Monday, January 26, 2009

Rich's at Brookwood Village in Birmingham

Russell Wells contributed these photos of the Rich's, one of two anchors of the radically transformed Brookwood Village in Birmingham. Generally deemed as one of the more upscale malls in the city, this two-anchor mall was wedged in a narrow valley between Shades Creek and a mountain, giving Rich's a very unusual hillside backdrop in contrast to the Atlanta piedmont stores in much flatter terrain. The Rich's here opened in 1975 as the north anchor with Pizitz as the south anchor. Anchor changes shuffled so that today the mall is anchored by Macy's and Belk. Belk had previously been Parisian and McRae's before the changeover. The mall itself was also radically transformed since it opened.

The Rich's at Brookwood is significant, because it spelled the end of the Rich family era. This was the one of the two last stores (the other Century Plaza) built by the family before Dick Rich suddenly died in 1975. The family-owned company had overextended themselves with the Birmingham move along with rapid expansion of Richway and the company found itself in debt before his death. Not only that, but Rich's entered a pretty saturated market in Birmingham in competition with Pizitz, Loveman's, Parisian and Blach's, which makes it amazing it survived in the city. Shortly after, the company was sold to Federated which is today now part of the Macy's monopoly.

Eckerd Drugs 1898-2007

One thing you can be certain of, I wasn't about to let Eckerd slip away without a post on Georgia Retail Memories about it. Eckerd was not native to Georgia, arriving in the early 1980's upon acquisition of the faltering Treasury Drug chain owned by JCPenney. Ironically, JCPenney ultimately purchased Eckerd later on, leading to its demise.

Night shot of the most updated Eckerd prototype, built in 2005. Note the neon "Welcome to Eckerd" inside the store. I believe this is still up at that location.

According to the history, Eckerd was the oldest chain drug store, founded in Pennsylvania in 1898. It was its expansion into Florida (yes, even store chains are snowbirds) that led to its eventually wide coverage along the eastern seaboard. In its final days, Eckerd was a major player against CVS, but lost the battle as the weakest contender against the return of Walgreen's after an almost 40 year hiatus in the Peach State.

This store came full circle. Rite-Aid originally built this store in Woodstock in the late 1990's, then abandoned their expansion plans in Atlanta. The store sat abandoned for awhile until Eckerd bought it and made it theirs. Not long after, here comes Rite-Aid about to take it back!

This store in Dahlonega was a typical late 1990's design built at the intersection of the by-pass and business routes of SR 9.

The final days of Eckerd were a rash of mergers after JCPenney had pretty well wiped out the chain. JCPenney seems to have been notoriously bad at managing off-store concepts, judging from their earlier failure with Treasure Island and Treasury Drugs. Eckerd survived for awhile under ownership of Jean Coutu Group, owner of the Canadian Brooks chain. It was noted that many store brands in Eckerd were actually labeled as Brooks/Eckerd.

Rite-Aid had been a strong player in the South, but was held out of the major markets by too stiff of competition. While very common in the smaller towns, it did not exist in the Atlanta market. In the late 1990's, Rite-Aid attempted to expand into the Atlanta area, but after building several free standing locations, instead ironically sold them to Eckerd after they sat vacant for several years. Rite-Aid came back in full force, however, in late 2007 with the change official in June and the conversion completed by the end of summer, and Eckerd is now a memory, ending a wild rash of consolidations that started in 2004.

These days, the future of Rite-Aid looks shaky from the purchase of Eckerd's. Rite-Aid's acquisition did not exactly turn around this white elephant of a drug store chain from what I have heard. Let's hope that is not the case, because the retail scene is already looking to be one full of carcasses with the current state of the economy.

Oak Ridge Mall: Oak Ridge, TN

Back on our out-of-state march, Tennessee is a hotbed of small malls that anywhere else in the country would have been dead and long forgotten. This time, I'm going to do a feature of the "downtown" of Tennessee's nuclear city, Oak Ridge. Indeed, it has not fallen flat on city leaders that a dying mall hardly looks like people's image of downtown much like a lot of the country that fell to the post-WWII tax policies that led to the suburban sprawl of America and the retail behemoths that have dominated the landscape since the 1970's.

Originally opened in 1957, Oak Ridge Mall was known for 30 years as Downtown Shopping Center, a large strip center anchored by The Knox/Proffitt's, JCPenney, Sears, Loveman's (of Chattanooga), Miller's and GC Murphy.  The mergers that occurred in the 1980's that resulted in Loveman's, Miller's and Proffitt's all becoming the same store are why the later mall did not end up with five department store anchors.  Oak Ridge Mall followed the course of quite a few malls in the country that started out as a mere 1950's strip and were enclosed and expanded into a full-scale shopping mall. The only difference was, this one was a strip mall all the way to 1987 instead of the 1970's...not exactly the best timing for such projects as new malls were already proving to find it more difficult to compete in contrast with previous decades. Indeed, Oak Ridge Mall never really took off and was largely vacant aside from the anchors as recent as my March 2005 visit. I had heard a couple years before it was dying, so this is why I came by to visit just to see what this place was all about.

I do not know a whole lot about Oak Ridge Mall other than this, and the fact that it always had Sears as an anchor. The original Sears anchor was abandoned in what was left of the strip in my 2005 visit and did not connect to the rest of the mall. The anchors, however, appeared healthy and successful with a cheery, but very vacant corridor tying them together. In all, the anchors in 2005 were Proffitt's, Sears, JCPenney and a stadium-seating movie theater on an outlot.  Proffitt's was added in 1987 as Hess's while the fourth vacant anchor in the middle of the mall was the original Proffitt's, originally known as The Knox.  They once operated as a double-header Proffitt's, but it's unclear when it closed.  At least one mall corridor was sealed off to the general public on the visit as you will see below, which looked to be the food court.  A combination of the completion of TN 162 creating access to better access to malls in Knoxville and poor management caused the mall to to fail.

In allover layout, the mall was an L-shaped mall with JCPenney on one end (a strip attached to the other-side), Proffitt's (formerly Hess's, now a Belk) on the other, Sears off to the side of Proffitt's and the former The Knox/Proffitt's in the middle. The mall seemed difficult to access on the side that was once the back of the strip mall, and it was sealed off when I visited.

Vacant Hess's/Proffitt's in center court area.

In 2008, the project that was promised to start in late 2005 right after I visited seems to be permanently on hold. (Note 7/24/2016: demolition has now begun on the long-abandoned mall).  The mall itself has since been sealed off to the public with some "physical activity" occuring at the site. While I was hardly bowled over by the place, fanatics of late 80's architecture should be very excited about this view of a once-strip mall, then mall and now...nothing.

Looking down the entire Sears wing.

Something seems VERY ironic about the "" banner.

Proffitt's entrance...note the holes for what was formerly Hess's.

Another view of center court.

This was the original Sears store sitting abandoned on the JCPenney end of the mall on a small strip mall wing.

This appeared to be the entrance to the food court, and the food court area is very visibly sealed off from the rest of the mall.

Rack Room Shoes finally realized the party was over and it was time to leave.