Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Innsbruck Mall/Tunnel Road Shopping Center: Asheville, NC (Updated and Corrected 3/13/17)

Constructed in 1966, Innsbruck Mall arrived as Asheville's first modern enclosed mall.  Asheville, however, is no stranger to malls considering that its first actual mall was Grove Arcade, a gorgeous downtown historic arcade that was restored to its original purpose over the past decade.  Originally named Tunnel Road Shopping Center, the mall has surprisingly lingered far past what most malls were able to do as a niche mall with local service tenants, a few other interchanging inline stores and a rather healthy outdoor portion that sits below the mall.  I became aware of the mall after the deadmalls.com guys first posted a few shots of the mall in their photostream, but they never published a full set of it.  Seeing that an Ingles was actually anchoring an enclosed mall I just HAD to see it.  While always high on vacancies, Innsbruck Mall continues to be repurposed in some sorts making a mall that has otherwise remained untouched since the 70's live on.  I can imagine the reason for this largely lies in the fact that Asheville has become such a popular and relatively wealthy vacation destination helping the mall avoid the usual fate of malls of this age and condition.  Whatever the reason, I am so glad that it did not meet the wrecking ball before I ever knew it was there.

Innsbruck Mall today has no department store anchors, but it does have an empty anchor pad for a never-constructed department store on the front side.  Despite the presence of a Firestone auto center on the front of the mall, the mall never had JCPenney.  In fact, JCPenney had a store close to downtown that moved to nearby Asheville Mall in 1989.  Why Firestone is typically a clue is that mall-based JCPenney auto centers all converted to Firestone in the 1970's.  What the mall did have for original anchors was Mason's Department Store and a Winn-Dixie.  Mason's went out of business in 1975 and was replaced by Brendle's Catalog Showroom.  Winn-Dixie also left in 1975 and was replaced by what was then the rapidly-expanding Ingles chain who took over locations of closed grocery stores in those years.  Ingles has since grown into the dominant grocery chain in Western North Carolina and remained at the mall until 2006 filling out what appears to have been a 30 year lease on the store.  Brendle's also remained at the mall until the chain folded in 1996.  However, Brendle's never really "left" the mall considering that the family now owns the mall and leases out their former store.

A random storefront in the mall.  Note the old-style display cases and doors as if this were open-air and in downtown.  Perhaps this mall WAS originally open-air, but I have no way of knowing.  Only the 1950's and 60's malls had these kind of storefronts in malls, and I really prefer those by far.

Looking from the end facing Tunnel Road to the back of the mall.  Note that the mall seems to shrink toward the back.  It's plain, simple and classic.  These early malls were the best part about the 60's.

Both of these photos were taken in center court.  On the last photo, I think that in a redevelopment, that brick store would make a very nice Starbucks.  What do you think?

Innsbruck Mall obtained its name due to a since stripped down German theme the mall gained in the mid-70's that included such wonders as green astroturf (since removed) and Bavarian design cues, a few which remain in the mall.  Before that it was known as Tunnel Road Shopping Center.  Tenants in the mall in 1974 included Bailey's Cafeteria, Eckerds Drugs, Gordon's Jewelers, Macks Variety Store, Hickory Farms, Olan Mills, Snack Shack and Webster's.  It is unclear where these stores originally were, but many of the tenants even then were mostly local shops.  Despite the 1975 changes and later modifications, the mall has managed to hang on to most of its early mall elements in place: a plain, simple design; actual doors to all the tenants in lieu of the later open entrances and a strip mall element attached.  It also has many little strange quirks that were generally only found in the first generation malls as builders were still trying to figure out what they were and how they functioned such as the two sets of side steps/escalators providing access to the lower parking lot, a disconnected outward-facing strip underneath the mall, a grocery store that connected to the mall and mystery spaces in the mall that have moonlighted as various offices.

Off of center court is this wing off to Ingles, which is now dark since it closed in 2007.  The new store is beside the mall.  Just before the Ingles entrance is a store with an outside entrance that was converted into a side entrance to the mall.

A close-up of the vacant entrance and store, which still says "To Ingles" as if its still there.  This was the tiniest Ingles store I have ever been to, and I was glad to see it and get photos when it was still operational.  I actually wonder if it wasn't the very first Ingles.

