Phoenix Village Mall; Fort Smith, Arkansas

Phoenix Village Mall Venture in Fort Smith, Arkansas

It’s rare that we encounter a shopping mall in such a terrible condition as this one.  We were headed south in March 2008 and enroute we discovered the gem of Phoenix Village Mall.  Opened in 1970, Phoenix Village Mall was not only the first mall in Fort Smith but also the first in all of Arkansas.  Unfortunately, though, after several decades of co-existence with Fort Smith’s other mall, Central Mall, Phoenix Village has died a slow, protracted death and is currently waiting for its date with the wrecking ball.

Fort Smith is a regional manufacturing center, transportation hub, and anchor city of a large area of west-central Arkansas and east-central Oklahoma.  With a population of 80,000 and almost 300,000 in its trade area, Fort Smith is the largest blip on the radar between Little Rock and Oklahoma City.

Phoenix Village Mall in Fort Smith, ArkansasMost of Fort Smith’s current retail scene is along the Rogers Avenue/AR 22 corridor, home to many strip malls, box stores, and chain restaurants as well as Fort Smith’s current successful mall, Central Mall.  However, a secondary retail strip exists on the south side of town along Towson Avenue, and at the intersection of Towson and Phoenix lies the nearly-defunct Phoenix Village Mall.

Phoenix Village Mall’s history dates back as far as the late 1950s, when local developer Jewel Morris began looking for a site to consolidate his two furniture stores.  He settled on a site on the northwest corner of Towson and Phoenix and purchased the land from a “General Store” owner who was puzzled why anyone would want to locate a store so far from downtown.  By the 1960s, another developer, Howard Gentry signed on, and the two worked to develop a 100,000 square-foot center for the growing suburban population.  This center opened in 1961 anchored by TG&Y discount store and a Piggly Wiggly supermarket.

The center proved a success, so Morris and Gentry decided to expand and purchased 35 adjoining acres to the site, which more than quadrupled its footprint.  During the process, 35 houses were relocated to nearby Pocola, Oklahoma. They proposed a suburban outdoor “Village” concept, which consisted of a U-shaped set of buildings, but quickly discovered that they could be even more daring and scrapped those plans.  Instead, they set out to build the state of Arkansas’ first enclosed mall. 

In 1969, the first anchor store opened at the new Phoenix Village Mall, a Woolco store.  The mall itself opened in 1970, and throughout the 1970s the mall had Beall Ladymon, two local department stores (Hunt’s and Greg’s) as well as Hancock Fabrics.  In 1979, Woolco closed and was replaced with Venture, and in 1980 an expansion to the mall added 139,000 square feet, bringing the total size of the mall to 489,000 square feet.  Meanwhile, the 864,000 square foot Central Mall opened three miles away, yet interestingly both malls would compete head-to-head for nearly three decades.

Phoenix Village Mall in Fort Smith, ArkansasPhoenix Village Mall continued to be successful into the 1980s, until 1987 when a deal was struck to sell the mall to an out of state investor.  The deal was to close on Black Monday, the day the stock market crashed, and the next day the sale fell through.  In addition to that problem, the bank that Morris and Gentry used to finance the project called in their loan and forced them to go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy until they could secure a buyer.  They lined up a buyer, but the buyer’s financing fell through as well, and the bank foreclosed.  Before the buyer’s financing fell through, the buyer began encouraging stores in the mall to leave because they announced plans to tear down the mall for redevelopment.  Even though the buyer ultimately went away, the damage had been done, and the mall was left with a high vacancy rate into the 1990s.

In the early 1990s, original owners Morris and Gentry once again were able to assume ownership of the mall and reinvigorate it to 92% occupancy.  This success sailed on for several years, until the mall’s age and ultimately, competition, sealed its fate as a dead mall.  In 1998, the mall’s main anchor, Venture, went out of business and liquidated all stores, leaving a gaping wound on the south end of Phoenix Village Mall.  Stores began to defect, and in 2004 the partnership attempted to unload the mall again, and this time there were talks of wooing popular tenant Target to the site.  However, financing fell through again and in November 2005 the bank foreclosed once again and the local partnership lost the mall once again, this time probably for good. 

