"We might not be the largest mall, or the most exciting shopping and entertainment destination in North Carolina. Signal Hill Mall, a beautiful gem, located in the rolling foothills of North Carolina, brings you the the fashion, dining and family entertainment options in an eccentric setting". Let us decipher this passage. First, they are putting themselves down in that first sentence. Then, they counteract that with an exaggerated statement in the next sentence. I guess they have small town fashion down pat since the anchors are holding steady, but I think the dining has diminished a bit with Chick-Fil-A gone. However, IHOP and the local barbeque restaurant hopefully make up for that somewhat. Family entertainment I guess means those gumball machines and kiddie rides that you sometimes find even in abandoned malls, but it seems that here you can be a little bold and try out their hurricane simulator. Too bad they don't have a tornado simulator. While you're pretending to be blown away and drowned in a storm surge, don't break your teeth on the gumballs. The last part, "an eccentric setting" is a little scary. Do we mean panhandlers, pot enthusiasts, bohemians from an anemic arts district or just a colorful term for a redneck? I think we should award this mall with the best advertising ever.
The smaller of two fountains in the mall is located in front of JCPenney and the former Spainhour's, which both make entrances at an angle from the mall wing. The first photo is a night-shot of the classic brutalist entrance. I sincerely hope the owners do not remove all of the fountains.
Another view of the fountain looking south along the JCPenney wing toward the main entrance. Photo by Mike Kalasnik.
A view back along the JCPenney wing with JCPenney and Spainhour's in the background. Note one of the many planters in the mall with the light blue painted wood and brown tiles surrounding it.
JCPenney at a right diagonal.
Spainhour's visible on the left diagonal. A wall with an American flag divides the two anchors.
Close-up of Spainhour's mall entrance. Photo by Mike Kalasnik.
Right in front of Spainhour's and JCPenney on both sides are these narrow entrance wings. Notice how the overhead light forms a long arrow. Also note the mix of brown tiles and pea gravel flooring along the floor leading to the exit. Too bad this hallway doesn't double as a time machine.
I actually visited this mall after writing the initial post on this, so finally getting to see it was a treat. It was also even more archaic than I expected. In fact, the only other mall I know of that Sky City covers that looks this original has been sealed off for 10 years. I guess some people would consider this seedy, but seeing things like well-placed brown linoleum floor tiles, large in-floor fountains, lush planters, cylindrical light fixtures pea gravel step walls and ancient storefronts was a real treat. Unfortunately, a look like this is not going to keep the tenants forever. Sears is closing in early 2012, so something needs to be done to make this mall more appealing without making it dirt plain like the Hull Storey Gibson malls. If nothing else, the owners should keep the fountains and planters including uncovering and making the fountain in front of Belk more safe, although modernizing the fountains somewhat (perhaps larger) would be much appreciated. Beautiful fountains are rare in malls today, but this should be one mall that doesn't remove them.
Three views of the fountain in center court. This is what I expect to see when I see a fountain a mall: an in-ground large tub-like fountain with a distinctive modernist design with water falling off the edges and plants all around. The first photo is looking toward Sears, second toward JCPenney and last towards the main entrance. All three photos by Mike Kalasnik.
A close-up shot of the funky old fountain in center court.
Row of mostly empty shops on left side of Sears wing. The empty store with the red outline was a former Kay Bee Toys. Photo by Mike Kalasnik.
Close up of Kay-Bee Toys with Labelscar visible. Along with Circus World, these were a staple of malls up to the 1990's despite the presence of Toys 'R' Us and Lionel Play World. A loss of variety including stores like this are one reason malls are struggling today. Photo by Mike Kalasnik.
The raised "stage" area in the JCPenney wing features light blue paint on the wood trim and pea gravel on the side. Photo by Mike Kalasnik.
A closer look at the stage area. While interesting, this seems to serve absolutely no purpose at all.
The mall's three anchors are pretty much what you would expect in North Carolina in a smaller town: Belk, Sears and JCPenney. The mall also once had a fourth anchor, which last operated as Peeble's. Peeble's was configured very strangely in the mall squeezed up beside JCPenney in the back of the mall. This was done in a 1988 expansion which moved the Spainhour's in order to add JCPenney. Also, on an outlot on the northwest corner of the mall is a vacant grocery store that previously operated as Winn-Dixie. It should also be noted that despite this generic list of anchors that there were a few changes over the years. While Belk and JCPenney are original anchors, the other mall anchors proved to be far more volatile. Sears is a late arrival to the mall, opening in 1997. The Sears was originally Woolworth (more like a junior Woolco) and it closed in 1992. In 1995, it was replaced by Hills Department Store only to close the following year. Sadly, Sears will be closing this spring in the same location. Peeble's, the other anchor to close, operated as Spainhour's until 1992. Peeble's itself closed about 10 years after it arrived, completely leaving the city. The store remains vacant today. IHOP also replaced a restaurant called Apple House Buffet which apparently was originally a Bonanza Steakhouse.