Since Brendle's and Ingles closed, the mall has hardly stayed vacant although the interior mall has been looking a little deserted these days.  However, quite a few captive shoppers still enter the mall considering the NC DMV is one of the major tenants.  Ingles has since been replaced with the less intriguing Plasma Biological Services.  Big Lots and Office Depot operate side-by-side in the former Mason's/Brendle's with Big Lots getting to use the original mid-century entrance.  Anna's Linens left a void on the lower level of the mall when the chain folded, but Dollar General still operates next door in the former Eckerd Drugs.  One thing that I greatly treasure is that I was able to capture and put in this post photos of the classic Winn-Dixie/Ingles when it was in business.  This store in business is shown on an earlier post, and I will soon publish the other photos I took of the store in operation.  I did not photograph the mall at that point, because the mall is closed at 6:30 during the week and closed completely on Sundays.  As a result, I was unable to get in.  I returned later for more.

Here, I wanted to focus on this planter in front of the old Ingles entrance.  While planters are always nice in the malls, this and all the others in the mall are totally out of control.  Someone either needs to prune these or start from scratch.

Nope, this is NOT an emergency exit.  It's not even supposed to be a walkway!  This impromptu store with an outside entrance is being used as another mall entrance.  I hope someday a store can be put back in here, but it will take more than rock bottom leasing terms.

The mall itself does not even look like a mall on the outside anymore.  Graced with a stucco facade and inappropriate windows, the mall looks more like an office building than a mall, and that is most likely the direction the mall is headed as the remaining retail in the mall will likely relocate to one of the many golden opportunities across the city due to the decline of so many large chains.  This is why I did not take any outside photos much, because the recent exterior renovation disguised its original appearance, and it is quite ugly.  Inside, however, the only renovations that ever took place involved paint to make the mall lose some of its somewhat Bavarian-themed appearance.  This is unfortunate, as it took some of the charm away and also exposed quite clearly that the mall has some mold issues making it look deteriorated in spots.  That is probably to be expected, though, considering that most retail buildings in 1966 were built with flat roofs that notoriously leak.

Inside the REAL upper level mall entrance, which was drastically renovated recently (not pictured), is this hallway leading into the main part of the mall.  The mall is to the right, the window overlooking the lost anchor is to the left and straight ahead is the doors to the stairs and escalators down to the lower level parking lot.  These escalators in specific are a real treat!

Normally I wouldn't cover escalators in this detail, but these are special: in fact, rare.  That is because these are very old-style narrow gauge escalators barely wide enough for an average weight person to stand on.  They were in fact so skinny I was reluctant to get on them at first thinking they were rickety.  These were manufactured by Westinghouse and were all running smoothly at the time of my visit.

Looking up from the base of the stairs and escalator.

The bottom portal.  This stairwell and escalator pair has a twin arrangement like this between the Big Lots and center court.  Those are also featured here.

The most special aspect of the mall is that, like Asheville Mall, it is built into a hillside.  However, the mall was still single level with large stores and some offices put underneath in lieu of a two level mall.  The mall is accessible from the lower level parking lot via two entryways that include a flight of stairs with very classic narrow-gauge escalators on each side.  When I visited, the escalators were working fine and were interesting to ride as they seemed to be designed for thin people only.  Both escalator areas featured plain windows on the outside with some 60's tones that seemed to be leaking a bit.  One of these entrances came up around Big Lots/Brendle's and the other further out.  Another entrances comes from the parking lot on the upper level opposite side where I came in.  This side is handicap accessable and is in front of the old Ingles, which moved on an adjacent lot next to the mall into one of their modern superstores complete with Starbucks and specialty foods: none of which the old Winn-Dixie conversion was able to offer.

Yep, they have a directory.  The directory listing (not shown) pretty much shows the mall is over 50% vacant, which is by official definitions dead.  I think this could change, though, and I think it could happen without demolishing the mall itself.  However, I think the current owners pretty much view the mall itself as office space while the stores with outside entrances and direct parking lot access are viewed still as retail.  From the outside, it pretty much looks like ugly offices which is why I did not photograph it.

The mall itself has some of the most antique elements I have encountered, and gets minimal upkeep although it is super clean.  The planters in the mall, however, were out of control on my visit with the plants growing wildly out of their planters.  The skylights above provide plentiful light to the plants, and they are graced with a thin glazed glass below the dropped ceiling that is reminiscent of the era.  I removed some of these stripping down a 1950's/60's era house in a dropped ceiling, so I know they are old.  Some of the lighting in the main mall consists of very sleazy looking track lights with many bulbs burned out.  In front of the bathrooms was cris-crossed turqoise brick-shaped tiles that have not been seen since the era it was built.  The flooring was plain white tile that probably was installed sometime in the 80's or 90's.  In all, fans of first generation malls will definitely enjoy seeing this, and this place made me feel nostalgic for places like this from my early childhood.

