Sunday, March 4, 2018

Lenox Square, Atlanta

     Rare enough is it to for you to find a mall of early vintage still standing. Even rarer is finding a vintage mall surviving with ease. And rarest of all is finding a vintage mall lead a world-class shopping district known around the world. Lenox Square is all of this : a 1959 mall that miraculously survives today despite everything that has gone on around it. Sixty years of change in its area and the area is truly the reason for how well the mall is doing. Unlike most other malls of its age, Lenox Square rolls along without a problem. How did it get here? This post will address just how Lenox Square remains successful now and into the future.

See the source image
It's always a good sign when there are tons of postcards on a mall. Sure, retailing was much crazier and malls were much more back then, but still. That's a Kresge's on the right and Muse's on the left. Davison's is on the far left. Scenic South Card Company.

See the source image
An old aerial photo of the mall. The block near the bottom right of the mall once contained a Colonial supermarket. 

See the source image
Rich's court in all of its black-and-white glory.  From a Georgia State University photo collection.
     Lenox Square was born in August of 1959 as Atlanta's second mall. The first Atlanta mall was the Stewart-Lakewood Center in the southside of the city. SLC still stands today in its original form, though with one side of the mall knocked down. Anyways, that's a story for another day. Lenox opened up with a pretty much a full set of Atlanta stores ; Rich's, Davison's, and Colonial Supermarket all had a piece of the retailing pie. Another notable fixture of the mall was a Delta Airlines kiosk, operated by the hometown airline. The largest national chain in the mall was a Kresge's five-and-dime. It's also worth mentioning that the layout of the mall at opening was far from unique. Southdale Center in Minnesota, built three years earlier, has a nearly identical history with the mall, as with a few other early shopping centers. Yet this didn't seem to matter, as Lenox did exceptionally well through its youth.

See the source image
Another aerial photo, this one from Malls of America. Note how the surroundings of the mall are all forest and not nearly what it looks like today.
See the source image
As one would expect, the grand opening was special. This photo is a good one, especially with a full list of original stores smack-dab on the sign.

     Even without a bump in the proverbial road of youth, there was still room for improvement. And would Lenox improve in 1973. A new, fully-enclosed, one-story wing anchored with the Dallas-based, upscale Neiman-Marcus chain was completed. The addition of any store is certainly a thing to celebrate, but the impact that the expansion would have on the mall was tremendous. This feeling wouldn't truly kick in though for decades. Of course, that doesn't mean expanding was a bad idea. A new, enclosed wing with a unique store helped protect the mall against incoming competition. And in its current form, Lenox was growing vulnerable to this.

Taking photos was basically a science in the midst of holiday shopping. This was not helped by the presence of kiosks.

Macy's court through a forest of kiosks and a fountain as the centerpiece. Think of how bright and beautiful this court would be without fidget spinner merchants.

This entrance wing leads to the parking deck just outside Macy's. Sorry for the blurriness, as I mentioned it was not easy to do this.

Another, much-clearer image of a simple entrance wing. This appears to be roughly opposite of the Macy's entrance. 
     Following two booming decades, Lenox Square remained relatively unchanged for another two. Rich's would expand with a new budget store and Men's Department in 1982. A year before, a food court, large renovation, and expansive Plaza Court was completed. In 1992 though, the latest major expansion for the mall was finished. This added a second floor to the main north-south corridor. Turns out something really hit with this new level, as Rich's expanded once more in 2000 bringing the store up to nearly 450,000 square feet. It really goes to say something to Rich's that their generally middle-class, fairly-normal department store did this well in ultra-luxury, over-retailed Buckhead, especially given the competition against the likes of Saks, Lord & Taylor, and Neiman-Marcus. However, the closure of the downtown store in 1991 and the fact that Rich's was from Atlanta were probably helping.

This oddly-angled shot shows a Panera Bread and another entrance. Am I the only one who thinks mall Paneras are endangered? I swear these were a lot more common about a decade ago. 

Say all you will about the interior design, but the layout is simple. 

