Saturday, December 23, 2017

Parkhill Mall/Riverside Plaza: Tarboro, NC

Tarboro is one of those towns that never should have had a mall.  Far too small to support one, it suggests that life in Eastern North Carolina was once very different when the mall was built.  A mere 16 miles from larger Rocky Mount, in 1972 this town gained its first and only mall.  Realistically its construction was also used as a means of keeping Belk from leaving the city, the enclosed mall had only one major anchor when it opened: Belk Tyler.  Junior anchors were GC Murphy, A&P and Peoples Drugs with room for a second anchor.  According to Chain Store Age, Belk had 48,280 square feet, GC Murphy had 30,000 square feet and People's Drugs had 15,000 square feet.  A&P was located on an outlot just north of the mall.

While the mall was not very impressive at 150,000 square feet, the mall had something rather unique in that it was used as a means to test three Belk concepts: a garden center, an auto center and even a gas station known as, rather humorously, Belko.  It is not known how long the auto center and gas station operated, but this was the only known case of either operating at Belk.  Belk had also experimented with garden centers, but not at this store.  It is assumed that since this was probably Belk's most rural mall-based store that Mr. Tyler was looking at novel ways to draw traffic to the store.  Those pictures have appeared around the web of this and are today the only thing left showing the mall in its glory days.

Entering center court (taken with a digital camera at the end of its life).  Note the cage structure on the left.  The first photo is the view of the entrance corridor with an unknown store on the left, former Kmart mall entrance on the right, and a smaller back entrance straight ahead.  It is obvious that this mall got a cheap 1990's remodel that stripped out everything worth seeing.

I have quite possibly never seen anything so creepy in a dead mall.  It looks like a makeshift jail.

Does anybody know what this was?  It looks like it was a restaurant.

Detail of the ceiling including a ton of missing ceiling tiles.  I guess this is how the mall deals with water damage: just remove the damaged tiles and call it done.

A close-up of the insanely creepy empty shops adjacent to the back entrance.  Aside from the 90's pastels, this looks haunting.  However, the doors with the blue light appear to actually be an exit for the theaters.  The store on the right is a total mystery.

A look at the entry into the main mall.  The blue tarp is where the fun stops.  The rest of the mall is closed to the public.  This tarp was replaced by a wall by the next visit.

1982 saw the first and only expansion at the mall.  That expansion would include a Kmart on the north end of the mall filling an empty anchor pad and the Parkhill 3 Cinemas on the back side of the north wing wedged against what was then Murphy's.  It was a small expansion, but it was not one that was very beneficial to the mall considering that this was not the major department store anchor that the owners hoped to attract.  It highlighted the issues of attempting to locate enclosed malls in very small towns.

The only interior entrance open to the public.  With no open stores in the mall, the corridor is used solely to provide access to the mall's movie theater that outlasted the rest of the mall.  It is located on the NE corner of the mall and previously dually functioned as the entrance to Kmart.

A view from the main mall to the former Kmart.  The mall itself had no natural light aside from the high window skylights in the court areas: a typical design used in the early 70's.

Another close-up view of the Kmart mall entrance.  Judging by the lack of mounting holes, the remodel was done after Kmart closed.

A couple photos taken inside the dead Kmart approximately two years apart.  The second photo indicates some kind of work was going on inside the store itself judging by a truck parked inside along with ladders and scaffolding.

Parkhill Cinema 3: the last operational store inside the mall as of 2013.  It is unknown if the theaters are still open.

Tarboro was no different than any other cities in Eastern North Carolina in that its primary economic engines mostly stopped running, and such a small town as Tarboro would prove unable to support a mall pretty quickly.  The mall would limp along through the 80's, but both JCPenney and regional chain Brody's passed over the mall leaving the mall a low end mall worsened by the non-existent growth prospects for Tarboro.  One anchor change did occur during that period, however.  The first was when GC Murphy went under in 1987, it was replaced by Roses.  It also appears that the mall received at least one renovation sometime in the 1980's or 1990's.

One more Kmart shot setting the mood with some empty benches.  Exactly who is going to want to sit in an un-airconditioned mini-corridor with zero stores and a few feet to walk?

The treasures of the mall were sadly hidden from view, but this shot through an abandoned store window gives a little glimpse of the former Belk Tyler mall entrance featuring what appears to be a classy and distinctive 70's look.

Looking inside the former Belk Tyler from the other side entrance into the mall.  The closure of Belk pretty much took the mall down with it.

A look under the tarp (not possible later) showing some of what is still visible in the rest of the mall.

The mall corridor was apparently closed to the public beyond the theaters around 2010-2012, because a permanent wall was installed in the second visit.  I wonder what it would take to get to tour the other side.

The early 2000's quickly pushed Parkhill Mall into dead mall territory.  It is not clear when Belk closed, but it appears it most likely closed at the mall as early as 1992: 20 years after the store opened.  When Belk closed, Roses came to fill the void leaving their prior store in the middle anchor.  Goldsboro-based Heilig-Meyers furniture would then come to replace the former Murphy's/Rose's spot.  However, this anchor shuffle would prove to be a fatal blow as two of the three chains left the mall in 2000.  This included Kmart, which left the mall in its second big round of closings and Heilig-Meyers, which closed with the entire chain the same year.  Somewhere within that same period A&P also closed its store with no grocery coming to replacement.  It is unclear which one closed first, but this left Rose's as the last anchor and they appeared to have joined the exodus leaving the mall anchorless.  By then, the mall should have completely shut down, right?  Not so fast, surprisingly enough.

