Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Savannah Mall Revisited

One of my first posts on what was then Georgia Retail Memories was about Savannah Mall and its scary turn of events that had it teetering on dead mall status.  Most malls could not have survived in that predicament.  The photos I took at that point were taken in 2003, so quite a lot of time has lapsed since then, and I also noticed a few cosmetic changes as well. Admittedly, I was thinking the mall was in real danger of sudden failure, but the managers were very creative in their efforts to revitalize it.  While it is today a second-tier mall, it is far from dead.  It still has Dillard's, Bass Pro Shops has made it six years in the old Parisian, and Belk Beery was subdivided into Target on the upper level and Burlington Coat Factory on the lower level.  A.C. Moore craft store also joined the ranks as a junior anchor.  In the case of Target, this is the first ever Target in retail-anemic Savannah, and they kindly put in a mall entrance to make sure that the two work together.  I am actually rather stunned by the brilliance of luring Target into a struggling mall.

Savannah Mall was not left unscathed from the 2003 exodus, so it does have quite a few vacancies.  Abercrombie & Fitch was never replaced, and most major apparel stores are gone, though I noted stores like Gap were still there.  The two previously existing mall restaurants, though, remain (Ruby Tuesday and a Mexican restaurant), and a Texas Roadhouse flanks one of the entrances.  More popular local stores such as Savannah Candy Company also operate stores at both malls as well.  The only loss of an anchor since 2003 was Steve & Barry's, which left because the chain itself went bankrupt.  This means that Montgomery Ward is very much back to vacant.  What is amazing, though, is the food court.  If this mall is ailing, you would never tell by the food court.  Not one restaurant was vacant...not one.  Dillard's also chugs along as well in the old JB White.  This is possibly one of the oddest Dillard's locations, and the company has lately been stuck with a few second-tier locations.  Since this survived the last round of closings, it must be doing fine.  I am sure they would like to tack on to Oglethorpe, but the mall is a bit landlocked, which would make any addition very expensive and difficult.

This mall court is situated at the crossroads between the former Montgomery Ward (background) and Dillard's (off to the right).

The former Montgomery Ward served for about three years as Steve & Barry's University Sportswear on the lower level.  Steve & Barry's went bankrupt, and for some reason the owners left this big empty department store open to view from the mall.

Looking down the Dillard's wing.  Dillard's opened as J.B. White, and its conversion in 1998 proved successful.

Six years after my last visit, I would definitely say that Savannah Mall was unusually creative in how they staved off disaster.  While I doubt they will ever recover their past glory without a major redevelopment, the area has seen substantial growth since I last visited while it lacks the retail development of other cities, allowing this mall to fill the void of stores Savannah doesn't have. This is something they should capitalize even more on. It already has a rather unique anchor line-up with Dillard's, Outdoor World, Target, Burlington Coat Factory and junior anchor AC Moore. They should note my post on Innsbruck Mall for a few more ideas.  I think a large Border's Book Store in the old Montgomery Ward would be nice.

Here, I'm looking at the main court.  In the middle is Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in a rather unique mall location.  The Outdoor World was Parisian until 2003, and it did not remain vacant long.  When Parisian closed here, they completely left the Savannah market.  With Belk absorbing them, there is no way it would have lasted anyway, so the timing was actually perfect.

Fountains were not left out in Savannah Mall's design.  This is one of two in center court.

A sure sign of a failing mall is a food court emptying out.  There were absolutely no vacancies whatsoever than this food court.  In fact, it looked great.

Savannah Mall has a not-too-exciting layout, but in 1990 just having a two level mall was something to celebrate since many of the 70's malls were quite small, plain and dumpy.

The state of Savannah Mall today means that the market is definitely sufficient to keep two malls, though not to the levels seen prior to 2003.  I wish the owners the best of luck, and I hope they find a good fit or plan for the old Montgomery Ward.  This is why I included a few new photos to compare yesterday and today.

This is the west court where A.C. Moore recently joined on as a junior anchor.  This was originally on the Belk wing.

In the former Belk, Target took the upstairs and Burlington Coat Factory downstairs.  The old Belk was partially demolished for Target.

One of the main flaws I see with Savannah Mall is that it has too much shadow.  This is a typical problem for multi-level malls, and I found it depressing.

Savannah Candy Company is found in both malls, and is a significant local operation.  Malls once had almost exclusive local operations or small regional chains with national chain stores coming later as big retailers discovered the potential.  The smell of chocolate coming out of the place was so rich it was intoxicating.

