Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ashley Plaza Mall: Charleston, SC

In South Carolina as in much of the South, things are said to move at a slower pace.  Perhaps it is the humidity, but at least this old saying proved to be very true for Charleston who had to wait until 1972 to get their very first enclosed mall, Ashley Plaza Mall.  Opening on August 10th of that year, shoppers I am sure were frantic to escape the heat in order to check out this place.  The only problem was that this was probably not the mall they had hoped for.  It featured none of the major department stores like Kerrison's or Belk Robinson, nor were there any national ones such as Sears, Montgomery Ward or JCPenney.  This mall was just not like that, and it was just one reason it had a short life.

Anchors of the original Ashley Plaza Mall included local department store Condon's (that's with an "N", thank you), Edward's discount store, J.M. Field's discount store and Pantry Pride supermarket.  Neither J.M. Fields nor Pantry Pride were accessible to the mall corridor, and both actually predated the mall by a couple years as part of an existing strip mall.  In essence, Ashley Plaza was a hybrid of strip mall and enclosed mall.  Edward's and Condon's, however, both had mall entrances.  Not counting the anchors, the mall otherwise had 32 shops and a General Cinema theater flanking the north side.  Thus, removing the hype surrounding its opening, it was basically an undersized mall with mostly local shops that was dated and doomed from the day it opened its doors.

From left to right: JM Fields, Pantry Pride, Revco, mall entrance, Condon's Department Store.  From the Charleston Post-Courier from August 9, 1972.

Skylight construction.  From the Charleston Post-Courier from August 9, 1972.

Finishing touches being made on the enclosed mall.  From the Charleston Post-Courier from August 9, 1972.

It should be fairly obvious by now that none of the mentioned anchors exist in any form today, and aside from Radio Shack and General Cinema not much in the mall had lasting power, either.  It only took five years for changes to start hitting the mall.  In 1977, Edward's would be purchased by Kuhn's Big K.  While Big K would take the spot, the Edward's purchase was detrimental to the company and Wal-Mart passed on the location when they purchased Big K in 1981.  According to Randy Barton on the post about the mall, the old Big K location was then filled with "an unfinished wood furniture store, a mattress store and an imports store".  In 1979, the next change came to the mall with the closing of J.M. Fields and its grocery division Pantry Pride.  Fortunately, Woolco came and picked up the J.M. Field location, opening in March 1980.  Red & White supermarket would also take over the former Pantry Pride space.

Edward's discount store and Condon's department store logos from the opening of the mall.  From the Charleston Post-Courier from August 9, 1972.

One of the mall entrances while still under construction.  How I miss the days when you just had this bold imposing "MALL" over the doors.  From the Charleston Post-Courier from August 9, 1972.

The 80's were absolutely catastrophic for Ashley Plaza Mall.  First, the mall no longer could carry the torch for...well...anything.  Charles Towne Square mall opened fully enclosed in 1976, so air-conditioned comfort for shopping could be found elsewhere.  Next, Citadel Mall opened in 1981 rendering the little mall even more useless bringing the anchors that Charlestonians were deprived of the first round.  By then, the mall was already emptying out coinciding with the closing of Big K/Edward's.  Woolco came next, closing with the chain in 1983.  All hope was not lost, however, as Brendle's catalog showroom took over the former Woolco site a couple years later.  This still, however, came on the heels of the closing of the General Cinema at the mall.  With the mall going downhill fast, the situation was about to get a whole lot worse.  Charleston, as history has shown, is extremely disaster prone.  Two earthquakes leveled the city in the 1800's and the forecast was doomsday as one of the nation's most powerful hurricanes barreled down on the city in 1989 otherwise known as Hurricane Hugo.

Mall directory for the original 1972 mall.  It was never much of a mall.  From the Charleston Post-Courier from August 9, 1972.