The aforementioned Panera is to the left and Macy's is straight ahead. Old malls were odd in the fact that anchors didn't often bookend corridors but were instead built into the mall itself. Anchors were essentially very large inline tenants. 
     Unfortunately, and to many Atlantans dismay, Rich's was consolidated into Macy's beginning in 2003 and ending in 2005, but there was a little good news. Thanks to the mall's classy clientele, Federated could afford turning the existing Macy's into the city's second Bloomingdales. A new search for a new anchor was avoided, and the mall's luxury status was solidified. In 2009, the mall was able to celebrate its 50th birthday, which is something to say in the retail industry. Fifty years is a hundred factoring in competition, consolidation, and demographics. That last one makes this feat especially amazing.

Detail of the center court fountain. As you can see on previous photos, this structure goes straight up in the air and is much larger than what is seen here.

Here we have the "Luxury Wing", which isn't a bad name given the Neiman-Marcus anchoring it. 

A closer look at Neiman-Marcus. 
     Today, Lenox is doing quite well for itself in the hellscape that is retail today. In fact, it is doing so well that I would go to say that Lenox can survive another sixty years if the ownership knows what they are doing. Of course, luck is going to have to work out as well. Luck has really come in handy for the mall in its first six decades. It's a wonder in itself that Lenox has lasted this long, given how much demographics can change in sixty years. But not only did the demographics stay stable, they got better. Way better. An old mall in a traditional, middle-class suburb is cool, but a mall surrounded by the likes of Arthur Blank, the former homes of Tyler Perry, and a playground for the wealthy is even more impressive. And even if Lenox was that middle-class mall, it could be dying. North Atlanta is filled with a mall seemingly around every corner, and this would have worn on Lenox over time. Essentially, the money is the blood for the mall. Without it, Lenox would have ceased to exist by now. 

Though it may not seem like it from a distance, the Neiman-Marcus wing has some quirky design features. Note the markings above the second floor logo.

Even the stores in this wing are much different than what you would see. No kiosks in this wing. Instead, we have vintage early 19th century pianos for sale, and a look at the price tag is definitely turning away some shoppers. Would you pay $130,000 for a piano constructed in 1900 and imported from Europe?
Here we are looking down the main corridor towards Bloomingdales. I really like the tarp-like skylights incorporated in this mallway. It kinda gives some futuristic vibes that really go well with the 1959 beginnings of the mall. The skylights also work well with how bright the corridor is in general. 

The mall continues down towards Bloomingdales with the only major difference coming in the change of skylight design.
     Where this money also helps the mall is that the mall controls its own destiny. With the fact that Lenox is THE mall in Atlanta and that the money isn't likely going anywhere, Simon has oodles of leverage on what they feel like doing. Doubling the size of the mall is as doable as keeping things where they are. Despite all these possibilities, I don't think Lenox is going to make any drastic changes. As the old saying goes, don't fix it if it ain't broke, and Lenox for sure ain't broke. It would also be unlikely that if new stores were added, they would remain as pricey and upscale as the others in the mall. Besides, from a business standpoint Simon would essentially be shooting themselves in the foot as Simon-owned Phipps wouldn't benefit at all and might even suffer with an expansion. So, even if keeping things normal isn't flashy, perhaps it's a good thing Lenox remains the same.

Bloomingdales pretty much just sneaks into the mall corridor. This remains a vestige of older malls, as older malls didn't tend to have anchors bookending corridors but instead having anchors blend freely with the corridors. 

If anything is really amazing in this mall, it might be how much this court area has been changed since its construction.

A closer look into the abyss that is the food court and Bloomingdales court reveals a seemingly-suspended California Pizza Kitchen and layers of stores. In all of the many malls I've visited, this area remains a favorite.
     Contrary to many other malls, Lenox is one that doesn't have much to worry about down the road. In fact, it's entirely possible that if Macy's closes as a company and only Neiman-Marcus remains, Lenox will survive. I would go as far to say that Lenox is nearly immune to anything. And so, this story of a long-standing mall won't end with any foreshadowing. It ends with a sort of content-ness about the future. Down the road into the night it seems that there are no nightmares, only dreams of unknown benefits.

Looking across the court to Bloomingdales. This shot would be perfect had Oprah been elsewhere and not staring into my camera.

This look from the dungeon of the food court up really shows the detail in the court. It's quite beautiful.

We head back to the main corridor, this time on the second floor.

Turn around, and here we have Bloomingdales and the end of the second floor.


