Wednesday, April 24, 2013

North Park Mall: Ridgeland, MS

Built in 1984, Jackson's newest traditional mall is likely to be the last mall ever built in the city as well as the last mall in the city to operate as a traditional mall.  This is due to the combination of the failure of the city's other two indoor malls coupled with the fact that every shopping center built in the city since then has been an outdoor power center or lifestyle center.  As an otherwise unremarkable mall, this is still one of the largest malls in the state at 957,000 square feet, and its now dominant position as the remaining mall is what keeps the mall going strong.  However, this is an unenviable position as Jackson drifts into one mall territory, which likely will lead to the mall absorbing elements that have killed its predecessor Metrocenter.  This is currently the issue with Eastdale Mall in Montgomery that lost its mall competition in 2008 and now is suffering decline despite having a full deck of anchors and no other enclosed malls to compete with.  While the mall features three anchors (in four anchor spaces) and low vacancies, it is not a mall that is likely to remain immune to the forces of competition.  Currently two anchors have another location elsewhere in the city, but that is likely to change further in time.  For now, it is a reasonably attractive mall owned by Simon with two Dillard's, JCPenney and Belk, so the mall is respectable for a city this size.

North Park Mall is actually located in the town of Ridgeland, which is a suburb of Jackson instead of the city itself.  When the mall opened, it dealt a devastating blow to nearby Jackson Mall closer to downtown.  As the older and smaller center with fewer choices, both JCPenney (with the Funky "P") and Gayfer's jumped ship from the mall to join the larger North Park Mall leaving the older mall anchorless, eventually closing before becoming a medical mall.  Gayfer's was actually moving into a smaller store at North Park, but it was also in a better neighborhood.  Along with JCPenney and Gayfer's came Jackson's own McRae's and the city's second location of DH Holmes.  Gayfer's took the north anchor, JCPenney the west, McRae's the east and Holmes the south.  The opening of this mall created a whole new suburban retail corridor that sprung up along I-55 north of the city coupled with older Highland Village to the south and many other shopping options inbetween.  

The first photo is of the mall's center court while the second photo is looking from center court down the DH Holmes/Dillard's South wing.  The center court is beautiful, although it would be more stunning with some greenery and a fountain.

Close-up detail of the Holmes mall entrance.  Dillard's has not changed this nor have they made any exterior modifications to this or its other store in the mall to their typical look.

McRae's apparently did not want to impress much with their mall entrances, because as Belk it is absolutely as plain as dirt.  Maybe somebody remembers?

For years, while North Park grew more popular, it was still overshadowed by its larger competition on the opposite side of the city, Metrocenter.  While doing fine, it was for a time a secondary choice.  Curiously, neither mall had both a JCPenney and Sears together.  Metrocenter had the Sears and North Park had the JCPenney.  It is wondered how such a situation like that could have occurred since most malls built in the 70's and 80's managed to eventually have both.  Nevertheless, as Metrocenter began its long decline starting in the 1990's at no point did North Park ever expand, suggesting that the favorable location of North Park was seen as enough by the mall's owners.  The mall renovated once before in 1995, relocating and expanding slightly for a food court, but this was as far as it went.  The mall apparently has been renovated again since, but it is unknown when exactly this was done.  The result of this was that when Sears closed at Metrocenter that the entire city became one of the first mid-sized cities in the nation without a Sears.

A couple views along the main mall wings.  No pictures were taken of the food court, which is on the lower level between JCPenney and Dillard's North.

Another view of center court with detail of the center skylights.

Nevertheless, in the period of anchor consolidation that took place in the 1990's, management was bound to be on edge.  In 1989, DH Holmes had already been converted to Dillard's, but when Dillard's also bought out Gayfer's, this resulted in the mall having two Dillard's stores.  Perhaps Sears was considered for the Gayfer's location if Dillard's closed, but it was clear that neither May Department Stores or Federated Department Stores (which are now all part of Macy's) did not have any serious interest in expanding to the market.  Furthermore, when McRae's recently chose a flagship store to replace their store at Metrocenter, they chose a location in a new shopping center in Flowood instead of designating the North Park store as such.  During the period that McRae's opened in Flowood, JCPenney also built a store in the area.  Belk, however, keeps the store open unlike Metrocenter and JCPenney so far is keeping both stores in the market.

Detail of the JCPenney mall entrance, which is the typical late 70's/early 80's design with dark glass, display windows and dark panels.

Dillard's North mall entrance, previously Gayfer's.

