The origins of the site come from being a child of the 80's raised in the peak of the modern era. This was when all of the original malls were still around, and they were facing a difficult fight against the newer, more elegant megamalls. My mom was a shopaholic then, and I indeed visited multiple malls on a regular basis as well as quite a few other stores. Going to these places was an adventure as well as the highways that were big, exciting and constantly under construction. Indeed, growing up in Atlanta I saw a lot of malls and stores fade away while others were being built just as quickly without any restraint.
During my youth, I witnessed the opening of three major shopping malls, saw others morph from their original state and watched as even more that I grew up with fade away as a child grew up in an era of unparalleled overall growth and prosperity. With this, I still watched with a bit of sadness as I saw many, many stores I grew up with suddenly disappear forever. Richway, Big Star, Sky City, Eckerd Drugs, Media Play, and many other staples of my youth are now long gone. Seeing all this change and watching as the places that were almost like a second home fade away inspired me to contribute to the original Deadmalls.com and later to start this site hoping to chronicle and preserve the memories of all of these places whether existing or gone.
Cumberland Mall in Atlanta at its peak from a 1976 postcard. This was my childhood mall. It opened in 1973 to enormous crowds, but today is a stripped down mostly urban mall anchored only by Macy's and Costco that is ripe for redevelopment into an urban village. It was the most popular mall in Atlanta for a little over a decade. The view here shows an indoor lake dropping into an artificial sinkhole around a three-story elevator with a lookout tower on top. The maze of walkways and planters zig-zagged across two levels. The entire center court was gutted for open space around 1993. The mall would lose three of its original four anchors and is struggling to adapt to the modern retail climate.
When I started my blog, I did not expect it to grow to the size it is today. My first posts were a local affair at best, and it seemed to be a lot of work at first. I had previously started the blog as sort of an extension of what I entitled the "Rich's Project" where I went and captured images of Rich's stores prior to the changeover in early 2005. My first post covering a shopping center completely outside of Georgia came in September 2006 when I covered the former Village Mall in Cleveland, TN. The intent of the original blog was to cover Georgia and areas outside of Georgia intrinsically tied to Atlanta such as the expanse of the Rich's department store chain in Alabama and South Carolina.
Throughout the course of the blog, I still mostly covered North Georgia until mid-2009 when I began to cover stores and malls outside of Georgia in all of the surrounding states. Eventually the expanding coverage of these other states made me realize that the name needed to be changed since it was misleading to those outside of the state and reduced potential visitor traffic. I sought feedback from several of you as well as friends, and I considered several names for the site. Perhaps I could have been more creative, but I am not good with names anyway so I decided to name the site Sky City after the failed chain that was located in all of the states I covered until I moved into even more states and regions.
I have since been working on a goal to cover more of the South and Mid-Atlantic regions and hopefully a few other areas of the country. Today, the blog covers not only Georgia, but also Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, and West Virginia. Future expansion of the blog will include even more states depending on where I land with a camera.
Unfortunately, one of the things I did not expect when I started Sky City was that it was the beginning of the end for the American mall. While malls might always be around, their form as they were known: an enclosed structure with 1-3 levels and 2-5 department store anchors looks to be ending. Many, many malls covered in this blog have been closed and torn down and many more are likely to fail soon as inline store are falling like dominoes, and once rock solid anchors like Sears and JCPenney are struggling to survive. That number is expected to increase when as much as 25% of malls still open at the beginning of 2016 are likely to close. 2017 and 2018 in particular saw a phenomenal amount of malls failing on the heels of the slow-motion liquidation of Sears coupled with massive store closures of Macy's and JCPenney. Sears survived into 2019, but as a weak company with poor prospects. JCPenney is facing a debt bubble bursting that is similar to what wiped out Toys 'R' Us in 2018. Kmart, also once a strong anchor to small town malls, is also barely existing outside of a few pockets of the United States.
We lost many other stores this past year as well. In all, 2019 looks to be a period of severe decline for the retail industry as online sales, consolidation, weak consumer purchasing power, and concentration of wealth in urban areas are ripping retail to shreds. Provided that external factors such as war, natural disasters, or economic collapse do not derail the entire industry, the likely future of brick-and-mortar retail will be outlet malls, flea markets, antique stores, destination stores (1-2 locations of a major chain located primarily in a large city) and downtowns full of small shops with vendor contracts. The last has not yet evolved, but how this works is that a local merchant cuts a deal with a designer such as Ralph Lauren to sell merchandise in the shop. The merchant then also provides tailoring services and provides recommendations to the customer. If they don't have it, they will help them get it no matter what the size. This will be, because chain stores will not be able to survive in an increasingly fragmented market where supply chains weaken. Chain stores will primarily be found in the larger cities while small towns and smaller cities will mostly have this format. In all, retail will go full circle where the best selection is in the cities and everyone else relies on either a catalog (the internet) or a few choices in downtown shops. Perhaps even the industry will become so contracted that Wal-Mart begins to sell designer clothing!
In 2014, I announced that I would be extending the coverage to more states outside of the Southeast coupled with a partial name change to "Southern and Mid-Atlantic Retail History". 2018 will see that banner fade away to become just "Sky City: Retail History". The need for a regional distinction no longer exists although most of what is covered is near the East Coast. In all of the places I cover, this is not just a hobby for me. Much of this is personal...a way for me to remember these places I visited as a child or knew so well in a manner that I can share if with everyone. I also enjoy showing how all these existing and former chains worked together. In a sense, this site is part of the memoirs of my life as well as for many other people who remember a time when going shopping was an exciting experience full of massive wonderlands of retail, many interesting stores, plenty of variety, and a booming economy to go with it. Will the future ever be like that again?