Ruby Tuesday is still found in a few malls.  This one has a classic design for sure.

The mall entrance is original, but it doesn't look bad.  The ironworks theme is always attractive, and it was the rage around 1990.

Outside of Dillard's showing an extremely plain store.  Most White's stores were not just somewhat lacking architecturally.


  1. I think the mall situation in Savannah is pretty good. It's not overmalled, and the two malls there seem to co-exist nicely. I like to think of Savannah Mall as being like a Mills mall, with the Burlington, Bass Pro Shops, and former Steve and Barry's, while Oglethorpe is the "mainstream" mall. I do think that Montgomery Ward space would be ideal for a Movie Theater (if there isn't one too close by) and a Border's.

    As a matter of fact, if there's room to grow, I think that Simon should buy the mall out, expand and extensively renovate it and make it into a true Mills mall, calling it "Savannah Mills".

    I always find it interesting, though, to see that every attempt to bring semi-upscale retail to Savannah (and Hilton Head, for that matter) has not exactly worked out as planned, but at the same time, not leaving the original project dead. Like in the case of Savannah Mall, it simply "reinvented" itself, and now seems to have found it's niche. Or with Shelter Cove, which holds on to it's nice stores, but only by a thread and seems to only do so because of it's location in a touristy area. It just kind of strikes me as a mall that people who actually live in the area don't shop at.

  2. Still a good looking mall...glad to hear it came back to life.

  3. There's not much I can add to what you've got here about Savannah Mall. I only lived there for the first four years of its existance.

    Even before I left to move to Coweta County, GA, Savannah Mall had started to show that it was going to have problems. Even when it opened, way too many stores were vacant, and remained that way for too long. Within the first four years, Ann Taylor and, I think, Victoria's Secret had closed, and there were even a few temporary rentals that early in the game.

    The mall didn't have trouble because there weren't enough people in town to support it. It failed because of Savannah's geographical setting. The location of the mall is right up against a river and wide wetlands. The only road going beyond the mall is a semi-expressway heading out to I-95. It is not a thickly-populated area like intown Savannah is. In order to get to Savannah Mall, 75% of the county's population would have to drive by Oglethorpe Mall to get there; those in the 25% that lived on the other side of the mall were, for the most part, Wal-Mart shoppers.

    So...why drive past one Belk's to get to another? [There were three in Savannah at that time.] Savannah never did take to JB White all that much. The store was football-field big, but extremely plain-looking...but it was a Mercantile store, and that's what you got. Savannah did like Parisian, and had they been at Oglethorpe Mall, they would have probably thrived.

    An interesting sidenote...when the anchor lineup for mall was first announced, the anchors were to be JB White, Belk, and Miller-and-Rhoads. Miller and Rhoads had just come back into the hands of some original management, and were in an expansion mode. While they were also going to open in Charleston, none of this happened because of the company's bankruptcy. It was less than a week before it was announced that Parisian would be taking their place.

    And sidenote #2: Publix opened their first store outside of Florida in 1990. It was diagonally across from the mall. The store was 120,000 square feet, and was the prototype for their Georgia stores. The next stores they opened in Savannah about a year later were only half that size. Publix closed the large store a few years ago and moved somewhere else close by, but I'm not sure exactly where.

    The food court does well because there is a university across the street. Armstrong students like the diversity the food court offers.

  4. The proximity to Armstrong Atlantic and the congestion along Abercorn have probably helped Savannah Mall hang on to a lot of business that would otherwise have returned to Oglethorpe Mall. Along with Pooler and some of the islands east of Savannah, this is still one of the fastest growing areas of Chatham County and also close to rapidly growing suburban Richmond Hill in Bryan County. It's southerly location leaves it the first mall encountered by shoppers from Hinesville/Liberty County and Brunswick/Glynn( which these days seems to favor the Jacksonville, FL area malls over Savannah malls). Being closer to I-95, it also has the advantage of being better able to lure the Florida bound traveler than Oglethorpe, having Bass Pro as a draw adds further appeal to tourists.