Here are some shots of the abandoned Ingles inside and out.  I think this would make a good location for a Trader Joe's, and maybe even a Best Buy if the store was expanded into the mall.  However, I prefer the former option.  This actually was not the last "disco Ingles" in operation.  Hint, hint...

Today, aside from a few odd tenants the major traffic draw to the mall is the DMV office.  Lines stretch out into the mall, and the office itself is grossly inadequate.  It is obvious it has been there awhile as its walls are graced with wood paneling.  The DMV should negotiate with the mall to take over several larger spaces to create a better location to get a license since clearly vacancies are an issue while space in the mall for a modern DMV is not.  Another vintage mall in SC was being kept solely open by the DMV, so this is a familiar scenario in mostly forgotten malls that thankfully have not yet been disposed of.  An empty store next to Ingles with an outside entrance was in fact converted into a temporary entrance to allow easier access to the DMV.  The back of the mall has a dry cleaners, which is accessable just outside the rear mall entrance.  I did not explore back there so as not to bother the group of smokers outside.

Looking outside at the lost anchor believed to be Penney's.  This entire grassy plot obviously once housed a department store, and I really wonder why it was torn down.  That tree out there definitely looks to have been there since at least the early 1990's, and this window is the size and shape of an old mall entrance.  Both this and nearby Asheville Mall are situated in beautiful terrain as this view here suggests.

In all, Innsbruck Mall is a really fluky place to still be around in the state its in.  In any other city, a wrecking ball would have torn it to shreds sometime in the 90's.  I really can't predict how much longer it will be there, and neither can anyone else.  In fact, an article written in 2015 was speculating how much longer one of the deadest malls in the country manages to keep on living when so many like it are long gone.  Nonetheless, I definitely would not consider it a total loss even though the current perception of the mall is nothing more than an ancient dump with a few offices and no real stores anymore.  The mall serves a niche and is located on a vintage part of Tunnel Road that, while dated, is not necessarily a slum either.

Now for a look at the second escalator and stairwell.  To me, this is the perfect 60's mall shot.  Very mood, lots of glass and some gaudy orange thrown in.

Just when you think it couldn't get any better, just to the right of the stairwell is the perfect 60's combo: mysterious stairs, wall with turquoise brick-shaped tiles, dark brick on old store to the right with long shutters and some wood paneling thrown in on the side of the staircase.  This is downright groovy!

Now, take a look down these escalators including the orange panels in the window.  Also look outside at the Office Depot and Big Lots.  Here, I want to demolish both those stores outside, adding a two level structure outside and replacing the stairs (not escalators) here with a walkway straight across to the second level proposed movie theater and relocated Office Depot.  Hands off the escalators!!!

A look at the base of the escalators with the engraved "Westinghouse" logo.  I have never heard of Westinghouse escalators before I saw these.  I also love those big chunky handrails in lieu of those scary thin all-glass rails that are so hot today.

My previous prediction that the DMV would take over the old Ingles did not happen, but if the owners wish to continue to operate the mall in any capacity they must have something in mind.  Not only could the DMV take over a bunch of mall space, but a school/college, government offices or something else non-retail would likely be interested in the property at least in the short term.  Unfortunately, any of those changes will lead to the loss of what makes the mall so special: the vintage storefronts that have survived years of tenants entering and exiting the mall that has long been eclipsed by nearby Asheville Mall.

Have a seat!

The back wing is smaller, but not necessarily more dead.  The line in the background is to the DMV, which is why I don't have as much detail of that area.  Also, I would have liked to have photographed the DMV office with its wood paneling, but I scrapped that idea for obvious reasons.  This section of the mall is smaller and seedier.  The owners don't seem to like to replace burnt out lightbulbs...a common problem throughout.  Even though this part of the mall is isolated, it is actually doing the best.  An alterations shop is on the left and a beauty school is on the right.

I have to admit, the clusters of track lights look kind of junky, but I like them for some reason.  There is some sort of eccentric charm to the gaudiness of the 60's.  The back door is in the background, and considering it opens up only to the driveway to the back parking lot makes its presense seem kind odd.  It is nice, though, because it brings light into that part of the mall, and the hillside makes the mall look like it is in the middle of a lush forest.

Zooming in on the back door.  I didn't go out so as not to disturb the smokers enjoying their break.  What is amazing is that just outside the door to the right is a dry cleaners named Hour Glass Cleaners.  They are completely hidden from view behind Ingles, and they do not have a mall entrance.  Now I wish I had went out there, but I will be back.

This empty store next to the back door fascinates me.  It actually had a pretty small footprint, but it is genuine retro.  What exactly was this ever?