Exterior/Kmart entrance to mall, the only one still open to the interior section.  To the right is the garden center for Kmart.  However, Kmart was not the first anchor to have a garden center at the mall!

More detail of the garden center with the auto center in the second photo.  The only spring greens you're going to pick up here today are dandelions and crabgrass.

This was the back Kmart/mall entrance with a labelscar still faintly visible.

Belk Tyler's very stately mall entrance.  It was from this door you could see through to the mall entrance.

And here is Belk Tyler's very OWN garden center.  At this time, they weren't growing blue flowers that light up on the side of the building, but they were obviously growing something.  This meant that Belk and Kmart were actually competing with garden centers!  However, it would not be the only service they'd compete on.

Today, Parkhill Mall, now known as Riverside Plaza, is mostly a mall masquerading as a traditional strip center.  The front main entrance corridor is gone, replaced with a Mexican restaurant and adjacent tenants were turned to face the parking lot making it appear at first glance to be a strip.  It is as if the owners are trying to hide the mall away.  Because the theater needs access, one mall entrance remains although the theater apparently did not need the mall to survive.  Thus, although the mall interior is mostly closed, a portion of the mall remains open on the Kmart side up to the entrance to the theaters.  While not glamorous, the arrangement allows limited access to a mall that has otherwise been long dead.  Unfortunately, the theater operator is not so fond of retail enthusiasts like us coming in and photographing that piece of a mall that is otherwise in good repair despite being largely abandoned for over 15 years.  In addition, K&L Transport Services operates on the back half of the former Murphy's/Rose's and a pawn shop operates in the former A&P.  In addition, the Kmart auto center (and possibly the store itself) are again open as an ironic Premium Auto Care & Tire considering that the Belk Tyler Auto Center has been vacant a good while.  It makes me wonder if many of the same employees work there.

This unassuming back door was once the emergency exit for G.C. Murphy, which was the original third anchor in the mall. 

Mr. Tyler was not one to market Belk as just a mere department store, he even went so far as to open up a full-service gas station!  This station served customers quality "Belko" gas!

Batteries!  Tires!  Alignment...all at BELK!

It turns out the Belk Tyler auto center operated under local ownership for a period of years after Belk closed as Webb Tire & Auto, which looks to have closed with no replacement.

Guess you'll need to go further down the road now if you need car service...or not.  The old Kmart auto center has reopened as Premium Auto Care and Tire since these photos were taken.  I wonder if it has any of the original employees from this place.

What is the future of this little forgotten gem?  Most likely it will be the demolition or filling in of what is left of the interior mall converting the rest of it to a strip.  It is clear that nobody is looking to occupy empty mall corridors, but that does not mean the space itself is useless for government offices, medical, or something else.  Retail returning to the mostly empty mall would be a stretch considering that Tarboro has long been by-passed and the mall is not on a high traffic corridor anymore.  In fact, it was most likely the completion of the U.S. 64 realignment in the late 90's (today future I-87) that had the biggest impact on the mall by shifting traffic patterns away from the mall.  If the theater closes at the mall, the greatest likelihood is just that the vacant parts of the mall will get demolished and left a vacant lot behind the existing strip.  Whatever ultimately happens, this mall demonstrates how overmalled North Carolina was during the 1970's and 1980's and how poor the planning was in opening an enclosed mall in a city with 11,000 residents so close to better shopping options in Rocky Mount to the west.  It is just good that somebody saw it before it was sealed off and forgotten like so many like it.

Another rear entrance of the mall next to Belk including a lot of retrofitting for non-mall tenants.  This would be on the southwest corner.  Also note the domed skylight over the court in front of Belk!

Of course, no mid-century mall was ever complete without a strip center adjacent to it.  This strip was originally anchored by A&P and People's Drugs.

This historical map was drawn to the best of my knowledge.  Things unknown include the exact shape of the G.C. Murphy, the location of People's Drugs in the mall and any detailed information about the closed off portions of the mall.  Any help would be appreciated.

Google Maps view of the mall


  1. Regarding the interior mall photo of the store with large glass windows. This wasn't a restaurant. Rather, it was a flower shop - Sara's Flowers, if I remember correctly.

    Other tenants throughout the mall over the years include Radio Shack, Bamboo Cafe Chinese Restaurant, a movie rental store, Hallmark, a beauty salon, jewelry store, and many others. Oh the memories. Thanks for the report and the photos.

  2. The mall now has a few more tenants. Roses just opened in the old Belk Tyler spot. The Belk closed in the mid-1990s. The Roses had also left the mall by then, as it was down the road in a standalone parcel. Parkhill Cinema 3 is a grand place to see movies. It still has two operational screens.

  3. I remember that mall. I used to work at roses the first time it was there. From what I recall over the years it had
    Dominos,arcade, foot locker, sports store, a suit store, granny doughnuts, a eye shop. It had a lot of options for a mall in the middle of the no where.... guess everything comes to an end.