Sunday, March 28, 2010

University Mall Opening Day 1980: Tuscaloosa, AL

Looking at the Tuscaloosa newspaper the day that University Mall opened, you would think that a palace or 100 story skyscraper had opened in the city.  Indeed, it must have been a major spectacle to have a mall that was semi-upscale after a decade of inadequate McFarland Mall.  The only problem was that McFarland Mall was not big enough to kill off downtown, but University Mall was.  While many stores have come and gone, what is remarkable to me is how little University Mall has actually changed.  Although its 90's renovation did strip away some of the more hardcore modernist elements, the mall in these pictures here does not seem that much different than it does today, which to me is a good thing.  If they were looking to build a showplace mall that they would stay proud of, then stripping away the good things would mean it was all for naught.  It is an 80's mall, and that is what it will always be, so why try to disguise that?  It's not at present in danger of failure either, so obviously what worked in 1980 still does today.

The span of time has changed many stores, and it was interesting to note how many original stores were highlighted in the newspaper that day.  There were so many storefronts photographed that I only picked a select few, though I tried to capture every department store image the best I could.  Bon Appetit, a crepe restaurant obviously similar to Magic Pan, has since closed and Ruby Tuesday is today Applebee's.  All of the trendy clothing stores of the time both regional and national such as Foxmoor and Chess King have been replaced with the standard American Eagle (in the old Bon Appetit) and Gap today.  Parisian has since been downscaled as part of a dual Belk, Pizitz is long gone and Morrison's is now Piccadilly.  Harco Drugs, located next to JCPenney, is today Rite-Aid and no longer in the mall.  McCrory's disappeared with all the other five and dime stores. 

A view into the mall from one of the courts in front of the anchors.  The brick cased planters have since been replaced with more classic fountains and potted planters.  The first photo is of center court showing the most complete view.

A view of the Sears court.  It looks like it was originally a sunken area.  I am trying to figure out what exactly the sputnik-shaped thing is in the front.  Is it situated in a fountain?

Lush landscaping...still in the mall to a lesser degree, but lost from most malls today.

Another view along the mall corridor.

Darker part of the mall with a Lerner store on the left.  I remember an older, classier logo, but this must have been standard for 1980.  Lerner Shops disappeared completely by the 1990's.

JCPenney court.  Harco Drugs was to the right, but today is a clothing shop.  JCPenney still has the diagonal wood look on the entrance, though it has been painted white.  This was typical treatment in the early 80's, apparently.

What did not change in the mall was surprisingly much.  Lorch's Diamond Center, a North Alabama chain, continues to operate at the mall.  Taco Casa, a popular local chain, continues to do business in the exact spot it opened in.  Other national chains that opened in the mall such as Spencer's Gifts are still there.  In a time when so much old is lost to both progress and decline, it is comforting to see that some things do not change as much.  While those fortunes could always change, the fact is that the mall is representative of the city, which is showing quiet resiliency.  Its combination of education and manufacturing are beginning to establish it as a respectable city in its own right, though it lacks the name recognition of Alabama's largest and more colorful cities.

This was pieced together to give a complete map and list of the layout and original tenants at the mall.  Note the original mall logo.

Aaron Aronov, whose company still operates the mall today, is pictured on the right.  Note one entrance with this style had not changed in my newer photos.

A not-so-clear picture of the original Pizitz store, which later became McRae's and today Belk Men's.

Pizitz of Birmingham...which it was only known as such in Tuscaloosa...created a short-lived, but confusing mess of two completely different stores both named Pizitz.  The Pizitz Tuscaloosa chain faded away by the following year, so the "of Birmimgham" would soon be dropped.

The only thing different on Sears today is the logo.  The store still looks just like this otherwise.

Parisian did not have their store complete for awhile after the mall opened, so they created an inline boutique known as "Parisian Preview" offering a more limited selection while they waited for the store to be completed.  The store, when completed, operated as Parisian until 2007 when it became Belk Women's.

