It is, however, very close to Tryon Mall (Asian Corner Mall), which offered absolutely no benefit to the center in the long term.  Even Decker Mall in Columbia was not in a neighborhood in this bad of shape. 


This peculiar side entrance shows exactly how Richway was incorporated into the mall.  The mall started right there inside the entrance shown continuing to Kroger Sav-On.  The fourth photo above shows that same side door from the inside.

North Park Mall had a somewhat different turn of events over time.  While Target pretty much followed the pattern of every Richway Mall, Bi-Lo took interest when Kroger Sav-On closed.  For several years after Kroger left, Bi-Lo operated in the old Kroger.  Richway, of course, became Target in 1989 after closing in 1988.  Target then abandoned the store around 1998 moving out to its current location at University City and Harris Blvd.  Dollar Smart was the last store to operate in the old Kroger/Bi-Lo, and it had to be one of the largest dollar stores ever!  Kimbrell's Furniture, the last tenant, has kept a small part of the mall opened to allow access to the store, but a sheet rock wall blocks access to the rest of the mall.


An overview of the mall from a standpoint closer to Eastway Drive.

I have to wonder what kind of plans, if any, are in store for the crumbling mall.  Charlotte has a lot on its hands trying to deal with the all the dead retail they already have.  I honestly wish they would just leave North Park be and try to redevelop the area around it to eventually attract interest in the existing structure, but would anything of any substance ever be interested in a place like this?  I'm sure the most likely candidate for the site would be a Super Wal-Mart, which would certainly take the undesirable approach of demolishing every last bit of the mall.  I believe the mall could be renovated and find new use in the future, though this will most likely not be retail.  Perhaps a medical center might work here?  I guess time will tell what happens as Charlotte is faced with the very real need to reinvent its inner ring suburbs.

8 comments:

  1. If Grant City anchored Freedom Mall, 1964 might have been too early unless it was a very early prototype. Grant's limped along until 1975 or 76 (sources vary). They probably sold some stores before their demise.

    The size of these malls and their one-story floor plan probably make them better candidates for reuse as something else than a place like Eastland. Charlotte is not alone in having to redevelop its inner ring. Because of their rapid growth and political domination by development interests, the scale of this sort of thing seems greater in sunbelt cities than in many older cities, where things happened more gradually and the areas sometimes developed in a different way. These 1960/70s areas usually lack charm or high grade housing stock which make them unattractive for renovation. If the schools are poor and the density makes them carbound, then they are even less attractive. In terms of what does survive---some of Metro Atlanta's northeastern areas like Toco Hills, Sagamore, and Oak Grove have become attractive to a new generation of homeowners. These are modestly affluent areas with relatively good schools. They have mature trees and other amenities to make the neighborhoods physically attractive, plus they're close to Emory and CDC, which are major employment engines for the area. Retail has come back in these areas, although the nearby malls still limp along.

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  2. The mall was open in the mid-2000s- at least until around 2007, if not later. Kimbrell's and that dollar store (which was new in the mid-2000s) were hanging on, and the mall interior had a Subway, I think a library branch? and a few other discount-type stores in it (no national chains). I didn't think that the mall was that bad then. Sad to see it closed. There are plans to build light rail lines through the area, which would likely result in redevelopment.

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  3. That wooden storefront that you think was a Foot Locker? I would say that looks more like a former Regis Salon.

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  4. Woodhill mall had a footlocker that was similar so that may have been a footlocker.

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  5. Grant City wasn't in Freedom Mall. The smaller Grants store remained in Freedom Village until the chain closed.

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  6. I remember it this way.

    Freedom Village Shopping Center(with Grants) opened in ~1964.

    Down the street, Freedom Mall (with Richway) opened in ~1974.

    There never was a Grants in Freedom Mall.

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    1. That is accurate. Furthermore, Collins (later Peebles) started in 1964 in Freedom Village and later moved to Freedom Mall.

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  7. I loved going to North park Mall as a kid in the 80s. Back then the neighborhood wasn't that bad, but started to go down in the 90s. Once traget closed, it was pretty much the death rattle for the rest of the mall. BTW, that store front with the wood panelling was one of the best arcades in charlotte at the time. I too wish that someone would bring North Park Mall back to life. I miss malls like this, you had a lot of small personally owned stores in there. Charlotte killed Eastland on purpose because they thought they had better uses for it, now its demolished and their plans fell through, big suprise. One thing that lets me hold out some hope for North Park is the one Zayres shopping center just down the road from it on eastway drive at the plaza. That sat empty for over 20 years, and now its back and thriving. Funny thing is the old Cinema Blue building is still standing, its been out of use for over 30 years.

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