Saturday, May 30, 2015

Village Square Shopping Center and American Fare: Stone Mountain, GA

Thanks to a fan of the site, some footage was found from 1979 showing Village Square Shopping Center. With a little detective work, we located it and I set out to find it and see just how it looked today. While not much physically has changed today, it is by far a shell of its former self. So is the highway that it sits on. One of the more depressing events to cover in retail is the fall of a principal retail corridor due to issues of competition, white flight, planned obsolescence and the effects of its own age. In this case, the highway is Memorial Drive (Ga. 10), which I have covered bits and pieces of on Sky City.

Memorial Drive was one of Atlanta's first suburban retail corridors starting with the opening of Belvedere Plaza in 1956. This would soon be followed by Columbia Mall in 1964 with the growth of retail strip shopping centers spreading eastward in a wave along the road throughout the 70's to where the highway ends into the Stone Mountain Freeway. Village Square was part of that wave, opening in 1975 along the eastern leg of the corridor in the booming Stone Mountain area. As one of many dead retail strips along that road today, this one was highlighted because of its highly distinctive design elements that remain intact today.

The first two images at various levels of detail show the strip with the interior mall/office portion.  Note that the entrance to the mall "courtyard shops" portion and the unknown smaller anchor tenant (shown here as Refugee Family Services) has arches like a Kroger.  These arches used to match the Kroger store itself.  

Detail of the long-vacant Kroger from two angles.  The greenhouse addition was added at an unknown date, but it replaced an older superstore design that was still intact in 1979 per the footage provided.  

The strip to the right of the "courtyard shops" looking west with the junior anchor visible in the background.

Access to the upper level offices is through these stairs, but it doesn't appear that anything is up there any longer.  With plenty of space on the lower level, why would they go to that trouble?  It appears it may be completely closed considering that no elevator was visible to the second story.

Village Square originally opened in 1973 as just a Kmart (coupled with Kmart Foods).  In 1975, it was joined next door with a mixed use center that was a hybrid of a strip mall and open-air mall.  Likely this design was chosen due to terrain and lack of space.  When the addition opened, it featured anchor tenant Kroger with a SupeRX drug store, which was later absorbed into Kroger itself.  The open-air mall in the middle that included among its tenants a Piccadilly Cafeteria and a club named "The Stone Pony" referencing the "Stone Poneys", a band fronted by Linda Rondstadt in the late 1960's and the shopping center's proximity to Stone Mountain.  On the second floor were offices, but the offices were not aligned with the mall area itself, instead running perpendicular facing the parking lot also overlooking part of the "courtyard shops". It appears one other small anchor tenant was in the center, but it is unclear what exactly that was.  My guess would be either Turtle's Record Shop or a five-and-dime type store like McCrory's.

Walking under the offices to reach the "courtyard shops".  The courtyard is a T-shaped center with access to the back parking lot on the left side.

Looking back from two vantage points at the second level office promenade from the courtyard.  It looks like it was blocked off with bars at some point on purpose

Vacant shops/offices to at the corner of the inner courtyard facing northeast.  It appears there were no stores/offices on the east side of the courtyard with the wall of Kroger making up most of that area.

A look back to the front parking lot from the courtyard.

Despite the two year gap between the opening of Kroger and Kmart, Kroger and Kmart were typically partners building shopping centers throughout the 1970's, and this holds true in many shopping centers across the state.  Indeed, the center had a solid 20 year run before things went south.  Kmart was the first to leave departing in 1994, Kroger hung on longer, but left in 1999 relocating just down the road to a former Big Star that originally was built in 1988 at the junction of Memorial Drive and N Hairston Road.  The Village Square store was made even more interesting when compared to the footage in the link above in that the Kroger there was originally a superstore design with the arches clearly removed with the store updated to the famous greenhouse design: a transition that likely occurred around 1984 or 85.  The update suggests that Kroger initially had no plans to relocate from the center for many years, but the planned departure of Kmart apparently spurred the store to eventually relocate to a more competitive location at the intersection of two major roadways.  Village Square is located about a mile west of N Hairston Road, which is a major four lane belt highway on the east side of Atlanta.

At one point it was possible to lounge in the courtyard next to a well-tended planter.  Today you're sitting on rotten benches next to a weed-filled hole.  Also note the "Stone Pony" in the background.

A bit more detail of the courtyard.  It is unclear what the original tenants were except for Stone Pony, which was apparently a bar or club that opened there in the 1970's and was never replaced with anything else.