Meanwhile, in 1999 Central Mall embarked on a redesign which repositioned it as not only the best mall in Fort Smith, but the anchor to Fort Smith’s main shopping corridor which extends east of Central Mall along Rogers Avenue.

2005 also saw the rapid departure of 30 some stores, as the mall emptied out rapidly amid rumors of redevelopment and its current state of disrepair.  A spring storm damaged the mall’s roof and it was not repaired; pools of water now collect in the cavernous, unrenovated interior.  As of 2006, the only tenants left in the mall were a non-profit religious group, two surgery centers, a bank, and a barber shop.  All of these have outdoor access, except for the barber shop which is just inside one of the mall entrances.    

We visited Phoenix Village Mall in March 2008 and were amazed at the state of disrepair.  It appeared the mall was being prepped for demolition, as many of the interior corridors had been stripped of their flooring and some fixtures were also visibly altered.  We gained access to the mall at the only unlocked entrance, which we quickly learned was only meant to access the barber shop and the bank.  There is also intact signage from the Venture store, which closed in 1998.  Beyond these businesses, the corridor was blocked by yellow tape indicating the mall was closed.  We attempted to take a few pictures, and even “go around” the tape, but the “friendly” man working in the barber shop appeared and promptly kicked us out even after we requested politely to take a few pictures for this site.  Sad.  So, although we apologize for the dearth of interior pictures on this page, there are a few more featured on flickr.  As usual, let us know what you think. 

Phoenix Village Mall in Fort Smith, Arkansas Phoenix Village Mall Venture in Fort Smith, Arkansas Phoenix Village Mall Venture in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Phoenix Village Mall in Fort Smith, Arkansas Phoenix Village Mall in Fort Smith, Arkansas Phoenix Village Mall in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Phoenix Village Mall in Fort Smith, Arkansas Phoenix Village Mall in Fort Smith, Arkansas Phoenix Village Mall in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Phoenix Village Mall in Fort Smith, Arkansas Phoenix Village Mall in Fort Smith, Arkansas 

 

 

 

 

52 Responses to “Phoenix Village Mall; Fort Smith, Arkansas”

  1. Wow, a still-standing, vacant Venture. That’s like, a holy grail-caliber find of the retail world.

    [Reply]

    kkremers Reply:

    This article is obviously a little flawed,The u shaped village concept was built in 1960 it was called Phoenix village square,half of it is still there today the south side of the square and the grocery store that “connected ” the north and south sides ,thus completing a ” U ” have been torn down,But the northside still contains the ‘speedwash’ laundry that my father put in in 1961,The indoor mall came later probably around 1970.The downfall of the mall had to do with a combination of things,the way it was managed,the natural urban sprawl of the city and the deterioration of towson ave. itself ,not to mention the horrible crimes{people were murdered} which Affected both the Gentry and Morris families in the late 70’s,Howard Gentry and Jewell Morris I believe were brother-in -laws.The speed queen laundry Still exist today ,and has had 50 years of operation which is unheard of in the coin-op laundry business,5 members of my family have owned it at one time or another.

    [Reply]

  2. The barber kicked you out of the mall? He’s allowed to do that ???

    I can see him kicking you out of his store, but he has no right to boot you from the mall :P

    [Reply]

  3. Lol…..Junk Mall

    [Reply]

  4. 30 tenants in this mall just three years ago? Wow…I’ll bet they weren’t chains.

    That old Venture sign is kind of cool…but tragic.

    [Reply]

  5. That *has* to be a typo. I doubt this mall had 30 tenants in it back in ’05.

    [Reply]

  6. Amazing to see an original Venture sign still there and so in tact, as if Venture was still there, despite having closed over a decade ago. I’d love to see the inside of the old Venture. I bet it is still intact with the old orange color scheme of the 70s and 80s. Man, I miss Venture – and not the Kohl’s clone they were trying to turn the place into when they shut down.

    For those unfarmilliar with Venture, they were originally the discount arm of The May Company, and their prime competition was Target – they had much nicer stores than K-Marts, and Wal-Mart was still several years away. The original Venture stores were much like the Wal-Mart Super Centers of today – complete with Groceries, Auto Centers, Hair Salons, Optometrists, and even Dentists,

    Also, it looks like there was another labelscar on the the old Venture – almost looks like “Hoods,” which is a small midwestern chain specializing in closeout home improvement merchandise. Also, generally a very dumpy place – couldn’t imagine one as the anchor of a mall!

