Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Eastridge Mall: Gastonia, NC

Gastonia has a population of over 70,000 residents, which is a sizable city for North Carolina.  It is also a city in its own right despite its close proximity to nearby Charlotte.  Still, Charlotte's growth has today made it part of the metro area.  When Eastridge Mall came along, it brought first class shopping to Gastonia, but the mall itself was not the first in the city.  The first was Gaston Mall, which was a much smaller Woolco-anchored center built in the late 60's.  Eastridge arrived in 1976, far eclipsing Gaston Mall and drawing a large trade area that served a market in both North and South Carolina mostly independent of Charlotte.  It is also a relatively large mall with nearly a million square feet, five anchors and three levels that was undoubtedly as popular as Eastland Mall was in Charlotte in its early years.

When the mall opened, it brought in three large anchors: Matthews Belk, Ivey's, and JCPenney.  The anchors were shuffled over the years, however, with only Matthews Belk retaining its original location.  However, little changed with the mall for nearly 20 years: it's 70's trappings and anchors remained in place with the exception of Ivey's, which became Dillard's in 1990.  Goody's also joined the mall somewhere in that time span, though it is unknown whether it existed as anything previously.  However, all of this suddenly changed rapidly beginning in 1996.

The first photo is a view of the upper level court outside of Dillard's looking toward the food court.  Notice the old-style floor tiles interspersed with the terrazzo.  The second photo is looking from the second level toward Matthews Belk.

In 1997, JCPenney completed construction of a new store in the front of the mall facing NC 279.  The old store located on the southeast end was then demolished and replaced the following year with a new Dillard's.  The whole shuffle was curious, so I'm assuming Dillard's and JCPenney cut a deal to give both stores greater exposure and more ideal anchor pads.  When work was completed, the old Ivey's/Dillard's was then converted to Sears.  This brought the total anchors up to four not counting Goody's, which opened as a junior anchor adjacent to Sears.  During the same time, renovation was begun on the mall, which was completed in late 1998.  The unfortunate part of the renovation was that food court, which was located on the third level, was moved down to the main part of the mall on the second level.  The food court replaced what had been a four-screen theater.  Not only was a theater lost, but this also resulted in the closure of the third level, which itself was only accessible from the JCPenney wing (originally the front entrance).

Matthews Belk mall entrance has apparently been modernized, but not the skylights above it.

Dillard's mall entrance was previously JCPenney.  The outlandish boxes on top are a real trip.  Did those ever serve any purpose?

The renovation was also really a stripping down.  All fountains, planters and sunken seating areas were removed on the lower level to create a flat surface with modern floor tiling.  The upper floor looks to have part or all of the original flooring with terrazzo flooring interspersed with brick linoleum tiles.  In all, it looks like the mall was visible neutered in 1998 making it look much smaller than I'm sure it looked originally.  Any other "improvements" looked primarily to be white paint covering any possible color that existed throughout.  Basically, the mall needs a new renovation with some of the 70's brought back!

Dark escalators, which provide access to a smaller third level.  Originally a food court (and offices?) this most recently held a small theme park that is now going to host mini golf.  JCPenney's mall entrance is in the background on what used to be a main entrance.

The third level is split between both sides of center court with the portion to the right enclosed in windows while the portion to the left is open.  This is looking toward Dillard's.  Sears, on the left, was originally Ivey's.

This is now looking toward Matthews Belk.  The open third level is creepy looking but very cool.  I'm amazed it is still must have been too expensive and complicated to remove it.

The third floor has proved to be a quandary for the owners of the mall.  It has spent much of its existence abandoned since the food court was kicked out.  A small indoor theme park called Jeepers! took up the space in 2005, but closed in 2006.  Jeepers! was essentially an arcade with a few rides, stuff for the kids and even a small roller coaster.  The third proved a challenge due to ceiling height restrictions. The latest venture about to open in the dark third level is a mini golf course...pretty much anything is being tried to keep the third level from looking creepy and dead.  I was surprised to find the mall had a third level but disappointed to see that it had not been properly worked into the mall.  The owners could possibly find a way to connect it somehow to Sears and JCPenney so that it can become part of the mall space.  A return of the food court would be the best plan...the current food court is ugly and boring in an era when splashy food courts are very much in vogue.  I think if they combined a refurbished food court with a new theater on the third level, it could be a huge draw!

Approaching JCPenney with the third floor escalators on the left.

