Sunday, October 15, 2017

From the First to the Worst :: Dutch Square Mall, West Columbia, SC

     Columbia is seriously drowning in retail space. I've said it before, and it is no joke. Seven enclosed malls and one lifestyle center have existed at some point in the past 50 years, and this has put the hurt on various shopping centers in the region. Somehow the retail vacancy sits around 8%, similar to Atlanta (according to Colliers Realty in Q2, 2014, but little has changed), but the area malls aren't helped by statistics. Only one mall really rules king, but today we look at an underdog. Dutch Square Mall has taken Columbia shoppers out of the rain for nearly fifty years, and being the smallest, needs some love. Barely anything has gone in favor for the mall over that span, and it truly hurts to see a mall like this struggle. So today we immortalize it online.

The main entrance to the mall. On the right is Wes Bolick Bedrooms. This entrance looks a tad outdated, but blends in maybe too much. From Bush River Road, the mall looks like a strip mall anchored by a large white box and Burlington. More on that later.
     Dutch Square has a very "almost" history. When the mall opened, however, the history was pretty straightforward. The layout was a dumbbell for all practical reasons, with a slight curve to the western half of the mall. Towards the eastern anchor was another anchor coming off to the south. Filling in the south was Woolco, to the west was Augusta's JB White, and to the east was local store Tapp's. Heading off in the mall down towards JB White (literally down, the mall has a consistent slope throughout) would take you past Woolworth. Filling out the exterior lots were an A&P grocery store and a small twin-eater. This was enough for celebration, being it was Columbia's first enclosed mall and would be for a good while. Altogether, the mall was prosperous for a good run, but storm clouds were in the horizon.

If you enter the entrance on the last photo, here is the scene. Depressing and oddly bright in the same photo. 

And if you take a right at the junction shown last photo, here is the view. Very deserted. Note the interesting light fixtures on the roof.
     The first problem came up in 1988, but it really wasn't one. Richland Mall, in the southwestern neighborhood of Forest Acres, had been enclosed. Of course, this was a huge flop and Dutch Square shrugged it off with its much more palatable offerings. But the neighborhood around Dutch Square hurt the mall in two ways. The immediate area had aged since the mall's opening, and had struggled economically for a while. On the other hand, the far northwest environs of Cola had been booming with new money and new residents. This was still in the Dutch Square region of dominance, but it wasn't long before the potential came crashing down. A forest 4.9 miles to the northwest was chosen for commerce in 1986, and shortly after came the decline of Columbia's "elderly" shopping institution. Combined with the construction of Columbia Place Mall in 1977, the soon-to-struggle West Columbia mall needed to visit the operating room. Under the new leadership of hometown Edens & Avant, a blueprint was created. An expansion was proposed, adding Atlanta's Rich's and VA-based Miller and Rhoads, but bumps in the road told otherwise. Rich's parent company, Ohio's Federated Stores was dealing with bankruptcy proceedings and a minor recession slowed the dreams. Nothing ever came to fruition.

Views of the now-closed Belk. Pretty much anything along this wing is vacant, not particularly surprising. The open store on the left of the first photo occupies a former Woolworth's. On the topic of storefronts, what was the store on the left, second photo, closest to Belk? Restaurant? Record shop?
     One could say that the mall's decline started in 1983. This was when the mall's Woolco shuttered, leaving a major anchor vacant. This was further exacerbated with the death of the Tapp's chain in 1995, leaving JB White lonely anchoring the mall. The Band-Aid was placed on the mall in 1996, with anchor replacements, renovations, and new brains behind the mall. Burlington Coat Factory and Office Depot subdivided the old Woolco. The vacant Tapp's became a General Cinema, then AMC, megaplex. This renewed the mall's success, but this wasn't sustainable nor long-lasting. 

Detail of the storefront I was talking about. Nice doors.

From the closed Belk to the center court. If you couldn't tell, this mall is far from large. Given the pillars on the right, is that an old Express (not about the Bavarian storefront earlier)? On the left is a Planet Fitness.

Detail (or really none of it) of the Planet Fitness. I'm surprised they have a mall entrance being a gym of all places.