    [Reply]

  7. Amazing to see an original Venture sign still there and so in tact, as if Venture was still there, despite having closed over a decade ago. I’d love to see the inside of the old Venture. I bet it is still intact with the old orange color scheme of the 70s and 80s. Man, I miss Venture – and not the Kohl’s clone they were trying to turn the place into when they shut down.

    For those unfamiliar with Venture, they were originally the discount arm of The May Company, and their prime competition was Target – they had much nicer stores than K-Marts, and Wal-Mart was still several years away. The original Venture stores were much like the Wal-Mart Super Centers of today – complete with Groceries, Auto Centers, Hair Salons, Optometrists, and even Dentists,

    Also, it looks like there was another labelscar on the the old Venture – almost looks like “Hoods,” which is a small Midwestern chain specializing in closeout home improvement merchandise. Also, generally a very dumpy place – couldn’t imagine one as the anchor of a mall!

    [Reply]

  8. OMG. I am so glad this finally made the Labelscar page. I used to live near Fort Smith and there are so many memories around both malls. It was sad to watch Phoenix Village slowly die after Ventures left, and after a brief period of being okay, it just tanked. I used to go there when I was younger, and I remember there being an indoor play area for the children, but I think something happened to shut it down. Also, there was a creepy old antique store, too, with mostly junk inside.

    There’s a little shopping area just outside of the main mall, with requisite nail and hair shops, and mexican restuarant. Also Olde Fashioned Foods is there, I think. For a little while, Home World was connected to the mall, but they went out of business, too.

    So very sad…but I’m proud that it’s here to be remembered.

    [Reply]

  9. This is an amazingly surreal place. Perpetually stuck in the 1980’s. I have been interested in taking some pictures but was afraid to even venture (no pun intended) into the decaying corridors of the mall. For example, looking through one of the entrances, I could see roof tiling caving into pools of water and debris. It made me think of Dixie Square Mall.

    The lines in the parking lot are practically non-existent, as is any real activity around the mall (besides the bank). Phoenix Village Mall is just this giant white structure in silence. It’s very eerie and I’m really surprised that I don’t hear more about it on anymore dead mall site. Seriously, this place is an undiscovered treasure for urban exploration.

    [Reply]

  10. Wow!
    Fort Smith is my hometown. I grew up in this mall.This mall hasn’t any real chain stores since the 1980’s.Phoenix Village was mostly locally owned stores thru the 1990’s and 2000’s.The stores never remodeled the store fronts.That barber in the barber shop has actually cut my hair 2 or 3 times in the past. He always liked to talk about the mall’s hayday prior to the late 1980’s.The last time I was inside of Phoenix Village Mall was June of 2002.When I was a little kid in the 1980’s,I remember going to the mall about every week,although I don’t live far from Central Mall.

    [Reply]

  11. *stares endlessly at Venture sign*

    wow that is RARE!!!!!!

    *looks breifly at other mall pictures*

    yep, this malls definately screwed.

    [Reply]

  12. The Venture sign is an awesome find. It’s the classic version, too, rather than the newer one with the wavy lines.

    [Reply]

  13. I thought Venture was only in Missouri & Illinois. Many Chicago-area Venture weren’t that great, Target was always nicer and had better stuff. Some Venture buildings still exist, others have been torn down & replaced. At Hillcrest in Joilet IL, the old Venture is a Food 4 Less after going several other hands. One across the street from Fox Valley in now a Burlington Coat Factory. In Downers Grove (75th & Lemont Rd) is now a Best Buy. One in Westmont was torn down and became a Home Depot. The best Venture in on Army Trail Rd in Addison; this one is a decaying monster complete with faded stripes on the facade looking like the day it closed..

    [Reply]

  14. Many of the Chicago-area Venture stores were converted from old Turn-Style stores. However, some of the Chicagoland stores were original Venture stores. Venture stores were not limited to only Illinois and Missouri. I don’t remember how many states had Venture stores, but Oklahoma also had them. The one on 71st Street in Tulsa, OK was converted to a Big K (Kmart) and is now an Incredible Pizza Company location.