JCPenney's mall entrance looks kinda dowdy.  I wonder if anything here where the floor changes is original.  The railing looks straight up 70's.

Another thing I noticed about the mall was how dark it was.  While I love dark malls, and that was popular in the 70's, these dark malls typically came with the tree-filled elegance and gushing fountains.  Now, it just looks cavernous with such limited light and focal points.  Skylights in the mall are small, and artificial light was sparse.  The mall was so dark when I was there it was difficult to see even without the camera.  I wished so much that I could have seen this mall how I was sure it once looked, but opportunities like that come extremely rare today as mall owners in the 90's discounted the value of beautiful malls in favor of packing them with tacky kiosks and problem-free flush floors.  Is it even possible to restore this once its gone if they actually wanted to?

This image was captured along the same JCPenney wing heading back to center court.

A look along the Dillard's wing from the upper level.  Note the strip of old linoleum tiles.

Eastridge Mall has also changed ownership twice since it opened.  The original owners, Carlson Properties, sold the mall in 1989 to Jacobs, Visconsi & Jacobs Company.  The last sale came in 2002 to Westfield America Trust, who changed the name to Westfield Shoppingtown Eastridge.  This is the only Westfield mall currently in North Carolina.  About the only thing to change since they took over was the sign on the road and the replacement of Goody's with a Shoe Dept. Encore.

Escalators in the mall are only found in the middle of the wings and in front of the anchors.  Apparently, this was done to prevent the need for them in center court when much was there.  A similar set-up remained at Cumberland Mall in Atlanta prior to the 2005 renovation when they were relocated to center court.  I personally like them the way they are here.

Matthews Belk here looks new, but it is not.  The entrance was redesigned over 10 years ago replacing a very gaudy one.

The JCPenney is a very goofy design.  It was built in 1997, but it pays ode to typical 70's department store design with the dark glass backdrop.

Eastridge Mall is a truly awesome mall that needs to be treated as such.  It is sad that in the 90's they could not have been more imaginative with it when many mall developers in other places were putting out their best for the last time.  It is not a dying mall by any means.  The area is a upper middle class suburb that is more than enough to support it, and competition currently is non-existant.  Still, I wish they would renovate again.  This time, they need to bring in some really spectactular in-floor fountains in the court areas, trees, plants and reinvent the third floor as a new theater/food court area.  Another thing they need to consider is to bring in more natural light: put in some new skylights with a multi-angled roof design featuring wood paneling underneath to keep it classy.  Put some color on the white walls as well.

Shoe Dept. Encore has an outside entrance since it previously operated as junior anchor Goody's.

Not a great shot, but Sears here originally opened as Ivey's.  Dillard's operated in this spot before moving to its current location.  I did not photograph the newer Dillard's since it was a total clone to every other Dillard's from the era.  If Dillard's wants improved business, they need to follow the older model and make every store distinct and unique.

On top of a swankier mall, I think a more distinct name might be good for the mall in addition to interior improvements.  A name I would like is Kingsridge Mall to reference its location near Kings Mountain: the highest peak in the Charlotte area.  Being west of Charlotte, the "east" part is a little strange.  Not to be too critical, the mall is a nice mall and is solid with the best mid-market anchors in the region.  While I would never want the physical structure itself to change, I do think that as Charlotte grows to it that the mall needs to stand out more.  Before I visited, I did not expect the mall to be so unique so I hope that in the future they will better capitalize on that.


  1. Eastridge Mall was listed in the Wall Street Journal in 2009 as one of America's lowest-performing malls, with low sales per square foot. I don't understand why- it's the only legitimate mall in the western suburbs of Charlotte.

    Gaston Mall has been demolished and repositioned into an outdoor center.

  2. I would say having a whole floor of the mall that is empty that they cannot figure out what to do with combined with a design that leaves a lot to be desired is part of it. Also, I noticed fewer kiosks in the mall. If those numbers come from a lack of kiosks, that to me is a GOOD thing. Probably the closure of Goody's also affected it...which has since reopened as Shoe Dept. Encore.

  3. This mall looked like it was hurting about a year ago in 2009, but it seems to have bounced back nicely. It's a decent mid-size mid-tier mall.

    That said, this thing -really- needs some love from its owners. Everywhere you look the paint is peeling, the floor is cracked, the ceiling is stained, etc. The outside doesn't look horrible or anything, but Westfield is very clearly not putting a dime into the center. Hell, in your pictures half of the lights are burnt out. (Though Jacobs group malls have a tendency to be dark...)