    Regarding the Dillard's, it still has its J.B. White appearance, which may not be in its favor, as Dillard's has remodeled most stores in markets comparable to Savannah to its "Arched and Stuccoed" design. It hasn't closed, nor has it been downgraded to a Dillard's Clearance, so it might not necessarily be bad news for the location. But neither J.B. White nor Dillard's were familiar names to Savannahians, so the location being somewhat lackluster is no surprise. It seems to be treated like stores in some of the tertiary markets, like Tullahoma, TN or Decatur and Florence, AL, left with obvious signs of its original anchor design(Castner-Knott in the case of these three examples).

  5. Ken...I guess you're right about the Dillard's, as it seems to fit in with everything else about retail in Savannah. Savannah is a unique place, and what even adds to the uniqueness is that it's probably the only mid-sized city in the eastern part of the United States that was an hour's drive away from anywhere. There was the city, and once you reached the water on three sides, the city stopped. Even the southside had a water barrier until Abercorn Expressway was constructed in 1972. Even at that, development southwest of the city was very slow to come. The "westside," which was the only direction from the city not separated by a natural barrier, had a man-made barrier in the form of industry. So...Savannah, for 250+ years, remained an isolated metropolitan area, and those who lived there survived with what they had. Dillard's is an example of how this carries on: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

  6. A few things to add:

    There are two movieplexes on Shawnee Drive, behind the mall - one by each of the two chains that dominate (Carmike, Regal).

    Publix was evicted due to Armstrong Atlantic buying the strip, renaming it Armstrong Center. It's being used for continuing ed., and the former Publix is an event venue. After several years of that section of town being without one, Publix reappeared about half a mile up Abercorn in what used to be Media Play. The old MP store was torn down to build the present Publix. It opened roughly a year and a half ago.

    Savannah Mall looks good, but as already noted, very much second-tier. One walk down its corridors suggests "low end squatters"

    I have a personal interest in AC Moore, however. My wife teaches Wilton cake decorating classes at that store (in the above picture, the classroom signage is visible). They're not doing so well, and last Fall started closing at 8 PM.

    The reasons have already been given and I can only agree with them. Savannah Mall was built in the wrong place. Had it gone in closer to Pooler, we'd be talking a different outcome. But I suppose the Pooler/West Chatham area wasn't yet on the grow as of 1990?

    One MAJOR gripe about the Target mall entrance: THERE ARE NO CHECKOUT LANES. If you entered from the mall, you have to settle up at the opposite end of the store, then WALK BACK toward the mall. Someone wasn't thinking.



  7. I moved to Savannah two weeks before the Savannah Mall opened. I was a teenager in the 1980s when mall culture was huge (at least in my corner of the Midwest) so I was excited that there was a brand new mall in my new town. Alas, I only lived there for a year so I did not experience the changes that are mentioned. I thought it was listed on I am glad to see that it is still relevant.

  8. I worked in the Bass Pro Shops for about three years during high school before going to college. Savannah Mall has definitely survived but it could be doing better. I feel the second tier status is unnecessary and that aside from the recession, it it also yielded from years of mismanagement.

    When the recession gives way, I think someone needs to try really hard to lure in stores that do not yet have a presence in Savannah and a renovation with some paint choices that don't scream 1990 should be inline.

    Perhaps and this is just a suggestion, the mall could be demolished and rebuilt as a open-air lifestyle centre similar to that of Atlantic Station, adding in office space and some residential units. Target, Burlington, and Dillard's would be remodeled.

    After working at Bass Pro, I know it is one of the most successful in the chain but needs more room. A new store could be constructed and once it opened the old store could be demolished for more open air lifestyle space.

    The way of the future in regards to retail seems to be moving towards shopping outside again. Savannah Mall could actually be ahead of the game this time. It really has a unique position because beyond it, the Savannah metro area is barren of retail. Eventually some sort of mall/lifestyle centre will be constructed in Pooler but that is years away.

    By the way, Victoria's Secret is still there. It along with Champs recently remodeled to have new prototype stores. Victoria's Secret even opted to include a Pink unit, something the Oglethorpe Mall location lacks.

    Victoria's Secret, Champs, The Gap, Gap Kids, Lane Bryant, Claire's, Chick Fil-A, Foot Locker, Trade Secret, Ruby Tuesday, Regis, Payless, Levy Jewelers, and Sbarro are still holding open in the mall after opening in 1990 with the mall.

  9. I hung out at this mall alot in 93-95, while in high school. Great years, then off and on til now, it gives me a real stroll down memory lane to walk there. I remember people happy, excited to buy stuff. Now everything is so dismal and cheap is our first choice. I miss the roaring 90's. I hope they find the right groove here and regain some of the magic.

