The Shops at Georgetown Park; Washington, D.C.

on September 27, 1981, a 100-store retail mall called The Shops at Georgetown Park opened adjacent to phase one with 128 additional condominiums. The mall contains three full levels and a mezzanine level, houses a food court in the basement, and is listed at just under 450,000 square-feet of leasable space according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. The mall is visually stunning, yet slightly dated, with wood floored hallways, skylights, cast-iron braces, brass and glass elevators, and hand-built oak kiosks. It feels a little darker than it should in there, even during the day.

The neighborhood of Georgetown is located within Washington, D.C., only a couple miles from the White House, Pentagon, Capitol, National Mall, and all its monuments. Originally a separate city founded in the 1700s, Georgetown’s early residents included big names like Thomas Jefferson and Francis Scott Key, and George Washington also worked here while he acquired land for the country’s new federal city.

Georgetown is the only significant, established place within Washington that predates it. The modern city of Washington, planned by Pierre L’Enfant in the 1790s and later completed by Andrew Ellicott, actually came later and eventually swallowed Georgetown completely. As it was the only actual organic city within Washington, Georgetown has always been a center of culture and commerce, with historicity and legitimacy that Washington originally lacked. Georgetown was officially amalgamated into Washington in 1871, and its streets were renamed to coincide with Washington’s streets in 1880.

After a period of decline during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Georgetown rose up once again in the 1920s and 1930s after a series of efforts and a growing Washington put it back on the map. A bridge was built in 1915 along Q Street, connecting Georgetown with the rest of the city, making subsequent development inevitable. However, smart urban planners quickly began drafting documents and planning policies to make Georgetown a historic preservation district, which was eventually codified into legislation in the 1950s.

About the same time, the last vestiges of old school industry that powered Georgetown closed, and there was renewed interest in neighborhood redevelopment. As Georgetown gentrified, it transitioned from a largely African-American and blue-collar demographic to house the Washington white-collar elite. Elite families became interested in the neighborhood’s historical nature, and big names returned to the neighborhood. The John F. Kennedy family moved into the neighborhood in the 1950s while he served as Senator, and by 1960 the area was widely known for its fashionability as a result of Jackie Kennedy’s elaborate and well-publicized parties. From the 1960s onward, Georgetown has retained this cachet as the most exclusive, upscale neighborhood in all of D.C., and is the best shopping district as well.

The major retail corridor in Georgetown centers around the corner of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, with a retail critical mass at this intersection. Today, walking down K Street is a place to see and be seen on weekends, and the roster of stores rivals the better shopping districts of any major world city. From local boutiques and restaurants to national chains, Georgetown is the by far the best cohesive shopping area in all of D.C.

There’s even a significantly sized mall here – The Shops at Georgetown Park – located directly at the intersection of critical mass at K and Wisconsin. An anchorless mall, The Shops at Georgetown Park was developed in 1975 and opened in 1981 as the planned centerpiece of the Georgetown shopping district. After years of success, in recent years the mall has fallen on hard times and has a nearly 50 percent occupancy rate. The mall is currently considered a failure, and redevelopment is pending. But how did this happen? How could a retail entity that seemed like a turnkey operation fail, in the middle of the best shopping district in one of the largest and most important cities in the country.

The site where the current mall stands, located in the middle of historic Georgetown, is naturally ripe with history. In the 1830s, the site was a tobacco warehouse which opened directly up onto the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, located right behind it. Part of the modern structure today includes pieces from this original use. In the 1850s, the site became home to stables for the horses that powered the first horsecar line between Washington and Georgetown. Later, the site was converted into a shop for streetcar maintenance, and became disused after Washington abadnoned its streetcar lines in 1962. Thereafter, the United States Defense Communications used the building for secret-God-knows-what until the 1970s.

In 1975, Donohoe Construction Company, in partnership with Western Development Corporation, got a hold of the site with plans for a mixed-use retail and condominium project. The project was said to be one of the largest on the East Coast at the time, and included preserving the 100-plus year old facade on Wisconsin Avenue, building a 300-space underground parking garage into solid rock, and adding superstructure to the 10-foot thick, 35-foot high wall which was used to build the C&O Canal.

The partnership’s plans went ahead, and phase one of the project, which included a Conran’s home goods store and 35 condominiums above it, opened in 1980. The next year, on September 27, 1981, a 100-store retail mall called The Shops at Georgetown Park opened adjacent to phase one with 128 additional condominiums. The mall contains three full levels and a mezzanine level, houses a food court in the basement, and is listed at just under 450,000 square-feet of leasable space according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.  However, a recent article in the Washington Post cites the mall only has 300,000 square-feet of space.  Hmmm.  The mall is visually stunning, yet slightly dated, with wood floored hallways, skylights, cast-iron braces, brass and glass elevators, and hand-built oak kiosks.  It feels a little darker than it should in there, even during the day.