Belk features an updated entrance in total contrast to the mall's surroundings. It is at least a positive sign that Belk has made a real investment in the store even if it means a standard post-2000 mall entrance. Also note the red patch in the middle. This is a boarded-over deep fountain that is visible in the second of two videos I linked to below. I hope if this mall gets remodeled this fountain is uncovered and some nice railing put around it to keep people from falling in so we can see it again.
The same planter in the earlier photo on the JCPenney wing looking instead toward center court. The left side shown here shows there is still life in the mall. I'm sure like Lenoir Mall, GNC will be the one shutting out the lights if everything else here leaves.
Sears mall entrance with round planter in front. I'm pretty sure Hibbett Sports was probably next to Sears on the right along this wing.
One thing you didn't find in 70's malls was "plush" seating. This backless bench looks like the place where sometime in the 80's a middle aged man was plopped down staring sullenly into space waiting for the wife with stars in her eyes and a furious click to her heels to charge up his credit card.
Ramps and stairs are found on both sides of center court with Belk lower than Sears.
Bookland, the rare small format Books-A-Million, at least keeps a bookstore in the mall. I wonder if a full-scale Books-A-Million couldn't be squeezed in between the soon-to-be-former Sears and center court since it looks like outside access does exist there.
I am still trying to figure out this very very dated former tenant. The only thing that comes to mind is Wicks 'N' Sticks.
This store front has a label scar, but I cannot remember what it said and am having trouble telling from the photo at this angle. The fact it is clad with wood paneling says it has been closed for possibly as much as 20 years. It seems like I remember it saying "Happy Hermans".
Sadly, once you get past IHOP or enter the mall from the department stores, there is not much to offer in this mall anymore. Absolutely no popular fashion stores exist in the mall. Even Rue 21 lacks a presence in the mall, so it is clear that the mall will not have a lengthy future if it is not repositioned or at least marketed better, and the main problem is that it is plainly too small and dated in a town that is likewise possibly too small to support it despite the anchors. I wonder if it is also an issue of the local economy. The town is in a region that has been badly hurt by the offshoring of jobs and subsequent closing of factories. Strip centers that have popped up in the last decade both have stores like GameStop. Does the mall have a GameStop? Nope. Nevertheless, it is well-located next to I-77, so basically it suffers from the Cookeville curse. My guess is that a strip mall with those same anchors would probably be more successful, and it looks like the culprit to the malls vacancy problem is the explosion of new strip malls around the city in the past few years when Signal Hill once owned the market. Wal-Mart as well as the recently built strip just to the east with Bi-Lo both caused the bleeding to occur, and likely the lack of investment in the mall is a combination of small, local ownership lacking the leverage to draw tenants and a lack of need to invest in an extensive remodel before the retail boom in the past decade.
Before this post was updated, the post featured 7 separate short videos of Signal Hill Mall by Mike Kalasnik taken in May 2010. With his help, I compiled those clips into one adding captions to describe diferent places filmed. This is my first attempt at compiling a video and posted them on the new YouTube channel for Sky City.
A friend found this footage taken of the mall in its far better days back in 1991. Note the presence of a deep fountain next to Belk, Woolworth and Spainhours still operational, warm orange trim and a fully tenanted healthy mall. Seeing the video above first makes this painful to watch. The person taking video also has video walking around the Woolworth as well as further footage inside the Woolworth Harvest House restaurant in the store.
In the first photo, Signal Hill Mall's entrance is firmly trapped in the 70's, and it looks just fine. The geometric shapes and loopy font is actually very eye-catching. The first photo was submitted to me by Mike Kalasnik. In the second photo, this is actually from the 70's. It is from LiveMalls courtesy of Pat Richardson. Note the Woolworth's located where Sears is today and the Spainhour's logo next to the JCPenney logo.
Spainhour's labelscar is visible from the front of the mall if the light is right. The sign rests above the mall near the main entrance.
A map of the mall with all anchors current and former listed. The last store occupying an anchor is listed first with previous anchors listed below it.
A map of the mall as it is today. Note the awesome logo at the bottom. This map may date to the early days of the mall. Photo by Mike Kalasnik.
The mall features several styles of overhead skylights including this one close to Sears.
The mall is trying on an international flavor with POHI! Here you can get scrambled egg samosas and salmon teriyaki burritos. In the background is the front/main entrance.