Here is a snapshot of the mall's tenants today as Ashley Landing.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

According to Randy Barton's commentary, the mall was heavily damaged by the storm with portions of the facade removed and Brendle's completely leveled by the Category 4 storm.  What was a mall gasping for life was suddenly completely dead, and it was one of the first dead malls in the country, lasting a mere 17 years.  However, the mall was not abandoned.  Brendle's was rebuilt, the Red & White grocery store became a new location of then-rapidly expanding Big Lots and the rest of the mall was demalled with Burlington Coat Factory taking over much of the space where the mall was before.  Condon's proved to be the the last original tenant, closing in 1999 not due to poor business, but due to a dispute over the center constructing a new Publix store that they claimed was hurting their business.  However, the logic of that seems dubious, and probably the chain was finding an attractive excuse to why they were going under.  It was the last operating location of the 100 year old chain.

Main entrance of JM Fields/Woolco, now a gym.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Citi Trends operated as Condon's until 1999.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Big Lots is located in the former Pantry Pride/Red & White.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Dollar Tree is on the left side of the center and takes up part of the former JM Fields/Woolco space.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Burlington Coat Factory takes up much of the original mall space with the other portion now used by a church.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

After renovations were made, the new center, Ashley Landing, would then become a conventional strip mall...sort of.  Burlington Coat Factory filled in much of the mall, Citi Trends took over Condon's and the Woolco/JM Fields has been subdivided into smaller tenants including Dollar Tree.  Big Lots replaced Pantry Pride/Red & White and what was left eventually became a church.  About the only near original tenant is CVS, which still operates in the old Revco.  Publix, which opened in 1999, sits across from the shopping center itself in the parking lot and is the only newer portion of the center.  From the outside it still appears to be an old mall, and the old mall entrances are still visible deceiving would-be shoppers into thinking a fossilized mall awaits them.  From an aerial shot, you can still make out the corridors of the mall.  The center, while not dead, is definitely catering to a different market from when it opened.  As one of the earliest mall redevelopment projects ever, this may explain why the mall was simply reconfigured in lieu of being torn down.  Today, the center is essentially an urban complex catering to lower-income shoppers, but otherwise the city's oldest mall is only a mall in form not function.


  1. Actually, the CVS moved down the street to a new store in early 2013.

    It really has an interesting mix of tenants. On the low end, you've got Citi Trends, the Dollar Store, and Burlington (which apparently just took over most of the original mall corridors), and a pool hall/bar. I think there's also an auto parts store. There's also a church - possibly two. I can never quite tell. But I think one is in the old movie theatre and the other is in the old Edwards.

    But it also has a fairly nice mid-range gym and a surprisingly upscale and very popular Chinese bistro.

    One interesting artifact that I love - on the wall outside of the Burlington entrance are three light-up display windows that I'm almost positive were for movie posters. They're still intact, but empty.


    You should also do a post on Citadel Mall down the street. It's an interesting and somewhat odd case - the mall is dying from the inside-out. It has around a 40% vacancy rate inside, but all 6 anchors are still there. At least for now.

  2. Hehe I remember actually going on this trip with Mike to take pictures of it! You can actually still tell it was a mall once from the BCF's strange interior design actually.

    Citadel is sad, all the best retail is downtown Charleston.

  3. The three light-up displays were display windows for Condon's for as long as I can remember.

  4. Yes, the three "windows" on the side of Citi Trends as you enter Burlington Coat Factory were display showcase windows for Condon's Department Store which originally occupied the Citi Trends building. General Cinemas only had movie poster displays right outside the entrance to the theater. You can definitely tell from the inside of Burlington Coat Factory that it used to be a mall. Just before the conversion to Burlington, the mall had installed new skylights which are noticeable from the outside and from aerial photos; however they are covered up and hidden inside Burlington.

  5. The picture above of Pivotal Fitness with the caption beneath that reads "Main entrance of JM Fields/Woolco, now a gym." isn't accurate. That was never an entrance to JM Fields or Woolco. That was a solid brick wall. JM Fields had dual entrances on the left and right hand sides of the store where the facade is higher. When JM Fields became Woolco, the right entrance was bricked leaving only the left entrance. After Woolco closed and the space was subdivided, the entrance shown in the gym picture above was added. This was the entrance for United Clothing Company and also later for Carolina Pottery. The remaining left entrance of JM Fields/Woolco was utilized by Brendle's until Hurricane Hugo destroyed the store, then it was bricked to match the former right entrance that was previously bricked. Brendle's new entrance is now the entrance to Dollar Tree. Dollar Tree added the windows.

