Hoover, Alabama is a suburban community with a unique distinction. While Hoover existed as a hamlet for many decades, only upon the opening of the Riverchase Galleria shopping mall in 1986 did the community begin to really thrive. And thrive it has. Today, Hoover is not only one of the major retailing centers for the Birmingham metro area, it is a thriving business center as well. In this article we’ll take a look at what made Hoover blast off, from a tiny village to a metropolitan commerce leader and boomtown, almost overnight.
In 1984, the logistical framework was set for Hoover to blossom. Interstate 459 opened that year, allowing thru traffic to bypass downtown Birmingham on Interstates 59, 65, and 20. At the same time, the heavy manufacturing industry in Birmingham was shifting focus away from the city and abandoning the core which provided most of Birmingham’s economic base for decades previous. As a result, Birmingham, along with the rest of the country, diversified its economy and allowed service sector businesses to supplement the manufacturing core, but many of these new businesses would not locate in the industrial areas which already existed, or even downtown. Most of them preferred to locate in new, suburban office parks, with convenient access for commuters who would live nearby.
In 1986, one of the largest shopping malls in the southeast, Riverchase Galleria, opened in Hoover near the intersection of I-459 and I-65. This location was not only convenient to interstates, but also centrally located for the entire metropolitan area, which has over 1 million residents. As soon as the mall opened, developers couldn’t keep up with the demands for big box, housing developments, hotels, and office parks. Almost overnight, Hoover grew into a huge, wealthy sprawlburg; today Hoover has over 65,000 residents and is still growing.
Riverchase Galleria is directly modeled after the Galleria Mall in Houston, and by extension the original Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan. Its design features an extremely wide concourse in places, with very high ceilings and glass throughout. When it opened, Riverchase featured 1.4 million square feet and anchor stores included Birmingham-based Pizitz and Parisian, JCPenney, and Atlanta-based Rich’s. In addition to the stores are two features which are rather unique to large malls in the United States – a 15-story hotel and a 17-story office tower at center court. The Wynfrey Hotel, a very upscale establishment with 330 rooms, is positioned at the mall as an anchor would be, at the end of a short corridor of store. Pizitz was only open a year before being acquired by McRae’s of Jackson, Mississippi, in 1987, and that same year Macy’s opened its first store in the market at the mall. 1996 saw Sears added a store plus a large wing, bringing the mall to 1.9 million square feet.
In 2003, the beginnings of consolidations in the mall’s anchors repositioned many of them. The first shift was when the original 1987 Macy’s closed and Rich’s was converted to Rich’s-Macy’s as a result of Macy’s eating Rich’s. The former Macy’s was sold to Saks Incorporated which opened a store under its Proffitt’s division in 2004. In 2005, Macy’s dropped the Rich’s name and simply became Macy’s, and Saks sold its Proffitt’s and most of the McRae’s division to Belk. Belk closed the McRae’s store and converted the Proffitt’s store to a Belk in 2006.
As if that wasn’t already kind of confusing, it gets even more convoluted after this. In 2006, Belk also acquired Parisian from Saks, and of course they didn’t want to operate two full sized stores, so they swapped the Belk they had opened with the Parisian location. In addition, they converted a portion of the former McRae’s location, which sat empty because it was still owned by the Pizitz family (see above) and they threatened a lawsuit against Saks Incorporated to obligate their McRae’s lease, to a Belk Home Store in late 2007. And, if that weren’t enough, Nordstrom is opening its first Alabama store at the mall in the still-vacant 1987 Macy’s location.
Got all that?
Riverchase Galleria has been one of Birmingham’s major tourist attractions as well, bringing in shoppers from around Alabama and many neighboring states. We visited Riverchase Galleria in March 2008 and took the following pictures.