Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Clearwater Mall: Clearwater, FL

Shopping options in Pinellas County, FL are pretty limited compared to what they once were.  This was because northern Pinellas County had too many malls, plain and simple.  Eventually, some mall was going to take the fall and ultimately multiple malls went down.  In all, three malls have have met a date with the wrecking ball in the area starting with Sunshine Mall followed by Clearwater Mall and finally Crossroads Mall.  Formerly located at US 19 and Gulf-To-Bay Blvd (FL 60), Clearwater Mall itself met its demise in 2002 following a relatively rapid decline that started in the 1990's.  So many factors came into play killing this mall, and this post provides an in-depth picture into a mall that has been gone for almost a decade now.

One thing for certain about Clearwater Mall is that even though it seemed like a solid mall at the time, it was not the best positioned for long-term survival.  When the mall arrived on November 8, 1973, it was one of only two malls in the northern end of the county.  At the time, there was only one other mall in the vicinity, Sunshine Mall.  The anchor roster was also solid for the time featuring Gayfer's, Ivey's and Montgomery Ward, but none of those anchors were local to the market at all.  Gayfer's was from Mobile, AL; Ivey's from Charlotte, NC and Montgomery Ward was less popular than either Sears or JCPenney.  The mall also featured a rather unique design feature in that although the mall itself was mostly one level, the center of the mall was two-levels anchoring Ivey's on one end.  This rather interesting design feature was mimicked in the 1990's at University Square Mall across the bay, and I'm sure it was always fun for shoppers.

The first photo features center court with its two-level atrium stretching from the main entrance to Dillard's, formerly Ivey's.  The photo above is a typical scene througout the rest of the mall featuring a domed skylight and fairly basic court areas.  This and all photos here were taken by id780 on July 1, 2001 unless otherwise indicated.

Short entrance wing.  Photo by id780.

Typical mall scenes.  Photos by id780.

A view of the main entrance wing from the lower level.  Photo by id780.

Clearwater Mall found its first real competition in 1975 when Countryside Mall opened to the north.  This put the mall in a difficult position being located between the new mall to the north and Sunshine Mall to the west.  Countryside Mall also nailed down better anchors with Maas Brothers, Sears and JCPenney in addition to Robinson's of Florida.  Clearwater Mall responded to the mall's arrival by bringing in Burdine's as the mall's fourth anchor.  This sparked an intense rivalry between the two malls that was highlighted by a lawsuit filed by Clearwater Mall against Countryside Mall for requiring tenants to sign lease agreements that forbade them from opening a second location at Clearwater Mall.  Sadly, this would only be the beginning of their troubles.

Here is a better view of center court and the two-level wing.  Upstairs apparently was already closed off by this time.  You can see the end of the upper level opposite from Dillard's in this photo.  Photo by id780.

The Ward's court was rather interesting in that it included this small ramped area in front of it.  Since Pinellas County is completely flat, this design feature was intriguing.  Photo by id780.

Another view of Ward's court.  Photo by id780.

Here are a couple angles of the Montgomery Ward mall entrance.  Photos by id780.

It seemed in so many ways that the mall was cursed.  The next major crisis came in 1988 when the mall was found to have asbestos, which had to be removed prior to the commencement of the mall's first major renovation.  The mall's renovation was completed in late fall of 1989, and it would also be the last one as a mall.  Clearwater Mall would survive competing with three other malls, but aside from this one renovation the mall never evolved any after Countryside Mall opened.  Soon after the paint dried on the renovations, Dillard's purchased Ivey's in 1990 marking the beginning of the mall's decline.  This was because Dillard's also had previously bought the Robinson's of Florida location at Countryside Mall meaning they had two stores less than five miles apart.  By the mid-90's, the mall was beginning to struggle with vacancies, but the worst was yet to come.  Two basic factors would cause its downfall: the lack of further expansion and department store consolidation.  Big problems were soon to follow.

This map was sent to me by Radio0023 showing the exact layout and stores in Clearwater Mall as they were in 1988-1989 around the time of the first renovation.  It looks like the mall was having vacancy problems even then.  Pier 1 Imports is listed, which made it to the redevelopment.

Vacant store fronts abounded, including stores that have long since disappeared.  Smoke & Snuff, apparently a local smoke shop is bordered by Occassions.  Photos by id780.