When the original post was written, the serious state of American retail was still not fully in focus, so I optimistically proposed a radical redevelopment that would turn this little mall into a hot ancillary mall including, of all things, a Borders Books (RIP) and the notoriously hard to lure Trader Joes in the old Ingles (Trader Joes instead opened in North Asheville on Merrimon Avenue).  Also, the vacant Ingles pretty much lost a shot at any future retail with a medical facility in its former location.  The possibility of any of that happening now is as realistic as Montgomery Ward coming back from the dead, but it was fun to speculate, so the plans that I drew up will remain in the post.

Zooming in on the skylights.  These skylights for some reason are not directly visible, hidden by these glazed glass panels somewhat yellowed with age.  These have to be original.  While plain, I really like this style actually in comparison to modern skylights.  It gives a really nice glow to the mall.

If a redevelopment back into a retail mall were to occur, some major structural changes would be needed.  This would include vastly modifying the strip mall section that made up the former Brendle's.  What I would do there is demolish the Office Depot and Big Lots, rebuilding on site as a two story enclosed strip wing to the mall with Costco on the bottom floor.  On the upper floor, the portion closest to the mall would have a replacement Office Depot and a 16 screen movie theater on the left.  The Costco could be built oblong into the back parking lot to allow an adequate sized store.  A parking deck would be built over the front lower lot.  In the front of the mall, the empty anchor pad would be filled with a sporting goods store such as Bass Pro Shops, Dick's, Cabela's or Academy Sports with two levels so that the top level opens directly into the mall.  Although the two level wing would modify the inner lower level entrance, the narrow gauge escalators would remain adding a level raised walkway to the new second level enclosed hallway part with steps put in near the theater with additional escalators.  The large window would also be removed since this area would be opened up.  The other escalator/stair entry would not be modified. 

This Firestone is a dead giveway that JCPenney used to be there.  The fact is that when Penney's abandoned the auto centers, they sold them all to Firestone.  This sits right at the foot of the lost store and it looks like its from the era.  If so, the Penney's here would have closed in the 1980's when it moved down to Asheville Mall.

Here is the lower level mall entrance.  Anna's Linen's is on the left and the grassy lost anchor spot is on the right.  Inside are the escalators featured in the first set of photos.

Anna's Linen's (now closed), Dollar General and Ball Photo make up the lower level of the mall.  They have no access to the upper level from the inside, but the area underneath goes deep.  This is the area I think would make a good DSW location.  In the background is Big Lots with an arched facade that was formerly the Brendle's entrance.  Brendle's was closed last time I saw it: obviously for a very long time.

A look at Big Lots (former Brendle's) and Office Depot, which took over part of the Brendle's.

As to the mall it self, keep the mall as is, but clean up the place a bit adding more contemporary flooring, updated lighting (retro 60's only) and replant the planters.  All ceiling tiles will also have to be replaced as well as fixing sagging spots.  Also, repaint the ceiling and non-store walls to a more muted contemporary color scheme.  Do NOT replace the escalators.  Do nothing to the general structure inside the mall, though, as the 60's design with the new anchors would make it more of a niche and interesting touch.  Also, do not allow anchor tenants to modify the original storefronts even if they need to expand into several stores for adequate space.  The vintage entrances should remain as part of the charm.  On the outside, however, I would definitely go for an all-out bavarian design to match up with the name.  Make it look like Biltmore Village!

In 2009, I drew up this redevelopment plan, which could work with a few modifications if enough retail stores were interested.  From these Google Maps photos, I pieced together this redevelopment plan.  Note the light blue area, which would be a new enclosed hallway fronting the lower level where I am recommending a Costco.  DSW would take over the existing three tenants on the lower level.  This would also be the lower level of Outdoor World, which would front the improved mall.  

The upper level plan is a bit more dramatic featuring a new parking deck, relocated Office Depot, new movie theater, new bookstore, new Trader Joes in the old Ingles and some renovations to the mall aside from a new multi-story Outdoor World.  The parking deck would provide direct access to Outdoor World and Office Depot via the upper level enclosed walkway.

The fact is that Innsbruck Mall may be old and dated, but it is a survivor in a nice area in a prime retail corridor.  So many of us are pretty stunned that such a vintage mall with no real anchor has remained open all these years later when many other far superior malls died off.  Note the modified aerial photos included here that show my idea for the mall.  I only wish that Asheville and the Brendle family could come together and discuss some really creative ideas to improve on and rescue this mall.  A real investment with creative design might just bring a mall that most citizens of Asheville wrote off decades ago into a real destination for both locals and tourists alike that provides far more excitement than the line at the DMV.


