Saturday, May 30, 2015

Village Square Shopping Center and American Fare: Stone Mountain, GA

Thanks to a fan of the site, some footage was found from 1979 showing Village Square Shopping Center. With a little detective work, we located it and I set out to find it and see just how it looked today. While not much physically has changed today, it is by far a shell of its former self. So is the highway that it sits on. One of the more depressing events to cover in retail is the fall of a principal retail corridor due to issues of competition, white flight, planned obsolescence and the effects of its own age. In this case, the highway is Memorial Drive (Ga. 10), which I have covered bits and pieces of on Sky City.


Memorial Drive was one of Atlanta's first suburban retail corridors starting with the opening of Belvedere Plaza in 1956. This would soon be followed by Columbia Mall in 1964 with the growth of retail strip shopping centers spreading eastward in a wave along the road throughout the 70's to where the highway ends into the Stone Mountain Freeway. Village Square was part of that wave, opening in 1975 along the eastern leg of the corridor in the booming Stone Mountain area. As one of many dead retail strips along that road today, this one was highlighted because of its highly distinctive design elements that remain intact today.


The first two images at various levels of detail show the strip with the interior mall/office portion.  Note that the entrance to the mall "courtyard shops" portion and the unknown smaller anchor tenant (shown here as Refugee Family Services) has arches like a Kroger.  These arches used to match the Kroger store itself.  



Detail of the long-vacant Kroger from two angles.  The greenhouse addition was added at an unknown date, but it replaced an older superstore design that was still intact in 1979 per the footage provided.  


The strip to the right of the "courtyard shops" looking west with the junior anchor visible in the background.



Access to the upper level offices is through these stairs, but it doesn't appear that anything is up there any longer.  With plenty of space on the lower level, why would they go to that trouble?  It appears it may be completely closed considering that no elevator was visible to the second story.

Village Square originally opened in 1973 as just a Kmart (coupled with Kmart Foods).  In 1975, it was joined next door with a mixed use center that was a hybrid of a strip mall and open-air mall.  Likely this design was chosen due to terrain and lack of space.  When the addition opened, it featured anchor tenant Kroger with a SupeRX drug store, which was later absorbed into Kroger itself.  The open-air mall in the middle that included among its tenants a Piccadilly Cafeteria and a club named "The Stone Pony" referencing the "Stone Poneys", a band fronted by Linda Rondstadt in the late 1960's and the shopping center's proximity to Stone Mountain.  On the second floor were offices, but the offices were not aligned with the mall area itself, instead running perpendicular facing the parking lot also overlooking part of the "courtyard shops". It appears one other small anchor tenant was in the center, but it is unclear what exactly that was.  My guess would be either Turtle's Record Shop or a five-and-dime type store like McCrory's.



Walking under the offices to reach the "courtyard shops".  The courtyard is a T-shaped center with access to the back parking lot on the left side.



Looking back from two vantage points at the second level office promenade from the courtyard.  It looks like it was blocked off with bars at some point on purpose


Vacant shops/offices to at the corner of the inner courtyard facing northeast.  It appears there were no stores/offices on the east side of the courtyard with the wall of Kroger making up most of that area.


A look back to the front parking lot from the courtyard.

Despite the two year gap between the opening of Kroger and Kmart, Kroger and Kmart were typically partners building shopping centers throughout the 1970's, and this holds true in many shopping centers across the state.  Indeed, the center had a solid 20 year run before things went south.  Kmart was the first to leave departing in 1994, Kroger hung on longer, but left in 1999 relocating just down the road to a former Big Star that originally was built in 1988 at the junction of Memorial Drive and N Hairston Road.  The Village Square store was made even more interesting when compared to the footage in the link above in that the Kroger there was originally a superstore design with the arches clearly removed with the store updated to the famous greenhouse design: a transition that likely occurred around 1984 or 85.  The update suggests that Kroger initially had no plans to relocate from the center for many years, but the planned departure of Kmart apparently spurred the store to eventually relocate to a more competitive location at the intersection of two major roadways.  Village Square is located about a mile west of N Hairston Road, which is a major four lane belt highway on the east side of Atlanta.


At one point it was possible to lounge in the courtyard next to a well-tended planter.  Today you're sitting on rotten benches next to a weed-filled hole.  Also note the "Stone Pony" in the background.


A bit more detail of the courtyard.  It is unclear what the original tenants were except for Stone Pony, which was apparently a bar or club that opened there in the 1970's and was never replaced with anything else.


Detail of the "Stone Pony" inscription which today looks to be stone dead.  A peek inside would have likely uncovered vintage wonders untold.


A view of the entire courtyard including the front entrance and upper level terrace to the right from the back entrance.  It must have been fun back in the day, but today it's a scary place.


The cloudy pictures were a return trip in July (two trips were included in these photos).  Note the very tall weeds that filled the planters in the previous images.  You know when that passes for landscaping the place is basically dead.

