Sunday, March 10, 2019

Meadowbrook Mall: Pittsburg, KS

Nestled in the southeastern corner of Kansas is tiny Meadowbrook Mall.  As the state's oldest operating mall, it still looks that way as well.  While the outside was updated within the past 15-20 years (unfortunately destroying a gorgeous art-deco facade), the interior retails much of its original interior details it had since its 1969 opening date.  At only around 184,000 square feet, it is a t-shaped mall but, each end of the T is an outside entrance instead of an anchor.  In fact, all of the mall's anchors extend off the side of each corridor with interior space accommodating only about 15-20 tenants.  Much of that 184,000 square feet is taken up by three of the mall's anchor tenants leaving the mall with only around 77,000 square feet.

Meadowbrook Mall is actually treated by its owners as a complex combining retail and office.  They group the mall with three outparcels including two strips with mostly office/medical and a Westco Furniture Store.  Meadowbrook Commons, a u-shaped strip on the NW corner of the mall property, has a mix of office, medical, and retail.  The same applies to the smaller Meadowbrook Annex just to the south of Meadowbrook Commons facing the main road.

First photo shows detail of center court.  Second and third photos show the court with JCPenney looking north and south.

Details of the front entrance, including the monkey statues and a plastic alligator.  On the outside, another white monkey statue is part of another fountain.

Meadowbrook Mall has survived many ups and downs in the industry considering that it never evolved into a large 3-4 anchor mall.  Its major anchor JCPenney sits in the top of the T on the east side of the mall, and it is small enough that it has no outside entrances even though it takes up 68,000 square feet (over a third of the mall's gross leasable area).  Its second anchor sits directly across from that: a vintage AMC theater that takes up 24,000 square feet and appears to have had additional screens added onto it.  The mall never had a Sears or discount store, but it did have one other junior anchor department store, which had a surprisingly interesting history.

Outside main entrance courtyard and detail.  This was far more colorful before the stucco update, but I do not have access to use the photo that showed the colorful original facade.

Detail of the outside fountain and waterfall with a white monkey statue.

Its third anchor, most recently Goody's, had quite a history of changeover.  At only 15,000 square feet, as of 2019 it will have changed names five times!  It originally opened as a location of J.M. McDonald, a partner to James Cash Penney, that opened his own department store chain in 1934.  J.M. McDonald operated there until 1983.  After liquidation, the store would be taken over by C.R. Anthony, an upscale department store chain that was mostly west of the Mississippi River.  Like McDonald, Anthony was also a partner to JCPenney!  The fact that JCPenney is a prominent anchor in the mall and that its only other department store anchor was strongly affiliated with JCPenney suggests that the construction of this mall was heavily influenced by JCPenney itself.  Anthony's itself started in 1922, but would sell out all of its stores to Stage in 1997, including the location at Meadowbrook.  After the 2009 buyout of then-defunct Goody's, Stage renamed the location Goody's.  Stage is again renaming the store in 2019 to its recently-purchased Gordman's division.

A look at the south wing with AMC theaters on the right.  Unlike center court, it was a pretty plain part of the mall with low ceilings.

A couple details of the south wing with an arbor that looks to have possibly had fountains or a sunken area originally.

A couple view of the north wing and entrance.

Despite its size and the state of the industry as a whole, the mall is doing okay.  It is mostly leased, and it has a mixture of local stores and national chains.  In the front of the mall next to the main entrances is a fountain with monkey statues.  A similar one is located outside the entrance in the grand entrance court.  Planter boxes are elevated above the mall surrounding center court, and high ceilings are met with high window skylights facing the main part of the mall in each direction.  Much of its business can be attributed to its proximity to Pittsburg State University, which is a major driver in the local economy.

South entrance detail with Gordman's/Goody's to right.

Detail of exterior siding entering mall next to Gordman's/Goody's

Goody's sure seems like an odd fit for Kansas as a store that was prominent primarily in Appalachia.  That likely explains the name change.  This was J.M. McDonald then C.R. Anthony for much of its existence.

A not-so-easy to read mall directory next to center court.

Skylight detail looking toward the south wing.

