Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New Macon Mall owners will tear down the east wing (Article)

I rarely cover articles on this blog, but this one is too significant.  KA Turner, who contributed to Macon, GA posts, passed this along to me.  I genuinely have to wonder if the new owners took my advice about this mall.  This is definitely to be preferred to a hideous courthouse in the old Dillard's, though it is sad to see progress deferred like this.  It was, however, too grand of a plan for too small of a city to transform a basic 70's mall into the state's largest mall when they did it.  Perhaps this will not only help Macon Mall, but also will be a shot in the arm to struggling Houston County Galleria that has long since been dwarfed by this mall. 

The dead east wing of the mall, now slated for demolition by early 2011.

However, I just hope, beg and plea to Hull Storey Gibson that they do not remove the unique fountains and planters found throughout the older (original) part of the mall.  If they really want to make people not want to shop there anymore, they should take what is left there that is interesting away now that so many of the major chain stores have departed.   The original owners built this place to shine, so it needs to stay that way.  This 35 year old mall, though it may not be what it once was, is still an amazing mall.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Westgate Mall Brochure Photos: Macon, GA

In two other posts, I discussed the long-demolished Westgate Mall/Shopping Center in Macon, GA.  While largely unknown outside of the city, it was not only the first enclosed mall in Georgia but probably also the first dead mall in Georgia.  A mall that lost its reason to exist by 1975, it was marketed in various forms for 19 more years before being de-malled in 1994.  If this had been anything but the first of its kind in the state, probably no photos would exist.  However, contributor Tony Webb was kind enough to inform me that he had some photos of the place, and he went to the trouble of getting them for this site.  His father, Bernard Webb, was the architect of the mall and Tony had a brochure from a local glass company showing the mall just before it opened.  Most of these photos involve the exterior, though a couple store fronts are featured inside.  I think you will agree from these photos that this was a very uniquely designed mall even for its time.   All images below are from that brochure sent to me by Tony Webb.

This is the artists drawing from the air.  The anchor on the left is Colonial Stores (later Big Star), and the tall anchor in the rear is J.J. Newberry's.  The grocery store on the opposite end is Big Apple (later Food Giant).  Woolworth's is shown between the front entrance and Colonial Stores.  Liggett Drug is shown on the left between the front entrance and Big Apple, which also had an outside entrance.  Liggett eventually became Eckerd Drugs at the last.

A look at the front entrance.  This looks substantial enough that you would expect a much larger mall inside!  I guess this place WAS huge for 1961.

Here is another mall entrance with the caption from the original brochure left in place.

Here is an outside entrance to a barber shop and a side mall entrance, which looks more typical for the 60's.

The store front of Butler's Shoes and mall entrance to Newberry's are both pictured here.

Hefner's Bakery looks positively classy with its logo and alternating glass/dark panel design.  I wish malls and department stores still had bakeries.

This was found on the front of the brochure crediting all involved in the construction of the mall.  Bernard Webb, Architect; Fickling and Walker, Developers, A.R. Briggs, Contractor and Binswanger Glass Co, Glazing.  Binswanger produced this brochure prior to the mall opening.

This passage in the brochure is both quaint and weird at the same time.  I don't see the connection with peaches and a mall, but I would take seeing the inside of this mall over peaches.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tri-City Mall: Forest City, NC

Forest City was quietly concealing a real surprise and rarity with Tri-City Mall.  This small open-air mall is highly unusual to find today, especially in the South, and it held enough retro aspects to make it a fascinating stop on the way to Charlotte.  Situated on the old route of US 74 (now US 74A), the mall once capitalized on travelers headed between Charlotte and Asheville.  Today, the mall is a local matter that keeps just enough business to survive largely due to its anchors.  About the only thing that kept it from being an amazing museum piece of retail architecture was the atrocious stucco remodeling that was placed on the sign canopies.  Otherwise, it is a tiny mall that appeared to open around 1970 with some real charm.

The original Tri-City Mall held three major anchors and at least one junior anchor.  Belk looks to have opened at the mall and inside looks like it has been renovated very little from when it first opened.  Rose's is even more dated with brown carpet and a threadbare appearance inside that was not enough to scare away the largely blue collar shoppers.  JCPenney was the third anchor, which joined in along the back of the mall.  It was an awkwardly laid out store, and it looks to have been closed awhile: most likely with the huge round of closings that took place in 2000 when the company was restructuring.  Apparently a Sears hard line store once operated in the mall as well, and Moore's Department Store also held a junior anchor position in the mall.  At least one of those junior anchors was likely a five-and-dime such as Woolworth's or McCrory's previously.  Most of the original inline tenants were unclear, however, with Merle Norman (closed) being the only recognizable one.