FOUR videos of the mall along with a 1970's ad of the mall are available on YouTube featuring a dead mall whose popularity only seems to be increasing:

The Most Dead Mall in America: Innsbruck Mall, Asheville, NC [um, there are deader]
Tour Asheville's Nearly Dead Innsbruck Mall [Zombie mall!]
Exploring the Dead Innsbruck Mall [but you can still walk right in without being arrested!]
Exploring the Dead Innsbruck Mall [same title, different person]

Also see this awesome (yet completely cheesy) ad from 1987!

In addition, these aspiring rappers apparently felt the mall had some street cred.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Westgate Shopping Center: Asheville, NC

Malls of America back in 2006 did a piece on Westgate Shopping Center, Asheville's first major strip mall located just outside of downtown. While it has long since been eclipsed by malls and other shopping centers, the little strip was quite significant when it opened in 1956. What was especially unique about it is that it was built with its very own exit ramp! When opened, the shopping center featured a Winn-Dixie, W.T. Grant and the Asheville-based Bon Marche, which at the time had a much larger store downtown [1]. With that, I actually wonder if they closed the downtown store for this much smaller shopping center version considering the two stores were less than a mile apart!


Westgate Shopping Center at its peak from the late 1950's/early 60's.  Both photos are from "Malls of America".

While I was not around to see the progress over time of the shopping center, the fact is that it's still around today and hardly a ghetto strip. Asheville in all honesty really does not have a lot of ghetto compared to other cities in the South, so older businesses and shopping centers tend to hang on long after their heyday is over. In fact, a fair amount of mid-century signage and architecture hangs on all up and down US 70 on both sides of downtown. However, because of this new development in the city is very susceptible to overbuilding, which is why a major shopping mall just south of the city is failing. Westgate Shopping Center itself is not exactly thriving, but what is there is working well.

Looking today at the shopping center from the smaller end closest to I-240 and at the edge of the old Bon Marche, now sided with Earth Fare.  Earth Fare is not the first Asheville store to expand.  Ingles, Rose's and Sky City all got their starts in the Asheville market and the latter two were successful for many years despite their eventual decline.

As to the Bon Marche, I really cannot predict when it might have closed, but I am guessing the location closed in 1972 when the new Bon Marche location opened at Asheville Mall.  I have heard that Meyers-Arnold took that location, eventually bought out by Upton's.  Rose's eventually took over the Grant's as well. Shortly after Bon Marche disappeared, Grant's, of course, closed with the chain in 1976. Beyond that, what I mentioned taking their places is speculation based on previous comments about the place. My knowledge of North Carolina retail is limited, and I did not pay any attention to this place when I was younger.

Looking under the covered walkway extending from Earth Fare back to CVS.  It looks like much of the classic architecture has been covered up, but the overhanging wedge signs are still there.

Today, Westgate Shopping Center faces an uncertain future...not because of its age, but because of the grossly inadequate interstate highway it sits on. I-26 was extended through the city in 2003 along I-240, creating high traffic on a piecemeal primitive freeway through the town. Plans abounding to relocate the problematic freeway have threatened the future of the shopping center, and one of those plans involves outright tearing it down for the freeway. Fortunately, the current owner feels that the history of the shopping center is important and does not want that to happen. Now if we could find some other shopping center owners that showed that kind of love for their classic retail.

Now looking at the rest of the shopping center where Bon Marche used to be.  This part is looking a little barren, unfortunately.

Westgate Shopping Center's major tenant is Earth Fare, a local natural foods supermarket that serves as a small town version of Whole Foods. Whole Foods does not seem to be in Asheville, but Earth Fare is all over the city. When I visited, this store was extremely popular and featured a very contemporary and extremely dark interior decor. The clientele pretty much represented what modern Asheville is known for...older rich people who moved in from elsewhere and plenty of hippies. Of course, the cross section of the crowd actually looked like the kind of city I would be fairly comfortable living in.


A look at the Bon Marche entrance, last existing as Davis Furniture.  I wonder what filled this space after Bon Marche left in the early 70's.

The only other major tenant in Westgate today is CVS Pharmacy. Other stores seem to cater to the same crowd swarming Earth Fare. Of course, the biggest tenant, the old Bon Marche, was found lacking of a store currently. Its last occupant, Davis Furniture, up and left for the old Goody's space at Biltmore Square. Considering the condition of Biltmore Square, that seemed to me like leaving safe harbor and boarding the Titanic. Of course, the empty anchor allowed me to take a few photos of the old Bon Marche, which today still carries the bearings of a classic department store: two sets of doors and a wide open room inside with high ceilings covered with a dropped ceiling filled with lots of lights under clear glass sheets.

A look inside the old Bon Marche gives a very 50's feel.  Much about this store reminds me of typical late 50's department stores when looking at the ceiling, floor and column treatments. 