Is Paul Harris even still around?  Photo by id780.

This appears to be an older American Eagle.  Am I wrong?  Photo by id780.

Sunglass Hut is shut.  It also features a very 90's logo.  Photo by id780.

Here is a banking name I have not seen in many years on this ATM machine located next to the escalator to the abandoned second floor.  Photo by id780.

Victoria's Secret?  Photo by id780.

This one frustrates me, because I cannot figure it out.  Interesting kiosk on the left, by the way.  Photo by id780.

I think all of us nostalgic about old malls cannot get enough of these classic Foot Locker designs with their diagonal wood trim.  Photo by id780.

Here is a glimpse inside the old Foot Locker that looks to be pretty trapped in the 70's as well.  Photo by id780.

The first significant blow came to the mall when Dillard's exited the mall on October 11, 1998.  This was especially problematic since they bought Gayfer's less than a month later.  The Gayfer's location at the mall was the only location in the county, but it became a liability the second the ink dried on the bill of sale.  The store was very briefly converted to a Dillard's Clearance Store, but Dillard's announced that in January that store, too, would be closed on the heels of an expansion of their store at Countryside Mall.  Dillard's was so determined to close that store that they never bothered to even change the Gayfer's sign still prominently mounted on the building long after it had closed.  As a result, Clearwater Mall lost two anchors within a very short time span leaving the mall in crisis in early 1999.  It was clear by then that Clearwater Mall, though better located, had finally lost the war with the newer, larger Countryside Mall.

Here, I have two separate images of Burdine's both after it closed and just before.  The second photo was taken on December 3, of three un-Merry Christmases for the mall.  Photo by id780.

Here is a glimpse inside Montgomery Ward, which probably was not any busier when it was open.  Photo by id780.

Due to famine, the food court had to close indefinitely.  That's about the lie you would expect about why this food court will leave you famished.  Of course, there is always McDonald's down the street.  Photo by id780.

Are you imagining the taste of a slice of Sbarro Pizza melting in your mouth?  Sorry, you'll have to keep imagining it.  Photo by id780.

Chick-Fil-A is always closed Sunday...and Monday-Saturday.  Photo by id780.

Mall Chinese restaurants: the canary in the coal mine.  This one is dead, so go figure.  Photo by id780.

Flipper jumps over a neon atomic bomb at the Food Court entrance in the middle of a tiled enclosure next to the Food Court entrance.  What on earth does this have to do with food?  Photo by id780.

The biggest problem with Dillard's departure from Clearwater Mall was that its location in the former Ivey's was positioned as the centerpiece of the mall anchoring a two-level wing that did not connect to any other stores in the mall.  This meant that the upper level became completely vacant immediately with no draw.  That wasn't the only thing vacant as major chain stores departed en masse throughout 1999 and 2000.  Plans were to demolish the mall as early as 2000, but the plans were delayed by the owners Wilton Partners and New Plan Excel Realty Trust until 2002 to work out agreements with remaining Burdine's and Ward's.   Burdine's originally stated they would stay until 2002, but they decided to pull out sooner, closing in January 2001.  They had discussed opening a furniture store on the redeveloped site early on. Burdine's, like Dillard's, also had overlap at Countryside Mall after purchasing Maas Brothers a decade before.  However,they kept both stores since the mall was still successful.  Like Dillard's before, they were also waiting to expand their store at Countryside Mall. 

This image from December 3, 2000 gives a slightly different feel to the mall itself.  It was somewhat less dead then at least. Photo by id780.

Looking from the second floor.  Photo by id780 taken December 3, 2000.

A very spooky second floor view here.  Photo by id780 taken December 3, 2000.

A look inside Ivey's/Dillard's.  Photo by id780.

The mall looked very run down from the outside.  Was this the main mall entrance?  Photo by id780.

This secondary entrance is part of what was wrong with 70's malls.  The 1989 modifications did not help here at all.  Photo by id780.

Clearwater Mall main entrance sign.  I am not sure which road this was posted on.

Clearwater Mall also featured this sign fit for an interstate highway nowhere near an interstate.  Photo by id780.

