Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Mall of Georgia, Buford, GA

     The Mall of Georgia, located in the Atlanta suburb of Buford, deserves its name. It's Georgia's largest mall, but that isn't all it can be proud of. It's a picture of what a mall can be with extensive planning after the main mall era. The mall is arguably the most unique of all of them in Atlanta, and quite appropriately, maybe even Georgia. Brought along with it was a major effect on Atlanta retail. Buford suddenly had a major retail scene and boomed following the mall's opening. Needless to say, the Mall of Georgia did some big things to Georgia, for better or worse.

Here's the directory for the crescent-shaped mall. By the way, there is another floor above the first floor map. In fact, there is a third floor too, with only a cinema. 

Here's the corridor from Dick's to the main mall. To the left of me, along with an entrance, is a bungee jumping structure. It's been there forever, though I don't know if it's been in operation since the mall opened. 
     The MoG opening goes beyond the opening itself. Even in planning and construction, it was obvious Simon expected a large-scale project. And the mall goes beyond the mall itself. Looking at old aerials, Buford Drive, the road the mall is on, didn't always look the way it did. What was once a simple stop-sign I-85 exit became sprawl, with the exit becoming a cloverleaf and stoplights on both sides. What was once farmland became strip malls and big-boxes. What was once quiet roads became median-filled trafficked streets. And don't forget that most of this happened in a short time span of only a few years. Malls can definitely change a landscape, but something this scale was scarily different. Mall of Georgia's impact can even be counted for the rapid expansion of northeastern Atlanta and the fact that the suburbs pretty much go all the way to Gainesville at this point. 

View of the Belk court. This acts as a divider between the center court/food court area and the eastern section of the mall. 

Belk/Lord and Taylor mall entrance. Sure, this was Belk's first Atlanta location in decades, but they didn't turn it unique. The marble entrance gives away its origin. Photoshop the Belk logo out, and add L&T's script logo the sides and you wouldn't know the difference.

Opposite of Belk is this entrance. That's a Forever 21 on the left, one of many junior anchors. Spoiler alert : all of these entrances look the same.
     The Mall of Georgia opened up to a great start in 1999. It was one of the nation's most upscale and largest malls, and the benefits didn't stop there. The original anchors were very strong for being pre-consolidation and before the death of the various discounters. These anchors also provided a more diverse and far superior experience than other Atlanta malls. Those with money had Lord and Taylor and Nordstrom to play in. Traditional department stores had a space to exist, with Dillard's and JCPenney to shop in. Bed Bath and Beyond, Galyan's Sporting Goods, and Haverty's Furniture filled in niches for shoppers. And it wouldn't be an Atlanta mall without a Rich's, the local favorite store that entered the mall in a three-floor store. In 1999, you couldn't get much better than this. It also only seemed true that a Mall of Georgia would have top-class anchors to support it. However, only Rich's and Haverty's were actually based in Georgia. Only one would last past 2005 though, and in 2003 all was done for it.

Approaching the food court. This is where an architecturally excellent mall gets a step further.

This is the back area of the food court. If you thought this was expansive, your thoughts won't matter soon. The kiosks cluttering the area don't help though.

It wouldn't be a late-era mall without a carousel.

Looking from the carousel up to the roof, featuring the large clock and the cinema sign. This makes me dizzy somehow.
     The mall would experience some small turbulence throughout its early years, but nothing to be worried about. On June 22, 2004, news came that Dick's had purchased the Plainfield, Indiana-based Galyan's concern. Shortly after, the Galyan's was converted into a Dick's operation. Galyan's was more similar to REI and Dick's had more rec sports equipment, causing the merger. But a year before, Rich's started the original consolidation to Macy's, making the mall lose an anchor in a way. This was obviously not a problem though, with Macy's taking up the spot as soon as Rich's "closed". Rich's became Rich's-Macy's, and lastly Macy's in 2005. Also around this time, Lord and Taylor left the mall and all of its other Georgia locations. Yet even this couldn't stop the mall. With far less anchor choices those days, Simon opted for the addition of a store pretty much forgotten by then for Atlantan's : Belk.

Food courts don't get much better than this. This is supposed to resemble a former Atlanta train station. Why do all train stations seem to have the NBC peacock look?

This was taken to show the levels of the mall, from first to second to third. 