The two photos above are along the front entrance wing.  The trees and seating areas show how appealing an open-air mall can be.  The photo above shows the former JCPenney entrance in the background.  The lead photo shows part of the main mall walking toward Rose's.

Rose's mall entrance.  This store is original, too.

The actual amount of stores in the mall itself is very small, which is probably why it has otherwise failed as a retail destination.  It is not clear what caused the mall to fade, however, though I am sure Wal-Mart next door did not help.  I am assuming that either its industrial sector retracted or that the closing of JCPenney was a major blow to the mall.  This was made worse when Moore's sold out to Stage Stores in 2006 with the mall location not reopening under the Peeble's banner.  Today, very little actually operates in the mall with "Cafe at the Mall" being the only real draw to the mall aside from the anchors and the furniture liquidation store that now occupies the old JCPenney.  In reality, the mall would actually be much worse off if it wasn't for how few shop spaces actually do occupy the mall.

Looking out the side of Rose's to the rear outside mall entrance.  Note the crazy door!

Detail of planter in front of Rose's with overhead canopies makes this almost feel like a 90's-style enclosed mall.

The brickwork, however, is a dead giveaway that this place is far older than that.

Lots of things are quirky about the mall design wise.  One of those is the fact that the mall entrance actually features a door despite the fact you are outside on both sides.  Second, it appears the mall may not have actually been covered at all originally with rather cheap looking metal awnings covering the walkways angled up toward an imaginary skylight.  Perhaps there were more boxy covers over the walkways in the past, but this is uncertain.  Third, finding a mall there was tricky enough.  From the road, it looks like a regular strip mall built on the cheap.  Instead of a mall entrance, the name of the furniture liquidation store is posted where "JCPenney" used to be.  The only thing that suggests that this is actually a mall is the dominant Belk store on the southeast end and the name on the street.  It seems this place is not shown much love.  

The main feature in center court, however, is....the sun!  It looked nice here, but it was considerably hot and humid that day with big storms on the way.

Here I am walking along the Belk wing.  The table and chairs are for Cafe at the Mall restaurant.

Looking back from Belk with Cafe at the Mall somewhere on the right.

Outside the mall, the early 1970's are even more poignant.  Next door to the mall is a building that looks somewhat like an old IHOP capturing the Bavarian theme so popular in the early 70's.  That building today is Fireside Books & Gifts.  Next to that is a theater that is firmly trapped in the era yet still shows first run movies.  It was ironic to see "Karate Kid" on the outside since the theater also likely hosted the first one in 1984, and it probably looked no different.  The mall itself does not seem to be very well maintained either with the sign on US 74A showing substantial mildew and deterioration.  In fact, the mall would most likely have been closed had it actually been an enclosed mall but with low overhead combined with two anchors that appear to be going nowhere the mall is resilient.

Belk mall entrance, which looks quite attractive upon approach.

Closer inspection, however, reveals this is very old-school with narrow doors and octagon-shaped brown tiles.  It is apparent that in the 70's that overweight and disabled people weren't considered in the design of this entrance, but it still looks cool.

Belk once expanded into the mall creating a home store in the tenant right next to it on the right side.  I am assuming this was originally the Sears hard lines store or an old five-and-dime.

Here is how I believe the mall was laid out around 1995.  Please correct me if I am wrong on any of this.

It seems to me, though, that a renovation to a more classic look and expansion could possibly bring back the spark Tri-City lost to Cleveland Mall in Shelby.  I am not talking about enclosing the existing mall, either.  First, the mall entrance as well should be much more obvious.  If there is a mall there, people should know how to get into it.  The old part of the mall could also be renovated to incorporate a classic 1960's look with some post-modern trappings hopefully with a less bland look.  It is ironic I say this, though, since the original mall probably just had the dark aluminum siding outside, which was so typical in the day and probably looked a bit creepy by 1990.

From these two angles, the old JCPenney looks closed but it does in fact have a tenant.  They just failed to indicate that from within the mall.

Empty storefronts abound in the mall.  Though it is hard to tell here, this was formerly a Merle Norman.

Former Moore's complete with labelscar.  I wonder when this closed exactly.