Looking inside the old Belk. Yes, it looks neglected, but part of the first floor is soon to be a new Planet Fitness location. According to family members, the old PF is quite dinky. I can imagine the second and third floors of the old Belk are spooky.
     What once worked stopped working, but it was only part of the mall's fault. Having a discount store and a theatre where someone can catch a movie and not really enter the mall didn't help. But it wasn't helping that competition was slowly squashing the mall. With two locations at Columbiana Centre, the new mall in town to the northwest, Belk saw little reason to operate another location at Dutch Square (JB White became Belk in 1998-99). Belk Simpson became simply Belk in 2011, and closed in 2015. The vacant Belk, or one-sixth of it, is slated to become a new Planet Fitness.

Looking into the old Woolco, now Burlington. Discount stores were never meant to be pretty, but on the inside, the store shows its age. Picture a KMart, but a tad less trashy and a lot more linoleum and questionable fashion. 

To the left of the AMC is this entrance wing. There was probably a cafeteria down that way decades ago. Down far on the right is what I think is a Hibbett Sports, or so Google Maps tells me.
     Dutch Square won't be Dutch Square for much longer, which is a pretty safe bet. I presume demolition is in the near future, given the state of its existence and the lackluster website. Grammar mistakes and old logos and old directories, the list goes on and on, aren't very inspiring. The real question is what comes in the place of Columbia's oldest mall. A Wal-Mart positions itself just down the street at the site of an old mall (go figure) so that won't work. Target probably doesn't want a location that close to Wal-Mart and the neighborhood folk are presumably more Bentonville-inclined. I'd say destroy the mall, place in a grocery store and place a strip mall around it. Surely it's nothing exciting, and the death of a mall is always sad no matter the circumstances, but what else? The area isn't exactly ready for a Nordstrom-anchored super The Domain-type lifestyle center, and nowhere else in SC is, for that matter. Schools or offices would require the emptying of all tenants, so what can you do? Strip malls can at least house displaced tenants.

Detail of the entrance wing I entered through and shown earlier. Took me a minute to even find out what this was.
Here is the center court, which is awfully lush and dated. I do enjoy the admittedly out-of-style palm trees and good ol' Murica. 
     Dutch Square appears to be reaching its last legs of AC. With demolition looming, I hope Dutch Square has a happy life from now. I usually don't hand out this type of respect to malls, but when you have lasted the longest in a brick-and-mortar bloodbath, love and loyalty has supported you. When other malls have passed you by, and you last, visits have supported you. When you aren't flashy or eclectic, careless shoppers have supported you. It's sad to see such a warrior of a mall that was so close to temporary invincibility back in the 90's die out. But I hope the property sees its second incarnation in happiness. (I will be off writing obituaries if you need me)

I didn't get a sign photo but I did Street View it. 
I got some exterior photos, but they disappeared somewhere, so another Street View will have to do. For all you know, this could be strip mall given the exterior. Note the old Belk and the blue BCF, with Woolco vestiges included.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Decadence of the 80's :: Richland Mall, Columbia, SC

     Back in the day, the open-air mall was all the rage with its brother the enclosed mall. Over time, this certain mall became less fashionable and caused more than enough conversions of enclosing. While there are still vestiges of this seemingly mythical shopping center, it's not the same anymore. This called for more switches, and a few bad ones at that. While some can be blamed on the run-of-the-mill retail rules, some were best described as, "What the actual crap happened here?" And the Richland Mall in the fairly-affluent Columbia neighborhood of Forest Acres is no exception. We would partially recommend clearing your mind, as you seriously may wonder what is wrong with some mall developers. Trust us.

And we begin. Being a dead mall, not much can be said here. What you may see here is a whole lot of aging design. Whoever thought lightbulbs were a great mall lighting device was presumably fired shortly thereafter. I suppose the 15-year variety wasn't around in 1989. Dead Parisian is straight ahead on the second photo.