With Signal Hill Mall, I see some very creative potential to make this mall more competitive with the strip malls that have wounded the mall. While I do not see Target coming to town, what I do see is a strip mall next door in desperate need of redevelopment. It is dragging down the mall, and it should become one with the mall somehow or have its dead parts demolished. What I am basically talking in regards to "one with the mall" about is integrating a pedestrian corridor between the two centers via an open-air but covered walkway by expanding the mall either through or in front of Belk into the strip mall. I also see a pitiful website that scares away those wishing to invest in the mall. Small upgrades to the mall like new paint (such as a return to the burnt orange), new flooring, improvements to the main mall entrance and refurbishment (not removal) of fountains, benches and planters inside would help as well. I would at least suggest replacing the off-white square tiles that look dingy and plain with more attractive flooring (perhaps a slate-looking tile?).
In case you missed the joke above, POHI is what you see above. Whlie hardly first-class dining, it is at least a chain restaurant willing to anchor the mall. Photo by Mike Kalasnik.
On this overhang, JCPenney is right justified while Spainhour's labelscar is on the left. Apparently Peeble's did not post a sign up here judging by the lack of their label scar.
Belk runs the show as the top dog anchor of the mall. If Belk leaves for any reason, the mall will fold like a gambler with a bad hand. Note that the mall appears to have had canopies removed underneath the arches.
Will anything come to fill the void Sears is about to leave behind? If nothing else, I could see Rose's working here though I hope for something better, more unique and more of a draw.
Spainhour's looks lonely and forgotten hidden in the least visible corner of the mall. This store should honestly be absorbed into JCPenney to strengthen JCPenney's position at the mall.
If JCPenney closes this store on the heels of Sears closing, this mall will be near impossible to save. It is quite possibly one of the plainest JCPenney stores I've ever seen, and if the renovated and combined with Spainhour's space, it could be far better. If JCPenney leaves, Kohl's or Hamrick's should take this space.
View of Winn-Dixie store on northeast corner of the mall. Does anybody know when this might have closed?
One of the long, narrow mall exits in the mall. This one is next to Belk.
As Sears prepares to depart the mall, this will either be a disaster for the mall or an opportunity to make it better. Toying with many plans, the plan that makes the most sense is to build a new 2-level Belk on top of what is now Newtowne Plaza, converting the old Belk to mall space with an additional junior anchor. From the old Belk, a small amount of mall would be built connecting the upper level of Belk to the mall. JCPenney would also move into the old Sears, and the existing JCPenney and abandoned Peeble's would be demolished. Along with that, Newtowne Plaza would be reconfigured to include another grocery or discount anchor and the theater would be demolished. The old Harris Teeter would be refinished and subdivided as well. Doing this would make the mall viable and marketable again since the current mall is too old, small and poorly configured. Possible anchors to add to the mall include Dunham's Sporting Goods, Hamrick's, Ingles (in the strip portion), Peeble's/Burke's Outlet, Wal-Mart, Target, Academy Sports, Cabela's among others. The new mall addition should also be designed more lush than modern malls with a new fountain, wood along the ceiling, lots of natural light (high windows and an overhead skylight) and integrated with the older part of the mall. Indeed, Signal Hill is troubled, but with Belk and JCPenney hanging on this is the last chance for the mall to pull out and have another shot at success. Do the people in the town just prefer strip malls? They are lucky to have a mall, but it is up to them to make the once great mall great again, and it will take a really sound plan to save it. At nearly 40 years old, the people of Statesville should fight to keep this little gem from dying. Maybe this was what the mall website meant when it talked about "an eccentric setting".
The first redevelopment plan is pretty ambitious with an unusual layout. It calls for two department store anchors, one sporting goods anchor, one discount or grocery anchor where JR's is currently and one junior department store anchor. It retains much of Newtowne Plaza but reconfigures it demolishing the old Harris Teeter to make Belk fully visible from the road. Belk will have two mall entrances, the lower level of the mall will be open-air with stairs and escalator to the back wing and the mall will have greatly expanded space. However, the back anchor will have no visibility from the road.
The second redevelopment plan is more economical and more likely basically converting the Belk to a combination of a junior anchor and mall space. It includes a small mall addition to connect to a new Belk in Newtowne Plaza from the upper level of the replacement Belk. It also includes a complete overhaul of Newtowne Plaza and demolition of the back anchor that currently includes an undersized JCPenney. The plan here makes the mall more front-facing and offers the ability to turn Newtowne Plaza into a lifestyle center. In both plans, the existing JCPenney and former Spainhour's is demolished, JCPenney relocates into the old Sears/Woolworth, Belk becomes an expanded mall and a new 2-level Belk store is built on what is currently a portion of Newtowne Plaza. The two levels are needed due to the grade difference between the strip and the mall, and in the second plan Belk will provide the only access from Newtowne Plaza to the mall by foot.