The Neiman-Marcus wing looks awfully cavernous from this angle. 


What better way to end a beautiful mall with a beautiful view of Buckhead's skyline and a parking lot with more than a few six-figure vehicles.






Monday, January 1, 2018

Vintage Kohl's, Southeastern Wisconsin

     Back in the days when Kohl's was a supermarket and mid-mod architecture was the norm came a mix between the two. Kohl's back then were pretty recognizable with their interesting design quirks. One of these quirks was the shape of the store. Most stores were fitted with a steeply curved roofs that looked like tarps were nailed to the ground to cover the store. Sure, the designs were short-lived and not very practical, but they break up retail design in Wisconsin. Would you rather have large, white boxes, lots of gaudy arches (though I do enjoy arches), or semi-circle, tarp designs that are a blast from the past?

Here's Kohl's number one in Cudahy (cud-uh-hay), located off Kinnickinnic Avenue and Plankinton. It is now an AC/heating company.

Compared to the other two stores in this post, this store may have been changed a little sometime. This store lacks the supports from the sides of the roof down to the front of the store. The brick structure on the left of the store with the loading bay looks to be an addition.
      I don't know when the designs were changed to something less outlandish, but there were flaws with the design. One problem arose with the wood in the roof. Between being bent for decades and all of the wear-and-tear with weather, the wood would begin to crack and decline. Maintenance to fix and sustain the roof would become an unnecessary expense when there were other options for building a store. The other problem is that architecture isn't timeless. Stores like this are going to look worse and worse over time compared to the sterile, modern buildings constructed today.

Kohl's number two, located near the old Southgate Mall off of 27th Street and Loomis Road. It's now an Office Depot. I got this off of Street View as I drove by but couldn't take photos. 
     Maybe what makes these stores even cooler is how they aren't all that hard to find. I discovered three, though only made an effort to see one. I didn't really drive that much in the Milwaukee area, so there are probably more out there to be found. The design of the store also means that they stand out quite well, so you aren't looking for a needle in a haystack. Even finding the stores still standing is a wonder in itself. Badly designed, outdated stores 50 years old aren't something you can expect to see everyday. It all just adds to how unique the stores are. Too bad the cookie-cutter Kohl's of today aren't nearly as cool.

The last Kohl's is across the street from Southridge Mall in Greendale. It directly faces the mall's Macy's. The Kohl's likely closed when Southridge opened with its own Kohl's anchoring the mall. Kohl's is moving again, this time from Southridge to a development at the corner of 84th Street and Layton Avenue. A Bed, Bath, and Beyond now occupies this Kohl's.

And by the way, the roof indeed curves inside the store too. This was inside the Bed, Bath, and Beyond. 



Saturday, December 2, 2017

Columbia Place Mall, Dentsville

     Columbia Place Mall, in Dentsville, SC, changed the norm for retailing in the Columbia and SC area. Columbia Place holds the distinction of being South Carolina's first two-level mall, in a state that today has only three (four if you include the redeveloped McAlister Square). It also brought a big-city mall to the state. The state is an interesting case where there are no "big cities." It has large cities but nothing that really leads the state's economy and position. This meant that something like Columbia Place was embraced for the city and the state. Because of this, Columbia Place kept a large place in the state's shoppers. Sadly though, this special feeling maybe disappearing after its recent struggles and loss of an anchor. With only Macy's and a Burlington, how will the mall survive? If history repeats itself, there will be no survival.

Here's the directory. With the second floor pretty much cut off, it's worth mentioning that Burlington doesn't occupy its upper level. Also, Sears is no more.

Here's the view coming out of Macy's. Even though it has been a while since a renovation, I will admit that the mall doesn't look too bad. If you came for something like Aiken Mall, you can leave.

Here's center court, in the process of being decked out for the holidays. Deck the (m)alls.
     Columbia Mall opened up in 1977 with a booming start. The anchors included Rich's in the western spot, Belk to the east, JCP to the north, and Sears to the south. This roster was part of the reason of the mall's early success. Belk had a strong following in the Carolinas, Sears was an easy pick, and thrived until the late 2000's, Rich's was loved and easy money, and Penney's was a solid fill-in with steady success. This all gave Columbia Place a favorable place to shop with stores either loved or found in larger cities like Atlanta or Charlotte. And was the mall favorable. Columbia Place made money hand-over-fist for years before problems arose. 

