Thursday, December 28, 2006

Northlake Mall: Tucker, GA

One of the six known fully-enclosed malls of DeKalb, Northlake opened in 1971 and was the first three-anchor mall in DeKalb County. Its original anchors were Davison's, Sears and JCPenney, and Northlake was distinct in being one of only two malls to have no Rich's. I believe this happened because North DeKalb down the road was not that old at the time, and its sole survival has always depended on the Rich's there, which is still fully operational today. Northlake was also a typical two-level 70's mall with the brown tiles, fountains, skylights, a Piccadilly Cafeteria, McCrory's and an exterior design that is typical brutalist 70's modern. Northlake was also responsible for the decline and eventual closure of Columbia/Avondale Mall.

Northlake held its own in the 1970's when DeKalb County was still a prosperous and growing suburb, but it began to stagnate in the 1980's and the growth pretty much shifted to south Gwinnett. It was still the major mall for that area, however, until a major blow came with the opening of Gwinnett Place Mall in 1984. A mirror image of Town Center at Cobb Mall in Kennesaw, Gwinnett Place featured Rich's, Davison's, Sears and Mervyn's...pretty much everything Northlake had except Penney's. While there was the population to continue supporting it, Northlake fell into a time warp that it never really has escaped ever since.

The 1990's did bring some changes to the mall. New flooring, removal of some fountains and a new exterior entrance all came with the 1993 renovation.  A Parisian department was also added where the Piccadilly and McCrory's once stood, and a food court that created a second mall entrance to JCPenney was added off of the lower level.

The "dated" appearance that remained after the 1993 renovation I'm not complaining about, though. I really miss a lot of the 70's decor elements in malls these days including plants, fountains, darker interiors and the more muted skylights. Northlake has much of this, and it's refreshing. The problem is, the reason its there is because the mall is not exactly a top-tier mall, and this is evidenced by the slow departure of national stores and the previously very threadbare condition of the Davison's/Macy's at the mall, which looked to have not received a renovation in 30 years.  I had heard it was an outlet now, and there was no doubt about it that something was up.  However, the renovation around 2007 or 2008 cleaned up the store, suggesting it will eventually supplant North Dekalb's store.  Only two of three levels are currently used in the store, however.  What is also interesting and vintage is next to the entrance there is a huge lighted ball behind dark glass: high design for the early 70's. The Penney's, however, has seen extensive renovations and looked practically new inside except for the cool very 70's escalators that featured one rubber strip that was pink and the other brown. While not 70's, the former Parisian is also quite odd featuring one of the narrowest department store interiors ever encountered with part of the space filling former inline tenants and part of it extending out from the mall..  Kohl's replaced the Parisian at the mall in 2008 after it closed in 2007 due to the Belk buyout.

It will be interesting to see how Northlake fares in the long run, though. The area near the mall is not what it was, and the mall suffers a lot of competition from Stonecrest, Perimeter and to a degree Gwinnett Place, though Gwinnett Place has earned a ghetto reputation in recent years. With Parisian going to Belk, Sears on the brink in general and a glut of Macy's stores in the area, it is very iffish what will ultimately happen. It is a toss up who is more likely to close first: the Davison's/Macy's at Northlake or the Rich's-Macy's at North Dekalb, though current patterns suggest the latter. The mall is a timepiece and while it will be a big loss for the area, but it is one of five (formerly six) malls in a county that has long been overmalled.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Village Mall: Cleveland, TN (2nd Update 09/07/09)

On July 4, 2005, I was driving through Cleveland, TN and discovered what was obviously the most well-preserved specimen of a mid-1960's open-air mall that I had found. Obviously I was excited, because I did not believe any 1960's open-air malls even still existed. I soon found that was far from the truth, but Village Mall was the first I have seen that actually functioned as a major shopping mall even though it had long since retired that function by the time I had arrived.

Noticing how spectacular this little mall was, I came back to take generous photographs of this beautiful place, which I most recently did in September 2009, almost three years from when I took the original photos. While somewhat modified today with contemporary stucco touches, I realized that the mall overall was a literal living museum of 1960's architecture with numerous strips and stores surrounding the mall that also were never updated. This seems to be typical in East Tennessee while it has become extremely rare in Georgia. The remarkable amount of unaltered mid-century architecture is one of the things that really makes driving in East Tennessee enjoyable, especially Cleveland.

