Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Clearwater Mall: Clearwater, FL

Shopping options in Pinellas County, FL are pretty limited compared to what they once were.  This was because northern Pinellas County had too many malls, plain and simple.  Eventually, some mall was going to take the fall and ultimately multiple malls went down.  In all, three malls have have met a date with the wrecking ball in the area starting with Sunshine Mall followed by Clearwater Mall and finally Crossroads Mall.  Formerly located at US 19 and Gulf-To-Bay Blvd (FL 60), Clearwater Mall itself met its demise in 2002 following a relatively rapid decline that started in the 1990's.  So many factors came into play killing this mall, and this post provides an in-depth picture into a mall that has been gone for almost a decade now.

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, 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.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pinellas Square Mall/Parkside Mall: Pinellas Park, FL

Across the entire nation, few places have had a mall purge as pronounced and extreme as Pinellas County, FL.  Since the late 1990's, six malls have faded and died in what is otherwise one of the most populous and prosperous areas of Florida.  In fact, Pinellas County has nearly a million residents making it more populous than seven US states!  Nevertheless, the big mall purge has left only two active malls in the county, which makes up the peninsula that includes Clearwater and St Petersburg.  Pinellas Square Mall, last known as Parkside Mall, is not one of those malls.

Pinellas Square Mall opened on April 13, 1977 joining the ranks of six other malls in Pinellas County including two which had opened a few years before in 1974.  At the time it opened, it was the newest major mall in the county.  Despite being in a good location at Gandy Blvd (FL 694) and US 19 in a fast growing, high population county the area was already being overwhelmed with malls.  It seemed at the time that every municipality in Florida wanted their own mall not just as a tax base but also as a "downtown" since suburban Florida in the 70's pretty much lacked any other form of central business district due to the lightning fast sprawl that took hold in the decades prior. 

This is a view entering the mall from a lower level entrance wing.  The first photo shows the center court, which was drastically modified from the original mall.  Something tells me that used to be Morrison's Cafeteria on the left.  Morrison's was gone in 1995, and that was about the time this mall was already in the toilet.  This and all photos by id780 taken March 9th and 10th, 2004.

Another view of the same area.  Photo by id780.

In the main mall, a very 70's method of escalators is used: up or down escalators no where near each other separated away from center court.  The malls that still have these as a whole are not doing very well.  Photo by id780.

Staircase with spooky abandoned store in the background.  Photo by id780.

GNC: always the last to turn out the lights when the party is over.  Photo by id780.

The mall was 70% leased when it closed, but much of those leases were filled by local shops such as this.  When a mall talks about bringing in "more local stores" that is code for "we're losing national retailers and failing".  Photo by id780.

Like so many malls that ultimately failed, Pinellas Square lacked any other draw but the mall itself.  When it opened, it had three anchors: JCPenney on the east end, Ivey's on the north end and Montgomery Ward on the west end.  It was hard to make the mall stand out when none of those anchors featured was a local store.  Having Maas Brothers or Burdine's there would have helped for sure.  This seemed to be a problem with DeBartolo malls as a whole: the fact they tended to choose terrible anchors.  Regency Mall in Augusta, GA is the most glaring example of how far DeBartolo could go astray.  The mall was also a pretty typical DeBartolo mall with lots of plain white, trees, built-in planters and fountains.  The mall also originally featured sculptured water animals in the fountain in center court, which appeared to look like flamingos in a pond.  I also noted that the mall has very little natural light, which I am sure did not help its appeal.  About the only thing that truly stood out about Pinellas Square was that it was a two level mall in a region where one story malls seem to dominate.

This JCPenney outlet mall entrance rocks my world.  It is about as dated as you can get right down to the diagonal wood and blonde brick.  Those neon strips on the ceiling were an interesting way to bring a 90's flair to a mall still basically in a bad time warp.  Photos by id780.

For some reason, the wood paneling doesn't show up on the second floor, but it looks a lot more spooky from this angle, especially with the letters burned out on the sign.  Photo by id780.

A random view along the second floor.  Notice the total absense of skylights.  This mall was way too dark.  Parkside Mall should have been nicknamed "Darkside Mall".  Photo by id780.

A random second floor shot approaching the neon-filled center court and ice rink.  Photo by id780.

This is hilariously corny...or should i say sticky sugary sweet?  The excitement is building...a new shopping center when they tear this dump down?  Photo by id780.

While Pinellas Square is gone today, it was not an innocent bystander in the great Pinellas mall race.  Another older mall was located very close by known as Gateway Mall.  Opening less than 10 years before, the older mall clearly catered to a slightly different demographic but it was without doubt that Pinellas Square had at least some affect on the mall.  Gateway was eventually torn down in 1998.  In the previous year, Pinellas Square received its final renovation after being purchased by John Hancock Insurance.  The renovation replaced a more standard center court with an ice rink and added a movie theater with stadium seating in 2001.  This is when the mall was also renamed Parkside Mall (actually ParkSide Mall, but I don't care for that spelling).

Looking down from the top floor.  Despite their best efforts to remodel, I think they actually made the mall look worse than it did when it opened.  Photo by id780.

Here are a couple rink area views.  Note the mall's logo in the ice.  Photos by id780.

This dark, spooky corridor ends at what was once Montgomery Ward.  Unfortunately, no close-up is available of the mall entrance.  Photo by id780.

Mall guide sign near the old Wards entrance.  Dillard's was already gone when this was taken.  Photo by id780.

