Friday, June 26, 2009

Three Star Mall: McMinnville, TN

In January, a wrong turn in the Cumberland Plateau out of Altamont led me to McMinnville. While there, I was rather hungry and looking for some place to eat. While driving back from the town going east back to Hwy. 111, I stumbled upon Three Star Mall. There was no way I could resist visiting since I was there, but I was there at night and knew I would eventually have to come back to get more pics. I finally did so in July.

Two types of entrances grace the mall. The one without the three stars, representing the three stars of the Tennessee flag, appears to be original, while the other appears to be from modifications in 2002. The overview of the mall is rather unattractive and imbalanced from the outside.

In the past I have heard about this mall from a post on It seems that person that posted there was the only one that actually knew it existed. Indeed like most Tennessee malls, it is difficult to find information on it beyond the mall's own website. What is also interesting is that the mall has a siteplan available online. This siteplan pretty much explains how the mall is laid out better than can be described. This is also the only mall map available. None were posted in the mall.

Three-Star Mall today is anchored by JCPenney and Rose's with an attached Sally Beauty Supply, Dollar Tree and Kroger not accessable from the mall. However, those three attached tenants still share the same parking lot, and they are attached on the other side of the Penney's. The mall has a rear entrance, but nothing else is accessable from the back. Both Penney's and Rose's open from the front and into the mall, but nowhere else. In fact, Rose's anchoring a mall today is very, very unusual. It was once much more common in the 1970's and 1980's, but Rose's closed most of their mall-based locations. I understand at one time Kmart anchored the mall, which Rose's later took over and renovated to their standards. The Rose's there, unfortunately, is also one of the most bland stores I have visited.

The anchors of the mall are shown here including Rose's, JCPenney and Kroger as well as Three Star Cinema adjacent to Kroger on an outlot. The Kroger does not connect to the mall, but is instead divided from Penney's by front-facing tenants Dollar Tree and Sally Beauty Supply, both of which do not have any mall access but share the same overall structure.

The mall itself is one of the most tiny malls I have ever encountered aside from even smaller Northgate in Tullahoma. The layout is basically an offset dumbell shape in lieu of a straight shot, giving a bit of definition to it. Goody's once anchored the mall as part of the inline tenants before bankruptcy in early 2009, and the Goody's location literally filled a quarter of the mall space, which should tell you how small it is. The Goody's was located on the upper right portion of the pdf on the backside of the mall.

Entering the Rose's entrance (to the left), then views of Rose's closer in and further out. Note here the detail of the ceilings. The vacant store with the wood paneling in the third photo is a mystery. Perhaps this was a photo finishing lab prior to the digital photography used to take photos of this mall. RIP Kodachrome.

Despite its small size, Three Star Mall is not the typical dumpy mall that tiny malls usually are. Instead of tiled ceilings with cheap looking skylights and terrazzo floors, the mall is quite beautiful inside with elevated stained wood ceilings with lots of skylights and angles. Throughout the mall are planters surrounded by blue-gray tiles. The mall is carpeted with well-maintained gray carpet. The store fronts compliment or match the design of the roofline. The design is attractive enough that the only thing that needs changing is the carpet to more contemporary tiling, and tiles around the planters need to better match the neat looking ceilings. Also, a fountain in center court would also be nice as well. Still, I was quite amazed a mall this small looked this good, and judging by the design it looked like it was probably built between 1979 and 1983. From some vague information I found online, however, it looks like it actually opened in 1985.

Photos as follows: looking toward center court with J's Restaurant on the left, J's Restaurant on the right looking towards main entrance, close-up of main entrance corridor, detail of skylights in center court and looking towards rear entrance with former Goody's on right.

The outside of the mall, however, does no justice for the mall. It is guessed this was the part renovated in 2002, because the big stucco three star design over the mall entrances definitely does not look like anything from the 80's. In fact, on the outside it looks like a rather ugly strip mall, and it is actually somewhat difficult to tell a mall is actually there. Unlike most JCPenney locations, it is so blended with the mall and strip it looks like a tenant on the outside instead of an anchor. I tend to think the mall would be helped a lot by moving Sally and Dollar Tree into the mall and tearing the existing buildings they are in down to make JCPenney stand out more and to make it look more like a real mall. JCPenney could then have a side entrance, and the rear of the mall would become more accessable for such things as possible expansion.

Looking toward Penney's from center court. The next photos look back from Penney's at the inline tenants. The stores to the left are alive and well while Goody's to the right left a big hole needing to be filled (preferably with Dollar Tree and Sally, honestly).

Of course, the fact that McMinnville even has a mall is amazing considering this is not a very large city by any definition. McMinnville is nowhere near an interstate, and the area surrounding McMinnville is very rural. It was not lost on the original developers that the mall needed to be very small for a small town, and the local economy does appear a bit dubious considering the dead Jack In The Box and Ryan's down the street on the US 70S by-pass. Beyond that, the nearest mall in Cookeville is currently dead awaiting demolition for redevelopment into a strip mall.