As basically a cross-shaped mall, the interior of the mall is bright and cheery with abundant natural light and two levels.  It is also one of only two two-level malls built in the state (not counting anchors), the other being Metrocenter.  The only malls comparable in size anywhere near it other than Metrocenter are in Baton Rouge, Memphis or Birmingham.  Nevertheless, the mall faces competition from the huge development in Flowood centered around Dogwood Festival Marketplace to the southeast.  Also, a couple exits up is Renaissance at Colony Park, which is a lifestyle center containing most of the upscale stores that likely once called North Park and Highland Village home.  The biggest threat to the mall in the future is if the anchors decide that it would be better to join one of these developments.  Currently Colony Park is anchorless and only Belk (former McRae's) is at Dogwood Festival Marketplace.  If Dillard's especially decides to leave for one of these developments and JCPenney's current troubles cause the company to fail, it would be devastating for the mall and could place the city in the eventual position of being the first city without a traditional enclosed mall.  While that is a worse case scenario, that is not entirely unlikely in the current market that faces a serious mall meltdown if JCPenney and Sears both end up closing, and even one anchor loss could be devastating for this mall.

Exterior views of the DH Holmes, now Dillard's South.  The store carries a lot of similarities to the store at the now-demolished Belle Promenade mall in New Orleans.

When JCPenney was doin' it right, they were doin' them all the same.  This store is similar to many others built in the mid-to-late 1980's.

Here is an outside shot with the food court on the right and part of the Dillard's North/Gayfer's on the left. 

For now, the mall seems to be in a good position.  However, it is a mall that seriously needs to consider making changes to make it more competitive in the long term.  In a city with few potential anchor choices, it is risky to keep four large anchors on any mall.  Expanding either the former Gayfer's, consolidating them into one larger, more updated Dillard's store would be a start with the former Holmes and connecting wing demolished for a lifestyle center addition.  Perhaps also the Dillard's should be rebuilt where JCPenney currently is with JCPenney taking the existing Dillard's north location.  This would reduce the risk of creating a vacant anchor that couldn't be filled and decrease the likelihood of Dillard's looking elsewhere.  This would also allow the mall to increase its square footage and diversify its offerings to better compete.  If this were done, this would also help the mall to attract a store like Macy's to fill JCPenney or Belk if either decided to close or relocate.  In this environment of fading malls, it is very important for the remaining malls to minimize their dependence on traditional department store anchors with the average mall aiming to have only one or two department store anchors and to convert larger portions of the mall to a pedestrian-only outdoor format with a more inviting and less insular design.  

The Gayfer's/Dillard's North here is one of the favorite late 70's/early 80's designs of Mercantile Stores featuring boxy entrances and lots of brown brick. 

The Belk, formerly McRae's, is one of the most brutalist stores I have seen.  This store was built just shy of the emergence of Post-Modern architectural design.  It is very imposing and could be mistaken for a very drab office building from the 70's.  McRae's built or acquired some very attractive or distinctive stores.  This is not one of those.  I'm sure there are many that will disagree, however.

In all, North Park Mall is a successful, albeit basic mall that should take steps to better define itself now that it is soon to be the only mall left in the city.  Perhaps it should even be renamed if they undertake the suggested renovations that I discussed here.  North Park Mall is a very generic name that has been shared with other malls, including dead ones.  Something akin to Mall of Mississippi, Capital Centre or The Mall of the Delta would be better to sell the mall.  As the center point of a sprawling retail corridor situated just beyond view of the interstate, North Park can either remain that destination or one day suffer the fate of its sister mall across town.

Also: I failed to get a picture of the mall directory, so here is the lease plan:
Lower Level | Upper Level


  1. The Dillards/Holmes does indeed have a simliar outside to the long gone Belle Promenade store. Another interesting similarity is the entrance here is the same as the Esplanade Mall Dillard's/Holmes which is now a clearance center. The second floor at the Esplanade is closed off unfortunately though. The Dillard's/Holmes in Houma LA is a throwback to the 1960's/1970's stores from the outside with New Orleans style balconies and faux windows. Most of the other Dillard's/Holmes stores have been completely remodeled and there is no evidence left of the Holmes style. I am not a fan of outdoor malls because the humidity and bugs in south Texas and Louisiana are awful for 6 months out of the year.

  2. I remember visiting this mall often as a kid. This mall actually didn't have much in the way of fountains prior to renovations if memory serves me well. The center court is definitely an improvement from the boxy pink support beams that the mall used to have lining the area. One of the weirder moves this mall pulled around 1995 was the removal of the original Food Court. The first food court was located next to the elevator and had a second entrance near Gayfers. This was replaced by a massive Warner Brothers studio store and a relocated set of Gap stores. The mall then reconfigured an entryway on the lower level by McRae's to serve as a new dining area, with Sbarro and Arby's joining the Morrison's Cafeteria and Ruby Tuesday. I moved in '98, just as the first major renovations began.

