I don’t get many chances to travel by plane nowadays, so I’m thankful for people like Michael Lisicky, who have contributed a lot of great photos and information to Labelscar. This package of photos and history on the Palm Beach Mall in West Palm Beach, Florida, comes from Mr. Lisicky. I know I drove past this place in 2000 but I wasn’t able to stop (I had to catch a flight!) so I’m glad that some of the pieces have been put together–it seems it’s a fascinating case of a large, once-dominant mall losing its grip on the market in this South Florida city:
“When the Palm Beach Mall opened in 1967, it was billed as the largest enclosed mall in the Southeast. Located in West Palm Beach, FL, the mall helped serve a community who didn’t necessarily need the opulence of Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue shopping area. It opened amidst spectacular gardens and fountains and was anchored by the Miami-based Jordan Marsh, JCPenney and the number three of the three Miami stores, Richards. Palm Beach Mall thrived in the 1970s and beyond. So much so that the other Miami store, Burdines, left its downtown West Palm Beach location to join the Palm Beach Mall in 1980.
“But 1980 also meant more change to the mall. Richards, a unit of the troubled holding company City Stores, was forced to close all 8 Florida stores. This included not only the flagship in downtown Miami
but also the Palm Beach Mall location. Richards helped serve the more moderate end of the department store field in South Florida and therefore it found itself in less desirable shopping centers. However it was located in a couple of malls like Cutler Ridge and Palm Beach Mall where mall owners were threatening the company with eviction do to the lower quality of their merchandise. After Richards left, their anchor spot was quickly snatched up by Sears.
“The 1980s saw the infiltration of outside stores heading to Florida. Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Lord & Taylor joined Saks and Bonwit Teller to make the shopping environment more competitive. Burdines quickly defined itself as “The Florida Store” and solidified its place as the destination for loyal local and visiting shoppers. Jordan Marsh, which started Florida operations in 1956, was once the store for higher fashion. With newcomers heading into the state, the store lost focus and decided to downgrade in order to compete. It was a devastating decision for the company.
Lord & Taylor chose to come into the flourishing Palm Beach Mall during its massive invation into South Florida in the 1980s. Both Lord & Taylor and Jordan Marsh enjoyed high visibility from drivers on I-95. (Palm Beach Mall is actually the only mall visible from I-95 in all of South Florida.) But then things began to change. Jordan Marsh, floundering in bankruptcy, closed its stores in 1991. Lord & Taylor would end up retrenching years down the road eventually leaving Florida altogether. As the mall’s demographics changed the wonderful interior would be blandified over the years.
“In the late 90s one of the biggest changes to happen to Palm Beach Mall was the razing of the Jordan Marsh store in order for Dillard’s to try to make its stand in South Florida. Shut out by Burdines and sister stores, Dillard’s had limited choices on where to locate. This dramatically changed the center court. Though the high ceiling remains to this day, gone is the exotic drama of its former interior self. And with a vacant and visible Lord & Taylor building, the mall decided to raze the store and leave the site ready for future development, development that has never materialized.
“Burdines also suffered as the Macy influence gradually gained control. The store, even to this day, has a dramatic open feeling to its interior. This “Florida feeling” helped define to the public what
Burdines was all about. But in 2005 the store became a Macy’s. Up to the changeover, 2 of the 4 exterior entrances were sealed off. The parking garage leading into the upper floor of the store has even been closed off. Large portion of the store are walled off. Though the store has that great turquoise seashore feel, its merchandise no longer reflects the South Florida lifestyle. It has a true feeling of doom.
“Palm Beach Mall received a blow in 1999 when a young manager of the Chick-Fil-A store was murdered. Though it was deemed an inside job, few malls really can survive a high profile murder incident. (May I cite the Cloverleaf Mall in Richmond, VA?) More and more national merchants began to leave the mall in droves. The mall still is somewhat active but most stores seem to be on short term leases. Its current owner, Simon, seems to be in the mode to just fill the spaces, with anything. There is talk about the mall being ‘de-malled’. It’s fair to say its future is uncertain. There is too much competition in the immediate area to support this center. Time will tell.
“The pictures below were taken in late July, 2007. The interior store shots at the end are of the inside of the former Burdines, now Macy’s. The picture of the vacant lot next to the mall is where the Lord & Taylor was razed.”
The Burdine’s shots here are obviously not from 2007, they are 3 years older–from 2004. And the shot with the Jordan Marsh was from July of 1991; I know that it certainly takes me back, since Jordan Marsh’s New England stores (many of which are now being demolished, as they were abandoned by Macy’s) looked just like this. Michael also notes that the below Richards ad was from 1980, and was the last advertisement they ever ran in the Miami Herald. It also lists locations of their other stores at the time:
Update: The Palm Beach Mall is nearing the end of its life and will likely be closing soon. Reader Evan from Florida sent us a few photos of the current state of the mall in fall of 2008: