Sunday, September 17, 2017

Columbia/Avondale Mall, Decatur, GA

     Just because it's 1964, and just because it's a mall, it doesn't mean it's a good idea. And we think that the Columbia, or Avondale Mall in later years wasn't a good idea. Nothing's a good idea when it dies from multiple reasons. Once a mall built on cloudy planning, it declined into stereotypical dead mall status before becoming a Bentonville retailer I won't bother to mention. It's currently now a casualty of an overmalled Atlanta, and a firm proof that if you build it, they come...for a while. Then something else takes its place.

Here's a WABE (Atlanta's NPR branch) view of the mall shortly before demolition.
       The original configuration of Columbia Mall consisted of the *very* original dumbbell setup - without the mall itself. A Davison's store took the right side, and a Sears took the left. Only after the anchors opened would mall construction occur. The actual mall opened up fairly quickly. It was only one story, with 25 tenants and 350,000 square feet of retail space. It was the rare Atlanta enclosed mall in its heyday, so success was high originally. Of course Atlanta would be soon stuffed with enclosed centers (and eventually lifestyle centers later on, after 2001) in a wave from 1971 to 2001. These first malls didn't help the original mall.

Mall entrance photo from Pinterest.
     The first malls to fight Columbia were out of Columbia's league. North DeKalb, Northlake, and Perimeter malls came in the first six years of existence. If you could find it at Columbia, you could pretty much find it elsewhere, with many other new stores, same anchors, and bigger digs. Let's mention that the area wealth could go to Buckhead for Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth, and Lord and Taylor. And when I mean area wealth, I mean before the area turned on its head, and when new money reached Gwinnett. 

Openbuildings photo of the mall entrance, McCrory five-and-dime, and Davison's structure.
     As time proceeded, the area and its mall receded. Sears left the mall in 1984. This all meant that the mall was ready for a renovation and rejuvenation. In 1985, a groundbreaking was done on a renovation, including an in/exterior facelift and the conversion of the Sears store into a Sears Surplus, with a food court on the upper level. Also in the renovation was a McCrory store with an outside entrance. All was joined with the name change to Avondale Mall. It's unclear if this actually did much, with the five-and-dime falling out of favor, the area declining quicker before you could cough out "Gwinnett", and food courts being nothing new. Every other area mall had one included. 

     Davison's became Macy's in 1985. Sooner than later, the store became primarily clearance, before being permanently shuttered in 1992. The upper level turned into a 16-screen megaplex in 1994. The 1990's weren't kind at all to the mall. Mom & pop's grew like black mold in the main mallway. This all snowballed to a sale of the officially-dead mall in 1999. All interior stores closed in Dec. 2001.

Sky City photo of the deteriorating interior. 
     The mall would lay vacant for five years before demolition started. This process was interesting as demolitions go - a time capsule filled with newspapers and folders from the early Sixties was discovered, now in holding of the DeKalb History Center. During the demolition, a war was waged between area citizens and Wal-Mart. Eventually, the big-boxer came out victorious, and the lot was SuperCentered. What was once an exciting mall of the 60's was now a discount center. Gentrification can be weird. Obviously an eyesore wasn't helping much, but a Wal-Mart is basically catering to the lower-income type isn't improving the image. 

Photo from Bing Maps via Mall Hall of Fame.
     Maybe this post taught you a little about the rules of retail. Locating on a road not near an interstate in a soon to struggle area is no way for economy. Placing yourself in a tough to expand area is no way for economy. This all forms the way-too-common dead mall phenomena that wows everyone nowadays. The process is way too simple and reveals the lines of business. The traditional dead mall is all too true. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Gwinnett Place Mall, Lilburn/Duluth (Atlanta), GA

     A retail anomaly is when something dies but not in the normal fashion. The "normal" way would be competition, demographics, or a shrinking store base. Instead, the mall dies out quietly, with other forces doing the job. In the case for superregional mall Gwinnett Place, the reason for death was partially the ownership, and partially competition. This forms a very interesting picture of a mall, and that mall we cover today.

We begin with a picture of the main entrance. To the right is a place called The Eye Gallery, since closed. 

You can imagine way back when, before MoG and Sugarloaf Mills, that happy kids would enjoy a cookie here. Now the store has, well, burnt out. 

