Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wal-Mart Style in Blairsville

The image in the mind of most people of Wal-Mart is the tacky blue monolith full of stuff they can only find cheaper in a dollar store. Indeed, the Wal-Mart of the 90's was a store of more substance than style, and this resonated true with the anti-Wal-Mart crowd. Realizing negative public perception, the chain recently updated their logo and attempted to "upscale" their image to compete more fiercely with Target. While I will never see Wal-Mart ever one-upping Target in the cheap chic niche, I am indeed impressed with the results of their attempts to do so. Their experiments in image retailing have resulted in some much improved decor and less cheesy ads. This new store featured here in Blairsville is the complete culmination of that.

Opening on August 20, 2009 the Blairsville Wal-Mart is quite different from any one I have seen before. Its location is odd enough, situated two miles outside of the city at a major intersection that at current is graced with nothing more than a tractor supply store. The terrain in the area is very rugged, too, which is why this store made its way to the town late. The previous attempt to locate in the city was postponed due to the previous property being too rocky. That land today belongs to the county as part of their park.

The store itself is truly attractive on the outside. It is tan colored like cut wood, and the entrance has a mountain theme with stone at the foot, alpine trimmings and fake windows interspersed with real ones over the entrances to make the store seem less blocky and imposing. The store sports the new logo inside and out. Inside, the store is laid out considerably different than most modern stores. The footprint is more narrow and a bit smaller. The food area has a contemporary theme featuring a motif of orange, yellow and green reminiscent of the late 70's and early 80's when Wal-Mart was first hitting its stride. While a throwback to the 70's in color schemes, the design is clean, modern and attractive. The rest of the store did not embrace the tan renovations of older stores, however. The theme is the usual white, gray and blue. The Pharmacy is actually located next to the food area instead of the other side of the store. In all, the selection seems less but it is still the best discount store this town ever had.

I love the food part of the store. This area is reminiscent of grocery stores past as well as completely contemporary.

The last time Blairsville had its own discount store was in 1990. That was when troubled discounter Sky City closed its doors in the Ingles Shopping Center. Since then, residents of Union County have had to choose betweeen the Wal-Mart in Murphy, NC close to 25 miles away or the Rose's in Blue Ridge, also 25 miles away. In that time span, the city saw much new development from retirees and the wealthy from Atlanta and Florida building homes in the area, which is one of the most mountainous in Georgia and quite different from the rest of the state. Those newcomers were generally not in favor of a Wal-Mart coming in, and the opposition combined with the difficulty finding a suitable site delayed the project for quite some time. However, in a town with a technical college, a large tourist population and a central location at the crossroads of two major US highways, the need was becoming pretty apparent.

The first photo is a look at the aisle between the food area and the rest of the store in the first photo. The second photo focuses on the checkout area. The rest of the store was not photographed.

In all, it took a lot to inspire me to do any post on Wal-Mart. I did so because I felt this place stood out from other Wal-Mart stores. Indeed, the local population is probably mixed about having it in that it brings much needed convenience and a discount store back to the city, but it also is likely to contribute to further sprawl in a very pristine setting. The store itself is very close to Lake Nottely, the county park and breaks an otherwise largely unspoiled vista between Blue Ridge and Blairsville along SR 515. Nevertheless, it is nice to see that Wal-Mart today recognizes the need to design their stores to better reflect their community and the scenery instead of the mutely brutalist stores of the past.

The late summer sunset casts a mystical light on the new brown sign and the misty mountain scenery behind it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Northgate Mall: Hixson, TN

Chattanooga in its history has had three major shopping malls. The first has basically reverted to offices, but the second, Northgate Mall, is alive and well. It should also be noted this is the Northgate most people are familiar with in lieu of the peculiar one in Tullahoma on my previous post. Owned by General Growth, this successful mall is today anchored by Sears, Belk, JCPenney and Belk Home Store. While it is only one level in lieu of Hamilton Place's two levels, it is still a fairly large mall with 120 stores. It is located on SR 153 north of the city past the end of the Airport Freeway, and it largely serves the northern suburbs as well as Rhea County to the north.

Center court is quite lush with vegetation and has a quite elegant looking skylight over it. I have to wonder how much of this is original.

While the mall dwarfs in comparison with Hamilton Place, apparently Chattanooga is a city that needs and can support two malls. Northgate is not the kind of draw that Hamilton Place is, but its location in the center of a significant suburban area north of the Tennessee River gives it plenty of business. In fact, the strip along SR 153 is one of the most congested areas in the city, and the mall is much more convenient to US 27/Corridor J than Hamilton Place.