What the mall has in compactness has helped it weather many economic storms.  The only problem is, the area around the mall never built up to support it.  Nearly all of the retail is otherwise on the opposite side of town, and the mall's major anchor JCPenney is really struggling as a company.  While it has survived many flirtations with death, the retail industry is particularly harsh these days.  Keeping a small enclosed mall in a region with plentiful land in a side of town that isn't developing much is going to make things interesting in the next decade.  However, it is also one of the few retail options located along the US 69 By-Pass, and it is the only major retail center on the south side of town.  Thus, the mall still has marketability even if JCPenney leaves: especially since the store could be easily subdivided and modified the way it is configured into the mall.

Outside view of the north entrance.

1969 details are still present along the front walkway columns

Exterior views of Goody's/Gordman's (originally J.M McDonald) featuring a ribbed concrete facade.

South entrance with Goody's/Gordman's inside to the left and the theaters to the right.

These three areas appear to be the only visible outside access to JCPenney, but none appear to be actual entrances.

It is really anybody's guess as to what the future holds for the mall.  Kansas has been home to many smaller malls like this one, and most of them have faltered or completely died in the past decade.  It is likely a testament to local ownership, Great Plains Developments, LLC, that has a strong, vested interest in keeping this little mall viable in contrast to larger mall operators which would have dumped this mall off to slumlords a decade ago.  As Kansas's oldest operating mall, perhaps it has what it takes to outlast them all.

Broad directory showing the mall corridor and anchor history.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Florence Mall: Florence, SC

The Deep South, unlike other parts of the country, never was featured often in industry retail photography during the golden age of retail. It is difficult to find quality photos of old stores and shopping centers in these places, but a few exist. One mall oddly stands out: Florence Mall in Florence, SC.  What is curious is that this mall seems to have been featured in a couple postcards when it opened, thus preserving the memory of the long-demalled center in its glory days. As one of the first malls in the state, it was never a large mall, but it had high visibility as an oasis for travelers en route to and from Myrtle Beach: a drive with long stretches of nothing in between.  Located in a small city, this open-air center opened in on August 30, 1965 along U.S. 76 featuring department store anchors Belk and J.L. Coker Company as well as grocery store A&P and a Roses (five and dime).  JCPenney would not arrive at the mall for two more years, but it would become the mall's largest anchor tenant.

Another curious thing about the mall is its striking similarities to the original Richland Mall in Columbia and Tri-Cities Mall in Forest City, NC.  Were they all built by the same developer?  The developer of this mall was a partnership of Alexander Corporation and Masten-Langston Realty of Charlotte.  Downtown merchants were highly displeased with the opening of this mall, and they sought to steal some of the thunder by converting a portion of West Evans Street into a pedestrian mall in 1967.  However, that project was too little, too late as JCPenney was already in the process of moving to Florence Mall with Coker's and Belk already at the mall.  While the downtown mall would ultimately be removed, another mall rose up and overtake Florence Mall much sooner.  In all, Florence Mall was able to dominate the market for about 14 years until it was supplanted by larger, enclosed Magnolia Mall, which opened in 1979. Considering how much smaller it was than Magnolia Mall, it's not a surprise it lost its anchors, but the funny thing is it never really died.

Postcard image by Ernest Ferguson of the mall in its prime followed by an image posted in the Charleston News (now Post) & Courier showing the mall's Belk store.

People have asked if a mall still exists, and photographer Mike Kalasnik is about to find out.

A low fence did not hold back Mike Kalasnik from checking out what was beyond.

Scenes like this are why the old malls were so much better than the malls of today...a moody mix of dark tones and peculiar placement of skylights with trees and plants growing to them.  Belk was originally on the right.  Photos by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

According to the Florence Morning News, two years after Florence Mall opened, the mall underwent a major expansion that added 126,000 square feet.  This addition, which opened on August 17, 1967, brought in the forementioned JCPenney along with 20 additional stores and a Piggly Wiggly on an outlot on the west side of the mall.  Piggly Wiggly would later take over half of the old JCPenney years after JCPenney departed.  The former Piggly Wiggly today is subdivided among a Sprint store, Game Stop, Jos. A Bank, and other tenants and is unrecognizable.  In addition, Belk added 10,000 square feet to their store.  This addition brought the mall's square footage up to 288,000 square feet.  It was this addition that solidified the mall's position in the market while finishing off downtown Florence as a shopping destination.

While no actual picture is available, here is an add from the Florence Morning News showing us its classic "Funky P" store as it looked when it opened on August 17, 1967.