Detail of the "Stone Pony" inscription which today looks to be stone dead.  A peek inside would have likely uncovered vintage wonders untold.

A view of the entire courtyard including the front entrance and upper level terrace to the right from the back entrance.  It must have been fun back in the day, but today it's a scary place.

The cloudy pictures were a return trip in July (two trips were included in these photos).  Note the very tall weeds that filled the planters in the previous images.  You know when that passes for landscaping the place is basically dead.

The story of Kmart's exodus is a bit more interesting, however.  While Kmart remained until 1994, Kmart had already effectively been replaced when Kmart joined forces with now-defunct Bruno's in 1989 to start a hypermart concept known as American Fare.  Its initial location was a little over three miles away at the intersection of the Stone Mountain Freeway (US 78) and Mountain Industrial Blvd meaning that American Fare likely cannibalized this store badly.  The new store was more than twice the size of a typical Kmart and very popular but turned out to be a flash in the pan as the gigantic store proved to be too large and too far ahead of its time.  The Stone Mountain American Fare store was the first of three total stores that opened under the Kmart/Bruno's experiment.  The other two were located in Charlotte and Jackson, MS.  In addition, the Bruno's partnership faltered due to the sale of the company after a tragic crash that killed much of the upper management including many family members and the CEO.  In 1994, Kmart later rebranded and downgraded American Fare to a Super Kmart replacing the Bruno's-operated supermarket section with Cub Foods.  The change to a regular Kmart resulted in the closing the Kmart at Village Square at the same time.  Later, the American Fare turned Kmart eventually closed the store during the 2002 round of closings.  Today the former American Fare operates as an alternative school for DeKalb County.

The three photos shown here show the American Fare that is located on Mountain Industrial Blvd just south of the Stone Mountain Freeway (US 78).  Mountain Industrial Blvd becomes N Hairston Road connecting to Memorial Drive.  This three-store hypermart concept owned jointly by Kmart and Bruno's opened in 1989, but was later downgraded to a regular Kmart replacing the Kmart at Village Square in 1994.  It converted to Super Kmart in 1995 and closed for good in 2002.  It was sold to the DeKalb County School Board and today is an alternative school.

Kmart was not exactly abandoned when the store at Village Square closed.  While Memorial Drive was in the early stages of decline, it was still far from dead.  The old Kmart found new life and today the main store still operates as "Value Mall" while the Kmart Foods is now a local gym.  While not exactly the draw that Kmart was, the reuse of the former Kmart store keeps the property from becoming derelict.  However, no store has yet to emerge to fill the former Kroger space, which has been vacant for over 15 years.

The original Kmart still stands as "Value Mall".  It is not clear if there were any other tenants in the store between 1989 and present.

Kmart and Kmart Foods.  Action Sports Academy fills the former Kmart Foods.  The former Kroger is a short ways to the right of this photo.

Detail of Kmart Foods.  It is curious how long this operated being less than a block from Kroger.  Was it converted to regular Kmart space before it closed?  Perhaps Bruno's operated the Kmart Foods location at this store thus spearheading the American Fare concept.

While the forces that killed the center were based on its major anchor tenants seeking more competitive venues, the fact remains that the complex today is only partially occupied, and most of those tenants are service-oriented and not retail uses.  Thus, the story is that although competition initially killed Village Square prematurely, it was the continued declining fortunes of what was once a prime retail corridor that have made the shopping center difficult to fill.  The entire center is ripe for redevelopment today, but so far no interested parties have swooped in to occupy the partially vacant center.  Perhaps in the future Kroger will relocate back to the center taking over the old Kmart as yet another location of its "Kroger Marketplace" concept helping to spur a redevelopment of the adjacent center that it left behind many years ago.  For now, Village Square remains as a decrepit monument to 1970's sprawl that has only survived the wrecking ball because nobody cared enough to do anything about it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Augusta Mall: Augusta, GA

In the malls wars of Augusta, GA, Rouse Company may have played second best when they lost the battle to become the first mall in the city to DeBartolo's Regency Mall.  However, what Rouse may have lacked in speed they did not lack in business savvy.  As one of the earliest and most successful mall developers in history, the Rouse Company's Augusta Mall is still going strong after opening nearly 37 years ago on August 3, 1978 exactly one week after Regency opened.  Built in the company's signature style, the mall has evolved from what was originally seen as a boutique mall into a very large and popular mall that at present is the only successful mall remaining in the region and the only enclosed mall remaining open to the public in the Augusta metropolitan region.