Here's one side of the food court area. Note the gingerbread house-designed roof. I find it a little weird with the rest of the mall.
     Belk brought much more than the Mall of Georgia store with it. Today, Atlanta is the biggest market for the store, with the 20 metro locations (soon to be 19, with the closure of the Phipps Plaza store) and a local liking. The markets include even Charlotte, which is where Belk is headquartered, and Dallas, Belk's newest market. It helped that Belk entered the market after Rich's left, clearing a strong competitor. In fact, Belk's entrance helped a lot for Georgia as a whole. It gave way to more urban Belks, when the store only had a knowledge of rural areas. If Mall of Georgia did hurt other malls, it at least did something for the state.

Now we head into the western section of the mall. This small area is probably the most toned-down section of the mall. I would go as far to saying it looks a bit plain and like every other 90's mall. 

90's corridor, meet 90's Penney's look. 90's Penney's look, meet 90's corridor.

Here's the JCPenney court. It at least looks a little different. Good news, things only pick up from here.
     The last anchor switch came pretty recently. Nordstrom left their anchor spot in 2015, giving way for Von Maur's third Atlanta store. I'm a little surprised with the closure of Nordstrom. The Buford area gained lots of new money thanks to the mall and Lake Lanier is nearby. Buford is far from poor, or even middle-class. It's also one of the hottest and cheapest real estate markets in the US. Buford could have easily handled a Nordstrom store, in my opinion. The reason behind the closure remains a mystery to me, and possibly Buford residents alike. 

Going farther down the mall. In the background is the start of the Plains section and the Macy's court.

Macy's, once Rich's, doesn't sport anything special. This is ironic, because Rich's was special, but Macy's really isn't. It's not a great sign when pretty much every mall had a Macy's at some point.

In Macy's court is this decent fountain. This isn't the only fountain in the mall, but one of five. A fountain is also located in The Village, a lifestyle section outside the food court. I didn't photograph that as it was raining and cold.
     The Mall of Georgia is pretty much on top of the world now. The mall is in its prime, and has never looked better. This felt obvious to me as I visited on a Sunday afternoon and struggled to take pictures. The mall was packed by the thousands. Every food place had a solid line and the food court was filled with people. This isn't a small, dinky food court, mind you. This is a cavernous food court with oodles of seating. The situation was so bad that I saw people eating on the benches on the second floor. Included in the fun were the anchors, all decked out for Christmas and filled with people. It was a splendid scene to see. Sure, lots of malls are dying nowadays, but not every one is. Mall of Georgia has the look, vibe, and crowd to show it can be a contender decades down the road. Days like this are helping its cause.

Here we enter the Coastal section, which looks like a plantation in mall form. This section includes Dillard's and Shoe Dept., a major junior anchor.

Dillard's entrance is easily complemented by the surrounding architecture. Dillard's could have put an all-white entrance and it still would have looked good.

Dillard's from close-up.
     Mall of Georgia is a unique case for a mall. Despite its size and opulence, you could say there's only one thing to be worried about. JCPenney is the only anchor I'm worried about. I'm interested in what the plans for the store are given that the company isn't really doing so hot as of late. Does Nordstrom reenter the picture? For replacements, all I can think of are upscale options. This puts an interesting scene in the movie, given that Buford has money. Wealthy folks spend their weekends often at their Lanier lakehouses, giving the mall a regular boost of rich consumers. The Buford area is also home to a few notable people, including Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones. A man getting paid multi-million dollars isn't moving to the bad side of town. 

Dillard's from the second floor. Should I be worried that a mall is ready for Christmas over a month before the actual holiday?

Near Dillard's is this unremarkable entrance.

Macy's from the second floor.

Entrance wing across from Macy's. Haverty's entrance is down there.
     Anyways, future aside, the Mall of Georgia carries some architectural clout. The mall is divided into multiple sections, representing the terrain of Georgia. One section shows the mountains, the piedmont, the coast, and the plains. Also included are two arcades near the food court. Numerous fountains populate the mall throughout, with the grandest one being in the Village. This fountain is the largest and opens up, meaning children can play in it during the summer heat. The other fountains are still special though. Each section has its own fountain, except the food court. These fountains fit in with the theme of the section they are located in. In an era where it seems fountains are being neglected, seeing them aplenty in a mall is refreshing (no pun intended). 

Here's the second floor view of the Plains section. 

I didn't take this photo to show Finish Line but instead the interesting accent feature. Throughout the mall, signs like this list off municipalities, towns, and counties in Georgia. This would probably only work in, well, the Mall of GEORGIA.

The end of the Plains section. Each section greets shoppers with a large sign sporting the main theme.