Two scenes along the mall concourse. The second photo with the lush vegetation features the mall's Chick-Fil-A on the left, which is not part of the very small food court.

Northgate is basically an I-shaped mall with an anchor in the middle attached, JCPenney. The courts are small with high ceilings and full of trees and plants. The mall has a small food court attached to the Belk Home Store and the mall also has a Piccadilly Cafeteria from the older era. The mall also has a few businesses outside the mall with only exterior entrances. In additoin, the Belk Home Store has two mall entrances and is essentially a junior anchor using existing in-line mall space.

Sears entrance court.

Northgate Mall first appeared in 1972 as Chattanooga's first enclosed mall. It was originally built by CBL, which is headquartered in Chattanooga. CBL still operates Hamilton Place Mall, but has since sold Northgate. Northgate was also expanded in 1991 and renovated in 1997. The 1991 expansion was most likely for the food court and Hess's/Proffitt's Home Store. The anchor lineup would have been pretty static if not of the numerous anchor changes of one of the department stores. While Sears and Penney's are both original anchors, the western end was originally anchored by Miller Bros. Co of Chattanooga. Miller Brothers became Miller's of Tennessee in 1973. In 1988, Miller's was sold to Hess's and the store later became Proffitt's in 1992. Proffitt's sold out to Belk in 2006, which resulted in both the Proffitt's and Proffitt's Home Store taking on the Belk name.

Looking at the Belk (Proffitt's, Hess's, Miller's) mall entrance. The Belk sign looks very much like an afterthought with the store having three other identities. The marble facade is original, however. The last photo is looking back from Belk/Miller's at the court and play area. Like many late 60's/early 70's malls, each anchor had a small court with it in the mall including at least one side hallway to an outside entrance.

My impressions of Northgate Mall is that is was a reasonably attractive, busy and well maintained mall. However, with my love of oddities and angles in malls I found its layout rather boring. I think at least a unique fountain in the center court would have been a plus for the mall as well as some far more elaborate ceiling decor. While the inside of the mall is pleasant, the outside of the mall looks pretty dated. The Belk has one of the ugliest department store designs I believe I have ever seen. It's dark brick and weird entryway remind me of the outside of a prison. Inside, though, the store is quite attractive. JCPenney looks like a giant space station. Sears is the most basic store with a fairly typical early 70's design. I think I would have liked the mall a bit better if somewhere in the mall it dropped down into a small lower level like the one I ran across at Greenbriar Mall.

If this is supposed to be a food court, it is the most pitiful excuse for one. A couple restaurants and other businesses operate here in this mid-mall side jog between Penney's and Sears. This is also where the second entrance to the Belk/Proffitt's Home Store is located.

In all, though, this is in my opinion Chattanooga's real mall today. This is the one for the city and the one with more history. The people out of Northwest Georgia and East Tennessee will fight the crowds for Hamilton Place, but the mall to me looks to be for people who actually live there and don't want to fight traffic to look for something in a picked over mall. It is also a manageable mall compared to the overload of anchors at Hamilton Place that ended up with two Belks and two Dillard's. With that, they are bound to be appreciative of Northgate. They are lucky to have it, because similar size cities such as Augusta, GA now have only one mall for their entire city after their second mall died away.

A couple views of the Belk Home Store from the mall. The first is taken along the main mall concourse and the second is in the food court wing.

JCPenney mall entrance is located directly off the center court.

Another view of center court, this time looking toward Sears instead of Belk.

Walking out of the side entrance next to Sears approaching Piccadilly. Piccadilly has been here since the mall opened.

An outside view of all the anchors as they look today. All three anchors are very stark forms of brutalism, especially the hideous Belk/Miller's. Miller's mall stores were notoriously stark and bland. JCPenney looks like some sort of pseudo factory. Sears is plain and simple.

Below are some photos of Proffitt's from 2005:

The Proffitt's sign really looks bad on this cell-like brick exterior. The Home Store was obviously a later idea, judging by its green sign vs. the old Miller's. Proffitt's stores opened in the 1990's and 00's had a green sign.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rich's, Lord & Taylor at Mall of Georgia

Mall of Georgia is ten years old and saw three original anchors come and go. Lord & Taylor and Galyan's both opened at the mall with the former closing and the latter converting over to Dick's after Galyan's parent company decided to abandon the high end sporting goods concept. Lord & Taylor actually was vacant a short time, but Belk used the location to test the waters to see if it could actually make it in Atlanta when it opened in the store in 2006. When it succeeded, it was not much longer before they opened at the former Lord & Taylor at North Point and subsequently bought out Parisian, which had many Atlanta locations in premier malls.