    [Reply]

  15. I know some Venture stores were converted to ShopKo, like at North Park Mall in Joplin (now vacant for quite a while) and at West Park Mall in Cape Girardeau (most recently Steve & Barry’s, now vacant as well). They also had a store at Kentucky Oaks Mall in Paducah and one at University Mall in Carbondale. Both of these became K’s Merchandise and are now vacant as well.

    [Reply]

  16. Oh, so this is why my Flickr site got so many views. =D

    Very interesting article. I’ve tried to do some research on Phoenix Village Mall, but never came up with much.
    I did return to the mall a few months ago and took some new pictures. I’ll try to upload them some time. I was shocked to find all the orange mesh just inside the entrances. I guess the interiour just became too unsafe. When I took my photos there were still some old people in there walking around and the people hanging around the few businesses that were still there.

    [Reply]

  17. I have lived in the Ft Smith area all of my life. I have many fond memories of going to the old mall. I remember the 2 screen “Phoenix Twin” theater that was in there. They stayed open up to near 2000 as a Dollar Movie. Also everyone is commenting about the Venture store.. lets not forget that after Venture closed it was used as an Atwoods farm store up until about 2006 or 07.

    [Reply]

  18. This is a pretty good write-up about this “mall”. Word has it that someone will be rebuilding Phoenix Village mall. I’ll be interested in seeing, and hearing, the progress on this.

    [Reply]

  19. The Venture later became Atwood’s, which is probably what the labelscar is.

    [Reply]

  20. i still live in Fort Smith.i love phoniex village mall i miss being little and trick or treating there.i miss furrs there and the movies.i hung out there with my friends.also my best friend greg used to work at ventures he loved that job and he misses it.i wished i was rich cause i would buy that place up in a heartbeat i hope no one is ever stupid enough to tear the place down.i dont understand why people do that to people take something away from them like that,its just wrong.i do know they are tearing up the parking lot in that area id like to know why.

    [Reply]

  21. I haven’t been to the mall on an expedition in over a year but have read several articles in the Fort Smith paper about redevelopment of the area. I know that the construction crews have started to work but I don’t know what will be torn down and what will be remodelled. I really hope the main building remains standing because it is quite a relic of mall design with its arches and giant grid like box design. Long live the Phoenix Village Mall!!

    [Reply]

  22. Just a footnote: The Woolco closed in 1979? That’s weird; literally every other Woolco I’ve ever found went under in 1982-1983 with the chain.

    [Reply]

  23. THE PHOENIX VILLAGE MALL WAS RECENTLY BOUGHT AND HAS SEEN SOME CHANGES. PART OF IT WAS COMPLETLY DEMO’ED AND THE MAJOR PART HAS BECOME INSIDE WAREHOUSE STORAGE.

    [Reply]

  24. I just discovered the website and have been reading through the archives, and I was thrilled to find this post, as I have a minor Venture obsession. It was great to see the pictures and also see other people who would were as excited about them as I was.

    [Reply]

  25. Correcting my previous post to say the “would” in the last sentence shouldn’t be there, lol.

    [Reply]

  26. An update: I recently went there to survey what the construction crews have been up to. The Main mall building is still standing and appears to have renovation work going on inside. In fact, it appears to have recieved a new paint job on at least one side of the building including the old Venture/Atwood’s location.The Pheonix Village center, basically a strip mall, which stood in front of the mall has been demolished aside from a few structures that will be renovated. New tar has been put down on in the parking lot. It’s quite possible that this mall may spring back to life. The lights are still on, at least.

    [Reply]

  27. As a young teen, I was excited to visit my older sister who got a job at the brand new mall, at Hunt’s Department Store (a local chain). We’d go on her lunch break to a little lunch counter with tables and chairs in the mallwalk. For a nice dinner out the whole family would go to Furr’s Cafeteria. Furr’s outlasted many of the retailers, and often on a Sunday after church we’d stand in a long line and peer into the shut down stores.
    For awhile, the mall made a go of being a medical center with several specialty offices. But that tanked, too.