The one major factor that kept Clearwater Mall open longer was that Ward's was still there with no plans to move.  Those plans changed, however, when the chain liquidated in early 2001.  By then, the mall exodus was completed with the mall was simply waiting for demolition.  A few non-retail tenants opened in the mean time, but its life as an enclosed mall was over.  Interestingly, the mall was already gone even before new competition in Tampa arrived on the scene.  In only three years, a once thriving mall went from successful to completely dead.  By February 1, 2002, the doors were locked and the bulldozers arrived soon after.  By April 30th, demolition crews started with Burdine's, which was ironic since it was the newest anchor at the mall.  Wilton Partners had sold their interest to Sembler Company, and redevelopment was underway as a large "power center" strip mall.

Montgomery Ward here just rocks my world.  How can a store look so stately and yet so atrociously ugly at the same time?  It is simply awesome.  Photo by id780.

Included also is a photo of the pattern under the arches.  WHAT is this?  Photo by id780.

Here is Ward's beside one of the non-descript mall entrances.  Photo by id780.

 Ward's again.  Photo by id780.

This is a very first for Sky City having a photo of an actual Gayfer's store after all the former locations I've covered.  Photo by id780.

Another angle of the defunct Southern department store with the peculiar name.  Photo by id780.

Ivey's knew how to make simple stores look pretty elegant from the outside.  Photo by id780.

Burdine's did not remove their signs after their store closed, either.  What was the point, anyway?  Photo by id780.

The Florida Store in all its 1975 glory.  Photo by id780.

Burdine's in relation to Gayfer's.  This is looking southwest.  Photo by id780.

Today, Clearwater Mall is still known as such, although there is no sign of an actual mall there.  Now, big boxes draw customers instead of big department stores.  Lowes, Costco, Ross, Petsmart and Super Target are now the big stores there capitalizing on the trend away from enclosed malls with Linen & Things and Borders Books as former tenants within the original redevelopment.  Sunshine Mall is also long gone as well, closing four years prior to Clearwater.  While the mall is gone, at least unlike Sunshine Mall, a huge retail center took its place.  Nevertheless, the loss of Clearwater Mall represents a larger trend in the whole region with Tampa becoming the dominant shopping destination while Pinellas County is now basically left with only two conventional malls with upscale shopping found across the bay.  If Clearwater Mall had ever tried to attract upscale department stores like Tampa did, would the mall still be alive today?

View Larger Map

More: YouTube video by the original photographers with more photos of Clearwater Mall than I published here.


  1. That storefront with the gray checks was a Kay-Bee Toys.

  2. The Gayfers would have likely began as either a Robinson's of Florida(Associated Dry Goods) or a May-Cohen location. The Gayfers name would have been a 90's conversion just a few years before Dillards acquired Mercantile. Mercantile had overlap between the Gayfers and Maison Blanche banners and was beginning to use Maison Blanche like Saks was using Parisian as a moderately upscale brand to expand into various markets.

    1. Gayfers was only ever Gayfers—it wasn’t anything else. At one time they had Gayfers, Burdines, Ivey’s, Robinsons, and Wards as the main anchors. Then Dillard’s came in and replaced something (can’t remember which one)d

  3. I really liked the dark brick 'paneling' used on the facades of Montgomery Ward stores of that era (circa 1973).

  4. I'm pretty sure that the yellow trimmed white and grey tiled storefront was a K-B Toys.

  5. peacock emblems were on the bricks under the Montgomery Wards arches.

    This was an early logo of the mall and an homage to the peacock farm that once sat on that piece of land which became the Clearwater Mall.

  6. My Dad, William G Blackburn and his brother Wally developed the mall.

    It was done in two main phases- phase one being the Theater building w/ Don Olsen Firestone, and then the main mall with anchors Wards & Iveys & Gayfers. (Burdines was a later addition). The "Clearwater 4" was the theater original name- only 4 theaters. I watched Grease & Star Wars there!

    A mobile home park actually had to be relocated for the mall, and, my Dad saw to it that the grand oaks remained wherever possible. Most, I believe were cut down when the original mall was torn down in favor of the grotesque current mall.

    A riverboat ride was planned for the original interior, but it was scrapped due to cost. Seems to me my Dad said the mall cost $18 million but I was just a kid and may have heard wrong.