What stands out close to I-240 is the abandoned Bank of Asheville branch found in the older picture. I do not know how long this has been closed, but the location today is the most vintage element left in the center, which has otherwise been renovated fully with a stucco facade. However, I would definitely say it would make a good Starbucks if they haven't already covered the city with locations.

Looking here at the old Bank of Asheville branch, which seems to have been closed a little while.  I seem to remember the Bank of Asheville sign still being there recently if my memory is right.  Does anybody else see Starbucks potential here?

As for Westgate today, the shopping center is struggling a bit with identity in a saturated market. While Asheville's downtown is a fairly hot destination, it is not a place people go to shop like it was when Westgate opened. Most of the stores there are specialty shops, and Westgate is by no means on the city's fringe anymore. In fact, this is essentially a downtown shopping center, and it is too far removed from Asheville Mall nearby to participate in most chain retail development. The shopping center as a whole could be full again, but it would not be everyday stores filling the void. One thing that makes me cringe is something like a Goodwill opening in the old Bon Marche, but this would be a perfect location for the sporatically located and wildly popular Micro Center chain. Perhaps an upscale department store outlet might also do well here.

Looking back lengthwise along the shopping center from the old Bon Marche toward I-240.


Nothing too exciting with the shopping center's sign.  I wonder how long ago the old googie-style sign I'm sure was here was removed.  Also note the ramp and frontage road just behind it.

Westgate has been around at least 50 years, and it has survived this long. Today, it hardly stands out as a shopping destination since the shopping center is fairly plain and its offerings are limited, yet it gets an enormous amount of exposure with its own signed exit. Judging by the business of Earth Fare, anything that was unique to the market with a good marketing scheme would do very well here, thus my Micro Center idea. In all, this grand old lady could just use a little more attention. Just painting the stucco a more showy and attractive color and adding some unique stores not found elsewhere in the market I think would bring the sickly strip back to spry. With just the right mix, maybe it will hang around for another 50 years...that is, if NCDOT keeps the bulldozers away.

[1] Source: Barrett, Mark. "Owner gears up for Westgate face-lift". Asheville-Citizen Times. March 26, 2007.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Asheville Mall: Asheville, NC

Asheville retail has not seen much coverage, and much of this accounts from the fact that most visitors to the city are not real focused on this for obvious reasons.  On top of that, apparently not many retail photographers reside in the area.  In all, most trips to Asheville for most people involve the Blue Ridge Parkway, Biltmore House, hiking and general sightseeing.  For me, that was indeed always the case...too busy doing vacation-type things to pay much attention to the city itself.  In fact, only recently have I really explored the city in depth myself.  On previous trips, I was not able to cover much of the city in pictures, but with this post that changes as I cover the most important and successful mall in Western North Carolina.

My first North Carolina mall entry, Asheville Mall is a truly fascinating mall.  In fact, I doubt that anything compares to the downright strange and unique elements of this mall.  Asheville Mall came in as the second mall in the city, opening in the 1973 on a hillside on Tunnel Road (US 70/74A) just off of I-240.  At the time it was built, I-240 was not yet completed east of downtown and US 70 was an extremely crowded thoroughfare.  The road it is on is named for the long tunnel into downtown about a mile west of the mall.  This is technically a single level mall, but this is indeed technical, which I will explain shortly.  The mall is today anchored by Sears, Dillard's Men's, Dillard's Women's, Belk, Barnes & Noble and JCPenney.



The old part of the mall has a very retro feel to it.  The side window skylights, scattered overhead skylights and sea green color scheme feels like an ethereal 1960's mall.  This part of the mall is flanked by Belk, Sears and both Dillard's.  On the last photo, note the new Barnes & Noble on the right.

Readers, you will need to correct me but I am going on subjective accounts of others and piecemeal information when I post this.  No mall has had as radical of transformations, and also no mall lacks historical information more than this one.  When the mall opened, the mall was vastly different from today.  At the time, the mall had three anchors, two which still exist today.  Those anchors were Bon Marche, Belk and Sears.  Do not confuse Bon Marche with the one in the Pacific Northwest.  This was an Asheville-based store that also had a location in Charlotte at long-defunct Charlottetown Mall.  When first built, the mall was a simple I-shape with a continuous slope throught.  Bon Marche was located where Dillard's Men's is today.  Not long after, Ivey's also added onto the mall closer to Belk as well.  This is where Dillard's Women's is today.




