Located 23 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, in sprawling Gwinnett County, Gwinnett Place Mall opened to fanfare in 1984. Its anchors – at the time of opening - were Rich’s, Davison’s and Sears. Because of its location – centralized within some of metro Atlanta’s fastest growing areas in the 1980s and also adjacent to I-85 – and its size - a two level mall with nearly a million square feet of selling space – Gwinnett Place Mall instantly became popular with shoppers throughout the entire Atlanta area, even drawing regular shoppers from as far away as South Carolina.
In 1986, Mervyn’s hopped on board, building an anchor store on the southeast side of the mall, and Davison’s became Macy’s through acquisition. Gwinnett Place Mall enjoyed continued success as the top-tier retail destination for the northeast suburbs of Atlanta into and through the 1990s, even as anchors continued to shift and expand. In 1993 Parisian joined the mall, and in 1997 Mervyn’s closed their Gwinnett Place store as they exited Atlanta. Then, in 1998, JCPenney replaced the former Mervyn’s store, keeping the anchor roster complete.
1999 and 2001 saw a definitive end to an era of retail dominance as two very large competing projects opened in Gwinnett – the behemoth Mall of Georgia opened approximately 10 minutes northeast of Gwinnett Place Mall along I-85 near Buford in 1999, and in 2001 the Mills Corporation opened gigantic Discover Mills just two miles from Gwinnett Place. Surprisingly, though, the opening of these huge centers nearby has not had as detrimental an effect as it has with aging malls in similar situations - Gwinnett Place Mall took the punches and has emerged as a successful mid-tier center and remains successful today.
Despite the mall’s success in the face of increased competition, one of Gwinnett Place’s five anchors went dark in 2003 as Macy’s acquired Rich’s and consolidated its operations into the Rich’s store, becoming Rich’s/Macy’s- eliminating the Macy’s/former Davison’s location near the middle of the mall. However, this anchor will fill in late 2009, as M International Market Place will become the first full-scale Asian department store to enter an anchor space a U.S. mall.
In 2007, Sears decided to use Gwinnett Place shoppers as guinea pigs for their new prototype/experiment store – an ‘upscale’ store with a ‘showroom-type’ atmosphere. We reported on this back in 2007 when it opened, so it was really neat to see. Upon our visit to the store in late 2008, we discovered a store with more modern and trendier amenities than a typical Sears mall location - modern lighting, an open floorplan, centrally located computers for accessing Sears.com, classier fonts displayed on blue awnings, snacks for sale at checkout, and more expensive display materials. As far as we know, no additional Sears like this have opened in any other malls, making this store - and Gwinnett Place mall which houses it – unique, though some of the decor and branding are employed by Sears Grand locations.
Some of Gwinnett Place’s other distinct features include a glass-facaded Macy’s (former Rich’s) on the north end of the mall, and the mall’s layout – shaped by expansions, the mall is a traditional two-level ’I’ shape complemented with two, shorter two-level wings also ending in anchors. Gwinnett’s gross-leaseable area today is over 1.2 million square feet, including its five anchor stores.
Surprisingly, the mall has held its own against competition from much newer nearby centers and a shift in demographics as the money follows the sprawl. In order to remain viable, Gwinnett will need to pull extensively from its immediate area in order to keep dollars from flowing to Buford or the other Atlanta super-malls. They’ll need to recognize they won’t necessarily be the top-tier mall they were for the first 15 years, but by recognizing the demographic trends - such as opening the Asian department store – they’ll be able to hold their own.
The photos featured here were taken in December 2008. As usual, feel free to leave your own comments or experiences with Gwinnett Place.