Here's center court with focus on the skylights. Those octagonal skylights have been there for a loooong time.

Here is a view of the mall heading towards Sears and the food court. The banner style is an obvious showing of who owns the mall. Moonbeam, we meet again.

This is closer to Sears. The corridor between Macy's and the food court is the liveliest. There's barely any vacancies in this area, which is something of a wonder.
     The classic security issues began to arise in the late 80's. Crime began to pop-up around and inside the mall. This is unfortunate, as this was still the best mall in SC aside from Haywood or Citadel. Most of this can't be put on the mall though. Columbia began to start having proper suburbs, and Dentsville began to blend into an in-town neighborhood. There may have also been a little luck involved. Forest Acres and its Richland Mall is the definition of in-town, but it has retained affluence. In response, mall owners added policies and heightened security. This response worked and came just in time. In 1986, ground was broken on the Columbiana Centre, a new enclosed mall close to the wealth. However, Columbia Place's perception weakened because of the events, and with a new mall on the rise, things weren't turning out so bright.

For an open and decent looking mall, the food court is pretty bland. Of course, the lack of people and eateries aren't helping.

Detail of the side cut off on the previous photo.

Sears didn't do much on their entrance. Sure, I hate it, but it blends in to the mall in a pleasant way.

Looking back to center court with Sears behind me. That is a newsstand/convenience store in the top left corner. I've been seeing more and more in dead malls. 
     The first warnings of what was to come came in the mid 90's. Belk left the mall, presumably thanks to their location at Columbiana Centre. If it wasn't for this location, it's highly unlikely that Belk would have even made it to 2000. The company inherited a modern, well-designed JB White store at Columbiana, an older store at Richland, and another 60's location at Dutch Square. If CPM was farther out, it's possible Belk may have stayed. But four Belk's in a city that struggles with four malls (and a lifestyle center) was overkill. Yet no fear, with Dillard's replacing the store in 1998, in another weird move. Dillard's had a new store at Columbiana and another one at Richland, meaning that CPM was a third store for, again, an oversaturated city. Later on, it turns out my Belks-are-too-close theory was confirmed with the Sandhill opening. That comes up again much later in the mall's history. Anyways, these changes should have put CBL, who became the owners about that time, on notice. Competition was leaving its mark on the mall.

With both the Macy's entrance and the icicle-like d├ęcor, this photo isn't exactly light on the eyes. 

Looking across the court with the JCPenney corridor straight ahead. In case you haven't caught on, the mall shown is dead quiet. I visited on a Monday morning shortly after opening. This was to be expected. 

The Belk/Dillard's entrance shows its age. The store was built in the time that Belk loved arches. Like, really loved arches. 

Heading closer to the store, you can tell of the store's former owner. I'm surprised that after ten years, people still think Dillard's is open.

All has been cleaned of in the store. I have to admit that for a dead mall, this store looks flawless. Moonbeam is really holding their breath to give someone the keys to this store.
     All kept going well until yet another Columbia mall came into the battle. The Village at Sandhill, a lifestyle center just down the road, was built in 2005. This wasn't only an injury to the mall. It was an insult, with Belk and JCPenney ready for business. Let's not forget that Belk left CPM earlier. Belk came back to greener pastures to compete against an old friend. Along with Belk at Sandhill was a JCPenney, causing yet another bump in the Place's path. This duo of locations is probably a factor in JCPenney's shuttering at CPM in 2005. This was also met with the changing of Rich's to Macy's. The closure of Penney's was very devastating to the mall, as would be any closing. On the corridor that JCP anchored was a two-level Old Navy that was hurt by the closing. Old Navy left shortly after.

Looking from Dillard's to Macy's. I'm finding center court, with all it offers, to be visually painful. I will say that it's bright, something uncommon for 70's malls. It's worth saying that a renovation came in 2002.

Here comes the JCPenney wing, deadest of all. It's had a solid decade to rot.

The banners make this corridor creepier and emotionally brighter at the same time. Honestly, just take them down. 