      For a mall of its type, it had humble beginnings. The mall started out as a small open-air center in 1961, with Augusta anchor JB White bookending the right of the mall. A small moviehouse, Colonial supermarket, Winn-Dixie, and an Eckerd rounded out smaller spaces. This original mall prospered until replacements moved in. In 1969, the city's first enclosed mall came in with Dutch Square Mall on the northwest environs of the city. Columbia Place had unique anchors and was two stories, anchoring the northeast of the city. Filling in the margins were the Bush River, Decker, and Woodhill Malls, which were smaller but rounded out their respective areas. Downtown also maintained a decent store core with Tapp's, Belk, Berry's on Main, and Davison's all having a piece of the pie. This all snowballed downhill until Winn-Dixie was shuttered in Dec 1987, being the pin drop before the bomb. And so Richland Mall as anyone knew it changed forever...

You can get on a dead directory, but a logo on a store that was last used 7 years ago is unexcusable. I truly thought I would never see that logo ever again but today we meet. Wait, does that say Parisian? What kind of a mall did I find...

Looking down to the old Bonwit Teller/Dillard's/The Department Store/Blacklion, now a ping-pong club. It was in use at the time of the photo, but I have a photo of it not in use (as in closed on the hours). In front is a long-disused fountain that is uberly large and surrounds the elevator.

If I moved my camera to the center of the escalator and took this photo I'd have something Dan Bell-worthy. Just place "Dead Mall Series" on the overhead sign area at the top and bingo.
     And so Richland Mall went from unsuspecting open-air mall to an over-the-top mall of uncertainty. JB White's remained, but anchoring the other side of the original mall was Parisian, a Birmingham store unfamiliar to the city. However, White's became a walk-through anchor with the third anchor being Bonwit Teller, an unknown New York retailer that was essentially Nordstrom on steroids. The company behind the transition was the infamous Hooker collective, an Australian company that was the brains (or more harshly, stupidity) behind the Forest Fair Mall project. Forest Fair Mall was another similar mall in Cincinnati with more unknown anchors and built too big for its shoes. While you may wonder how these anchors were brought to a middle-class market, it was more poor business practices. LJ Hooker was the owner of Parisian, BT, B. Altman, and Sakowitz at the time and placed more locations in all the wrong places. Forest Fair could be called even worse, with three of the four anchors mixed in with an Elder-Beerman and a Bigg's hypermarket being excessive.  The anchors however fared much worse with only Parisian surviving and storied institutions never being the same before succumbing to their struggles. On the bright side, both malls had no lack of odd architecture. Yet architecture didn't make a dent in the outcome. LJ Hooker found itself knees-deep in debt with 1.7 billion dollars sitting around unpaid. Chapter 11 bankruptcy came along before purchase by another Australian company.

This is wing that goes off to the old food court. How much I would have given to see it.

Parisian is far off in the distance and the connecting food court side is to the left. If it wasn't that the Columbia Children's Theatre had an audition this day I doubt I would have made it in this wing.
     Financial hoobaloo aside, Richland Mall was stunning for its era. It was elegance second to none in Columbia and LJ Hooker thought it was foolproof. It was a near perfect location for a mall of its type, near downtown and in one of the wealthier parts of town, yet still far from interstates. This interstate problem was pretty much a lost cause, due to the mall's construction before such a thing could be accomplished. Yet Richland struggled for fairly obvious reasons. It's rebirth drowned Columbia in retail and hurt itself. The mall was way too upscale for what Columbia could handle. In a way, Hooker's expectations didn't help the mall. Parking garages were put all around the mall and on top, meaning skylights were impossible to use, creating a very dark mall. Columbians aren't usually fond of parking decks. All this combined to create a tough landscape for retail survival. All this escalated until Bonwit Teller closed in the early 90's (I've heard 1993, 1990, and 1992). Even with the much-less upscale Dillard's chain in its place, the slow decline didn't stop.

Here's the Belk entrance from the Parisian wing. Columbia Children's Theatre is the only operational store in this wing

A small snippet of the food court. China Max closed in 2014. This food court is one of the worst I've seen, and still feels like new, probably because no one ate here.
     By 1995, the mall was in full-blown dead mall status. Management was switching hands every time you blinked, never good for redevelopment. Anything started could be stopped after a new purchase. Around this time, Richland Fashion Mall became Richland Mall, as you had a greater chance of getting depression here than a new pair of pants. During the time, two small renovations were completed. One moved a TGI Friday's and added a Barnes and Noble. The other moved the food court to another location on the main mall's first floor, between then-White's and Parisian. The old food court then housed a call center for Verizon. All of this was topped off by the consolidation of White's to North Carolina's Belk chain in 1998. Little was done to the original White's, cool escalators included.