Entering Penney's court, note the incredibly attractive roofline and store entrance. The second photo looks back at the skylight. The storefront underneath is part of Hibbett Sports. The last photo is looking from the west mall entrance toward Penney's. Note the wasted space on the right approaching Penney's, similar to the entryway for Rose's.

Unfortunately, the fortunes for Three Star Mall do not look very bright. The mall has too many vacancies, and Rose's can hardly be described as a major traffic generator in comparison to a Target or Wal-Mart. At least it does have several chain stores including Radio Shack, Bed Bath & Beyond & Cato, and lets hope they stay there! With its very front-facing layout, the conversion to a regular strip mall is unfortunately far more likely than continued function as an enclosed mall. Nevertheless, this mall was a treat and a really rare find this day and age. It was one of my favorites in design I have seen anywhere. Of course, with a name like "Three Star", it certainly lends itself to jokes about its quality. Three stars is probably a pretty good measure for it overall, but its cool interior architecture I would definitely give 4 1/2 stars.

My own redevelopment idea. Note the addition of a much larger Kroger "Marketplace" concept, inclusion of a Belk, expanded JCPenney and demolition of all connected strip mall elements. Rose's is not helping the mall, but might be relocated to the back.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bry-Man's Plaza

Bry-Man's plaza is a classic-era strip mall in Dalton located at the intersection of Walnut Ave (SR 52) and Thornton Ave (Old US 41). As the first major center to replace downtown, time has surpassed this shopping center overall with newer and better strip malls located across the city, but none have quite the charm as this strip that has been twice renovated since it was built.

While I have no knowledge of its history beyond passing by it as a child, this piece from "krogerclerk" on Groceteria dated November 5, 2005 looks to shed some light on it:

"Dalton, Ga.'s first large shopping center, Bry-Man's Plaza had both Colonial and Winn-Dixie on opposite ends of the center. Colonial became Big Star briefly in the early 1970's, and relocated in the mid-70's next to a nearby Kmart, only to close in 1981 when Grand Union downsized the chain. Winn-Dixie relocated to Bry-Man's Plaza South which was constructed in 1979 until relocating into a Winn-Dixie MarketPlace in 1994, Office Depot now occupies this site. The original Winn-Dixie has been subdivided and Jewel T was a short lived occupant in the early 80's, and is now a Tuesday Morning. The Colonial space was shortly a Western Auto and since subdivided. The construction date of the original Bry-Man's Plaza was late-50's-early-60's, with me leaning to 1961 or 62."

Another article dated March 7, 2009 by Jimmy Espy from "The Daily Citizen" also mentions Bry-Man's plaza:

"Jamie also recalls his glory days at Bry-Man’s Plaza, when a Saturday afternoon with buddies consisted of too many hours blasting Space Invaders at Funway, scarfing pizza at Godfather’s and slurping ice cream at Kay’s Kastle for dessert."

View of the main part of the strip with the enclosed mall portion entrance

In all, this was a pretty significant classic strip mall. Other tenants that have appeared and disappeared there include JCPenney and Dunaway Drugs. I am still curious after all these years if there was ever actually a store called "Bry-Man's", which is part of what got me interested in the center. What also interested me were the mall portions of this shopping center, which were usually very small and generally found only on the 1950's-era shopping centers. Town & Country north of Atlanta and Five Points West north of Birmingham both had mall portions. The Five Points West mall portion was the most substantial with a now long-abandoned Pizitz store hidden behind it.

A close-up look at two store fronts reveals classic architecture typical of strip malls of older vintage.

According to this information, the date is pretty close to the construction of most of the first strip malls loaded with grocery stores and mall-like tenants. A Woolworth, Newberry's or McCrory's was very likely in this strip and a sit-down restaurant or cafeteria flanked the shopping center somewhere as well. I remember the shopping center when it had its most 1970's appearance, and 1979 sounds correct judging by the design. The former design featured the diagonal cut cedar siding wildly popular in the era, which was when the shopping center added its second phase across the street (not pictured). This is also most likely when the two mall portions were added to the strip. According to the quote above, 1994 also sounds right for the renovation to the modern bleached look. I recall it being renovated in the 1990's, but did not remember when that actually happened.

The enclosed mall portion looks to have not had any real stores of any kind in years other than a second interior entrance for O'Henry's Restaurant. This mall portion looks to have been added in the 70's, and today is primarily mall management offices. The visible back door is nothing more than that, opening directly onto W Franklin St.

The mall portions of Bry-Man's plaza are two-fold. The first is an enclosed mall portion that at its peak contained maybe 6 stores and a back entrance onto W Franklin St. This enclosed corridor appears to be primarily used by mall management. The second is an open-air corridor with ten stores ending at a ledge overlooking S Hamilton St and a disconnected former Kuhn's Big K store. Bry-Man's Plaza South has no mall portion. It is completely a strip mall with an Office Depot located in the former Winn-Dixie and has remained a traditional strip mall longer than the original center. In that, the original center today has no major anchor tenants and is made up of mostly small locally-owned shops and restaurants.

