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.


  1. I've been to McMinnville a few times, all of them many years ago, but I do remmeber the relative isolation. It may be that the mall was built and has been able to limp along for 25-30 years based on serving a hinterland that isn't well connected to the interstates. OTOH, if the area hasn't grown much, it's probably the kind of mall that's been vulnerable to Wal-Mart and to pieces of its market area being drawn to super-regionals.I'd almost forgotten about Rose's, which once was a major force in the region. they seem to be back in the expansion mode and recently opened a store in Cumberland, MD, quite a ways from their base.

  2. I don't know when the mall was built, but judging by the Kroger and JCPenney designs, would say between 1980 and 1983.

    I also have a feeling that the Roses was once a Kmart. For one thing, the lighting pattern of the store is more Kmart than Roses. Roses used 2x4 lay-in fluorescent fixtures or 1x8 lay-in fluorescent strip lighting on its '70s and '80s stores, respectively. The surface mounted fluorescents with the wide spacing are a Kmart pattern.

  3. There was definitely a K-Mart at the Roses location at one point.

  4. I went in this mall yesterday while driving around in Tennessee. While the architecture is cool, the place had a sad feel to it. This was the third time I'd been in the place.

    I went in the mall entrance near JCPenney and went in JCPenney first. That was the smallest JCPenney I've seen in many years (since the one at Riverbend Mall in Rome, GA closed). Merchandise was packed in tightly and walkways were narrow.

    At least half the stores in this mall are vacant. This would be a neat place if it were full of good stores.

    I went down to the old K-Mart and went in. Just like in your picture, the top half of the "R" is still out. Its a good "preview of coming attractions". Although the Roses store looks good on the outside, on the inside, it's just the old K-Mart with nothing changes and their merchandise moved in, in a rather unattractive fashion, reminding me more of a Big Lots type store than a mall department store. Even K-Mart stores in their state of decline do a much better job. Looking at the light fixtures tells a lot of the story. There's nothing wrong with the old slimline F96T12 75 watt 2-lamp fixtures that were the workhorse of the discount department stores for many years, but many bulbs were burned out and hadn't been replaced. Some fixtures had only one bulb burning or none. It's likely that no bulbs have been replaced since K-Mart moved. The flooring was old and was likely what K-Mart originally put in. This was a sad store, but it's better than having a big empty space.

    It will be interesting to see what happens to this mall over the years. If that Roses could be gone and a better store like a Dillards (well, the Dillards of a few years ago, at least) or Belk could move in, and the JCPenney could be expanded, it might attract more places inside.

    The busiest place inside was "J's Restaurant". Families were sitting at several tables and they had a small buffet. I almost ate there, but instead went to a KFC after leaving the mall.

  5. Chris, I couldn't agree more with your comment on this mall. What is in the mall is not making it very appealing. It's a really pretty mall that is an empty shell. I am offering with this mall similar advice to another mall I will be publishing soon. The poor management of these mini-malls is a real problem. Georgia does much better with these. The owners should study LaGrange Mall and Milledgeville Mall. These are tiny malls doing quite well with anchors Belk and JCPenney that are appropriately sized. I think if they could move Rose's elsewhere and put a Belk there and try to shake up the tenant mix it would help. That strip mall element needs to go NOW. A larger Penney's plus better access to the back of the mall would go a long way. It would really balance the mall, which in its current form is really ugly on the outside. Kroger could be rebuilt on one of the main entrances in the front as a legitimate anchor. That would actually be a really good place to try a Kroger Marketplace concept.

  6. I went to high school here in McMinnville in the late 90's and I recently just moved back into town.
    In the 90's the mall was a decent place. There was indeed a Kmart there. If my memory serves me right the small place with the wood panels next to the shoe store used to be a office of some sort. It's been closed for a very long time. There was also a Maurces there(where Cato's currently is) and the big empty space across from Cato's was a Books A Million up until a couple of years ago. There was also a Clares until recently, it closed right before Goody's did. JC Penny's actually does have a entrance in the back of the mall, its the only store that does. Roses does pretty well considering its sad state. There was one here before in the mid 90's in the current Big Lots location. Bath and Body works is the only new store and it does well. Most new places, like Jack in the Box and CeCe's don't last very long.
    Belk or Target would be great here however the reality is with the lack of jobs here and people moving out of town like crazy there isn't much support for stores like that in towns like thing. It seems like the town spent all the money and effort into redoing downtown instead of trying to bring in new business and jobs.