As for an expansion, I would first expand the mall through the old JCPenney.  This expansion of the mall would be enclosed unlike the main mall offering a reprieve from the elements and variety.  Probably the best potential for expansion, though, would be to demolish the old Ryan's Steakhouse on the southeast side, expanding the mall through Belk and adding a new anchor: possibly another JCPenney, Kohl's, Peeble's or non-traditional tenant such as Lowe's or Best Buy.  In the mall itself, put in a Books-A-Million either in the old Moore's or in the new part.  All of this is fantasy, of course, but I always wonder if a few interesting changes could bring back the life to malls like this that most likely died primarily because they were too small and too awkwardly laid out in the first place.

It is possible to get shelter from the rain in parts of the mall...provided it is not a severe storm then you're out of luck.  You're still better off here than a lifestyle center.

A look back along the front entrance wing to the main entrance.

There is that front door, which is a bit dirty from weather.  One of the doors appears to either be open or removed from this angle, and this may very well be original.

Rose's mall entrance from a different angle showing the west court area.

What the future holds for Tri-City Mall is anybody's guess.  It looks to have been somewhat derelict for quite some time, but its open-air configuration makes it far easier to keep as is.  It probably would have died years ago, but Belk for some reason maintains two stores in the area including this mall.  The rest of the mall is fairly cheap to maintain as well with no roof or climate control.  With Rose's also doing a decent business, there is probably a minimal demand to fill the spaces in the rest of the mall, and even the old JCPenney managed to find new life after closing.  I do wish some imagination could go into this place, however, but the horrible economy combined with the generally more blue collar populace observed in the area means that the mall will probably remain this way for awhile.   Of course, that will be the case as long Belk or Rose's does not decide to call it quits.  Whatever happens, I was glad to find this gem among the many tiny, peculiar small town malls that dot the Piedmont of North Carolina.

 Casper's Costume Closet looks to have taken over the back side of the former Belk Home store.

Here is the furniture store in the old JCPenney combined with the rear mall entrance.  Would you know a mall entrance was there on the left if I did not tell you?

Rose's from the front of the mall.

Overview of front of the mall from Rose's.

Belk renovated away its classic arches suggesting they are still committed to this store.

Main mall entrance and former B.C. Moore's beside it.  Note the mall entrance says "Furniture" so you expect to walk in and find Montgomery Flea Market, not a mall.  It is, though, a mini mall.  Hey hey.

1984 or 2010?  You decide.  This is the Cinema 4 theater beside the mall.

More of the "retro theater".  I wish someone would have parked a 1978 Buick Regal there for added effect.

You have to love that "Cinema 4" sign.  I suspect the whole mall used to have that dark siding as well.

I would absolutely LOVE to know what this was originally right next to the Theater.  It looks sort of like an old IHOP, but today it is Fireside Books & Gifts.

This sign is atrocious in every way.  Mildew and lichens are actually growing on it.  I bet if you replaced "Specialty" with "Empty" the first word would still be fully legible.

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..

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Abandoned Bruno's: East Montgomery, AL

Bruno's at the moment is completely on life support.  The company has been in shambles since the early 1990's and acquired many times.  All of this was due to a tragic plane crash over Rome, GA in 1990 which took out the upper level management of the company, mostly members of the Bruno family.  Unfortunately, the waning of Bruno's is all too evident across Montgomery.  Vacant Food World and Bruno's stores litter the city, even in the nicer areas.  It seems like Publix or Winn-Dixie would capitalize on this, but with the Bruno's stores so far behind in design and location much of these locations look straight out of the early 1980's in areas that likewise peaked in the 1980's.  The bad economy, which has also hit Alabama hard, is not helping either.

The location pictured here is one of the nicer stores.  Located at the northeast corner of Vaughn and Bell Roads, It looks very similar to a since repurposed location in Alpharetta, GA that closed sometime in the 90's.  The design here leads me to wonder if this might not have been an Ogletree's location since I had suspected that Alpharetta store was originally Ogletree's.  Perhaps Ogletree's also was in Alabama?  That might explain the 1987 acquisition if so.  While I cannot confirm that, it was nice to find this store with the logo still on the outside.  I wish I had done a little better job photographing more of the abandoned Food World/Bruno's locations, but I covered this one specifically because of its distinct 80's-style Charleston architecture that made me wonder if it was always a Bruno's. 

Pictured above is the whole front of the store and here is a close-up of the front entrance and logo.  In all reality, Bruno's does not sound like a store you would think would be from the South.  This is a very swanky looking store even today.

Looking inside the old Bruno's reveals a store that is pretty well trapped in the 1980's, but very nice for the time it opened.  Note the brick-like brown linoleum tiles in the front.

In all, Bruno's is one of the most significant tragedies of retail.  Once a giant in the Deep South along with Big "B" Drugs, this store serves as a reminder of what once was.  I have covered a couple other former Bruno's locations on this blog here and here