Rich's, of course, converted to Macy's in early 2005. The store opened at the mall a year after the mall did and was fully signed as Rich's. Galyan's also converted to Dick's in 2005. In all, even though the mall is only a decade old it was not immune to the crazed consolidations that happened during those years. Preserved here are a few photos of the Rich's and Lord & Taylor. Unfortunately, no pics were taken of Dick's as Galyan's.

Rich's mall entrance photos.

Exterior shots of the store while it was still looking very shiny and new.

This lone Lord & Taylor photo matches the Belk photo on the previous post. I never got a mall entrance photo, unfortunately.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mall of Georgia at Mill Creek: Buford, GA

It is one of the largest malls in the country, and it is Georgia's goliath. Mall of Georgia is a monument to 90's prosperity and a symbol of the mall overkill and extravagance that led to the more subdued "lifestyle center" phenomenon. All of that is ironic, of course, because Mall of Georgia is not completely a mall. It is actually an enormous mall-lifestyle center hybrid. While five traditional department stores anchor the crescent shaped mall, the streetscape is one of the most dramatic presentations of the mall featuring restaurants, big box stores and even a conference center. An amphitheater for live music venues is also included in the outdoor part making the mall a complete shopping and entertainment experience. Needless to say, Mall of Georgia is quite the tourist attraction and is just as amazing as the grand name suggests.

Opened in 1999, Mall of Georgia is flanked by both traditional department stores and big box junior anchors. Traditional department store anchors include Dillard's, Macy's, JCPenney, Belk and Nordstrom. Belk originally opened as Lord & Taylor, and Macy's opened as Rich's in 2000. Rich's converted to Macy's in early 2005 and Lord & Taylor closed there later in the year before reopening as Belk in late 2006. The mall's junior anchors include Dick's Sporting Goods (opened as Galyan's), Bed Bath & Beyond, Barnes & Noble and Haverty's Furniture. Dick's and Haverty's both have mall entrances, Barnes & Noble is in the streetscape portion and Bed Bath & Beyond is connected to but does not enter the mall. A PF Chang's is also found in the streetscape portion as well as some of the typical lifestyle center fare such as Coldwater Creek and Restoration Hardware (closing on the visit pictured here). Haverty's is the only home-grown store at the mall, the last of the original Atlanta-based furniture chains.

A look at the Plains section of the mall. The Plains section is one of six distinct sections of the mall, and each section is introduced by a large mural on one side and a named monument on the other.

Inside the mall, most of the mall is two levels. However, a third level in the center tops off the behemoth. This level, however, is anchored only by the 20 screen Regal Cinema & IMAX theater. Last fall I went there to watch the Dark Knight and was greeted in the mall with the largest crowd of teenagers ever encountered. Needless to say, a mall like this will always be hip with the high school crowd, and who could blame them? Next to the IMAX theater on the bottom level is a humongous food court. Centered in an elaborate three-level atrium, the food court is actually pretty standard but offers an enormous amount of seating compared to the typical food court. The food court is part of the lower level main entrance and opens directly into the streetscape portion.

This mall is very hard to explain without a map. I hope this image shows what I can't explain as well myself.

Looking along the west arcade. the two arcades are identical, featuring articial purple-tinged light in an open archway. They are located between the center court and the next anchor over: JCPenney on the east and Belk on the west.

The mall itself is divided into themes representing the regions of Georgia. The eastern portion anchored by Macy's and Dillard's is known as the Coastal Mall. The portion from Macy's to JCPenney is known as the Plains Mall. The portion from Belk to Dick's is known as the Piedmont Mall and from Dick's to Nordstrom is the Mountain Mall. Each mall is very distinct architecturally from the other. The Coastal and Mountain portions offer the most beautiful designs. The Coastal portion features an ornate antebellum ceiling treatment while the Mountain portion features a wooden ceiling resembling an upscale cabin. All sections are very attractive and elegantly detailed. The mountain section is similar to the roof treatment in tiny Three Star Mall put on a grand scale. Basically, in that it is like comparing a grand piano to a pipe organ in a tabernacle. The mall also has two "arcades" flanking each side of the center court between the Plains and Piedmont malls.