First shot is of some '84 neon. Second is of the food court and Beauty Master to the left. About three places still locate in the food court, including trashy college desperation in Great Wraps.
      The Gwinnett Place Mall history is far from pleasant. Original 1984 mall anchors included Rich's, Davison's, and Sears. The Rich's gained a little popularity following its opening. Satellite Blvd. was originally Davidson Industrial Blvd., but Rich's didn't want to locate on a road similar to its main competitor, Davison's. This never truly mattered, with Davison's becoming Macy's two years past opening. In the same year, a Mervyn's was added to the mall, on a small wing. This would be a contributing factor in the reign of the mall, taking shoppers from as far away as neighboring states. This super-status was only a cent in the addition of Parisian in 1993. While Mervyn's closed in 1997, the mall wasn't declining yet. Only one year later, a JCPenney replaced the spot, giving the mall a full anchor roster once again.

I have seemingly collected a ton of redundant food court photos. Only eight years ago, CFA, Subway, McDonald's, and Dairy Queen had a part of The Eatery.

This is looking off the main mall to the Mervyn's/JCP/Beauty Master. I presume the fa├žade isn't from JCPenney, given that isn't like them to have an entrance like that. If it was, props to them. On the left is an old The Pink, before that Gamestop, and below an old Things Remembered. I love Labelscar.
     Of course the honeymoon didn't last forever. The one-two punch came in the late of the 90's. This first bullet shot was the Mall of Georgia, a behemoth with six anchors and a massive retail strip around it. Only two years later, in 2001, then-Discover Mills was constructed under four miles away, completely oversaturating the market with shiny new options. Truth be told, the new malls were probably needed, given the spectacular growth Gwinnett and the rest of Atlanta was having at the time. Gwinnett Place didn't have much room to expand and had pretty simple offerings. If it wasn't for MoG, Lord and Taylor and Belk wouldn't be as accustomed to the market, along with tons of other stores. Interestingly, it wasn't just the competition that eroded the mall. As of a 2009 Labelscar post, the mall seemed to be holding its own. Based on comments, most vital chain closings happened shortly after that. This probably meant the recession wasn't exactly kind to the area and the mall.

This fountain is one of the best I've seen. Though I can't show much of it working, the water sprays at untimed intervals upward to the glass roof. It's seriously cool to watch.
     Even with new face(s) in town, GPM didn't show struggles for a while. Rich's became Rich's-Macy's in 2003, before becoming the full Macy's nameplate. Rich's took the new store, with the original Davison's closing. This would become the Mega Mart in 2011. Parisian turned into a Belk operation in 2007, before being downgraded to an outlet and closing in 2013. JCPenney left in 2015, to be replaced by Beauty Master, a regional beauty store. But truly the funeral was in 2012, when Simon unloaded the mall to Moonbeam Capital Investments, a move that will haunt the mall forever.

Dead Belk covered by an unsuspecting wall.

Despite being quite the thing on the outside, the interior Macy's entrance is leaving much to be desired.

Dead Belk from first floor. This mall is on the train southward.

     First, a little about the so-called retail rehabber. Moonbeam owns a few struggling shopping centers in the US to apparently fix them up. They tend to give out opulent plans to save the malls, but they sit there and do absolutely nothing. It doesn't matter how many tax incentives or how much money. Nada. This has led to plenty of well-deserved government hate across the country, and Gwinnett is no exception. Moonbeam had no comment on this matter. Ever since the purchase, vacancy rates have climbed, anchors have left, and the mall has become a lost cause. This holds a bit in my heart, given I spent part of my early childhood roaming and playing in the mall before MoG was of choice. My parents traveled to shop here years ago in Athens. It really shouldn't have died, but it did.

While not North Point or Mall of Georgia level, the mall isn't ugly. Marble floors were added following the birth of MoG. Sadly, I think a lot more than marble floors were needed.
     As much as I hate to say it, the future is unclear for the once-venerable center. Moonbeam is - sort of - trying to convert the mall into a international center such as Plaza Fiesta or the very nearby Santa Fe Mall. I don't think this will successful, however. While Atlanta has a large minority population, and is a cultural hub for the US, Buford Highway is quite the ethnic retail stretch, and nearby Plaza Las Americas and Santa Fe Mall do well enough. But what are the new plans for the mall? Believe it or not, a cricket stadium with a team is in the planning stages. While nothing has started yet, it's not out of the realm of possibility. I truthfully don't think Atlanta needs a cricket team, but if you put it next to the population most familiar with the sport, something could happen. There are also plans for an Avalon-esque lifestyle center by the Infinite Energy Center a couple of exits up, which I truly think is an awful idea given the retail indulgence of the area. Most wealth is by the Mall of Georgia anyway, so please no. That's a different story for a different day. Point given, the owners have to realize the mall won't get back to pre-MoG status.