This store was 100% original. What was it?

Looking south along the mall towards Watson's former location. The former Parks-Belk entrance and the Swiss Alley come off to the left there somewhere. Exploring this will require another trip since I was pressed for time.

A little further down and closer to former Watson's, today the Bradley County Chamber of Commerce.

The entrance with the swiss-like roof is just before the entrance to Swiss Alley. An identical entrance to this is found in the alley, and that is also being used as office space as I found when curious workers watched me go by, camera in hand.

The mall entrance to Watson's, today the Bradley County Chamber of Commerce. It is rather fitting that they are a tenant in the mall that they undoubtably helped save.

From what I understood, Village Mall opened in the mid-1960's with anchors Miller's, Parks-Belk, SS Kresge, Watson's grocery store and an underground bowling alley located in the center of the mall. The mall features a main covered, but open-air corridor and one enclosed side wing off the east side of the mall. Parks-Belk took up one side of that wing and also part of the main mall. The mall held its own serving the small city until the late 1970's when Cleveland Mall opened with anchors Sears, JCPenney and Rose's. While the two malls competed, they also complimented each other. This was similar to what happened in Huntsville during the 1970's where small malls in the city had different anchors and different offerings to compliment each other. Both Village Mall and Clevaland Mall remained successful in the 70's and 80's, but this all came crashing to a halt when Bradley Square opened in 1991.

Former Miller's/Hess's mall entrance. Now an entrance to Jones Finance.

Former Parks-Belk entrance from main mall. This entrance made up the entire side of the mall between Miller's and the Swiss Alley entrance.

Entrance to the Swiss Alley. This portion of the mall is enclosed, but it is not known if this was always the case.

Bradley Square offered what neither could offer fully: all favorite department stores in one mall, a contemporary design, better location, climate control that Village Mall did not offer and amenities such as a food court. Village Mall had absolutely no hope of competing as 1960's architecture was drastically out-of-style in the 1990's. After Bradley Square opened, they stole all the anchors from both Cleveland and Village Malls except Rose's (Cleveland) and Parks-Belk (Village). Cleveland Mall eventually closed and became Life Care Centers of America. Village Mall, however, limped on anchorless until it was recently partially redeveloped into an office-type specialty mall. Parks-Belk held out until they were bought out in 1995, and Hess's, which bought out Miller's in 1987, quickly vacated the mall when Bradley Square opened. I'm sure Cleveland natives were not particularly happy to lose two malls to one. Ironically, Bradley Square was found recently to be in danger of failure itself. Karma?

Looking along the Swiss Alley towards the east entrance. Parks-Belk once had an entrance on the left, and today it is all part of Check Into Cash!.

The tenant on the right in Swiss Alley looks to now offer holistic medicine. This is also looking towards the east entrance.

An overview of the remaining "Swiss" facades in the corridor. Note the peaked roof entrance, which is identical to the one in the main mall previously mentioned. What did this used to be?

This was apparently a barber shop at one point, but what was last there was definitely not that. It is now vacant. I can't help but love these attempts at classic Bavarian architecture they did in the 60's and 70's.

Today, the mall hardly functions as a traditional shopping mall. The center today is part strip mall, part office space. The presence of outside entrances to all of the stores facing US 11 (Lee Highway) made it possible for some of the mall to viably function as a strip center. What didn't work is now full of white collar employees with headsets, dress shirts and monitors. It was rather uncanny looking into a "store" and having an office staff look back at me with an amused WTF look.

This closed store sits in the southwest corner in front of Watson's/C of C. It apparently had a loft or second level of some sort, which was very interesting. It looked to be the last actual clothing store in the mall. Does anybody know what it was?

This time I really looked for the bowling alley entrance, and I really do not know how I missed this before. This creepy staircase descends down to a pair of double doors, which did not look to have been used in quite a long time. When was the last time this bowling alley operated? I'd give anything to see inside of it.

The redevelopment of a lost mall was one of the most clever I have encountered. In almost any other circumstance, the mall would be demolished, but for some reason the new owners thought it was just fine the way it is. I wish they had thought of this at Cobb Center before they took a wrecking ball to it. Today, a call center known as Check Into Cash! occupies the former Parks-Belk, the Miller's is today a Jones Finance and the Bradley County Chamber of Commerce occupies the former Watson's grocery store. More office space now occupies the old Kresge, which was vacant when I visited in 2005. A gym now takes up much of the mall space on the west side, and the stores fronting US 11 are fully leased, including a Firehouse Subs. An upscale local restaurant, Bald Headed Bistro, is a popular eatery next to Jones Finance and was renovated with a log cabin facade. However, there is absolutely nothing traditional about this mall, and I very much wish I could go back in time to 1990 when the mall was alive and kicking with two two-level department stores.