Here is a look at all the anchors on the old part of the mall. Note the open glass overlook in the second floor of Dillard's Men's store. That hallway has one of the most beautiful showcases of natural light I have ever seen in a mall. The second Dillard's is built into the hallway like an inline tenant, and it was previously an Ivey's. The Belk is original, but has been renovated to the point it looks like a new store.  Note the Starbucks on the right of the last photo.  This is the northwest mall entrance, the first of three.

Asheville Mall in its original incarnation had some really strange quirks.  A second level was built on the east end of the old mall that went up to nothing more than a B Dalton bookstore.  This was originally for a two-level J&S Cafeteria with seating areas on the second level.  This store was gotten to by stairs and an elevator going up and a down escalator coming down from it into the main mall.  With that, a small catwalk connected to that central escalator.  This is one of those neat things that other malls should have emulated more, and this feature remains today.  I am also roughly gathering that near the Dillard's Women's interest was an escalator down to a lower level of the mall that had a Piccadilly Cafeteria that we ate at then, but I cannot confirm this area since that is a memory from the late 1980's.  I am honestly not sure where this corridor went.  If this was not where it was, then what is obvious from aerial photos is that a mall corridor stretched between what is today the joined Dillard's stores.  This was possibly where the two level portion was, but I am not sure if or how it connected outside if so.

The steps on the left go up to the former B Dalton.  I last visited this store in early 2007, but was unable to take a photo then due to a very high security presence.  The entire corner there was made up of the bookstore, which closed in early 2009 when Barnes & Noble formed a new two-story anchor.

Here is a look at the down escalator from the store that was B Dalton and originally J&S Cafeteria.  While patrons had to go up stairs or an elevator to go in, they could leave via the escalator.  It is very interesting how they built a catwalk over to the esclator going into the middle of the mall.  This is my favorite mall oddity of all time.


The sign next to the stairs still reads "Elevator to B. Dalton".  Barnes & Noble has phased out most of the remaining B. Dalton locations.  This was possibly the last.

Because of sparse parking around the mall, the back of the mall was built originally with a one story parking deck over the back parking lot.  This parking deck comes to a catwalk that crosses over the rear mall entrance onto the roof, yes the ROOF, where you walk along it to double doors into the upper level of Dillard's Women's.  The Dillard's Women's has a mall entrance next to the old B Dalton, while the Dillard's Men's is closer to the Sears.  Neither store is clearly indicated which is which.  The Men's store comes off of a wing with a window on the second floor overlooking the mall.  This was last used as Montgomery Ward.


Here is a look at the crossover section between Belk and Dillard's Women's.  This section is squeezed between the two stores to reach the expansion to JCPenney.  This apparently replaced a previous mall corridor between then Dillard's and Montgomery Ward, and I am curious as to how this connected to the 1989 JCPenney wing.  I understand this is close to where the old two-level wing was, and this makes me wonder if a basement level ducked under Dillard's/Ivey's.  Was this wing closer to Belk previously?  I absolutely cannot figure this out, but I do remember Piccadilly was on that lost lower level wing.

The wing going up to Penney's does not stop with the weirdness.  Essentially, part of it is squeezed between Dillard's Women's and Belk and the wing then turns off toward Penney's.  This wing also has the second of THREE Belk entrances into the mall.   The third entrance comes off a newer wing near the food court.  The food court is also strange in that the parking deck partly overlaps it.  The food court wing also contains a weird side entrance that goes down a long hallway with no stores whatsoever.  The result of the overlapping parking deck was the installation of a pair of escalators going straight up into the parking deck.  This also gives the mall a bit of a "second level" in addition to the former B Dalton.  In addition, this second parking deck is three stories tall.

The JCPenney wing is not as nice as the original mall.  It is darker, plainer and boring and according to what I am understanding looks far older than it actually is, apparently designed to match the original mall.  This wing provides access to the rear parking deck and the southwest mall entrance to Belk.  Supposedly this was added in 1989.


The southwest Belk entrance, second of three mall entrances.


Looking up mall on the JCPenney wing.  Like the original mall, this wing features continuous stairs and ramps.


The JCPenney mall entrance definitely looks 1989 despite the otherwise 70's design.

Hallway to the rear mall entrance connects off the Penney's wing across from the second Belk entrance.  This rear entrnace has never been renovated unlike the ones in the front of the mall.

Asheville Mall was expanded twice: the first time in 1989 (to compete with Biltmore Square) and again in 2000.  The JCPenney arrived in 1989, and this wing looks to have been added in the late 70's or early 80's even though it is said to have opened in 1989.  This JCPenney moved from downtown, though I had originally assumed it was Innsbruck Mall.  The addition created a new wing that gutted part of Dillard's/Ivey's coming down the side of what is now Dillard's and continued to the store.  This addition was designed differently from the original wing with less light and a more basic design.  I understand, too, that the connection to this wing was altered with a lower level removed when the second renovation occurred, also resulting in the loss of a twin screen cinema.  The odd design today was most likely to keep the mall built within the most level part of the mountain without having to construct two levels.  This was for the best overall as most two-level malls are actually pretty boring since they inevitably lead to a generic appearance.