Here's the entrance for the extra-special Sears I have a post on.
     The tune of the mall war is clear. It's a race of time in what could become a mess of Gwinnett's retail. It's only a matter of time before GPM dies off in little respect. Only a matter of time before MoG expands (while there are no plans for this move, it will probably happen eventually). Only a matter of time before said lifestyle center gets shot down, approved, or hopefully not built. It's a bitter battle, with GPM not the favorite. We will see how things wind out down the road.

Everything in this last photo has been here since 2009, except for the space to the left of Avon. That was once a Sleep Number store.
     Anyways, if you want to see a very stereotypical dead mall, that's about all the mall is good for at this point. As much pain it gives me to type this, but this mall is dead. It's indeed a sad time, but I really hope it lands in the hands of a caring owner, and something is done. The entire firm of Moonbeam just angers me, and I couldn't shake that on my two visits. I'd rather something else happened instead of that purchase. But I'm just dreaming, much like the owners.

I can say that if you leased this space, you would not be nearly as happy as this leasing feller.

Outdated directories? Great, I need to stop at JCPenney! 

I can't confirm what I accomplished in this shot, but I can confirm that palm trees aren't native to hilly northern Georgia and were trendy a couple of decades ago. The store behind it was once something called GITI.

While a weird angle, the Macy's is covered by glass and has a Rich's labelscar. I presume another labelscar will be found at the Cobb Center Mall, which had a Rich's before it's closure in the mid-2000's. That glass needs a cleaning, tbh.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Rating Retail in Southeastern Cities : Part 2

     Way back in the day (or 2 and a half months) I made a post on the ratings of retail in cities of the Southeast. Today this is my most popular post, and I would obviously make a sequel, and possibly make four parts to each region. So we create part 2 of the Southeast. This post covers the smaller cities of the area and their retail situation. And if you missed the methodology of my ratings, here you go:

- Number of dying/live shopping centers

- Hometown stores

- Future of retail


Memphis is generally an underperformer in mostly everything. This carries over to the retail and business sector. Interesting, one mall has been demolished, Hickory Ridge is a little farther up the spectrum, then Southland, Oak Court, and finally Wolfchase. While odd, it's not preferred given that Hickory Ridge is soon to be demolished, leaving the fairly-large city with three malls plus Saddle Creek. One will be pretty much afterthought, so technically two malls. This sadly may not resolve itself, given that Memphis has pretty much underperformed on the growth part too. But, Fred's and AutoZone are based in Memphis and you can ship that with FedEx.


Montgomery has both vintage, but depressing retail. Montgomery Mall is the definition of dead. Normandale has no love or fun, and any redevelopment would be tough, given the neighborhood and decay. Eastdale is pretty average and small. And what rules king? Two lifestyle centers, by the names High Point Town Center, and the Shoppes at Eastchase. To add insult to injury, there isn't very much growth or any stores that a Montgomerian can proudly shop at. As in, hometown stores.


Macon is filled with mainly retail tragedy. Westgate was never exciting, and Burlington's, the dead mall auto fill-in anchor, has since. Macon Mall was once something of size and upscale, but was partially demolished a few years back and has had its power receded recently. Most retail excitement comes from the truly unexciting "power center" or a lifestyle coming by the name of the Shop-pes of River Crossing. This took the hype of Macon Mall, and is why the enclosed center is only a shell of itself. As for the rest, Macon also doesn't have a whole lot of growth or stores to be proud of.


Like the tune of this list, GSP does well but doesn't. Haywood acts as the best mall in the state, and WestGate isn't far behind. But not all is well in the Three Cities. Greenville Mall, McAlister Square, and Hillcrest were badly conceived, and have since passed. Hillcrest has been and is still successful as a strip center, and McAlister Square is now an educational complex. Greenville Mall was demolished and replaced with - you guessed it - a power center. As for hometown headquarters, Denny's, sorta retail, is based in the area. As for the future, two malls is probably all the area needs, and expect them to prosper.


Nashville is a city of retail extremes. While Green Hills, Opry Mills, and CoolSprings Galleria are nice and all, you can't shake off Bellevue Center, Harding, Hickory Hollow, and 100 Oaks (in a way). Filling in the gaps are Rivergate and Stones River, which are pretty much mid-market "meh" malls. What really pulls down Nashville is that aside from restaurants, not much business-wise locates there. Hobby Lobby is the only notable. Nashville, like pretty much every other Southeastern city, has steady growth, and the retail will improve from it. Not bad, not great, but not much to be ashamed over.