    [Reply]

  28. Phoenix village mall is no longer..but from 2008 to 2010 they have been slowly stripping down the mall an rebuilding the interior, Now its Phoenix village expo center. they hold different types of things like antiques shows/sale, gun shows..etc.. so from going from a junk mall that was in horrible condition to being something useful..aint to bad..

    [Reply]

  29. I think Woolco lasted till around 1982 maybe 1983 because I specifically for sure I was there in 1981.

    [Reply]

    iknowright Reply:

    @DLee,

    i wouldnt remember being in there if it didnt last longer than that, i also remember a music store that looked like a caboose from a train

    [Reply]

    Mike Reply:

    @DLee,

    I know that Woolco was at least there in 1982, because my mom bought me my first music LP there, J Giles Band “Freeze Frame”, which was at it’s height in popularity in the summer of ’82. I have many fond memories of that store and the whole mall. I loved that record store, they had right by First National Bank. I do remember going to Furr’s at least 10 years ago, and the movie theater was still in tact, but the mall was turning int kinda Flea Market by then, venders selling junk along the walking area. The last time I went into the mall was in ’07, to look for a bathroom, because I was help my wife do a merchandise job in the Dollar General(formerly OTASCO), and they had no bathroom. When I went in is was gloomy, echoes of a radio(perhaps the elevator music system still running. There were rat traps all over the place, some of the glass from the windows by the ceiling were busted out, and had some particle board over some of the windows, and some didn’t have anything on them at all. There was church in there, and the barber shop, and that was it. Atwoods had moved to the old Wal-Mart location on Zero street by then. I was surprised that I, or anyone without a hard hat was allowed in it, but I’m glad I got to see it though. I’m very curious about what they have done to the mall part (they’ve made the old Venture/Woolco/Atwoods into a convention center. It’s sad, but I guess it’s all part of growing up in thriving civilization, and growing old in a time of desolation.

    [Reply]

    Mike Reply:

    by the way in ’07 while I was in the mall, they had no bathroom.

    [Reply]

    Prange Way Reply:

    @Mike, Is the rest of the mall still standing? I was really ticked when the barber shop man saw me walk past his shop and stopped in the middle of somebody’s haircut just to shoo me out. I saw enough though.

    [Reply]

    Mike Reply:

    @Prange Way,

    yeah it’s still standing, the mall part at least, they destroyed some of the plazas on outter side of it, they destroyed the Chinese eatery section. The barber has since moved out(in 08′), and the bank has built a new building across the street on Phoenix Ave(last year). The barber moved to across the street from Ramsey Jr. High. I may try to enter the mall in the next week or so to see what is goin’ on there.

    [Reply]

  30. the mall fell apart when one of the owners sons who was meant to take over was murdered and the man who built central mall was a jealous lunatic .nothing could repair that.

    [Reply]

  31. Does anybody have any pictures to show what this mall was like in its heyday?

    [Reply]

  32. i remember going there when I was a kid, any one know what happened to the little theme park that was in there with all the rides?

    [Reply]

  33. I lived in Ft Smith the first 9 yrs of my life and then moved only an hr and half north. I spent many many many hrs in Phoenix Village with my family. Originally there was a “U” shaped strip mall with a grocery store anchor. My grandmother worked part time in Hunt’s for a few years while I was little. I remember eating at Furr’s nearly once every week and after we moved my brother and I woould visit my grandparents and they would take us to the $2 movies. Looking at the pictures was surreal. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there. I have very little family in Ft Smith now. I remember getting my hair cut in Venture lol. There was also a tobacco shop with a carved wooden indian that stood out front and it filled the whole mall with the smell of pipe tobacco. I have played all over that mall! Sad to see it defunct. Hope someone helps it somehow.

    [Reply]

    Mary Ellen Reply:

    @Jennifer,

    Taylor’s Tobacco Shop

    [Reply]

  34. I’ve lived in Fort Smith for about 15 years and I remember that mall from when I was a little girl. There was a Furr’s Cafeteria that was just fantastic. The $2 movie theater was there also. In high school, we even talked about getting a Rocky Horror Picture Show going there but couldn’t get it off the ground.

