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.