The open-air mall portion is far more viable with attractive planters and a full host of small businesses. The open-air portion ends at a ledge overlooking S Hamilton St and a thrift store that was once Kuhn's Big K.

While Bry-Man's plaza has seen better days, it is still a really interesting complex. Personally, I wish they would utilize those mall portions as actual malls, expanding those corridors into actual anchors. The old Big K (now a thrift store) could be torn down and replaced with a department store and parking deck connected by a catwalk. W Franklin St could be closed and a Target built into the back of it with that mall portion actually going straight into it. A lifestyle wing would be built into the back, connecting the Target and hiding the backside of the original strip. Instead of tearing up vacant land and tearing down mountains, a 21st century Bry-Man's plaza updated to a semi-mall could be a fascinating and incredible project. Of course, while I'm still dreaming I hope you enjoy this gallery featuring one of the last surviving early strip malls.

This is the view of the Big K how it looks today from the ledge. The Big K store was vacant at last visit and had the original dark awnings similar to the early 80's Wal-Marts. Wal-Mart bought the Big K chain in 1981.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Walnut Square Mall: Dalton, GA

Five years after Riverbend Mall became the first mall in Northwest Georgia, Walnut Square opened on July 23, 1980 (from Wikipedia) bringing Dalton its first and only enclosed mall. Prior to the construction of Walnut Square, most business was in or near downtown. Bry-Man's Plaza was the major strip mall for the city located within a few blocks of the major downtown department stores. Walnut Square is in a rather odd location. It is nowhere near I-75, basically east of downtown on Walnut Ave (SR 52). It is not located near the intersection of any other highways, but is within a couple miles of the east by-pass, completed almost 20 years after the mall first opened. With that, the Dalton By-Pass (US 41) has no positive impact on the mall. In all, this suggests that Walnut Square is largely a local affair not meant to attract customers outside of its original buying area. However, the most likely reason for its location probably relates to the mountainous terrain near I-75 where building a large shopping mall would have been difficult and costly.

Four photos of the main concourse. The third is in front of the Belk Home & Kids (former Loveman's) and the last is in front of Penney's

Walnut Square is one of the few remaining malls to have been little modified since it opened. While there have been some changes of anchors, the overall mall concourse still features the original terrazzo floors, original overall design and original store fronts on long-time businesses: definitely NOT a bad thing in a successful mall in otherwise good repair. In fact, the only place in the mall that has been updated is the flooring in the court areas and the mall entrances outside, which strongly resemble those at Georgia Square (CBL owns both malls). Despite all of this, the mall is still successful even with a desperately ailing local economy.

Northeast entrance and just inside the northeast entrance.

Dalton, the carpet capital of the world, is struggling with a declining housing market; vastly reduced demand for carpet; gasping industrial sector and an overall bad economy. The result is Dalton having the highest unemployment rate in the state and one of the highest in the country at the moment. With that, a few store vacancies vs. a dead mall is impressive and I was glad to see it was not in worse shape since my previous visit in 2006.

Note the original signage here. The chinese restaurant on the right still has diagonal wood treatment and is obviously original. In the background is an original Sbarro sign not seen anywhere else. Mall owners, please do not ever change these signs!

The CVS pharmacy here was originally a Revco. Note that the CVS has its very own entrance, allowing the store to operate outside of regular mall hours.

A few malls still have the classic Foot Locker sign with the diagonal wood trim. Walnut Square is one of those.

When Walnut Square opened, it had anchors Belk, Sears and Loveman's along with a movie theater. According to Wikipedia, JCPenney moved to a new store in the mall later in 1981 and Goody's came along in 1990. The last now leaves a vacancy in the rear of the mall since Goody's went bankrupt in 2009. Loveman's of Chattanooga was acquired by Proffitt's in 1986 before becoming a second Belk store when Belk bought up the entire Proffitt's chain in 2006. Also, the movie theater left the mall in 2007 or 2008 and now resides in the back of the mall on an outlot. The first Belk store was a continuation of defunct Belk Gallant, which was once downtown along with Loveman's, Sears and JCPenney.

All the mall entrances, except Goody's including Belk, Penney's, Loveman's and Sears. The Penney's was the most original store in the mall. It even has the original brown carpet from 1980 before it came back into style again. A photo of the sealed Goody's mall entrance and Sbarro will be done in another trip soon.

Recently, a planned lifestyle center looked to pose a threat to Walnut Square. With most of the trade area around I-75, it is not surprising that such a proposal would be introduced, so with that, the economy may actually be helping the mall. Since this will likely not happen now for awhile, Walnut Square remains successful in its position as one of the outpost shopping malls of Chattanooga and as Dalton's very own major shopping mall.

Loveman's today and Loveman's in 2005 as Proffitt's. This is the only photo I have of the store as a Proffitt's.

Outside photos of Goody's, Penney's, Sears and Belk

Outside entrance to now-closed McDonald's. A labelscar is visible for it as well as Goody's. The McDonald's is now a pet store, but it still has the same floor as McDonald's. Walnut Square never had a food court. All restaurants are scattered through the mall as was once common.