One thing for certain about Clearwater Mall is that even though it seemed like a solid mall at the time, it was not the best positioned for long-term survival. When the mall arrived on November 8, 1973, it was one of only two malls in the northern end of the county. At the time, there was only one other mall in the vicinity, Sunshine Mall. The anchor roster was also solid for the time featuring Gayfer's, Ivey's and Montgomery Ward, but none of those anchors were local to the market at all. Gayfer's was from Mobile, AL; Ivey's from Charlotte, NC and Montgomery Ward was less popular than either Sears or JCPenney. The mall also featured a rather unique design feature in that although the mall itself was mostly one level, the center of the mall was two-levels anchoring Ivey's on one end. This rather interesting design feature was mimicked in the 1990's at University Square Mall across the bay, and I'm sure it was always fun for shoppers.
The first photo features center court with its two-level atrium stretching from the main entrance to Dillard's, formerly Ivey's. The photo above is a typical scene througout the rest of the mall featuring a domed skylight and fairly basic court areas. This and all photos here were taken by id780 on July 1, 2001 unless otherwise indicated.
Short entrance wing. Photo by id780.
Typical mall scenes. Photos by id780.
A view of the main entrance wing from the lower level. Photo by id780.
Clearwater Mall found its first real competition in 1975 when Countryside Mall opened to the north. This put the mall in a difficult position being located between the new mall to the north and Sunshine Mall to the west. Countryside Mall also nailed down better anchors with Maas Brothers, Sears and JCPenney in addition to Robinson's of Florida. Clearwater Mall responded to the mall's arrival by bringing in Burdine's as the mall's fourth anchor. This sparked an intense rivalry between the two malls that was highlighted by a lawsuit filed by Clearwater Mall against Countryside Mall for requiring tenants to sign lease agreements that forbade them from opening a second location at Clearwater Mall. Sadly, this would only be the beginning of their troubles.
Here is a better view of center court and the two-level wing. Upstairs apparently was already closed off by this time. You can see the end of the upper level opposite from Dillard's in this photo. Photo by id780.
The Ward's court was rather interesting in that it included this small ramped area in front of it. Since Pinellas County is completely flat, this design feature was intriguing. Photo by id780.
Another view of Ward's court. Photo by id780.
Here are a couple angles of the Montgomery Ward mall entrance. Photos by id780.
It seemed in so many ways that the mall was cursed. The next major crisis came in 1988 when the mall was found to have asbestos, which had to be removed prior to the commencement of the mall's first major renovation. The mall's renovation was completed in late fall of 1989, and it would also be the last one as a mall. Clearwater Mall would survive competing with three other malls, but aside from this one renovation the mall never evolved any after Countryside Mall opened. Soon after the paint dried on the renovations, Dillard's purchased Ivey's in 1990 marking the beginning of the mall's decline. This was because Dillard's also had previously bought the Robinson's of Florida location at Countryside Mall meaning they had two stores less than five miles apart. By the mid-90's, the mall was beginning to struggle with vacancies, but the worst was yet to come. Two basic factors would cause its downfall: the lack of further expansion and department store consolidation. Big problems were soon to follow.
This map was sent to me by Radio0023 showing the exact layout and stores in Clearwater Mall as they were in 1988-1989 around the time of the first renovation. It looks like the mall was having vacancy problems even then. Pier 1 Imports is listed, which made it to the redevelopment.
Vacant store fronts abounded, including stores that have long since disappeared. Smoke & Snuff, apparently a local smoke shop is bordered by Occassions. Photos by id780.
Is Paul Harris even still around? Photo by id780.
This appears to be an older American Eagle. Am I wrong? Photo by id780.
Sunglass Hut is shut. It also features a very 90's logo. Photo by id780.
Here is a banking name I have not seen in many years on this ATM machine located next to the escalator to the abandoned second floor. Photo by id780.
Victoria's Secret? Photo by id780.
This one frustrates me, because I cannot figure it out. Interesting kiosk on the left, by the way. Photo by id780.
I think all of us nostalgic about old malls cannot get enough of these classic Foot Locker designs with their diagonal wood trim. Photo by id780.
Here is a glimpse inside the old Foot Locker that looks to be pretty trapped in the 70's as well. Photo by id780.
The first significant blow came to the mall when Dillard's exited the mall on October 11, 1998. This was especially problematic since they bought Gayfer's less than a month later. The Gayfer's location at the mall was the only location in the county, but it became a liability the second the ink dried on the bill of sale. The store was very briefly converted to a Dillard's Clearance Store, but Dillard's announced that in January that store, too, would be closed on the heels of an expansion of their store at Countryside Mall. Dillard's was so determined to close that store that they never bothered to even change the Gayfer's sign still prominently mounted on the building long after it had closed. As a result, Clearwater Mall lost two anchors within a very short time span leaving the mall in crisis in early 1999. It was clear by then that Clearwater Mall, though better located, had finally lost the war with the newer, larger Countryside Mall.