 A mall layout like no other.  Any questions?



This very dark part of the mall is the portion of the mall connecting from the JCPenney wing to the food court.  The wing extends from the JCPenney entrance court.  The lack of natural light is due to the fact that part of the parking deck overlaps this area..


Along the hallway between the food court and the JCPenney court is this long hallway to the parking deck.  This is very strange to see such a long hallway with absolutely no stores whatsoever.

The mall has seen quite a bit of shakeup in anchor tenants since it opened.  Apparently the Dillard's Women's store opened as an Ivey's in the early 1970's, relocating from downtown.  Montgomery Ward was previously there from 1994-2000 (the 1994 date is from Mall Hall of Fame).  The Montgomery Ward, today the Dillard's Men's, had originally opened as Bon Marche, converting to Meyers-Arnold in the late 70's and Upton's for a brief period from 1987 to when Montgomery Ward took over the store.  Upton's had bought out Meyers-Arnold in 1987, but Upton's went out of business in 1999.  When it did, it apparently had previously left markets outside of Georgia.   The Belk that is there today is also a significant expansion of the original store, which added a second level in 2000.  Also, JCPenney, of course, came on board in 1989 with a new wing.  In all, the mall has seen an enormous amount of changes over time.  I know when I visited in the late 1980's, the mall had the typical brown tiles of most 70's malls, and I distinctly remember two levels with an escalator in one part of the mall, which it definitely does not have today.  In early 2009, Barnes & Noble opened in the front of the mall, replacing a McDuffey's restaurant, a Gap and a few other tenants.  This two-story store resulted in the closure of B Dalton, but it also added a significant non-apparel anchor sure to drive traffic to the mall.  I am hoping that the mall owners find an appropriate tenant for the old B Dalton, and that that they do not ultimately remove this neat little second level concept.



Looking here at the food court, which forms the east side of the mall.  This rather dreary dining area is joined with two escalators, but where are they going?  They are going to nothing more than the parking deck, which sits over the top of this part of the mall.

Today, the amount of tweaking it took to put such a massive one-level mall (nearly 1,000,000 square feet) on such a difficult footprint has really paid off.  They have now emerged as the leading mall in the city and the retail hub of the area.  The mall's only competition, Biltmore Square, is withering away from the impact of Asheville Mall as neither the population could support it nor could it hold a candle to the wonders of Asheville Mall.  The mall did a good job expanding and reacting to competition, and at this point they are pretty much invincible in a city noted for its tourism and overally prosperity.  Pictures do not really do justice to this place, however, so I recommend that others come and see it for themselves.  Perhaps they can do this when they arrive to see the leaves this fall!

The southeast wing forms the last sector of the mall.  With no outside entrances, this wing extends from the food court to the southeast Belk entrance, which is the third of three entrances pictured.  The second photo is looking backwards on this wing to the food court.

A view of the Belk mall entrance, which also features a very large emergency exit on the right.  No alarms and no surprises, right?


Rear entrance to the mall into the JCPenney wing.  This is all original, and note the overhead catwalk.  Notice that it heads onto the roof.  Now see below.


Yessir, you are on the roof.  On this roof, you are headed to two double doors.  Those two double doors head to Dillard's, previously Ivey's.


Sears, Dillard's Men's and Dillard's Women's.  The first was the former Montgomery Ward/Upton's/Meyers-Arnold/Bon Marche and looks to have been renovated extensively since a rear mall entrance originally came off one side of it.  The second entrance is to the former Ivey's.


Okay, maybe Penney's opened here in 1989, but it sure doesn't look it.  Note the second level parking deck entrance on the first photo.

Belk here looks new, but it is not.  It was just reworked to have a second level, resulting in a redesigning of the store.  This was done in the 2000 renovation.


Looking back here at the three level parking deck next to Belk and the three story stairs next to it.  How else are you going to have an adequate parking lot on a mountainside?

Barnes & Noble, the newest anchor, looks a bit out of place with its faux traditional exterior on a modernist mall.  It does look nice, though.  Of course, it still pisses me off they closed the B. Dalton in the mall for this. 


Now for the mall sign.  I didn't really cover the Old Navy in the mall, which was loosely pictured in the original mall section.  Those random shapes are a bit weird, and the sign looks like it hasn't held up well.