A look at one of the courts inbetween malls. The mural on the right appears to be the entry to the Piedmont section.

A look at the coastal section. This is a very neat looking part of the mall, and it is my second favorite. Dillard's anchors this wing with Macy's and Haverty's off the court on the other end.

Now owned by Simon, the Mall of Georgia was the remaining legacy of one of the great Atlanta mall builders. This was D. Scott Hudgins last big project before he died, though his eventual plan was to build another Mall of Georgia type center in Canton. Mr. Hudgins was well known for his Atlanta mall projects with the company Cadillac Fairview, who was also known for earlier projects such as Gwinnett Place, Shannon Mall and Town Center at Cobb. In all, the mall encompasses 1,797,000 Sq. Ft, according the property facts sheet.

A look at the Piedmont section of the mall. The Piedmont section is inbetween Belk and Dick's. The Bath & Body Works on the last photo is apparently a second locatoin in the mall. Another location is also pictured here on the upper level west arcade. I didn't find out how many duplicated stores were in the mall, but I'm sure there are a few.

Malls like this would not be nearly as successful without all the distinct touches. In that, this mall has many interesting elements adorning it that I have seen in no other mall in the city. The mall features four fountains. One is a faux mill chute with water dripping down the chute into a pool below surrounded by fake stone. This is found in the Mountain Mall. The second fountain in the Coastal Mall is a more subdued Italian fountain like one you would find in Savannah or a city park. The third is a small one in center court, and the fourth is the showy jet-stream fountain found in front of the food court atrium. Also, the arcades are lit up with an arched lattice, which gives a surreal arbor effect. A carousel, standard in many 90's malls, is found next to the food court. Outside, a statue of Button Gwinnett adorns the top of the mall above the theater, and an outdoor walkway connects two parts of the mall on the second level with faux outside store entrances. The mall also features an empty anchor pad for a future department store. This pad currently serves as a lower level mall entrance and is walled off on the upper level.

Center court in the mall is absolutely massive. It is also the only three level portion of the mall. The third floor functions only for the Regal 20 Cinema & IMAX Theater.

A look at the ENORMOUS food court atrium. The first photo is from the third floor looking down and the second is from the actual food court itself. The food court doubles as the main entry from the east while the main entrance from the west comes from the second level.

Mall of Georgia, in my opinion, is far more impressive inside than outside. That's because its outside is an unfortunate 90's legacy of stucco galore outside of the streetscape. Most of the structure is fronted with stucco, which tends to mildew rapidly in Georgia heat and humidity. It is making the mall look more ragged around the edges already than it would if it was some other material. Dillard's and Nordstrom both are largely stucco structures. The streetscape side, however, is much more attractive with brick facades dominating.

Now for the heavenly "Mountain Mall". The Mountain section is absolutely incredible to me...a real standout in mall design. Of course, I am also a sucker for malls with wood-framed ceilings, and to me this is Three Star Mall with class and on steroids. Needless to say, in an era of so many bland malls, I have absolutely no complaints here.

Of course, it tends to make sense that the most elegant part of the mall would have the most elegant anchor in the mall. Nordstrom's mall entrance makes you think of the most ornate cathedral. If there was stained glass above that sign, it would be perfect.

It is a bit ironic calling it the "Mall of Georgia" when considering that the mall retail-wise hardly represents anything actually from Georgia. Imagine if all of the Georgia-based long-gone department stores across all the towns had a store in the mall. The anchors would be Rich's, Davison's, White's, Kirven's, Levy's and of course Belk, which actually came later. Each small store in the mall would be a store that had been around as much as 100 years in some downtown in the state. The mall's restaurants would represent popular local chains offering the best in Southern cooking and fine dining. The mall would also feature as junior anchors stores like Ellman's, Cullum's, Mansour's and other home-grown favorites. A farmers market would also be in the mall selling Georgia-grown produce, which is what Georgia is best known for. What mall representing the state wouldn't offer peaches and Vidalia onions? While this is fantasy, this to me is what a true mall representing the state would contain. An introduction of real Georgia in the mall would enhance the experience and increase tourist appeal.

My biggest complaint with malls today is the lack of unique touches such as lush indoor gardens, fountains and the replacement of raised and sunken seating areas with obnoxious kiosks. Mall of Georgia made an exception and provided not just one but four fountains. One in the food court I don't have directly pictured, but this one is the most fascinating with an apparent faux mill/mine shaft draining into a tiny pond. If they had made this 3-4 times larger and added vegetation, it would have been a sight to behold. This fountain is between Dicks and the empty sixth anchor entrance.