The 70's and early 80's were the beginning of boring and subdued logos.  The bright, often tacky and glitzy signs so common up to then were replaced with these super boring signs almost always printed in Helvetica or similar.  Note they also featured some artwork created out of the initials as well.  The modern logo is such a vast improvement over this!

Realizing what a surprisingly notable history that Tuscaloosa has had retailwise, I regret that I did not cover even more than I did.  Taco Casa definitely deserved its own page, and one of the few remaining Bruno's was operating right next to University Mall.  This post also marks the end of the Tuscaloosa series, but this also marks the first time this region has received any spotlight in retail history.  What brought me to Tuscaloosa, though, was the realization that one of Alabama's oldest malls would soon fade into history.  However, I was surprised to find that the mall that took the helm was interesting enough itself.

"A grand new place to dine".  Uh huh.  They moved twice in less than five years, but this would be their last since Morrison's was bought out in 1995.  Morrison's actually featured a country-styled pointy serifed logo on their stores, so the logo they are using there is quite unfamiliar.  It's amazing how cafeterias fell so hard out of favor, but that is a whole other discussion. 

This place LOOKS fun.  As a kid, I would have been instantly drawn to a place that looked like this!

What is Jeans West?

Adrian's looked to be a regional chain like oft-covered Budd's in these posts.  Budd's did open at the mall, but did not provide an image like this quintessential 70's storefront drawing. 

Harco's logo was nothing short of cute...honestly.  They were apparently absorbed into Rite-Aid in the 1990's, and Rite-Aid has long since left this mall.


  1. You asked "What is Jeans West?"

    It was a clothing store targeted at younger men. There were several such shops in malls up until the mid 1990s. Jeans West, Oak Tree, Chess King, DJ's, and Attivo were in a lot of malls. You probably remember Merry Go round and Networks, which DJs and Attivo were the "men only" versions of.

    I bought quite a few articles of clothing from Jeans West stores from 1990 to 1994 or so.

    Nearly every mall, at least in the southeast, had a Jeans West.

  2. That Harco logo reminds me of a distorted version of the Hilton Hotels logo from that same time period.

    Jeans West had a couple of non-mall stores too. They operated a store in the Mobile Festival Centre power centre in the late 1980s.

    Also, I'm a bit jealous that a smaller market mall such as University Mall had a larger selection of national retailers than those found in bigger malls in larger markets like Bel Air Mall and Springdale Plaza in Mobile.

  3. Lerner's like the one pictured here apparently lasted into the 2000s. Check out the Brickyard Mall pics just posted on Labelscar...
    And that's a pretty sweet Morrison's ad. They apparently were trying to go for a more upscale image there i.e. "cafeteria restaurant." Too bad it didn't work for them.

  4. There is money in Tuscaloosa, but its relatively small size disguises it. When the F4 tornado hit in 2000, million dollar homes were destroyed along with trailers and small houses. This to me seems to be an up and coming town that has flown under the radar screen...possibly due to its overall isolation otherwise.

  5. Thanks for sharing these ad pics! I was born in 1980, so to see ads like these is amazing to me. Kudos as usual for all your hard work!