Looking behind me back towards center court. The only dining you will find outside the food court are cockroaches.
     CBL had a response to this departure. Burlington Coat Factory was given the first floor and Steve and Barry's Sportswear took up the second. Of course, Steve and Barry's didn't last long, out of its spot by 2008. This vacancy wouldn't be replaced. Speaking of empty spaces, Dillard's left its CPM space in 2009, a hole still left closed today. This began a sharp decline of the mall, as many national tenants left the mall. Capping off these struggles was the closure of Sears in early 2017.

I found this interesting, to say the least. I don't know how fond the food court vendors are of this. I'm also a little wowed in the fact that most mall owners can get finicky with food and drink outside the food court.

Getting closer to the old JCP. According to the mall flyer, this wing should be a lot more occupied than what the eye can tell.

Looking at an old Old Navy (heh) and JCPenney. Those banners really accentuate the closed-down vibes. 

Just a normal entrance by JCPenney.

JCPenney went plain as dirt on this one. I doubt Steve and Barry's changed anything.
     Moonbeam is between a rock and a hard place here. Macy's absolutely needs to stay for any success. But I have a feeling that Macy's would rather leave for Columbiana or perhaps a planned lifestyle center. The closure of Macy's would also hurt any plans of change. Back in 2014, Moonbeam told of adding a movie theater, events, and other entertainment options. Nothing has came to fruition so far. If Moonbeam does nothing, like classic Moonbeam, they will have locals on their tail (see Gwinnett Place). If Moonbeam ditches these plans and aims for something else, people will be mad. If anything, large-scale redevelopment would have to be very specific. With competition to the west and east and in an area past its prime, it's bullseye or bust for lasting any longer.

Looking back from JCPenney. That's a conference center to the left.

Burlington's entrance looks like any other. 

Heading from Burlington down the first floor. The only notable tenant in this section is Shoe Dept., taking up the first floor of what was once Old Navy.

Entrance to the left of Burlington.
     One thing set in stone with the mall is that its fate is in Moonbeam's hands. What they retain is its survival. If Macy's leaves, then the mall is left for dead. If Macy's can be kept, the possibilities aren't endless, but there are some. The good news is, compared to a decade ago, there is only one other player with Macy's. Columbiana Centre has an anchor pad that could attract the store. If Macy's heads elsewhere, there isn't a future or happy ending I can put here. Columbia Place would be likely to shutter as a retail option. It's also worth mentioning that Columbia would be one of the largest cities I can think of with only one viable major shopping center. Sandhill hasn't even been doing so well recently, as cited from a The State article. There is need for a supporting cast member here, but no one has stepped up. Columbia Place may seem to have been supplanted by Columbiana, but it remains a dark horse. Maybe if this niche is taken, Columbia Place isn't looking at a wrecking ball five years down the road. 

Perhaps it being the fact that my visit was the Monday before Black Friday, or that I visited at 10:30 in the morning was the reason that I took this photo. If anyone visited this mall on Black Friday, tell me all about it in the comments.

Don't you love it when you completely underestimate the amount of photos you took? Let 'em roll.

Approaching center court from the first floor.

Center court from the first floor. 

Macy's looks the same yet more visually appealing from the first floor. 

Looking diagonally across center court. The Belk/Dillard's would be to my left, with the Sears corridor to my right. This photo got me the most attention from the folks setting up Christmas to my left. 


Back down to Sears once again, nut on the first floor.




Sears tried but couldn't care less to finish covering up their store. 

Entrance near Sears.


Props to the cleaning crew here with enough diligence to clean empty stores.

The Macy's store is arguably the best one I've seen, and here's its from the inside. It will make more sense once you see the store from the outside.

Yes, this was once a Dillard's, believe it or not. No stucco here.

JCPenney joined in with the greenhouse design too. Note that Burlington placed another logo on the structure that juts off the top of the store. It probably once said Steve and Barry's back when they occupied the second floor.

Sears is probably the most normal thing at this mall. I'll never say that one again.

The gray accents here are similar to the orange accents at the Montgomery Ward at Regency Mall in Augusta. Oddly enough, both stores had similar offerings, similar problems, and a whole lot more.

Food court entrance with Macy's to the left and Sears to the right.


This is why I love this store. The truss design is unparalleled and unique.

JCPenney had a lot of fun on this side. I can't say I hate the terraced design though. Having gone through the mall and the rest of the outside entrances, I don't know what I would have expected.