Here, I have two separate images of Burdine's both after it closed and just before. The second photo was taken on December 3, 2000...one of three un-Merry Christmases for the mall. Photo by id780.
Here is a glimpse inside Montgomery Ward, which probably was not any busier when it was open. Photo by id780.
Due to famine, the food court had to close indefinitely. That's about the lie you would expect about why this food court will leave you famished. Of course, there is always McDonald's down the street. Photo by id780.
Are you imagining the taste of a slice of Sbarro Pizza melting in your mouth? Sorry, you'll have to keep imagining it. Photo by id780.
Chick-Fil-A is always closed Sunday...and Monday-Saturday. Photo by id780.
Mall Chinese restaurants: the canary in the coal mine. This one is dead, so go figure. Photo by id780.
Flipper jumps over a neon atomic bomb at the Food Court entrance in the middle of a tiled enclosure next to the Food Court entrance. What on earth does this have to do with food? Photo by id780.
The biggest problem with Dillard's departure from Clearwater Mall was that its location in the former Ivey's was positioned as the centerpiece of the mall anchoring a two-level wing that did not connect to any other stores in the mall. This meant that the upper level became completely vacant immediately with no draw. That wasn't the only thing vacant as major chain stores departed en masse throughout 1999 and 2000. Plans were to demolish the mall as early as 2000, but the plans were delayed by the owners Wilton Partners and New Plan Excel Realty Trust until 2002 to work out agreements with remaining Burdine's and Ward's. Burdine's originally stated they would stay until 2002, but they decided to pull out sooner, closing in January 2001. They had discussed opening a furniture store on the redeveloped site early on. Burdine's, like Dillard's, also had overlap at Countryside Mall after purchasing Maas Brothers a decade before. However,they kept both stores since the mall was still successful. Like Dillard's before, they were also waiting to expand their store at Countryside Mall.
This image from December 3, 2000 gives a slightly different feel to the mall itself. It was somewhat less dead then at least. Photo by id780.
Looking from the second floor. Photo by id780 taken December 3, 2000.
A very spooky second floor view here. Photo by id780 taken December 3, 2000.
A look inside Ivey's/Dillard's. Photo by id780.
The mall looked very run down from the outside. Was this the main mall entrance? Photo by id780.
This secondary entrance is part of what was wrong with 70's malls. The 1989 modifications did not help here at all. Photo by id780.
Clearwater Mall main entrance sign. I am not sure which road this was posted on.
Clearwater Mall also featured this sign fit for an interstate highway nowhere near an interstate. Photo by id780.
The one major factor that kept Clearwater Mall open longer was that Ward's was still there with no plans to move. Those plans changed, however, when the chain liquidated in early 2001. By then, the mall exodus was completed with the mall was simply waiting for demolition. A few non-retail tenants opened in the mean time, but its life as an enclosed mall was over. Interestingly, the mall was already gone even before new competition in Tampa arrived on the scene. In only three years, a once thriving mall went from successful to completely dead. By February 1, 2002, the doors were locked and the bulldozers arrived soon after. By April 30th, demolition crews started with Burdine's, which was ironic since it was the newest anchor at the mall. Wilton Partners had sold their interest to Sembler Company, and redevelopment was underway as a large "power center" strip mall.
Montgomery Ward here just rocks my world. How can a store look so stately and yet so atrociously ugly at the same time? It is simply awesome. Photo by id780.
Included also is a photo of the pattern under the arches. WHAT is this? Photo by id780.
Here is Ward's beside one of the non-descript mall entrances. Photo by id780.
Ward's again. Photo by id780.
This is a very first for Sky City having a photo of an actual Gayfer's store after all the former locations I've covered. Photo by id780.
Another angle of the defunct Southern department store with the peculiar name. Photo by id780.
Ivey's knew how to make simple stores look pretty elegant from the outside. Photo by id780.
Burdine's did not remove their signs after their store closed, either. What was the point, anyway? Photo by id780.
The Florida Store in all its 1975 glory. Photo by id780.
Burdine's in relation to Gayfer's. This is looking southwest. Photo by id780.
Today, Clearwater Mall is still known as such, although there is no sign of an actual mall there. Now, big boxes draw customers instead of big department stores. Lowes, Costco, Ross, Petsmart and Super Target are now the big stores there capitalizing on the trend away from enclosed malls with Linen & Things and Borders Books as former tenants within the original redevelopment. Sunshine Mall is also long gone as well, closing four years prior to Clearwater. While the mall is gone, at least unlike Sunshine Mall, a huge retail center took its place. Nevertheless, the loss of Clearwater Mall represents a larger trend in the whole region with Tampa becoming the dominant shopping destination while Pinellas County is now basically left with only two conventional malls with upscale shopping found across the bay. If Clearwater Mall had ever tried to attract upscale department stores like Tampa did, would the mall still be alive today?
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More: YouTube video by the original photographers with more photos of Clearwater Mall than I published here.