The story of Kmart's exodus is a bit more interesting, however.  While Kmart remained until 1994, Kmart had already effectively been replaced when Kmart joined forces with now-defunct Bruno's in 1989 to start a hypermart concept known as American Fare.  Its initial location was a little over three miles away at the intersection of the Stone Mountain Freeway (US 78) and Mountain Industrial Blvd meaning that American Fare likely cannibalized this store badly.  The new store was more than twice the size of a typical Kmart and very popular but turned out to be a flash in the pan as the gigantic store proved to be too large and too far ahead of its time.  The Stone Mountain American Fare store was the first of three total stores that opened under the Kmart/Bruno's experiment.  The other two were located in Charlotte and Jackson, MS.  In addition, the Bruno's partnership faltered due to the sale of the company after a tragic crash that killed much of the upper management including many family members and the CEO.  In 1994, Kmart later rebranded and downgraded American Fare to a Super Kmart replacing the Bruno's-operated supermarket section with Cub Foods.  The change to a regular Kmart resulted in the closing the Kmart at Village Square at the same time.  Later, the American Fare turned Kmart eventually closed the store during the 2002 round of closings.  Today the former American Fare operates as an alternative school for DeKalb County.




The three photos shown here show the American Fare that is located on Mountain Industrial Blvd just south of the Stone Mountain Freeway (US 78).  Mountain Industrial Blvd becomes N Hairston Road connecting to Memorial Drive.  This three-store hypermart concept owned jointly by Kmart and Bruno's opened in 1989, but was later downgraded to a regular Kmart replacing the Kmart at Village Square in 1994.  It converted to Super Kmart in 1995 and closed for good in 2002.  It was sold to the DeKalb County School Board and today is an alternative school.

Kmart was not exactly abandoned when the store at Village Square closed.  While Memorial Drive was in the early stages of decline, it was still far from dead.  The old Kmart found new life and today the main store still operates as "Value Mall" while the Kmart Foods is now a local gym.  While not exactly the draw that Kmart was, the reuse of the former Kmart store keeps the property from becoming derelict.  However, no store has yet to emerge to fill the former Kroger space, which has been vacant for over 15 years.


The original Kmart still stands as "Value Mall".  It is not clear if there were any other tenants in the store between 1989 and present.


Kmart and Kmart Foods.  Action Sports Academy fills the former Kmart Foods.  The former Kroger is a short ways to the right of this photo.


Detail of Kmart Foods.  It is curious how long this operated being less than a block from Kroger.  Was it converted to regular Kmart space before it closed?  Perhaps Bruno's operated the Kmart Foods location at this store thus spearheading the American Fare concept.

While the forces that killed the center were based on its major anchor tenants seeking more competitive venues, the fact remains that the complex today is only partially occupied, and most of those tenants are service-oriented and not retail uses.  Thus, the story is that although competition initially killed Village Square prematurely, it was the continued declining fortunes of what was once a prime retail corridor that have made the shopping center difficult to fill.  The entire center is ripe for redevelopment today, but so far no interested parties have swooped in to occupy the partially vacant center.  Perhaps in the future Kroger will relocate back to the center taking over the old Kmart as yet another location of its "Kroger Marketplace" concept helping to spur a redevelopment of the adjacent center that it left behind many years ago.  For now, Village Square remains as a decrepit monument to 1970's sprawl that has only survived the wrecking ball because nobody cared enough to do anything about it.

7 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. A part of that vacant Kroger is a church called "The Soul Factory" . The Kroger that replaced this one up the street on Hairston Road and Memorial Drive may be affected by the opening of the Walmart Supercenter diagonally across the street

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  2. Kmart did the same thing in Jackson, though that store was even closer to it's replacement. Initially, it seemed as if Kmart deliberately wanted to compete with itself in these markets to determine if the new brand would repeat what Kmart did to SS Kresge. It's disappointing that they didn't since the American Fare store was thankfully devoid of the clutter and messiness that Kmart is (and was even then) known for in their regular stores, despite being a tad overwhelming in comparison to other shopping experiences in the area.

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  3. The design seems a bit old fashioned for 1975. It looks like the kind of center that would have gone up in the early 60s. The idea that people want to sit outside without much shade is pretty 1960s. The decline of this corridor seems to have been hastened by the implosion of real estate in the '00s. There have been more closures and this center probably is lucky to have become a draw for services.

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  4. Growing up in the ATL area a Rock music fan....I used to remember Stone Pony ads on the radio. I believe it was a Rock club. Ah..the golden age of Rock/partying in Atlanta....The River Raft race also comes to mind....I was lucky to be growing up there then......I think the Stone Pony was a pretty hot spot in the '70's. As was this entire corridor. Everywhere in the ATL area I used to run around as a kid/teen/young adult is now pretty much just like this, abandoned and unwanted, thus left mostly as I remember it in the '70s-80s.

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  5. Fun Fact: This Value Mall in Stone Mountain was one of the filming locations for the 2013 film Prisoners, which is one of my favorite movies.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1392214/locations

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  6. I think I had found an article that mentioned the remaining AF space became a regular Kmart, not Super, since the grocery portion became Cub Foods.

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