    Also, the food court is insultingly lame. That's all I have to say about that.

  4. I've never been to this mall. It seems pleasant enough but it's dated in a not so great way. It seems like most of the character has been remodeled away leaving a lot of very awkward '70s details and some standard-issue '90s department stores.

  5. Steven- you're correct.

    From my view (having been there many times for a quick Chick-fil-A stop while driving down I-85), it's just a standard '70s regional mall that has been largely updated. Oddly enough, many of the '70s details are still there (such as the floor and some of the railings), and it has some vacancy issues. It probably serves its local community well but it's on my A-list.

  6. JC Penney was using that exterior design a great deal in the mid-90s. The new replacement store they built at West Town in Knoxville, TN has the exact same design, I believe it was completed in '95.

  7. I went to this mall yesterday- around the Dillard's/food court area, there were very few regular national chain stores, a few vacancies, and some former Eastland Mall stores (literally- Authentiks and Modeline), and the mall wasn't particularly crowded.

    Oh no!

  8. Speaking as a person that was there while the mall was being built (my father had a store on the second level), the mall looks NOTHING like the original. The only thing that could be original is the railing. BTW, does anyone remember the movie theater? Last time I was there it had been replaced with a much smaller food court. The original third level food court was better. Ah, great memories!

  9. The third level of the mall was, as stated, originally a food court. It also housed a restaurant, Morrisons Cafeteria. There was also an arcade on the third floor, as I went there a few times as a child/young teenager in the early to mid 1980s. The cracks in the floor in the mall are a structural problem that surfaced not long after construction of the mall was completed. At one point, the cracks were so bad that there were rumors that the mall would collapse. The flooring of the second level of the mall was covered with carpet to conceal the cracks. I haven't been to this mall in years, but these are the things that I remember about it from back in the early/mid 1980s. I hope some of this information helps.

  10. I remember going to this mall alot during my childhood. My favorite part was the 3rd floor. Going to eat at Morrison's and playing in the Arcade. There also used to be a Shoney's restaurant beside Morrison's which I loved. I think it was WSOC channel 9 that had a studio there and did some live broadcasting and there was a post office in beside it. The movie theater from what I can remember had a very distinct 80's styling and I got to see quite a few movies there. There used to be a Eckerd drug store in the middle but didn't make it to the 2000's. There were little seating areas that were stepped down in the middle of the floors. The floors used to be a dark brick color before they remodeled it in 98. I could probably go on and on about this mall because I spent alot of time there in the late 80's since I was in preschool and would get out around lunch and have to wait on my brother to get out of elementary school.

  11. This could be a great mall with a renovation. I grew up with this mall and loved it as a kid...I agree about moving the food court upstairs and adding a nice (I-Max) movie theater...maybe a bowling alley as well. Beg Outback accross the street to take on of the outparcels to build on. An update to this mall could be a financial boon to the City, and a real benefit to the residents.

  12. Wow. I grew up going with my family to Eastridge; it was the exciting "big city" mall since we lived in nearby Shelby. We spent a lot of time there in the 1980s, but I probably haven't been back since my parents moved from Shelby in 1994.

    What a difference the time has made... I can't believe how bland and boring it looks now. And I'm floored they shut down the 3rd level. It was always booming; there was the cafeteria, Shoney's, a large arcade, and the standard food court fare (Chick-fil-a, Orange Julius, etc.).

    I can't believe they've fumbled this mall so badly. It really is a huge draw for all the outlying communities to the west and they've seemingly stripped away all of its visual appeal. It looks like the glass elevator in center court doesn't even operate anymore - it used to be lined with lights and surrounded by fountains and planters.

    Ah, the good old days!

  13. I just want to say that I also have fond memories of the 3rd floor. I must have been 4 or 5 years old, but Morrison's seemed like a nice restaurant to me. It was like K&W/J&S but inside the mall! Not many malls around here have a full fledged sit down restaurant. I'm not a big fan of eating in loud/busy food courts. I also remember Morrison's having very large windows so you could look out from the 3rd floor...always wanted to sit by the windows as a kid. I remember going to the movies, too...small but cozy.

    Anyway, it's a shame what the mall has become. If Morrison's and the movies were still there, I bet the place would get a lot more traffic. A person could essentially make a FULL day out of the mall...decent meal, some shopping and a movie. When you think about, it was stupid to disrupt things that went together like peas and carrots.