This Penney's ad not only shows an architectural drawing of the store, but also includes some awesome Penney's branded electronics.  JCPenney phased out electronics in 1985.  (Florence Morning News, August 17, 1967)

This ad here is golden.  Not only does it show us how AMAZING the original mall sign was, but it also gives us a glimpse of the old "Funky P" mall entrance that remained at this location until 1980 meaning that this store operated as JCPenney a mere 13 years!  (Florence Morning News, August 17, 1967)

Even Penney's Auto Center makes a cameo in the grand opening article.  It does not appear to still be standing and is most likely where Wells Fargo is today. (Florence Morning News, August 17, 1967).

Belk expansion ad.  This appears to have been just before the introduction of the big "B". (Florence Morning News, August 17, 1967)

Porter's Gift Shop apparently moved from downtown to the mall during the 1967 addition and continued to operate there years after JCPenney and Belk departed closing sometime after 2012.

During the 2000's, the interior mall courtyard was mostly closed off to the public.  However, most people do not realize that much of the old mall is still there with the mall portion hidden from the public behind an "employees only" notice.  Essentially, instead of converting the mall into a strip, the owners of the mall turned the mall inside out as basically a square strip surrounding a mostly walled-off mall corridor that now functions as a break area for employees and a back entrance for vendors, thus it is no longer open to the general public.  They achieved this by filling in all but one entrance corridor with stores.  How often are these malls hiding from our view that were supposedly redeveloped?

No 60's mall is every complete without a few faux-Colonial touches.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

About to enter the mall.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Looking back from the main mall to the one remaining entrance wing.  Compared to the 1960's photo, the overhead walkways look completely different now.  The entrance wing that still exists is on the NE side of the mall.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Looking northeast to the north end of the mall where the "MERRY CHRISTMAS" banner and Belk entrance off to the right was posted.  In the background is now a wall for Ross, which filled in part of the mall corridor.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

The wood-grained ceiling and update of the overhangs was most likely done sometime in the 1980's as a means of trying to renovate the mall back into legitimacy.  It clearly did not work to save the interior mall.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Walking toward the former location of JCPenney.  The planter itself might be original.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

The curious thing about Florence Mall is that it did not follow the usual pattern of older open-air 1960's malls in that, while it died as a mall, it remains a major retail center as part of the retail corridor supporting Magnolia Mall nearby.  By filling in the main entrance corridor and making the other entryways less accessible, they have effectively demalled the center without demolishing a single structure!  Compare that to other similarly designed open-air malls like Tri-City Mall in Forest City, NC.  That mall is mostly vacant in the core despite two healthy anchors.  Also, unlike Tri-City Mall, the interior mall corridor apparently received a major update sometime in the 1980's or 1990's so that it does not resemble the postcard views of the mall with the A-frame canopies.

  Continuing toward the former JCPenney.  Cokers was originally on the left.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Mike finds a mysterious door off to the left.

Where did this door go?  Was this the mall entrance to the original Cokers or was it something else?  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

To the right, Mike finds what appears to be the southwest mall entrance corridor opened up.  It was sealed off after the 2000 "demalling"

Once upon a time, shoppers came upon the mall entrance to Funky P.  Today, a few mall employees come across a giant concrete slab with an overhang covering an emergency exit.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Looking away from the former JCPenney back into the main mall.  Why is the mall on the left suddenly a void here?  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

The loss of the interior mall was slow, but the anchor losses came very quickly.  When Magnolia Mall opened, Belk, JCPenney and Roses all fled to the newer, larger mall.  Belk and Roses left in 1979 while JCPenney left in 1980.  Coker's was sadly left behind, apparently unable to afford the move.  By 1982, they threw in the towel and closed the entire chain.  The loss of Coker's was not exactly a small deal.  It was a department store that had been in business since 1865, and it had locations in Sumter, Myrtle Beach and a half-block long flagship store in Hartsville in addition to the Florence Mall store.  While not much is known about the store today, it was one of several prominent department stores in South Carolina that found they were unable to compete with the influx of larger, improved chain department stores and enclosed malls.   Coker's was sold at the mall, but it is not clear what it was immediately after it was sold.  The loss of anchors did not mean that all of the empty stores anchors remained vacant, however, as it was still located on a hot retail corridor close to the new mall.  This meant that the once dominant mall was, for a few years, repurposed as an ancillary mall.

Cokers ad from 1975 from the Charleston Times (Post) & Courier.

