Located in west-central Oregon about 100 miles south of Portland, Eugene is the state’s second largest city and home to the University of Oregon. With 156,000 people in the city, the metropolitan area is home to around 350,000 residents. While Eugene is tied for Oregon’s second largest city with Salem, Oregon’s capital, Eugene’s metropolitan area is slightly smaller than Salem’s, and third in the state. In addition to the university, Eugene’s economy is based in recreational vehicle and wood products manufacturing. Eugene is also known for its quirky, offbeat culture, athletics (mainly track and field), and rabid environmentalism.
Eugene’s retail is clustered in several locations around the city, as well as in neighboring Springfield, located on the other side of Interstate 5. The closest mall to downtown Eugene, Valley River Center, opened in August 1969 following several years of planning and construction.
When it opened, Valley River Center was the largest fully-enclosed mall in the state of Oregon. Today the mall is the fourth largest in the state, after Portland’s Lloyd Center, Washington Square and Clackamas Town Center. It’s also the largest mall between Portland and the San Francisco Bay Area – though that’s not saying much, considering the only competition is in Medford, Redding, and Eureka.
Despite being the largest mall in Oregon at the time, the 1969 version of Valley River Center was much smaller than the behemoth it is today. The original mall consisted of two two-level anchors, a 181,000 square-foot Portland-based Meier & Frank, and a 206,000 square-foot JCPenney that opened a few months later. These two anchors were connected by an enclosed single-level retail corridor, where San Francisco-based Roos-Atkins also operated a 35,000 square foot junior anchor on the east side of the mall near Meier and Frank. In total, the entire mall was 662,000 square feet, and was fully operational by early 1970. Here’s a vintage shot of center court courtesy Malls of America:
The Meier and Frank store at Valley River Center was designed by then-owner May Stores, based in St. Louis, and featured a large upside-down funnel hanging over the south entrance. This design feature was also used on May’s St. Louis nameplate, Famous-Barr, in at least a couple stores I can think of: at the now defunct Northwest Plaza, and at South County Center. This original store is still in use by Macy’s, upside-down cylinder and all, and can be seen here:
A few years later, in 1974 and 1975, Valley River Center was expanded with a new western wing, ending in a one-level, 100,000 square-foot Montgomery Ward, the mall’s third anchor. Also that year, a 52,000 square-foot two-level junior anchor, Portland-based Lipman’s, was constructed in the east parking lot, attached to the mall where the new Wards wing intersects the old wing. The result was a cross configuration of mall corridors, with each radial ending at an anchor store.
The new wing also included an upper level mezzanine on its western end, featuring a Nordstrom Place Two which opened in May 1977. Nordstrom Place Two was Nordstrom’s attempt to enter smaller markets, with smaller stores featuring a limited apparel selection.
Another change taking place in the early- to mid-1970s was the departure of junior anchor Roos-Atkins, which was replaced with an 18,000 square foot Eugene-based Troutman’s Emporium, a regional department store, by 1975.
In 1979, the Lipman’s store, which was owned by Minneapolis-based Dayton-Hudson, got purchased by Chicago-based Marshall Field’s, who rebranded it to their Seattle-based Frederick & Nelson nameplate. Ironically, Dayton-Hudson would later own Marshall Field’s from 1990-2004 before selling them to May, who owned Meier & Frank, and then to Macy’s to focus on their Target division. Full circle collision!
The next change at Valley River took place in 1984, when Emporium expanded their store to the upper level of their building, resulting in a larger 45,000 square-foot store.
An 11-bay food court was added in 1986 to a side wing on the north end of the mall, near JCPenney.
Also in 1986, Marshall Field’s parent BATUS, based in Louisville, sold their Pacific Northwest holdings, including Frederick & Nelson, to local investors because the chain was flagging. The new owners removed the Frederick & Nelson nameplate from their store here and replaced it with Spokane-based The Crescent, rebadging it as a Crescent Outlet because it was smaller than a normal department store. This configuration didn’t last long, however, because the Frederick & Nelson/Crescent chain was going downhill fast, and the store was sold to Seattle-based Lamonts in 1988.