In terms of signature Rouse style, that style included the elements that are readily identifiable with other Rouse malls: square sunken water features with steps down into the pools with fountain jets in the middle, mature trees and abundant vegetation, vaulted trellis ceilings throughout, abundant natural light and lots of triangular elements.  It was undeniably more attractive and contemporary than its whitewashed nearby competitor, and its location was also far more ideal.  Unlike Regency, which was located at the junction of two surface U.S. highways away from any freeway, Augusta Mall was more conveniently located and visible off of Bobby Jones Expressway (GA 232, later I-520) at Wrightsboro Road.  History has shown that this mall was not only better planned than its competition but also that it was going to win the race even if it got a slower start.  Perhaps if Regency had been located in another side of town the story might have had a different ending.

Augusta Mall at least as recently as 2011 still had at least one fountain!  This elegant fountain in front of Sears along with this second shot of the elevator was taken by Neil Barker on May 29, 2012.

Neil also took these photos of the signature clock found near the center of the mall.  Augusta Mall lacks a true center court similar to many Rouse Malls.  

A view of the food court.  Photo by Neil Barker taken May 29, 2012

Looking up to the second floor on twin escalators near Dick's (former Davison's location).  Photo by Neil Barker taken May 29, 2012.

Augusta Mall in its early planning days was spearheaded by Rich's interest in opening a mall-based location in the city.  However, the sale of Rich's to Federated Department Stores in 1976 helped delay the construction of the mall.  While reason says that this mall should have been the only mall planned in the city, a challenge from the bullheaded DeBartolo family meant that Augusta Mall would initially face competition from a larger and more locally-oriented mall.  Thus, Augusta Mall opened as a far smaller mall at 500,000 square feet than it ultimately would become.  Regency was significantly larger coming in at around 1 million square feet.  Rich's at the time was new to the market, and Atlanta-based Davison's was not as popular as Augusta-based J.B. White.  At the time, neither mall realized that the decline of malls, local retail and department stores would contract the market enough that it could only support one mall.

Augusta Chronicle ad for Davison's at Augusta Mall.  Sent by C. Lewis

C. Lewis also sent this photo of Davison's in 1978 shortly after opening.  Notice that they were still using the older logo with the big yellow "D" and blue "Davison's" that year.

Joe Austin took this photo in 1986 as Davison's was in the process of being transitioned to Macy's.  By this time they dropped the elegant "D" from the logo leaving this far more stripped down blue sign.

Another photo showing detail of the Davison's logo taken by Joe Austin.

Joe Austin also captured this image of the original downtown Augusta Davison's store, which was still intact in 1986.  It had closed in 1978 when the Augusta Mall location replaced it.  It had been in this location since the 1940's when Davison-Paxon (part of RH Macy at that point as well) purchased local department store Saxon-Cullum.  The building has since been sadly demolished.

The last remaining vestige of Davison's at Augusta Mall is this small portion of the store that extended into mall space.  It operates disconnected but part of the current Macy's that continues to operate in the former Rich's.  

C. Lewis sent these photos of Rich's as well shortly after the store opened in 1978.  Other than the Rich's logo, the store is pretty unremarkable.   It was new to the market when it opened with the mall.

My friend Lou Corsaro took these pics for me in 2004 of the Rich's store and auto center at Augusta Mall shortly before the changeover to Macy's.  The mall entrance had been modified from its original appearance, which included the signature wavy glass used on their 1970's mall entrances.  

More current pics of the Macy's (former Rich's) both inside and out taken December 26, 2011

Initially, Augusta Mall was only able to lure one downtown department store: Davison's.  All other downtown department stores instead chose Regency over smaller Augusta Mall.  JB White, Cullum's, Ruben's and Belk Howard all passed over Augusta Mall for the larger Regency.  Because of that, Regency Mall was initially more popular than Augusta Mall.  Also, at the time that both malls opened, neither JCPenney nor Sears had left their locations closer to downtown.  At that point, JCPenney had originally committed to Regency Mall, so it looked like Regency would reign as the most popular mall.  However, a sign of things to come was when JCPenney changed their mind and opened instead at Augusta Mall.  However, dates are conflicting on the opening of JCPenney at the mall.  Some sources say 1979 and others say 1987.  The Augusta Chronicle states 1987 coupled with an 130,000 square feet expansion of the mall.  The exterior design appears considerably dated for 1987, but JCPenney was building with dated store designs throughout the late 1980's that did not match the designs for similar stores of the era.

Neil Barker took these photos of the JCPenney mall entrance and lush vegetation placed in front.  This wing and store was added in 1987.  Photos taken May 29, 2012.

