Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Shoppes at Eastchase: Montgomery, AL

Lifestyle centers like The Shoppes at Eastchase in Montgomery are the main culprit in the death of so many malls.  In Montgomery, the presence of this lifestyle center in reality is just the "new mall" there to eventually "replace" the malls closer in, one of two which is already dead and the other beginning to struggle.  It seems so strange when these new "malls" are really nothing more than a glorified strip.  In fact, this new center pretty much took every upscale boutique that used to be in Eastdale Mall.  The only reason Eastdale is able to exist in such an environment is that Eastchase only has one department store currently: Dillard's.  Oddly, Dillard's also still hangs on at Eastdale, which is most likely the product of the hope that the two malls would compliment each other, which is only partially true.

Despite Eastdale's presence, the new strip at this point is still quite small holding only 350,000 square feet.  Aside from Dillard's, the center only has one other significant inline junior anchor in Kinnucan's (not pictured), a regional sports-themed specialty store that is found in college towns in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.  Kinnucan's started out in Auburn, AL as a shoe store in 1987.  It is obviously one of the rarest examples of a successful regional chain found in the South today.  The development otherwise has a few upscale chain restaurants and an adjacent power center featuring anchors such as Target and Kohl's.  Eastchase originally opened in 2004 and is located east/northeast of the city just off of I-85 on Taylor Road.

A couple images of the very car-friendly development, which was rather difficult to photograph especially when people were actually shopping here.

The funniest thing about lifestyle centers is that they really did not truly catch on until recently.  Versions of them have existed dating all the way to the 1920's with Country Club Plaza in Kansas City being the first.  Despite that, I realized while visiting this place how crazy lifestyle centers really are.  Keep in mind that Montgomery is HOT in the summer, so the presence of an outdoor mall in any form is hardly going to be anything more than a strip as shoppers race from their cars through the boiling sun to the air conditioned comfort inside each store.  Even being there in March, I saw how true this was as the whole concept reminded me of musical chairs with cars just circling and circling trying to get a parking place in front of their store of choice.  Outside, there was little reason to be there with no covered walkways, meeting areas or shade to be found.  Perhaps this is a factor in why more anchors haven't joined in at the mall.  I wonder if Belk plans to join there long term once they can get out of their leases at Eastdale.  I had surmised on my last post that the series of mergers and acquisitions that led to Belk being there in the first place is why they didn't park at Eastdale to start with.  JCPenney, however, surprised me in how they chose Eastdale over Eastchase.

Dillard's positions itself as the last thing you see as you drive into the center.  It is also the only department store there.

It is funny that as I was covering this town that I was unaware that Eastchase was not the only lifestyle center to open in the region, and was not the only factor in the failure of Montgomery Mall.  Apparently, Prattville has also built a lifestyle center called High Point Town Center featuring Belk and JCPenney.  From what I understand, that is about all that is there since for some reason that development has bombed other than its anchors, which also include Bass Pro Shops and Publix.  The details from the previous posts, however, still hold true in regards to the shift of retail and demographics in the city despite the unsteady progress underway in Prattville.

Here is a view along the side part of the center extending off of the main part that includes Dillard's.  The majority of the center is the background.  Belk will likely one day join this part photographed.

My opinion on Eastchase is that it needs to be more appealing and possibly incorporate at least some enclosed mall into the development.  If Belk comes one day, build on a small enclosed mall off of the existing outdoor mall.  Also, create some more elegant features such as an elegant fountain area in the center like they did at Ashley Park in Newnan, GA.  That is one advantage that lifestyle centers have is that they can do fountains and landscaping lushly and far cheaper than they could in an enclosed mall environment.  I figure that regardless of what happens, that the obvious patterns of growth and development will lead to Eastchase becoming the dominant, if not only shopping center for the region..


  1. I was curious when the first phase of EastChase opened in the fall of 2002. During trips through Montgomery, I would take lingering drives in the lifestyle center, rolling over the brick paving while looking at the architecture and storefront designs. I had never experienced such a concept: traditional mall retailers operating in a largely open air environment. Dillard's didn't open until the spring of 2004, so up to that point, all that was on the east end was a billboard announcing its eventual presence.

    EastChase made me pay attention to the manner in which mall storefronts are incorporated into larger building shells. I found the way Williams Sonoma's storefront jutted into the signband of its unit building interesting, while nearby Orvis' simple green awning just under the same signband was good too. I actually liked the tower elements that gave the Banana Republic and Gap stores a sense of presence.

    That Dillard's building seems to hulk its 200k square foot mass over rest of the lifestyle center. Its east entrance, directly off the 'main street' of the development, lacks any animation or activity in the form of an inviting series of storefront windows. Pity.

    Because it's a relatively older generation lifestyle center design, it wouldn't have such amenities as a village common or pocket parks found in other open air developments. Its main focal point is that somewhat ornate 'Atlas' fountain-statue accenting the car turnabout in front of the La Jolla restaurant. Pedestrians are left to 'enjoy' the wide streetscapes, benches, brass fixtures and previously mentioned brick paving.

    Also, Kinnucan's isn't the only junior anchor. Books A Million, which is probably twice as large, is located in the wing adjacent EastChase Parkway, while Linen 'N' Things used to operate in the large space directly across the large surface lot from the bookstore.

  2. Oddly enough, one of the plans for an EastChase expansion involved a wing extending to the north, between the former Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria's Secret buildings. It would have featured a concourse of stores anchored by another department store. I guessing that at the time it would have been a relocated Parisian store.

  3. Unfortunately Eastchase won't go anywhere soon- I say unfortunately b/c it's across town from me, and I hate lifestyle centers. Montgomery can support at least 1 mall, and Eastchase is right in the middle of the money. The money that used to prop up Normandale and Montgomery Mall has gone to Prattville, leading to the massive development right off of I-65. Hopefully the anchors at Eastdale will stay put to keep the two centers running rather than leaving Montgomery with one shopping option and another massive dead mall. Thanks for the post!

  4. A free standing JCPenney store could have worked as an anchor store in the nearby EastChase MarketCenter.

  5. I care nothing for this place. I decided to check it out late last spring and it was about to rain so I didn't bother getting out of my car. I noticed how small the center was and that it had nothing that really interested me. Montgomery retail is very depressing these days.

  6. If only the neighborhoods surrounding the older two malls had not gone down the toilet, Montgomery would have been a fun place to shop. I dream of Normandale being resurrected, restored and expanded into a premier shopping center.

  7. Montgomery Mall was dying years before Eastchase came on the scene. The reason: demographics/white flight. For years, Montgomery had a major who was really tough on crime, but didn't do a lot to bring concerts or entertainment to town. He was voted out, and Mayor Bright was perceived as soft on crime, and really let that area of the city go to pot.

  8. I do remember when it was developing in the early 2000s. It is where most businesses moved during my transition to the Birmingham area from Troy.

  9. I really don't get the whole "lifestyle mall" thing either. I grew up in Cleveland. I really liked shopping where I didn't have to go through a blizzard from store to store. I moved to the Montgomery area in 2005, and I like shopping where I didn't pass out from the heat going from store to store. Now the indoor malls in Cleveland and Montgomery are either dead or dying, and it's back to where I was when I was young - running from store to store trying to avoid the weather. I suspect this whole "lifestyle" thing is catching on because it's what millennials think shopping downtown was like, except without the panhandlers and bums. This is another retail craze that will run its course in 25 years, and we'll see flea markets in most of these glorified strip malls. They say if you live long enough, you get to see everything old become new again. That's sure the case for me and retail.