Finishing off the food court here. This is very blurry for some reason.

Elevator fountain detail. To the right is the old Dillard's.

Here's from the elevator to the B&N/Belk area. I'm oddly intrigued on what the store on the corner to the left once was.

Here we are going from Belk all the way to the Dillard's. This mall isn't very big without the old food court.
     Dillard's closed its doors in 2003, creating a vacancy that was barely filled. Blacklion, a furniture store, took the reins before giving way to the creatively named The Department Store. Parisian closed in 2007, just before their nameplate would become Belk. All through this time, management swapped even more times. Richland Mall was falling down the sink, and this problem was exacerbated by closings throughout. Bath and Body Works, yes, the dead mall king, closed in 2012. When your BB&W closes, you are doing terribly. And the mall is indeed doing terribly.

Coming from Belk to the food court area. What is with the colorful painting down on the left?

Looking down into the old food court. I like the hurricane simulator down there.

Looking inside the old Parisian, uncovered and to full view. You rarely see an anchor covered with clear glass and as visible to mall walkers.
     If you are such a dead mall, what can you do? Of course the solution here means a sad end to a visually assaulting mall, but the factors are there. I would destroy the main mall, parking decks
included, aside from the Belk, Barnes and Noble, and the front strip of stores. This would mean the mall would become a strip mall of sorts with major anchors. The Dillard's would be the replacement location for the rooftop theatre. Parisian could become a big-box tenant or more stores. Every remaining business in the mall would be given a similar-sized location in the new mall. It could become a new Trenholm Plaza and attract the same kind of stores. Trenholm Plaza is a historic, upscale strip mall a little to the east of Richland. It included a Tapp's store that was a key anchor for many years, and using it the mall had the ability to enclose. It never did so and is still successful today.

Escalators run from the second floor to the rooftop deck. That was once a clock as shown. 

From the balcony area to the Belk. Regal Cinemas is on top and is very hard to find unless you are looking for it.

The Parisian looks the same as always. This is from a skybridge between the food court and the parking garage.
     So, for obvious reasons, visit Richland while you can. I find it to be pretty underrated as cool dead malls go, and is a respectable alternative to Forest Fair. Belk is even a relic here, and shows its age. There is no doubt you can find anything of vintage here, and this is an age where vintage is quickly disappearing. You won't be doing any shopping here most likely, but you may find some cool sights. After all, visiting a dead mall doesn't have the end goal of purchase, but more or less the goal of memory.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

North DeKalb Mall, Decatur (Atlanta), GA

     When a mall is under construction, it was probably conceived as a good idea, being that said mall presumably saw its planning in the mall era. The conditions were ripe at the time, including good demographics, low competition, and a nice list of stores to choose from. Over time, pretty much everything has taken a shot at the mall, and it's pretty much nothing today. This was never thought of at all at the beginning, but this can't really be blamed on the original owners. Of course, stuff changes over time, and this couldn't be stopped. This rings perfectly true for the ever-forgotten North DeKalb Mall, located in Decatur, Georgia, one of Atlanta's wealthiest, biggest, and major suburbs. To elaborate, in Decatur's small city limits are 25,000 people and two colleges : Agnes Scott College and prestigious Emory. So why doesn't it have a top-tier mall?

Here we have an outdated directory. What is with these dead malls not fixing these? You know someone's going to actually think there is a Macy's.
     The history of the mall reveals its pretty much underdog status. The mall opened up in 1965, with only two anchors. A Rich's bookended one side with a Woolworth anchoring the other. This was actually unique, with Woolworth more commonly taking a space on the side. Taking the sides of Woolworth was the Atlanta grocer Colonial, and a theatre. All of this added up to Atlanta's first enclosed mall, where you could "leave your umbrella at home." It wouldn't be long before others joined the ranks, and didn't help much.