Northeast corner of the mall. Note the fence like structure hiding the central power plant.

Front entrance to Miller's Department Store.

Old Parks-Belk under renovation for a call center.

This is the newly renovated back entrance to the mall. In the previous photo I took of Parks-Belk, a door was sitting in mid-air into the side of the store. Now, a staircase leads in the new entry up to the door. What was there before?

Here is a look at the front side of the mall, now fully leased and featuring some tenants otherwise not connected. The gym that is there now has windows into the mall, but no entrance.

When I first wrote about this mall, I said it had been altered very little from when it opened. That is not as much the case today as new stucco-faced entryways were placed over all the mall entrances and the Swiss Alley was largely renovated with very little actual mall feel except for a few remaining swiss-themed restaurants. The main mall itself has no real inline stores left, but still survives altered little from when it opened except along the side facing U.S. 11 (Lee Highway). There, the mall added many strip mall tenants and a more modern stucco facade with tenants including a Firehouse Subs. Despite these changes, the mall is a remarkable display of mostly unaltered 1960's architecture that make this mall very enjoyable. Thanks to your comments, I have been able to correct this post to give an accurate history of the mall.

More shots taken around the south entrance. The first shot has the mall on the left, the next is of the former Watson's on the left approaching the entrance and the last is directly underneath. The first photo on this page is looking just to the right of this into the main mall corridor.

Corner at southeastern side of mall. The vacant store was probably the Kresge.

Southeast corner looking southwest at former Kresge.

View of northeastern corner of the mall toward the north entrance. Miller's is on the right.

Looking back away from the southeast entrance to the mall.

Southwest corner of the mall. Note the very 1960's exterior on the right.

Side entrance to Miller's with detail of the one restaurant in the mall itself on the right known as Bald Headed Bistro. The second photo shows more detail of the restaurant.

This professional office building apparently has wings. This buildings sits on the southwest corner of the mall ot facing Lee Highway (US 11).

* This is the second update of the original post. *

Monday, September 11, 2006

Rich's Memoirs

Nearly two years, Atlanta's beloved institution finally bit the dust. Here I would like to recall some of the things that people may have forgotten about Rich's in terms of name changes, slogans, logos, etc.

Name Changes:
-M. Rich & Brothers Dry Goods Company
-M. Rich & Co.
-Rich's, Inc.
1990's Rich's shopping bag showing storied RICHSATLANTA clock

1970's Rich's brand headphones

1990's Rich's Credit Card

-Atlanta Born, Atlanta Owned, Atlanta Managed
-An Atlanta Institution Since 1867
-A Southern Institution Since 1867
-It's All About the South (last slogan prior to merger with Goldsmith's and closure of downtown store)
-Time After Time (generic slogan used with Lazarus and Goldsmith's)

(1950's-1970's logo)

(1980's-2003 logo)

On the Logos, the Rich's logo was originally non-descript prior to the 1940's when the green logo was unveiled with very thin letters in a font that looks close to what is used on the Parisian signs today. Sometime in the mid to late 1950's, the modern logo was unveiled, but with spacing between the characters. This was also green and featured on the stores with glorious green glowing neon. By around 1980, the green logo became internal while exterior stores had either a dark brown backlit or black neon sign that lit up dingy white at night. The text had also been jammed together for a more compact "modern" appearance even though the font was an antiqued font.

These photos were taken by Allen Scott in August 1962 of the multi-colored levels and under the glass bridge at the now demolished downtown store addition.

Sometimes, the Rich's logo was in a narrower version of the same font as evidenced by the original store signs on Cobb Center, Lenox Square and North Dekalb. Also, one of the more peculiar logos was the stylized "R" that was used from the 1960's until the late 1980's. These used to be placed in repeated intervals all along the glass in front of the stores for a very classy look. The "R" was placed backwards as well for a more peculiar appearance.

Looking up at the Rich's clock in the early 1990's. "All about the South" was a jingle used by Rich's in that era along with Goldsmith's.