  6. The sputnik looking thing in the Sears court was a water feature.

  7. Oh my god, I remember Barrel of Fun, it was the 2nd store on the left (I think 2 stores before Taco Casa) upon enthering the food court entrance. I remember the employees wore ugly brown uniforms, and there were many days where I went there and the token machines were all out of tokens... making it impossible to play anything :(
    Barrel of Fun is what made that mall so awesome for me. I had my birthday party there one year, and was invited to more parties there than I could count. As Tuscaloosa didn't have a Showbiz Pizza/Chuck E Cheeses in those days*, and with Aladdin's Castle at McFarland Mall being more teenage/adult oriented, at least in those days (Barrel of Fun had a lot of Ticket games, Aladdin's only had a couple, it was more actual video games), this was Tuscaloosa's hotspot for kids birthday parties. They had a deal with the mall and would set up a party table for cake, ice cream and presents in the food court right outside their store entrance, which was a sideways barrel. Kind of hard to tell from the picture, but it looks like that barrel is blocked off. I don't know if there was an entrance that was not in your picture or maybe they were still in preopening phases. What I do NOT remember is the "Barrel of Fun" name in big bold letters like that. The way I remember they had their name on the sides of the actual barrel. Maybe it was both I don't know, I suppose my #1 focus was getting in the barrel and playing.
    *A side note about Showbiz Pizza/Chuck E Cheeses, it is actually my understanding that Tuscaloosa did in fact have a Showbiz Pizza in the early-mid 80's, but it closed before I moved there. That company (after merging with Chuck E Cheeses) did a slew of store closings, and Tuscaloosa I guess was one of them. Funny thing is that I know Chuck E Cheeses set up shop in Tuscaloosa after I moved away, but looking at their store locator just now, it appears it is no more. Tuscaloosa hasn't been good to that company :)

    1. The Chuck E Cheese was completely destroyed in the April 2011 tornado and they did not rebuild.

    2. The Chuck E. Cheese was completely destroyed in the April 2011 tornado and did not rebuild.

    3. Chuck E Cheese has since rebuilt in the new Midtown Village outdoor mall

    4. Barrel of fun was my hand out to. I spent many hours there because my parents owned a store in the mall in the late 1980s untill around 1990
      Around 1986 i started playing machines there . The hardest one that was on the left was a skill game invilving a bowling ball. U rolled ut up a ramp and tryed to get to stay in the valley of these 2 chrome rails with out comming back! It was a ticket machine also. I remember when they got the Big 4 Player Gauntlet on the left . I kicked ass on the double dragon also on the left. But don middle of the arcade, then opperation wolf, then a large either after burner mabya sit down starwars cant remember. I do remember a moon potrol on the right tward the back and i loved Rampage! On the right near the front i believe there was a counter for where u redeamed tickets for prises, i remember trying my best to win a yellow walkman! Ha

      Does any one have any photos of the barrel of fun??? Or remember any other games that were in the arcade? U can text me 601 -407-8042 or email me at
      Funny thing is that i manage a company that suplyes machines pooltables for the home and business market. I would love to recreate the barel of fun in a seperate building at home or even basement! I want the entrance the orange and brown carpet and all!!

  8. Lerner was eventually purchased by Limited and its name was changed to New York and Company.

  9. Several stores have left in the past year or two. The Gap is gone, Taco Casa left , Limited is also gone. The four anchors remain but the way Pennys and Sears are going financially that may soon change. The Cadence bank in the parking lot is also closing its university mall branch. Honestly, with the announcement of the new shopping center being built by the hospital and the new develpment at the old Mcfarland mall location i can see this mall going down rapidly in the next 5 years.

  10. I was 8 years old when this mall opened & I can still remember all the hype! Barrel of Fun was FUN! I can still remember the sounds & smells of that mall. It has changed so much, and i think there is even talk of closing the mall now due to the new development across the street. The tornado changed Tuscaloosa and seems to have given developers an opener to update that city in a much needed way..but it does yield to a "out with the old, in with the new" way of thinking. I am sad to see how much the landscape has changed. When they built the new development across from the University Mall, they bulldozed several old neigborhoods and homes, one of which was actually built by my grandfather. Sometimes it actually hurts me to drive by and think about what used to be there..which is now covered with The Fresh Market and condos..Great blog, I am really enjoying this little trip down memory lane.

  11. My first job was at JC Penny in 1980. I worked in the jewelry dept with Jean Blocker from Tuscaloosa. Bill Delozier was store manager. Then I worked at Parisians with Myra Glenn from Tuscaloosa before moving away. What a great store Parisians was.
    Fond memories to see these pictures. I was 22 at the time and my husband was in law school. Met some great people!