    After all that I have seen there, I’m so excited that this is what the Phoenix Village Mall has turned in to: http://phoenixexpocenter.com/ <Check it out! The do all sorts of fun stuff there, not just gun shows, etc. If I hadn't found such a good deal elsewhere, this is where I actually would have gotten married this year. :D

    [Reply]

  35. It’s sad to see what has become of Phoenix Village Mall. Around late 2007 When I was 17 Me and a couple friends actually snuck past that barber and I took a bunch of great pictures of the inside of the mall that I can send you!! I just wanted something to remember the Mall by because I had so many great memories there as a Kid like the Fun Park, Furrs and the Move Theater.

    [Reply]

    ashley Reply:

    @Brandon, do u have pictures of the fun park? If so can u email them to me?

    [Reply]

  36. Ok. Most of this is true. About 90-95%. I have grown up here in Fort Smith and still live about 15 mins from the old mall. It still has the First National Bank, Sykes has an office spot in the mall, where Venture used to be was turned into an “expo” where they held boat shows and things of the sort, and now, as i type this, HMA has put in an office space in the same spot where Venture was. I know this all too well. As I work there & typing this while at work. Lol. 80% of the building has been renovated. And working on the rest. It seems to be no more than a place for offices to reside anymore. Thanks to the new owner. It is a real shame I remember when Venture first opened. This old mall, on Saturdays, was packed more in the 80’s than Central Mall is on a weekend during a sidewalk sale now! That says boatloads for people who know what I am talking about. Time has not been good for the First mall in Arkansas. All I can say is that with HMA coming in it has brought what will be a grand total 500 jobs when done. So the mall, its glory may be gone, still manages to help the economy and job market.

    [Reply]

    Javier Reply:

    @James, When i past thorugh the mall today i still saw the stripes of the venture store and when i passed the mall it is now a ProMed Cooper Clinic. and right where i saw the logo there was a unpainted part of the mall and i saw the cucos restaurant the fun park and the theater. I might show a photo.

    [Reply]

  37. I even passed into that mall yesterday. There are still little bits of the mall and thats where the Atwoods was before it was moved into the Old Zero Street Wal-Mart. Anybody have pictures of the Original Zero street walmart of its original location where Atwoods is there today?

    [Reply]

  38. If anyone has pictures of the mall today and past email them to luevanojavier23@yahoo.com

    [Reply]

  39. Also i will appreaciate if somebody sends me pictures of the woolco back then venture atwoods and the old walmart location on zero street email them to here luevanojavier23@yahoo.com

    [Reply]

  40. The Mall is still standing today but it is now occupied by a ProMed Cooper Clinic which is painted peach colored. The Atwoods section is ocuppied by something else what i dont remember. The venture store black and white lines looks is still intact although now painted dark grey. The rest of the mall is still standing like the old fountain and maybe the skate park originally indoor park with a train,rollercoster and other kinds of sorts. I just went there today and saw the old fountain still.

    [Reply]

  41. Wow what a walk down memory lane. I was raised in Ft Smith graduated from Southside in…..well l long time ago lol and the Phoenix mall was the first mall i ever saw it was fantastic. It is heart breaking to see the pictures of it now. We moved to Texas in 85. So much has changed and although if life has taught me nothing else it taught me change Will happen but still very sad. It is nice to see and talk to others and reminess

    [Reply]

  42. Anyway I actually went to that Atwoods at the time when Venture went out of business and the old Walmart was still operating by the Price Cutter (which is now going under renovations to a food bank) and Kmart (Now Sutherlands Lumber). The Kmart had a attached Kmart foods store until it closed in 1970 like the other stores would do. It also became a big kmart in the begining in the 1990s It closed in 1994 due to the company restructing like the 110 stores. The Atwoods closed and relocated to the old walmart location on Zero street . Also does anybody have interior photos of the Atwoods location and the Kmart,Pricecutter and Walmart. If somebody does send them to luevanojavier23@yahoo.com

    [Reply]

  43. Well I found a picture on what the old Walmart building on Zero street could’ve looked like.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/62081697@N06/6271276465/

    This is from a different former store in another state. There was another former walmart building at 2600 Midland Blvd which looked like this
    http://luevanojavier.blogspot.com/2014/08/2600-midland-blvd-fort-smith-ar.html

    [Reply]

Leave a Reply


+ 1 = seven