Marin County in many ways symbolizes quiet California affluence. It’s a place where people reuse their grocery bags, drink expensive wine, and reliably vote Democratic. It’s no surprise that Marin County–which resides just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco–has become a popular spot for well-heeled suburbanites. The scenery, which is dominated by dramatic mountains that rise straight from the ocean and the bay, is breathtaking. Land is extremely limited and the weather is some of the best in the world. On a more retail related note, it’s also the home of Restoration Hardware.
Marin County has two major outdoor malls in Corte Madera that target the affluent crowd that resides in the towns just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, but San Rafael–the county’s principal city–is actually a bit more mid-market than southern cousins like Sausalito, Mill Valley, and Tiburon. Besides being the home of George Lucas (and the Skywalker Ranch), San Quentin State Prison (and thus, Scott Peterson and various other famous criminals), and–formerly–Carmen Sandiego (Broderbund Software was here), San Rafael is also the home to the county’s lone fully enclosed shopping center, the Northgate Mall.
The Northgate Mall is not exactly what you would expect of a mall in Marin County. Unlike its more southern competition, the 744,000 square foot mall skews to the middle-tier, with Macy’s, Sears, and Mervyn’s as anchors, and it clearly had been years–MANY years, 21 to be exact–since the 1965-vintage mall saw a significant renovation. The place was frozen in amber, stuck in the time when local Marin County boy Huey Lewis was still placing yuppie anthems about cohabitation the top of the charts (though we’ll ignore “Pineapple Express”). This relative degree of neglect is pretty unusual by California standards, so I thought that Northgate was really quite a find. Unfortunately, that’s changing now, as the mall is getting an upscale new refresh meant to bring it into the 20th century, and better target the fairly affluent consumer base in the area.
Thankfully, my photos were all taken in March of 2008–before the renovation began.
Granted, the Northgate Mall clearly needed a refresh. While I found the parquet floors and yellow-tiled Macy’s to be charming, the Freitas Parkway facility does feel and look a bit tired, and has a fairly run of the mill group of stores (plus a fair number of vacancies). I kind of hope they keep the puzzling little balcony above the stores in front of Macy’s, but I have no idea why they would.
Enjoy the *old* Northgate Mall! As I understand, the renovations are now already well underway, and it no longer looks quite like this. I’m glad I caught it just in time! Also, do check out our friends at Big Mall Rat, who did a feature on this (and every other) Bay Area mall as well.
OH, AND… some of you may have noticed that Labelscar was down for a ghastly 24 hours the other day. We’re really sorry about this. Our hosting company had an “emergency” of some sort that wiped everything out for a day, and it took some time to get back online. We didn’t go anywhere, though, and it frustrated us as much as it did you. Either way, we’re back, thanks for waiting, yada yada.