Also in 1988, a major announcement shook the Eugene retail scene – a brand new, 750,000 square foot mall was going to be constructed along Interstate 5 in Springfield, just a few miles east of Valley River Center. In response, Valley River owners decided to expand the mall again, adding a new northwest wing and a two-level, 124,000 square-foot Seattle-based The Bon Marché. The new wing connected the west wing expansion with the food court area, and is parallel to the original wing. This created an efficient loop within the mall. The expansion brought the mall to over 1 million square feet in leasable space and came in line by 1990, the same year the new Gateway Mall opened in nearby Springfield.
In the 1990s, Valley River Center held its own against the brand new Gateway Mall, which can be attributed to its central location, just one mile north of downtown Eugene, and its sheer size. Some anchor changes also took place in the 1990s. In 1992, Nordstom Place Two closed because the concept wasn’t making the chain enough money; interestingly, Nordstrom has yet to return to Eugene and build a regular store. Nordstrom does operate a small store in downtown Salem, a similarly sized city. In 1996, Lamonts closed amid fiscal troubles for that chain, but it wasn’t vacant long. In early 1997 San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based Copeland’s Sports moved into the former Lamonts space.
In late 2000, Montgomery Ward announced it was going out of business, and the Wards at Valley River Center closed sometime in early 2001. Then, starting in 2003, the mall received some much-needed cosmetic renovation therapy, brightening interior spaces with a new coat of paint and giving it more modern lighting, while redoing the entryways. Also in 2003, northwest anchor Bon Marché was purchased by Macy’s and renamed Bon-Macy’s, and Troutman’s Emporium went out of business. Since then, the lower level of the Emporium store has been split into Charlotte Russe and Hollister, which have mall entrances, and Grand Slam USA, which has an exterior entrance. Here’s a look at Emporium, before it closed (courtesy of boundless.uoregon.edu) and in October 2010 as Grand Slam:
With the renovations complete in 2004, focus shifted on retenanting the Wards and dealing with more anchor changes. In 2005, the former was accomplished when the Wards building was bulldozed and eventually replaced with a 15-screen Regal Cinemas, which opened in 2007. Also, in 2006, the mall was sold to Macerich by a British firm, and Bon-Macy’s became simply Macy’s.
In 2006, Macy’s, having recently acquired Meier & Frank the year before through their parent company, Federated, chose to rebrand Meier & Frank to Macy’s. This created a decision for Macy’s, who rebranded the northwest anchor from Bon Marché to Macy’s the year before. They eventually chose to utilize the Meier & Frank building, because it was larger and better located within the mall, and shuttered the one in the former Bon Marché.
The former Bon Marché/Macy’s wasn’t vacant for long, however. Fresno, Calif.-based Gottschalks came calling, and opened there in 2006. Also in 2006, Copeland’s Sports went out of business and became Sports Authority.
The most recent change to take place at Valley River Center is the departure of Gottschalks in 2009, due to the entire chain’s failure. Whoops, they weren’t there long. Their anchor is still vacant and for lease, so if you know any mall anchors scurrying around looking for a home, that’s where to go.
As of 2010, Valley River Center has held its own against Gateway Mall and the smaller Oakway Center. While Oakway Center is thriving as a mostly outdoor mall with upscale specialty retailers, big box stores, and restaurants, Gateway Mall has fallen on hard times and is currently in major trouble. Valley River Center is the clear, dominant retail center for the Eugene-Springfield area, and is a major regional draw.
Valley River’s current anchors include Macy’s, charter tenant JCPenney, Sports Authority, and Regal Cinemas. Caldor and I visited the mall for the first time in October 2010 and took the pictures featured here, with the exception of the vintage photo which we stole from Malls of America and the Emporium photo we took from boundless.uoregon.edu.
We especially liked the mall’s vintage appearance – even after the 2003-04 renovations this mall looks pretty dated compared to many A-level malls we’ve visited recently, and that’s not a bad thing at all. We also appreciated the bonus mezzanine level, which is currently home to some of the last vestiges of parquet flooring on earth, and also houses a 1980s-style restaurant that overlooks the mall called Terrace Cafe, which is a terrific doppelganger for The Max on Saved by the Bell. There’s also a furniture store called Rife’s up there, a hair salon, a DMV center, and an alterations shop up there, too, along a long and desolate corridor. In addition, we really liked the high ceilings and the square windows along each hallway throughout the entire mall, as well as the crazy wig shop in the dark, dreary former Gottschalks wing. This has to give children nightmares:
We really enjoyed Valley River Center. Let us know what you think in the comments.