JCPenney entrance wing. All the entrances look the same for the most part.

JCPenney from the second floor.
     If you like it or not, the Mall of Georgia changed the norm of shopping in Atlanta. If you are unhappy with this, you must realize that MoG isn't only to blame. Not far south is the Mills-developed Sugarloaf Mills. These malls opened back to back with a common target. Gwinnett Place Mall reigned supreme for 16 years and was beginning to age. Atlanta had boomed through the 90's and carried a strong economy. And so the two shopping pillars were constructed. Gwinnett Place was pretty much doomed from then on. It currently operates in dead mall status with Macy's, Sears, and two nontraditional anchors (more info elsewhere on this blog). Sure, a perfectly good was ruined, but does it matter when it's replaced by a perfectly good, even better, mall?


To put in perspective on the sheer size of the mall, here's a photo from the third floor to the first. It's trippy.

Technically, this is the main entrance. This is the opposite of the food court on the second floor.

Back towards Von Maur is this empty anchor pad. If Simon ever felt the need to expand, this is probably where it would go. This was possibly for Parisian, but that's out of the question with Belk here and the fact that Parisian died out 11 years ago.
     It's safe to say that you shouldn't be in a rush to visit the Mall of Georgia. So often we love dead malls, but sometimes you need to step back and look at the bigger picture. Live malls aren't always washed down and tasteless. MoG is an example of this. It's one of the best in the US, yet by no means is it boring. The architecture is excellent and the enjoyment is endless. I love a dead mall too, but do they check these boxes? 

Now for the decadent mountain wing. The Christmas décor takes this to a new level.

Von Maur from up closer. 

Barnes and Noble.

Dick's look as it normally would.

Von Maur's newest stores look nice as always.

The only other decent outdoor photo I have is this one of Macy's. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Perimeter Mall, Dunwoody, GA

     Located 12.4 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, Perimeter Mall acts as an upscale center that gets covered by the all the others. Forgetting all Lenoxes and Phipps, Perimeter Mall is the near-perfect mall. It's upscale but not Gucci-store galore, large but not laid out dumbly, and fits well but not cliché. It's all you need, and these pictures show it. On a Sunday afternoon, the mall was busy as ever, and it was obvious a brisk business was being done. If every mall looked like this, wardrobes would be filled with clothes, to say the least.

To give perspective, here is what we see. It's upscale, and the layout is nothing spectacular. 
     To develop the northern part of the then-two-year-old I-285, Rouse Company pondered the construction of the mall and went for it. Properly named the Perimeter Mall, DeKalb County's fourth venue of its type turned on the neon open sign on August 17, 1971. Anchored by local favorite Rich's and Wyoming's JCPenney chain, the mall was opened up to great fun, as was pretty much anything else in 1971. The mall was nearly identical to Greenbriar Mall at opening, but today, the malls are anything but identical. Perimeter included all the classics at opening, and was essentially what you expect in a 1971 mall.

I find odd harmony in this entrance. It isn't anything over-the-top, but I like it. Maybe that's why, it blends well and doesn't scream,  "HEY MACY'S IS OVER HERE!"

Here's the Dillard's entrance from afar. This whole wing feels new, capped off with a fairly new Dillard's store. I guess it is an improvement over the dark cavern the mall once was.

Von Maur knows how to make a decent looking store. The store shows some age on the inside, but in the middle of the store is a large atrium complete with a piano on the first floor, which was in use at the time of my visit. Complete with the exterior, it brings nostalgia of downtown department stores.

The short Nordstrom wing. The blue monstrosity on the left is a J. Crew. Note the terraced skylights on the roof. For a cloudy late afternoon, it was very bright in the mall.
     All was well until 1982, when news came out of the Dunwoody mall. An expansion was proposed and constructed, adding a food court, Davison's department store, and sixty-some shops. This wasn't Davison's for long, though. The year 1986 brought Macy's following the store's merger with the then-New York concern. This set the mall up for problems later down the road. Meanwhile, things were coming together nicely. In 1998, another expansion was added on, featuring Seattle's Nordstrom chain. All this helped the mall gain a major presence in the northeast Atlanta trade area and a pretty safe feeling in the consolidation excitement soon to take place.

Here's the long-shot from center court all the way to Von Maur. It was very busy here today.

Nordstrom and the Von Maur court. The columns are an odd but nice touch. 