My own photo of the upper level mall entrance to JCPenney.  Photo taken December 26, 2011.

Neil Barker took this exterior photo of the JCPenney, which on the outside looks extremely dated for 1987.  On the outside it could easily pass for 1979.  Photo taken May 29, 2012.

My own photo taken the prior year shows the exterior of the JCPenney the day after Christmas, 2011.

For the next 8 years, the competition between the two malls located a mere five miles from each other was pretty stiff.  Regency's popularity, however, took a major blow when the lax security coupled with the already negative perception based on the location of the mall in a far more blue collar area led to the kidnapping and murder of a teenage girl in 1985.  At that point, retailers began to take a more serious look at Augusta Mall.  From 1979-1987 the only visible change to happen at the mall was the conversion of the regional Davison's nameplate to the more famous Macy's nameplate in 1986.  This changed after JCPenney arrived.  Sears soon followed departing its larger 1950's location at the corner of 15th St & Walton Way near downtown for Augusta Mall thus opening at the mall in 1990.  The new store was the second major expansion of the mall further drawing shoppers away from Regency Mall adding another 120,000 square feet bringing the mall at this point to 750,000 square feet thus bringing the mall to a competitive size with Regency.  Both expansions also architecturally matched the original part of the mall.  Overall, the gain of two major anchors and 250,000 square feet at Augusta Mall painted Regency into a corner they couldn't walk out of beginning a rapid decline over the next decade of one of DeBartolo's biggest follies.

Neil Barker also took this shot of both levels of the Sears mall entrance with some of the fountain visible.  On my visit a Christmas display blocked much of this view.  Photo taken May 29, 2012.

The Sears store moved here from a larger store closer to downtown in 1990 completing Augusta Mall and dealing a terminal prognosis for its once much larger competitor.  The addition of Sears completed the mall traditionally, but it was not the final anchor to open at the mall.  Photos taken December 26, 2011.

These photos from August 3, 2014 show the original 1950's Sears that was replaced by the Augusta Mall store in 1990.   Georgia Regents University now uses the building.   Photos by Edric Floyd.

The last serious competition to Augusta Mall surfaced in 1988 with the opening of Aiken Mall across the Savannah River in South Carolina.  While nowhere close to either mall, the opening of the mall was enough to dilute the market share of both malls.  However, it appeared that Regency Mall was more affected by this than Augusta Mall with Regency closer to shoppers in Aiken.  Nevertheless, the late 80's were a banner period for the mall.  After the Sears expansion to Augusta Mall at the end of the decade, Augusta Mall transitioned from being a boutique mall into a major regional shopping mall with four solid anchors.  With crime problems, security issues, poor location and the decline of local retail sharpening the decline of Regency Mall, it was clear that Augusta Mall was going to become the default option for the region.  This became painfully clear as J.B. White decided to relocate to Augusta Mall building an elegant new flagship store at the mall to replace their dated and plain store at Regency Mall.  Pushing Augusta Mall to five anchors, it was the near the end of the road for Regency Mall when the new Augusta Mall store opened in 1998.  However, J.B. White was sold to Dillard's the same year meaning that the new J.B. White store at Augusta Mall only operated as such for a few months.  Belk Howard, however, closed at Regency a couple years before and did not choose to relocate resulting in Belk completely exiting the Georgia side of the Augusta market.

C. Lewis took these rare photos of J.B. White after it opened at Augusta Mall.  Despite building a stunning store, the logo update from the classic script was unfortunate.  As the flagship store for White's (a division of defunct Mercantile Stores), it was converted to Dillard's within months of opening.  Photos taken in 1998.

Dillard's mall entrance was equally impressive drawing heavily from lowland Southern charm.  It is a huge departure design-wise as well from the typical bland Dillard's mall entrance showing that Dillard's was willing to preserve the history of the flagship location of at least one store it took over.  Photos taken December 26, 2011.

A couple interior shots of the J.B. White/Dillard's were taken to show the level of detail that went into this store.  The elegant skylights shined on the detailed murals showing the history of both Augusta and J.B. White.  Dillard's thankfully did not remove anything left over from J.B. White other than the store signs.  Photos taken December 26, 2011.

The small trees seen in 1998 have grown much bigger on what was likely the last store that Mercantile Stores ever built.  Mercantile built showplace anchors in their final years of operation in contrast to the extremely bland stores they were known for in the 1970's.  Photos taken December 26, 2011.