  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

This one skylight is located near the "employees only" entrance in the main mall.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

A very South Carolinian planter scene complete with palmettos.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Piggly Wiggly (former JCPenney) with the former store entrance rather obvious based on architectural cues.  Redbone Alley takes over part of the store in the second photo.  Photos by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Something to remember is that, despite its small size, Florence Mall was a pretty substantial mall for its day. The mall included a national department store, five-and-dime, two grocery stores, a local department stores, and a regional department store. This also resulted in many stores having both interior and exterior access making the stores easy to fill when the mall itself began to fail.  Belk was replaced by Peebles, and the vacancy left by JCPenney was later replaced in part by Piggly Wiggly in 1985. It is not certain about how long A&P remained, but it likely remained in the mall up until A&P pulled out of the market in the 1980's.  It is not clear what else was there in the interim, but it did appear that the vacancies remained high in the mall throughout the 80's and 90's.  Peebles most likely closed by the 2000's, consolidating with a nearby store that is today Goody's.

Blink and you miss it.  This is the narrow corridor that Mike found to access the real Florence Mall (what's left of it).  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

The back side of now-closed Porter's Gift Shop is the approximate location of the arched doorway found in the mall.  What was this originally?  This is inset next to the former JCPenney on the left.  On the right (not visible) is the former Coker's.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Cici's Pizza takes up part of the former Belk and covers up the northern mall entrance corridor.  This is the precise location of the "MERRY CHRISTMAS" banner next to Belk, but facing in the opposite direction.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Piggly Wiggly from this angle gives no indication of its former life as JCPenney.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Dress Barn fills in tenant space next to the one remaining interior entrance corridor.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Rugged Wearhouse is owned by Gabe's (formerly Gabriel Brothers) and Shoe Carnival filled in former mall space and the front entrance corridor.  Photos by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

In 2000, the mostly dead mall got its makeover by turning the mall inside out.  By that point, what stores were left mostly had parking lot access and closed off their access to the mall itself chosing instead to face the parking lot.  This resulted in a closure of the mall around 2008 to the public with the rest of the stores filled with mostly big boxes.  It helped that every anchor except for JCPenney was a smaller inline store.  Thus, quite a few anchor changes took place since 1979.  Peeble's later closed and was replaced by Ross, which uses part of the original mall area for storage and deliveries.  Coker's is today Stein Mart, which means it is possible this was an early location of Stein Mart (opened in the 80's).  T.J. Maxx also came to fill the A&P slot that had previously been subdivided into smaller stores.  Redbone Alley took over the vacant half of the former JCPenney next to Piggly Wiggly, and the former Rose's became Ulta.  Other stores would follow turning a dead open-air mall into a very healthy, but oddly shaped strip mall.  What was done was what needed to be done, but it is a shame these stores cannot open up into the courtyard to give shoppers an option to relax in the middle of shopping.

Stein Mart had originally operated as Coker's Department Store from 1965-1982.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Ross was Belk from 1965-1979 and was Peebles for an unknown period after Belk left the mall.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Ross's delivery entrance is what was originally the northern entrance to the mall corridor with Belk on the left and A&P on the right.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

T.J. Maxx was formerly A&P and faces the front of the mall.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

Petco, Ulta Cosmetics, and JoAnn Fabrics are under construction in this view.  JoAnn filled in what was a front mall entrance corridor next to JCPenney.  Ulta was originally the Roses location.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

The mall's logo being an asterisk is highly appropriate since it is a *mall.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik taken February 3, 2012.

In a sense, Florence Mall has come full circle.  While new tenants filled in much of the mall's old space, many smaller tenants remain vacant in the middle of the closed-off mall.  Today, that interior mall is being marketed for office space while the exterior is the healthiest it has been since the 70's.  Meanwhile, nearby Magnolia Mall is starting to struggle from the troubles with the department store industry.  Both Sears and JCPenney have left the mall leaving only one traditional department store left with Belk.  These vacancies at Magnolia Mall may again pull stores from Florence Mall who will be seeking deals from desperate mall managers.  While it is good that the mall was not actually torn down, it would be nice to see what was there one day opened again to the public: perhaps in a time after larger superregional malls like Magnolia have run their course.

Grand opening ad with full list of original tenants.  Notice that JCPenney is not listed.  It did not arrive for nearly two more years.  Image from the Charleston Times (Post) & Courier.

Downtown's reaction to the construction of Florence Mall.  Image from the Charleston Times (Post) & Courier.

A crudely-drawn map produced in 2013 showing the approximate original anchor line-up in the mall and orientation of corridors.