    Ivey's was absolutely gorgeous inside; I remember the chandeliers the most- they were stunning but removed when later renovated as I'm sure they were energy hogs. As one reader noted, the peacock siding accents on Wards were in fact a tribute to the peacock farm located there. That was the Calhoun property, which had big white gates that fronted US 19.

    Wards (despite photo caption comments on this page) was a busy thriving store way back when. Seems like they had it all.

    Burdines was more high-end originally, but over the years (and remodels that took it down several notches) it became more Sears-like. I remember going up on the roof with my Dad during construction.

    Gayfers was very Sears-like. Nothing special.

    The overpass on US19 in front of the mall was added during the time the mall was built as that intersection used to be the most dangerous in the area. My Dad tried to get the city to rename that secion of 19 to "Clearwater Boulevard". On the otherside of 19 was Belles Hess store and Pantry Pride grocer. Later, that became the home of Jersey Jim Towers TV, then Costco or Sams Club came in.

    The original interiors of the mall were lots of real oak parquet & tiling flooring, chrome, and glass. In the main court outside gayfers, my Dad purchased 4 huge limestone statues of "The Four Seasons" Goddesses, which sat in round red brick planters. They were each 15-20' high statues and really beautiful. My Dads office was on the US19 side of phase one.

    4 gold peacock tie tacks were made, each with an array of gemstones- one for each executive of the original mall.

    My Dad was also the developer of Seville, entry being next to Wards running back to Tampa Bay.

    The demise of the original mall and demolition can surely be blamed on poor management and failure to attract and keep proper anchor tenants after my Dad's departure from the project. There was plenty of land; the mall could have been expanded as needed, and the remaining oaks could have been preserved.

    Wayne Blackburn

    1. Thank you for this comment Sir, it brought up so many nice memories.
      But sadness as well, since everything is so ephemeral in this country.
      God bless America.

    2. Actually, Pantry Pride was in the first section of Clearwater Mall along with Don Olson Firestone, the movie theater, Corned Beef Corner and ?? Health food store. I worked at Pantry Pride from the time it opened in 1973 til it closed in 1979. Good memories! Thanks for this site!

  7. Regarding the first comment on Gayfers:

    Gayfers was in fact the original name of the Gayfers Store located at Clearwater Mall. It was not something else and renamed later. It was an original anchor tenant.

    It is also shown in the original artwork when the mall was built, of which I still have.


    Wayne Blackburn (Son of the original Developer)

    1. Correct. I was part of the original construction team from McCrory-Sumwalt (Columbia, SC) that built Gayfers. The tiles on the outside were beautiful and represented peacocks - wish I'd kept one! Sandra Caughlin

  8. No shots of the 'Record Bar'. It was on the right hand side past the first break of stores (going out the break to the doors would put you to the parking lot by Montgomery Wards garden dept. and Iveys. Miss that mall!!!

  9. the picture with the comment about a storefront being and american eagle, i think that was a Victorias secret store. i worked in this mall in the early to mid 90s

  10. Could you go back and show us Clearwater now? I just can't believe the mall I worked in for 5 years is gone (Reading the Century Plaza post).

  11. I worked at the EF Hutton & Co branch office located upstairs from the bank just outside of the Mall proper. My first Chik-Fil-A sandwich was at the Mall. Spent long late afternoons at ChiChis across the street. Miss those days!

  12. Spent many days of my childhood playing at the game room at Clearwater Mall, practicing the art of pinball. It was fun waiting in line at the movie theater built on the outparcel. And despite the captions, Montgomery Ward was actually a pretty busy place back in the day. They seem to have a little of everything in that store!

    1. I worked at the arcade. Which Dave were you? :)

  13. I grew up in Clearwater. And lived there Til 1999 . I haven't been there since. I would like to help you with some of your missing data. Especially the mall itself.

  14. Where is the picture of the mall entrence to Iveys?

  15. I lived across the bay in Tampa but work and play often took me to Clearwater, and I never missed a chance to stop in at this mall. Among other things I remember are seeing Married To The Mob at the adjacent theaters, a traveling MTV exhibit that I drove over to see out of sheer boredom one Saturday night, and my obligatory visits to the music and book stores. Later they turned this mall into an typical non-enclosed shopping center with a big Borders store. I guess that Borders is gone now too.