Augusta Mall was not immune, however, to anchor consolidation and its effects.  Both Augusta Mall and Regency Mall were solidly mid-market malls although Augusta Mall was always more upscale than its closest competitor.  Despite being the second largest city in Georgia, demographics have been inadequate to draw many retailers including upscale stores.  In fact, a large percentage of the local economy is military from Fort Gordon, which is located only four miles away.  With lower median incomes and high levels of poverty in Richmond County (nearly 17% below the poverty line), the pool of potential mid-market department stores declined throughout the 2000's.

A view of the second level exiting Dillard's.  Sorry for the foggy photo quality as my camera was closing in on its untimely death.  

Sears court looking away from Dillard's toward Macy's

Sears court looking toward Dillard's.

A couple shots along the upper level as hoards of post-Christmas shoppers made longer views difficult.

The effects of anchor consolidation were noticed when in 2003 Rich's and Macy's were merged into one store known initially as Rich's-Macy's then just Macy's in 2005.  Since the mall had both stores, the original Rich's was eventually converted to Macy's and one level of the Davison's/Macy's store was converted to a furniture store for a short time.  Discontent with keeping a half-open anchor on an end-cap, plans were announced in 2006 to convert the former Davison's store into a new outdoor wing with new anchors.  Thus, GGP who had acquired the Rouse Company in 2004, commenced work to demolish the top level of the former Davison's converting it to open-air promenade with Barnes & Noble as an anchor.  The lower level of Davison's was left intact, but was converted to a Dicks's Sporting Goods.  Part of the old Davison's previously extended to the left of the former mall entrance, however, and it remains today a part of Macy's.

Some views from the lower level.  The last is approaching what used to be Davison's/Macy's.

The entrance in the background used to be the upper level mall entrance for Davison's.

A couple shots looking back towards Dillard's.  The first shot is just inside from the former Davison's upper level entrance and the second is of the clock, which Neil Barker captured in far greater detail.

Neil Barker captured the updated mall entrance next to the older Rouse design to the right.  Several malls in Rouse's native Baltimore also had this design.

The older Augusta Mall is still visible in this photo I took on the day after Christmas, 2011.

Today, Augusta Mall enjoys a prime position in the market, but its location is not as prime as it used to be with the market starving for competition.  In a visit in 2011, it was apparent that the mall was extremely overcrowded.  However, Augusta Mall is also in a position similar to nearly dead Macon Mall where despite high incomes in the immediate neighborhood, the mall is still only five miles from its long-vacant competitor Regency Mall.  At this point ANY competitor could quickly throw the mall into dead mall status quickly partly due to its proximity to an area known for crime and decay.  For example, in less that a decade Macon Mall went from a huge and highly successful mall to a mall with only two remaining department store anchors in a largely vacant mall all because of a lifestyle center that opened on a higher income side of the city.  Augusta Mall has so far avoided that partly due to the failure of the Riverwatch development along I-20 coupled with the mall's expansion.  The Riverwatch project was a very formidable threat to the mall when it was planned.  It would have included a new Belk and Dillard's store and would have funneled retail further away from South Augusta.  If it had been completed it would have not only led to the downgrade or closure of the Dillard's store at the mall, but it would have also likely led to an eventual exodus of other stores and anchors from the mall as well leaving it in a Macon Mall situation with just Macy's and JCPenney anchoring a struggling mall.

Another view of Dick's and the piece of Macy's left over from the lower level.  Photo by Neil Barker taken May 29, 2012.

Here is the outdoor portion in what used to be the upper level of Davison's.  The outdoor fountain was certainly a nice touch.

For right now, the viability of Augusta Mall is not in question.  A mall with few vacancies, five anchors and a lack of nearby competitors it is well positioned for at least short-term success.  The main short-term threat to the mall will be the eventual closure of Sears as the chain's difficulties are unavoidable for any mall that has this store with a space that will be difficult to fill.  Unlike Regency, however, the mall's future is not tied to whether one dying carriage trade retailer can stay open.  However, Augusta Mall joins many malls across the country as a solidly mid-market mall: a struggling sector in danger due to the decline of mid-market department stores as a whole.  Will Dillard's or JCPenney be around 10 years from now?  Will Dick's stay committed to the higher lease terms of a mall when they could easily relocate elsewhere?  Will Macy's remain in the mall and not locate elsewhere especially after Belk sells the company freeing up real estate opportunities?  If the fortunes turn sour for Augusta Mall over the next few years, the least that can be said by that time is that the mall will have had a very successful 40 year run as it has been loved by many over several generations.