  10. Sad news to report, Levys jewelers is closing and Journeys closed last weekend...

  11. The vacant store on the right five photos up is the former Abercrombie & Fitch. It closed in 2004 shortly after the departure of Belk and Parisian and was a major blow to the mall. The mall would be doing much better if it had not lost its signature store, but it seems you can't have an A&F without at least 2 upper-middle department stores (Dillard's and Macy's). I'm thankful that Target, Burlington, and Bass Pro Shops are helping keep the mall alive, but those types of anchors really are a turn off for most major retailers. I wish we could get Kohl's, Nordstrom, and for Belk to open up a second store again. I really think Savannah could support Nordstrom, but in this economy there's not a chance of one coming here. I really have my hopes up for Kohl's to take over the vacant Montgomery Ward though. That'd be awesome!

  12. Savannah Mall seems be experiencing a slight exodus of retailers again. Trade Secret, New York & Company, Big Pete's Pizza, Levy Jewelers, Journeys, and Sporty's Burgers and Dawgs have all closed. This leaves the food court with two vacant spots (the one on the left when you walk in the mall used to be a Wendy's back in the 90s).

    I'll tell ya'll how I wish Savannah Mall would be. I'm not going to say very upscale and extravagent, but just enough to get by in this economy and with Oglethorpe as prominent as it is. I wish Savannah Mall AT LEAST had an anchor line up of Belk, Bass Pro Shops, Kohl's, and Dillard's. It also AT LEAST needs to get Aeropostale, American Eagle, Express, Pac Sun, New York & Company, f.y.e., Cinnabon, Hallmark, and Underground Station. You know just the basic classics. I also think the train should move into the mall permanently in the Target court, but of course the escalators would have to be repositioned. It should have this coastal theme, but still decorate for the holidays. A chair-o-plane in the Dillard's court would also attract more customers (especially me).Bass Pro Shops needs a water slide or indoor simulator similar to Adrenalina stores. Also it makes me VERY UPSET that they made the trees SO small. It might have been time for a little trimming, but without them reaching at least to the second level makes the mall feel even more empty than it already is! If the mall management reads this PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE put the larger trees back! Oh and the clocktower too! This was the centerpiece of the mall and you destroyed that magic!

    Savannah Mall is the memorial of my childhood (which I'm still in) and I just want to make sure it's properly reserved. One of my many dreams is to be a part of the management team at Savannah Mall, I think I'd do great. Gloria Jean's Coffee would be nice and also Akoo Social Music and Lunar Golf! Make this a mainstream shopping and entertainment center! And PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE renovate the exterior of Dillard's to their current look and paint the arches on the main entrances gold. The new signs on Abercorn are a great advertising tool, but would it of hurt to enlarge and repaint the older ones and add digital broadcasting to them? Lastly ya'll have to make the landscaping more beautiful. Add full scale palm trees at the outside directories of the anchors like at The Avenues in Jacksonville and if Kohl's refuses to join, then the only other rational tenant I can think of at this point is Dick's Sporting Goods (which Savannah also lacks!). Do this and I think they'll definitely be on the road to recovery. Everyone root for Kohl's!

  13. What's interesting about the Savannah Mall is it is built on the same plan as Carolina Place Mall in Pineville, NC. Carolina Place is a very successful mall.

  14. i saw that the retro A&F is still there... but it's now a furniture store. i even saw the new 2 story carousel at the food court.

  15. do u know the private hospital next to savannah mall which is under construction at the moment.if so what is its name?

  16. Do you happen to remember the name of the seafood restaurant that used to be across from the Ruby Tuesday’s around 2008 or 2009? My husband and I are racking our brain to remember.

    1. Oh about a blast from the past! That restaurant was called Bull & Bay and had pictures of River Street and downtown Savannah in their menu. I remember eating there in 1994; I ordered their Crab Au Gratin and I recall it had a ton of cheese in it.

      Those were truly the halcyon days of the mall. I haven't lived in Savannah since 2009 but something needs to be done to fix that mall. It's changed owners more times than I can count, and every time I check up on it it's still the same very dead mall with boarded up storefronts and a small mixture of mom and pop stores, aside from the anchor tenants. And I can't believe they removed that awesome clock tower from Center Court!

      Hopefully one day someone will course correct and find the proper solution to fixing Savannah Mall.