Lord and Taylor in Georgia

Photo from Department Store Museum

     Back in the day, before bankruptcies and the years of consolidations, there was a certain New York retailer in the state of Georgia. This retailer was the upscale Lord and Taylor, which would place three locations in three malls. These trendy, upscale malls where L&T was located were Phipps Plaza, Mall of Georgia, and North Point Mall. The stores would be very successful for the chain, with the Phipps store lasting 35 years until the May Co. bankruptcy. This death came in 2004, along with the other Georgia stores.
     Even though, there is barely any presence of L&T still remaining in the Southeast, it is possible that it is coming back. In 2013, L&T opened a store in the Mizner Park lifestyle center in Boca Raton. Under new ownership, L&T has been opening new stores and expects to head to our northern neighbors. Canada, home to the parent company's Hudson's Bay stores. It would be interesting to see wherever L&T goes to, with many states remembering but not feeling the stores. These chain mysteries are seriously something that I will look into more down the road. 

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Department Store Museum
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The Mallmanac
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Mall of Georgia L&T Sky City
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North Point entrance Sky City

Monday, September 4, 2017

Santa Fe Mall, Duluth (Atlanta), Georgia

     What's becoming more and more popular are repurposed malls that were once dying, but adjusted to the community, and reborn. Santa Fe Mall is similar to this scenario, but was far from the dead mall nickname prior to conversion. Santa Fe Mall wasn't a mall at all previous to the renovation. This hasn't done a whole lot to hurt though, with Santa Fe a major community place. The mall has always interested me, and today we visit to the Hispanic community center the mall is.

Here we are entering the mall. On closer inspection, the cinema looks very swanky. 
     From all that I can tell, Santa Fe Mall was converted/constructed/renovated to its current state in 2005. The website says that they are celebrating their 12th anniversary soon, so that's probably the opening date. I presume the mall was once a storage facility, being that the layout has a lot of small hallways and garage doors. Of course, there is a lack of information on the mall online, so who knows. I do know that Santa Fe wasn't built as Santa Fe, so it had to be something. I can't confirm really anything aside from the opening date.

Here's the central mallway and one of two anchors. D&K Suit City acts as sort of a lower-income JCPenney.
     Santa Fe Mall has to be the weirdest mall I've been in yet. The layout seems simple at first, but once you pass center court, all bets are off. A labyrinth of hallways exposes itself in a hashtag shape on each side. Down these small corridors, mainly services are located, including attorneys, salons, and offices. Also in the small mall is a food court, with three bays and an odd location. Through the main entrance facing PetSmart on Venture Blvd, all the way to center court then past, then left on a small hallway takes you to the eateries. It would not be hard to get lost, and while I say it is a small mall, it may not be one. I'm a little disappointed I didn't go through the maze of hallways on my visit. 

First two shots show the center court and its stage/fountain and the last shows the right off the court, to the cinema. Venture Cinema is a cheap first-run theatre with a few Latin movies.
     The one thing that popped out here was the vibes. The architecture gives the feel of a Mexican market, with detailed yellow storefronts giving way to businesses. Many kiosks were similar to convenience stores, with Mexican candies and foods. It's pretty cool to see how a different culture goes like normal on their shopping trips, just as we go shopping. The families in the area treat a trip here like we treat our mall trips. We can't wait for birthdays and money to purchase clothes we've always wanted. The same happens here. Shopping across the world is so different, but the same.

Lone food court photo. I visited around lunchtime and it was tough to take any other pictures.

These hallways are filled with merchandise. 
     Santa Fe Mall is safe for years to come. It's been a big enough force to partially hinder good ol' Moonbeam's plan to change Gwinnett Place to the ethnic type. Combined with Global Mall, Plaza Fiesta, Northeast Plaza, and the Buford Highway corridor, Atlanta has a pretty solid international retail scene. The people it attracts almost grant it immunity, given that the area Hispanics probably use Amazon much less and with larger families, brick and mortar is the way to go. The mix of services and stores mean you could nearly go everyday and do something different. It's the perfect mall of the future in my opinion.

And this what I mean when I talk about small hallways with garage doors.

Down this unsuspecting hallway is the food court.

While it doesn't show it in detail, there is a fountain in the mall.

This is a view of leaving the mall the same entrance I entered through.