  6. This post suggests that Charlestonians had no other enclosed air-conditioned mall until Charles Towne Square in North Charleston opened in 1976, and that they were "deprived" of anchors such as Belk, Sears, Kerrison's, Montgomery Ward and JCPenney until Citadel Mall opened in 1981. Why have you ignored Northwoods Mall, which opened in 1972 in North Charleston with anchors Belk, Sears and Kerrison's? Also, Charles Town Square's original anchors included Montgomery Ward and JCPenney (as well as Edward's).

  7. Interesting article. I went in to the BCF with my wife one day and immediately mentioned that it looked like it had once been a mall or something... she of course was unimpressed with my speculations/observations. I completely forgot about that until I saw this, and as it ends up, my suspicions were correct. It is fairly obvious when you are there that it was once something different, but this helped to put it all together.

  8. I found your blog through bo williams's blog. very cool concept. I noticed over to the side though, that you don't have Hudson's listed.
    I recently posted a blog entry regarding the best gift I ever received as a child. It was purchased at Hudson's:

  9. I saw from your name you're from Anniston. I am aware of Hudson's (or was it Hudson no 's?) but I have absolutely no information on it other than it was part of Belk-Hudson without the Belk name. I'm assuming the logo looked like the Belk logo but without the Belk. Was this store downtown or did it make it to a strip? I would love to know more about this store and see at least one picture of it, because Belk partnerships that did not carry the Belk name were very, very rare aside from Leggett.

  10. I'm glad to see that Ashley Landing has been sold to Faison of Charlotte, NC and they are planning a complete makeover and remodeling of the shopping center. Citi Trends will be leaving and the space subdivided for smaller stores facing Sam Rittenberg Boulevard. The architectural renderings are pretty impressive.

  11. And Citi Trends is gone! It was never a fit at all with the demographics for the area, so it's understandable that new owner Faison felt that they could do better if Citi Trends was not a part of the future redevelopment.

  12. Askreevadall was cool,arcade at Gas Light Square,it was right next store to rickataw inc.

  13. Faison has announced extensive redevelopment plans for the mall that are already underway with the construction of a new Starbucks on an outparcel. They've also announced plans to upgrade the tenant mix to better fit the demographics of the largely middle to upper middle class neighborhoods that surround it.

  14. This is a great website that showcases the new design plans for Ashley Landing (formerly Ashley Plaza Mall). These are the renderings by Bartlett Hartley & Mulkey Architects, PA who were retained by new owner Faison of Charlotte, NC to redesign the center:

  15. In conjunction with Faison's redevelopment of the property and plans to "re-tenant" with stores and shops that are more appropriate for the demographics of the area, they just signed a lease with a yuppie microbrewery who is renovating the original Edward's (later Big K-Edward's) space into a microbrewery and restaurant complete with a new outside "garden" patio area. They are also preparing to break ground on a new outparcel addition with 4 more spaces, one of which is going to be Famous Toastery.

  16. Citi Trends was booted out and the billiards place has been as well. It'll be out by the end of the summer. It's a totally different vibe now at Ashley Landing with the addition of Frothy Beard Brewing Company, a two-story microbrewery complete with an outdoor patio and a pizza restaurant inside (Zombie Bob's Pizza). The long vacant Bojangles was completely gutted inside and out and is now a very attractive Starbucks and a new furniture store is opening this month. Also, they just broke ground on an outparcel wing that is going to feature Famous Toastery, Wingstop, a credit union and one space that's still available. The exterior of the entire center also got a makeover with the beige brick being painted a light grey and the stucco facades a white color. The parking lot received all new LED lighting, updated signage and extensive new landscaping. It looks pretty awesome!