  16. That store that is a mystery is a Sam Goody

  17. I really enjoyed reading your article and seeing the photographs. I lived in the Tropic Hills Subdivision just south of the mall in the early 80's and my grandmother and I would walk over frequently. I would ride the glass elevator up and down and I saw ET here about 10 times! I also remember buying a Ms. Pacman change holder for $2 at Montgomery Ward and thinking it was just about the coolest thing ever. God I miss the Clearwater Mall...

  18. Clearwater Mall was my first trip to a mall when I moved to Florida in 1985....Gayfers was my favorite store and the place that I got my first credit card....Olga's on the second floor was an awesome place to eat and Montgomery Wards was the place to go when they had jewelry sales......I go to the new Mall only if I have to....I don't like it! The parking lot is like a demolition derby, whoever designed it is an idiot! I so miss the "original Clearwater Mall"!!!!

    1. I used to travel to Clearwater to visit with my grandparents years ago, in the 80's and 90's and I LOVED Olga's! I couldn't remember the name of the restaurant I just remember she had these amazing kinds of "sandwiches" though it's been so long I don't remember the exact food--I just remember that it was the best I ever ate! I'm so glad I found this blog--my family and I were trying to remember the name of the restaurant and now I remember it! Thank you!

  19. My Favorite Food Court at Clearwater Mall I loved was Cajun Big Easy is because I loved Food from The State of Louisiana in which It Can Jazz it Up and Kick it Up A Notch

  20. I played pinball at the Wackey Warf arcade and worked at Main Street Icecream briefly. Used to do burnouts behind Gayfers at night in my Cougar.Orange Julius was a special treat for me if I had enough money to spend.Gary M.

  21. Has anyone been to the new Clearwater Mall which is outdoors now? Very nice place and is always packed. For store directory check out

  22. I worked at the Gayfers there in the men's department for about three years part-time in the mid-'90's. I'd transferred to the Clearwater store from the Gayfers at Florida Mall in Orlando. By that time the Clearwater store was run-down, still looking every bit like a 1970's store. There was talk among management at that time about closing that site down. It was the only Gayfers in the Tampa Bay area and it wasn't cost-effective to advertise or remodel. The customer base was older than average, and many of the staff members had been there since the store had opened. They had a very successful hair salon by one of the.entrances, patronized for decades by the same group of elderly ladies. They probably took the store's demise harder
    than anyone. I heard from others that there used to be a cafe in that store that was routinely crowded with Clearwater society matron.

    Thank you, Wayne Blackburn, for the.great backstories.

  23. i didn't really visit Clearwater Mall until my late college days of the late 1990's. (it was a transfer stop between the public buses between Clearwater and Tampa) it was really showing it's age then and it seemed the museum on the second floor was rarely open. there's a video on youtube that shows the inside of Clearwater mall ca 1999. Thank you for the history of the mall.

  24. You know, it's funny coming across this post. I've lived in Florida all my life, and we used to frequent Clearwater Mall a lot when I was a little girl (I have clear memories of sitting in my purple-and-teal stroller riding around the stores with my parents and my sister). I was maybe in early elementary school when they tore it down, but I remember this place so vividly. It had a KB Toys that generously supplied my desire for toy ponies. It had a really cool science store with everything from telescopes to Jacob's ladder toys to rain sticks and kites; a Florida-themed knick-knack store that sold snow globes and decorative plates (and always used to scare me because I was terrified I'd break something!); an ice cream store where I always used to get Superman ice cream; and the Montgomery Ward's where a lot of my kid's clothes came from (though in my family, we always called it "Monkey Ward's"). I don't remember a lot of store names, because it was before I could read, but I still have the memories. I do remember the Chick-fil-A in the food court, and there was also a hot dog stand called "Frankenstein" or something like that, and the Chinese place where my parents always ate. Seeing those metal chairs and tables really brings back memories, too! I can almost hear their legs scraping across the tile floor!

    It's long gone now, of course. An open-air-style mall has taken its place, and is doing incredibly well. But seeing these old pictures brings back such memories for me, and it's so interesting reading the history that I never knew about. Thank you so much for sharing these awesome pictures and telling this mall's story.

  25. Checkered storefront was KayBee. Here's a video from YouTube of a guy doing a walk-thru while it was still open and populated and you can see what store was in each spot.