The of the last things to open at the mall and the only thing still standing.  This spot, however, is most definitely different looking now and likely outside.  Photo by id780.
When a mall is renamed, it is never a positive sign.  It usually suggests that the owners are desperate to mask a badly tarnished reputation caused by a negative public perception.  The perception was due to vacancies creeping higher starting in the early 1990's.  The St. Petersburg times noted this in an article published in January 1993 that Christmas there was not so jolly the previous year as about 12 store fronts went dark afterwards.  By then, the mall was beginning to struggle noticeably, and it became clear in 1997 when Montgomery Ward closed its store at the mall in its first round of closings before the big 2001 liquidation.  Hot on the heels of Montgomery Ward's departure was JCPenney, who announced in December 1998 that it was downgrading its store to an outlet, which opened in early 1999. Darcy's Clothing Outlet, a local outfit, also took over the Montgomery Ward space for awhile.

Views from the second floor including a mom 'n' pop "Optical Outlet" that apparently used to be Pearle Vision Centers.  Photos by id780.

I'm not exactly positive what I am looking at here, but I know it's on the second floor.  Photo by id780.

A couple retro storefronts.  Photo by id780.

Side view of the one-way escalator.  Since the mall is void of people who knows if it's up or down.  There is no way to find out anymore.  Photo by id780.

I cannot quite place what this was, but it looks like food.  Arby's? Checkers?  Photo by id780.

To all appearances, Pinellas Park Mall never really did catch on.  Their problems simply went from bad to much worse in the late 1990's but became terminal when unbeatable competition opened in Tampa.  The only previous competition was older Westshore Plaza, and the two malls at that point seemed to compliment each other.  This was not the case when International Plaza and Bay Street opened in 2001.  This super high end mall was very destructive in that several malls died because of it.  It is without a doubt that this mall along with expansions to Westshore Plaza had an effect.  Suddenly the 10 mile trek across the Gandy Bridge was even less appealing for South Tampa residents and the slightly longer trek back across the Frankland Bridge (I-275) was much more appealing for residents of St Petersburg.  Parkside Mall began to fail during this time.  In early 2004 Dillard's, which was Ivey's until 1990, closed.  This was the final nail in the mall's coffin.

A couple more views of the ice rink from the lower level this time.  Photos by id780.

Here, the photographer is walking along the Dillard's/Ivey's wing.  Photo by id780.

Considering that this used to be Ivey's, of course the mall entrance is classy.  Ivey's had pretty sleek looking stores even for the bland 70's modern era.  Photo by id780.

A side view of the Ivey's/Dillard's mall entrance and adjacent shops.  Note that this wing retains a few of the original planters.  Photo by id780.

The other end of this wing features the mall's elevator in a rather strange spot.  Most likely it used to be in center court.  Photo by id780.

In all, it still really does not completely make sense why Pinellas Park Mall failed the way it did.  I tended to believe there was something more to it, and what appears to be the most likely scenario is the age demographics.  Currently, nearly 50% of the population is over 45, this is about the only other possibility I can think of: that the mall was not able to draw the young crowd necessary to survive.  The only other possibility is that shoppers simply liked the older Tyrone Square Mall better.  Tyrone Square features more anchors than Pinellas Square ever had, and it is better situated not to compete with any of the Tampa malls meaning it likely had the better stores all along.

This view is looking back the way that id780 came in with the mysterious second run store (Morrison's?) on the right.  Photo by id780.

Dairy Queen/Orange Julius/Karmelkorn combination.  My mall used to have one of those, and it sadly closed a couple years ago.  The rainbow colored candy coated popcorn was fun, and who doesn't like Orange Julius?  I know you're out there but nobody understands you, either.  Photo by id780.

The 80's and 90's were big on color because the 70's were not.  I am sure the original entrance was probably just a box.  The entrance here remodeled to 1997 specs features a blend of mango and avocado colors, which would taste absolutely disgusting together.  Photos by id780.

JCPenney Outlet Store featuring palm trees, mildewed brick and some sort of see-through screen thingy that is not the worst I have seen them do.  People like warm tropical breezes.  So does mildew.  Photo by id780.

Whatever it was that killed Pinellas Square Mall, it was not entirely vacant when it was demolished.  A local developer purchased the mall in 2003, and his plans were set to demolish the mall before the mall closed on its own.  After Dillard's closed, the bulldozers arrived by May or June of 2004 and demolished all of the mall except for the nearly new theaters.  The mall was then converted to just a strip mall incorporating the mall's theaters into the center of the new development.  The new strip mall that took its place is known as "The Shoppes at Park Place" and feature stores such as Target, Marshall's, Michael's, Office Depot and Petco.  In all, it is just a typical modern big box strip center now.

Wards MORE than made up for Penney's lack of outlandish, imposing architecture that was dated by the day it opened on their store at the mall.  This relic was on the west end of the mall and somehow came back to life for awhile as a local clothing outlet.  Photo by id780.

The ghost of Wards visible through the mold says "boo".  Photo by id780.

I cannot deny I dig the way this place looks no matter how weird it is.  Photo by id780.

The photographer could not get enough of Wards.  I can't either.  Photo by id780.

Ivey's was quite interesting itself with this big arc-shaped side.  Apparently Dillard's saw no need to transform this store into their trashy stucco arch design they got hung up on in the 90's.  It was nice in the days that anchors mattered so much that each store looked different with a personality all its own.  Photo by id780.

I know this is not the original mall logo, but I like the whimsical style of it.  It at least portrayed a carefree, lighthearted side to the 90's.  Cheap gas would make you feel that way.  Photo by id780.

The demalling of Pinellas Square to a strip center joins the many other lost malls of the peninsula, and it serves as a painful reminder of the problems that come with overbuilding and rapid suburbanization.  Perhaps if Pinellas County had only had about three malls further apart from one another, they would all be thriving today.  It is clear it was just one of those malls that could never be saved and probably never should have been built.  Also see the YouTube video below published by id780 for more pics.

The photographer, id780 also published this YouTube video of the mall with his collection of still shots including some I did not publish here.