  7. The Kmart closed in 2003 and was Outlets USA for a year or so. I don't know how long it's been Rose's.

  8. I think your ideas are good but these might be better. My idea consists of JCPenney butting up to the west edge of the mall's premises( It would still be attached to the mall of course.). It would be a 2-story store. A 2-story Super Target would strecth across the north end of the mall, except for a new northeast enterance butting up to Roses(or potential Kroger Marketplace..). A Barnes and Noble Bookstore could be an anchor south of the center court. Goody's is a reopening a lot of their stores, so they could move into part of the Super Target or the possible Barnes and Noble. Dollar Tree could move their into the soutwest corner of the mall. Also they could add a food court on a new second level only above the old Kroger and JCPenney. This would only consist of a 8-restaurant food court. the food court could be accessed by an elevator. Super Target could have enterances in the food court. The food court could feature Chick-fil-A. Also, Burger King and Wendy's(two outparcels)could move into the food court. Finally,the mall needs to be renamed McMinnville Mall. This redevelopment plan would be a gathering palce and would encourage residents to enjoy life as McMinnvillians and watch their city grow.

  9. Honestly, in the map I presented I was trying to consider the economic factors of the city. I'm not sure the city could or world support these stores you mentioned. I wish it could, but if this mall was modified the way you described it would be a different place...losing any charm it does have.

    Also, JCPenney is not doing many two level stores these days. Two recent builds were both one level (Gadsden, AL and Hiram, GA). Kroger is already at the mall, so I was looking at Kroger Marketplace (basically Fred Meyer) as an upgrade to it latest superstore concept. Barnes & Noble is well known to snub small towns, and Borders is kaput so I think the best hope would be to lure back BAM. If the redevelopment was adequate, they probably would.

    Rose's, BTW, is a really crappy mall anchor. If this mall were in NC or GA, it would be a Belk. That is one change I would make on the map would be just to push Rose's out to bring Belk in its place.

    The McMinnville Mall name is not a bad idea. Three Star Mall is a terrible name! I don't much like the city name in the mall, though (very Hull Storey Gibson). I would prefer something more distinctive such as "The Mall at Highland Rim", "Cumberland Crossing Mall", "Falling Water Mall" or something like that referencing the beautiful geography of the area. I think those would add a star to the mall (pun intended).

  10. I'm back, maybe the mall just needs an expansion to the east. Target could be replaced with Belk and Toys R Us. Goody's could move into the south anchor. Dollar Tree could still move into its proposed position. Rose's could move. This could expand the mall. Kroger needs to leave.

  11. Does anyone knows whether the three star mall still rents out that empty store for parties and if so how much they charge.

  12. Stores like Marshalls, Dunham's Sports, Petco, Joann's and TJ Maxx have been opening in small town malls recently. McMinville currently has none of these stores and the market could easily support them.

  13. We used to call this mall "Three Store Mall".

  14. The current owners of this mall, Ershig Properties, don't care anything about it. It's more of a tax write off than anything. It has many problems. The roof leaks everywhere, the A/C doesn't work and the sidewalks are crumbling apart. Ershig is too cheap to fix anything. Not worth the drive to visit.

  15. The Three Star Mall is poorly cared for. You will rarely see the janitors working. If you do see the head janitor, he often reeks of alcohol. Management should really hire some better help.

  16. A shame this town can't support anything. Moved here with family a couple years ago, and seems like stuff is closing down left/right. A new hotel is supposedly coming across from the hospital...but other than that, and a couple of fast-food remodels, I don't see this town growing anytime soon. It could barely afford to hold onto some already-closed health food stores, and the vape shops that have opened up, well, I don't expect those to last, either.

    The problem is that this town is not by an interstate. If you want to go mall shopping, Murfreesboro is your closest bet.

  17. According to their FB page, the mall just got a new manager, so we'll see I guess.