    Despite being built in 1984, I always found it odd that this mall opened with a rather cavernous woodgrain-and-orange Radio Shack. It was also great having two electronic/video game stores (Electronics Boutique and Software Etc.) just an escalator trip away in the center court. B. Dalton and Waldenbooks were both here until B. Dalton devoured it's rival with a massive store in the Lower Level of the JC Penney wing. I definitely remember this mall having an excellent balance of retail options such as electronics, books, an arcade, shoes, and clothes.

    I'm not a big fan of Dillard's these days, but I do fondly remember the old Holmes location having a nice electronics section until about 1995. McRae's had a nice interior with classy wood ceilings in the escalator area up until a 1995 renovation made the space look a lot less memorable. Penney's was practically identical to the Riverchase Galleria location in Birmingham. Gayfers always was dull and dark, with that same hideous gray tile that can also be seen at the Dillard's/Gayfers at Eastdale in Montgomery.

    Speaking of Eastdale, this mall looks to be in much better shape, so Jackson may still safe from the same type of decline facing Montgomery's retail scene. For one thing, it's a good four hour drive to the next town with a mall of a similar size...Montgomery residents that really want good retail options seem content driving 90 minutes to Birmingham.

    1. Thanks for the additional info. I updated the post with some of the information you gave me here. That's all very interesting what you said. This is a city that I know very little about, so I appreciate the perspective from a local.

  3. I worked in this mall on and off during my high school years in the late 1990's and remember the renovations around 1998-1999 or so. With Dogwood opening in 2002 and Colony Park opening a few years ago, I'd say that Northpark is definitely in a period of transition. Since Metrocenter and the US 80 corridor are no longer viable retail corridors in Jackson, a lot of people do go to this mall now, but it doesn't cater as upscale as it did in the past. The shops that would've went to Northpark back in the day now open at Colony Park or on the Lakeland Drive/Flowood corridor. The County Line Road retail area isn't as bustling as it was a decade ago... If Dillards decides to open a location in Colony Park, its a wrap for Northpark.

    The JCPenney was renovated inside a few years back, so it looks a lot brighter than it used to. That placed looked dated even in the 80's before the renovation.

  4. "McRae's apparently did not want to impress much with their mall entrances, because as Belk it is absolutely as plain as dirt. Maybe somebody remembers?"

    The mall entrance was never anything to write home about.

    However, Belk should be strung up by the anatomical feature of your choice for ripping out the beautiful marble floors in this store and replacing them with ordinary tile.

    1. I seem to recall the gray and rose marble tile being removed in the 90's along with the escalator area's stately wood ceiling panels. We can blame the Proffit's-Parisian merger for that if my memory is correct.

  5. Oh wow, just found this site, It is great!!! A little more info on Northpark. When the mall originally opened, it only had two anchors, McRae's and D. H. Holmes. The interior was also very different. There was only one set of escalators, which were located at the center court. The south and north escalators did not exist. Instead, there were stairs. The south location, in front of the current GAP, was a larger sweeping staircase, what I call "Gone With The Wind" type. The north staircase was just a boxy type and very tight and dark. A renovation occurred after J. C. Penney and Gayfers relocated to the mall. I think as foot traffic increased, management/owners realized they needed escalators to get shoppers from level to level easier. Also, shoppers were slow to warm to the mall. The first few years were very sluggish. As more retailers and shopping centers developed along County Line Rd., foot traffic increased. At the time the mall opened, there was very little along that corridor. It was almost like being out in the country! I would say that Northpark hit it's peak in the 1990's. All the major chain stores were there as well as restaurants and stores around the perimeter. Several have closed in the last few years and some of the higher end chains (Banana Republic) have moved out to the Renaissance development. I also agree that if one of the anchors goes, it will be a major blow and difficult to lease that space!!! It always concerned me that Dillards had two large spaces. I remember what they did at Metrocenter!!

  6. This was always considered "The Mall" when I was a teenager. I lived about an hour away, and though I did go to Metrocenter as a child (born in 81) it is only remembered as the mall I got lost in and the one with the Cookie Store in it.(The Cookie Store had a great little carnival machine that would rate your "love meter" based on how hard you squeezed a joystick. It had a wooden exterior, large glass window, and the meter was made up of colored incandescent bulbs.)
    Anyway, NorthPark was great in the 90s, I remember the Gap, Merry-go-Round, and KB Toys. I also remember they had a huge candy store "Mr. Bulky" I think it was. It was a great place for school and Church groups to go to whenever they had an excuse to go to Jackson from surrounding areas, and everybody made sure they had their best dress and cologne/perfume on if they were going. Good times indeed.