This big clock is pretty much the centerpiece here. About ten years back, this area looked much better, with no vacant spots and lots of greenery. Following the closure of Macy's, this area pretty much died.
     It didn't take long before the mall had competitors. Just up I-285, both the Northlake and Perimeter Mall opened up in 1971. If you find it at North DeKalb, you could find it there. One difference : it was all closer for a huge population. Not much was done to begin with, so North DeKalb began its decline. The movie theatre was twinned in 1976. The owners woke up in 1986, when a major expansion was completed, along with the name change to The Market Square at North DeKalb. In the large expansion was a new Lechmere, Mervyn's, and a food court. While these anchors never truly had a day, they were vastly different from the anchors at competing malls. This expansion wasn't done in the traditional fashion however. What was once a simple, dumbbell mall was now a pretty complicated diamond shape, with all corners leading to anchors.

Clock from a different angle. It is 8:53 somewhere, and that somewhere is the North DeKalb Mall.

Sterling Organization partially owns the mall, and they must be happy to know there is a store for them too. Wendy's is part of the food court. 

     Unfortunately, this wasn't the complete solution to a successful mall, and bankruptcies pretty much pushed the mall back to the pit. Lechmere closed and became Phar-Mor, which never really was a strong anchor. Part of the dead Lechmere also became an AMC 16 theatre. Not much longer, in 1997, Mervyn's said goodbye, which Upton's Furniture took up briefly for two years, and lastly turning into a Burlington Coat Factory. Lechmere would change the most, becoming a revolving door for furniture stores and eventually turning into a Marshalls in 2010. Rich's stayed pretty much static in its life, only becoming Macy's in 2005 and the latter would close in 2016, along with the mall's Ross store. This pretty much killed off a large section of the mall as usual and is now a hulking, decaying white box. And we definitely mean white box. Renters, anyone?

First is the mall entrance, second is the outside, third is the old Rich's auto center. I am beating myself for not looking inside the glass.
      So what made the North go south? An overlooked factor in its death can be the anchors. While Rich's was no slacker, Lechmere and Mervyn's never attracted die-hard fans and were never the saviors. This was before the store spaces became tons of other things, which isn't very useful. And today, while Marshalls is something of a draw, Burlington just gives vibes of a dying mall (just for fun, the most successful mall a Burlington is in is probably the Crossgates Mall in Albany, NY, but who really cares) and is pretty low on the store chain. It was never in a bad location or had the competition flu (the two main historic battlers of the mall aren't feeling so hot either). North DeKalb probably could have fallen into some niche-type center, but didn't. Yes, Buckhead, Perimeter, or the Mall of Georgia are quite the malls, but aren't the type to completely squash a mall not in the same trade area. Said malls are more or less "destinations." 

Food court photos, including on the second one a direct look at an old Applebee's.

This is a wing that runs from the food court to Burlington. I realize that the architecture is very consistent, almost too consistent, in this mall.
     So where does NDM go from here? In my eyes, there is a solution to keeping things out of the rain. For thirteen years there has been talk of bringing Costco to the mall and finishing its days of enclosure, but nothing has come to fruition. What I would do is snatch an advantage from the competitors. Kohl's at Northlake closed recently, so I would demolish the old Macy's and place Kohl's there. This would rejuvenate the whole wing and bring back a traditional department store. The old Applebee's could become a bookstore, and the whole mall would be given a renovation. The latest facelift is showing its age and is very 80's. A small big-box renovation could also be done, along with finding a replacement for the old Ross. NDM wouldn't be some massive sterile supermall, but would better cater to those nearby and supplement an area. The community garden, installed in 2012, has already begun this change. 

From the clock to the old Macy's. The light waaay down on the left is the most sadistic looking Foot Locker I've ever seen. You could probably score some decent deals there.

Looking down to Burlington's.

Here is the mall entrance entering the food court from the inside.

      I would say visit NDM while you still can. It's a pretty cool vintage mall with no shortage of dead retail, but a shortage of climate control. If you like the retailing underdog (and humid mall corridors) you won't be disappointed. If you came to shop, well, too bad. But, they have a Bath and Body Works, so soap maybe? Oh, of course you'd just visit all the dead malls for soap. Atlanta has no shortage of business failure, so you're in good hands. Well, never mind.

Stale candy, anyone?

Play It Again won't be shopping again. 

Various court shots. I'm getting oddly sick of this mall look somehow....On second glance, WHERE ARE THE FOUNTAINS AND PLANTERS?! There's the problem...