In front of Macy's is this more standard fountain, although it is still very eye pleasing.

The effect of Mall of Georgia, like many megamalls, was far reaching. Buford was relatively quite and rural before the mall opened. Afterwards, an explosion of retail and residential development occurred that included the reconstruction of the I-85 interchange and relocation of SR 20. Two new roads were constructed around the mall, and the population shifted predictably to match it. Its effects were not all positive, though. People began to fear that Gwinnett Place Mall would die, and Lakeshore Mall in Gainesville has been visibly affected by this mall. Lakeshore in particular was once protected by its sheer distance from Atlanta, but Atlanta grew to it instead, and the mall has lost quite a few stores since it was last renovated. While Gwinnett Place is alive and relatively well, the area around it has seen a lot of businesses closing and a huge demographic shift from when the mall was first built. Gwinnett Place also had much difficulty filling its empty Davison's/Macy's, which has only been recently acquired by a non-traditional store. Mall of Georgia also took the crown of the largest mall from North Point as well as a lot of its business.  It is even affecting Athens' major shopping mall, Georgia Square. Today, North Point struggles to find itself surrounded by a wealthy and fickle market though it continues to thrive on a more local level. In all, malls like Mall of Georgia tend to eat the competition with exception to malls too far or too well established such as Perimeter and Lenox.

Here is a look at the empty sixth anchor pad inside and out. In 1999, there were a lot more department stores to choose from, and this was probably intended for an eventual Parisian. It is doubtful this will be filled any time soon.  I am betting this was intended for Sears, which remains at Gwinnett Place with enormous success.

A look at the court between Dicks and the empty anchor from the second level toward Dicks. There is an outside entrance on that end as well.

This view is of the main entrance wing from the second level. Behind me is the three-level court. Valet parking is the only close parking to this entrance.

The main sign on the road looks like this. It is very subdued in comparison to the gigantic signs used for much smaller malls in the 60's. For example, note my previous post on "The Mall".

In this blog, I realized that not having a post on the largest mall in Georgia was defeating the purpose of the blog. After all, to many people an old dead or dying mall is dying because, quite frankly, the place was a dump with no decent stores to shop at. Malls with tarnished images are covered here, because people tend to miss these places when they're gone, but this is not a "dead malls" site. Who knows if one day there are not enough stores to fill this mall and it dies like an amusement mark that people stopped coming to? There is the "remember when" then there are photographs of "remember when" in its prime, like the photographs I continue to seek for Cumberland and Cobb Center. This is the mall in its prime. I have only visited this mall a few times, because the mall is so far from my neck of the woods. Nevertheless, I am glad that I am finally able to provide a complete view of the mall of malls in the Deep South.

If you thought the mall was it, I'm heading outside now. This is the oddest part of the mall, an outside walkway with no actual entrances connecting the entrance in front of Haverty's to the entrance across from JCPenney. This is only the beginning of what is found in the outdoor streetscape, known as "The Village".

The main entrance from the west is massive. This is from the second level, which suggests how large this really is. It even appears there is a fourth level here, which if so must be where the IMAX theater itself is located. On top is the Button Gwinnett statue.

Outside the mall is another huge fountain. This was pictured from another angle on the first photo. This one sits in front of the large food court entrance, and it exists as the center point of The Village. The girl playing in the fountain reminds me of many newsreels of hot summer days, and the day I took this it was scorching.

Another view of the streetscape with the big food court entrance in the background. The windows are shaped like a turkey's feathers plumed out. They should make them rainbow colored so it looks like the NBC logo. The same fountain in the previous photo is barely visible in the background.

Beyond the fountain is something unheard of any other mall: a small amphitheater. Live music is played at this amphitheater on weekends. Of course, don't expect to see any honest Nine Inch Nails or Jay-Z covers here.

A view along the cross street in the street scape toward Bed Bath & Beyond. Typical lifestyle center tenants found their home here.

The backside of the amphitheater features the mall's name as a centerpiece of the grand entrance to the mall through the outdoor streetscape portion. Barnes & Noble is on the right and appears to be one of their largest locations.

A look at all the department store anchors from their outside entrances as well as the two-level Dicks, which opened as Galyan's. I decided not to show the pic of Bed Bath & Beyond.

Other department store entrances, not previously photographed. Historic photos showing Rich's and Lord & Taylor will be published on another post due to the length of this post.