Just a bit closer to Von Maur. The food court is roughly below me. 
     Though it wasn't as bad as it could have been, anchor store consolidation still touched the mall. In 2003, with the merging of Rich's to Macy's, Federated Stores had a dilemma. Macy's already had a store at the mall, and Rich's already had a large furniture gallery. But the mall was upscale enough for Bloomingdale's, also owned by Federated. The original Davison's turned into the new Bloomingdale's, with the Rich's becoming Macy's. JCPenney would close in 2005, and was replaced by a sparkling new Dillard's store a couple of years later. It was a good sign for the mall with the quick turnaround of closed stores.

This goes from Von Maur to the center court. In a way, it oddly looks like Lenox Square's main corridor. 

VM from the lower level. I'll stop soon with using Von Maur words and photos every ten seconds.

This is from center court to the mall's Macy's. I took this from an escalator and ended up with an oddly angled blurry photo. Never will do that one again too.
     Still more has changed since 2007, but not for the worst. Bloomingdale's closed in 2012 but was quickly replaced with Atlanta's second Von Maur. This wasn't a very worrying closure, as odd as it sounds. Atlanta already has a Bloomingdale's at Lenox, and not many cities have two. Even those with two have them spaced out. If Atlanta wanted to have two it would have to be Lenox and Southlake, Arbor Place and MoG, or Town Center Cobb and Stonecrest. And anyways, maybe three of those malls could actually house a Bloomingdale's.  What I'm saying is that Atlanta shouldn't feel bad joing a group with Boston, Seattle, Detroit (whose suburbs are actually not as bad as one may think), D.C., anywhere in Texas (only outlets), or anywhere in VA apart from basically Washington, D.C. The owners should take it as a good sign that as soon as the gates closed for Bloomingdale's, Von Maur was filling up the racks.

Stores along the upper floor of the Dillard's wing. 

This is the corridor that runs towards Dillard's. This is a very short wing despite it being on the main mall.  Apple, Foot Locker House of Hoops, and a newly opened Zumiez all locate along here.

Along the main entrance corridor, per se. Below me would be an H&M, and roughly to my left would be Urban Outfitters.
     Ramblings aside, all that has come to the mall ever since have been small renovations. The most recent of these includes the revamp of the main entrance. I would have to presume that the renovations have ended though. There was no sheetrock to be seen on my visit, but I don't think that's a bad thing. The mall has visually improved enough to be viable for a few more years. It's pretty obvious that the owners are trying to shake the infamous dark mall of days past. Its converted nicely to a much brighter and more modern mall. But I think there is one spot to improve in. The current food court remains dim and doesn't fit in with the rest of the mall. With this, the food court should be relocated to a prospective third floor in the center court. This new floor would be only surrounding the main atrium, and not to any anchors. The old food court would be renovated to fit with the rest of the corridor. The current food court doesn't fit in and feels cramped and dark, not something to be happy of today.

It was near impossible to get a good photo of the food court. I suppose going here on a Sunday evening before when most area kids had the week or Monday off was not my finest moment. 

Here's one side. The other side goes much deeper and is larger.

This was the best I could do. The barrier there is a little obstructing, but isn't that the point?
     As area malls thin out, it's very probable that Perimeter will last. The only downside to this is that the mall has long provided competition to Northlake and North DeKalb, and has given them a run for their money. On the bright side, one of the wealthiest and aesthetically pleasing areas of Atlanta has a mall that many other places would love to have. It can be called an oddly perfect mall. It mixes upscale at a fair price with not over-the-top. It shows that a city's oldest malls don't have to struggle. They can become one of the best, and live long, happy lives as retail establishments.

This is going from the Macy's court and down the corridor. Note how skinny the corridors are compared to the Von Maur/Nordstrom area.

This is looking back at Macy's on the right side of the upper floor.

Looking into the center court. I've noticed that these kiosk-type candy shops are all the rage now in successful malls.

I don't have to tell you where this goes. GGP did it for me.

Looking out what is the main entrance. That's - gasp - a Teavana to my right. Too bad GGP didn't hop on the Simon v. Starbucks lawsuit.
Close-ups of the Macy's court. This area seems the most mid-market out of the mall, but still has some upscale offerings.

Last but not least, a full two-story view of Macy's.
Recently, Dillard's changed their common design and added more glass, but they still have their hands on the copy and paste tool.

Side entrance near Dillard's.

Here's the main entrance. The owners took advantage of the slope the mall is located on.

Shake Shack, also known as the more upscale fast-casual version of Steak and Shake.

Macy's in all of its golden brick goodness. This is a massive store, having been expanded once for Rich's furniture requirements.