When it opened, the mall housed many upscale national retailers as well as local boutiques, restaurants, and most of the stores were in line with Georgetown’s upscale atmosphere. Original stores included the East Coast’s first Abercrombie and Fitch, Godiva, Ann Taylor, and a small branch of D.C.-based Garfinckel’s department store.

The Shops at Georgetown Park was an instant success. Many people came from all over the D.C. metro area to shop at the mall. A well designed mall, access was given to all four sides of the mall, to all levels, meaning no part of the three-level mall was a functional dead end. In addition, the stores along M Street, a popular pedestrian corridor with retail boundaries far in excess of the mall’s footprint, were given separate entrances, allowing M Street’s retail corridor to retain cohesion and seamless facade of continuous retail. In fact, the mall is almost too camouflaged from the street; its entrances aren’t as grand as at suburban malls.

Georgetown Park retained its glory even well into the last decade, the 2000s. In 1994, it was even featured prominently in the hit movie True Lies, where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character has a chase scene and an ensuing shootout erupts throughout the mall. According to, many popular stores were even present at the mall in 2001, including Abercrombie, Aeropostale, Ann Taylor, Casual Corner, Benetton, FAO Schwarz, The Limited, Godiva, Polo, Talbots, Victoria’s Secret, Waldenbooks and Sharper Image.  By 2007, many of these were gone, and today only a handful of national stores remain.

Many of the stores in Georgetown Park today are local, and the center sports a nearly 50 percent occupancy rate, down drastically from recent years.  According to a 2010 Washington Post article, the mall was only 10% vacant at the beginning of 2009, and that jumped to 56% by April 2010. This isn’t shocking at all, but Yelpers have even taken notice.

Why did the mall clear out so quickly?  The mass exodus is at least partly the result of a squabble between two real estate giants in the area.  Western Development, who originally helped build the mall, purchased the mall in 2006, and inked a deal for Bloomingdales to come to the mall in 2008.  Unfortunately, the economy also collapsed about the same time, and Bloomingdales backed out.   Western defaulted on their loan and the mall went into foreclosure.  It was eventually sold at auction to a New York firm, with Vornado brought on to manage.  Adding another wrench to the situation, Georgetown developer Anthony Lanier also lay legal claim to the mall.   Western said that in claiming a right to the property Lanier prevented the owners from refinancing it for redevelopment or from signing leases with retailers, which caused the mall to empty out.

In 2011, renewed interest in the mall has sparked rumors about redevelopment solutions.  According to the Georgetown Current, a local paper, both Target and Bloomingdales are indeed coming to the troubled mall.  An interesting combination, it will surely spawn debates about the appropriateness of the modification as well as the onerousness task of including these stores without disturbing the local character and charm of Georgetown itself.  Also, surely some people feel that Target doesn’t necessarily belong in Georgetown, though others will disagree and say that Target has enough of a hip cachet and vibe to belong here. Some even feel that a shopping mall of any scale here is not only unnecessary, it’s bad, and they have a point too. Places like Georgetown don’t really need malls.

Personally, I feel adding Target and Bloomingdales is forward-thinking for a mall.  In today’s retail climate malls can’t afford to be universally upscale  – or downscale, for that matter.   Adding a mix of retailers will get more people in the door, and having the second Target in the District will certainly prove popular here.

A major question remains, though, regarding the redevelopment rumors:  how will the additional anchors stack in the mall?  I’ve read that Target will occupy the lower level, where a moribund food court now sits, but what about Bloomies?  At the very least, half of the mall’s retail space will disappear.  What will become of the other half?  Will it remain an enclosed mall?

We’ve visited Georgetown Park a few times in the past 10 years, and have seen the decline first-hand.  Even a few years ago, the mall seemed to be doing a lot better.  It’s kind of interesting that it didn’t die due to consumer preferences, and instead emptied out due to bickering between owners.  At least now the redevelopment is apparently back on track, and the mall will be rejuvenated with these new anchors.

Pictures from Spring 2011:

Retail News Digest for Monday, March 14, 2011

Comings and goings:

Other retail news:

  • An article on investigates the growing trend of putting grocery and upscale/foodie vendors in malls.  The grocery thing isn’t new, though.  Early malls frequently had a grocery store anchor, and most closed by the 1970s-1980s.   Malls in other parts of the world, even Canada, often currently feature a grocery anchor.  It’s neat that the trend is coming back though, because I’m not entirely sure why it left.
  • According to WSB-TV in Atlanta, the Atlantic Station project will be changing from a ‘mall feel’ to be ‘more like Atlanta’.  I’m not sure exactly what this means, but they plan to retenant about 25% of the development and give it a more local, personalized feel.
  • Westfield’s Warner Center development is underway in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. When complete, the area will be a new ‘downtown’ node for the area, if not for the entire valley.
  • According to The Atlantic, will be the mall of the future.  Is this entirely a new idea?  On one hand, many people do spend an inordinate amount of time surfing Facebook, but does aggregating online retail purchases from many sites into one somehow completely usurp bricks-and-mortar establishments?  I think being able to go to a store and physically feel merchandise will always be the trump card for keeping actual retail stores in business in many sectors.
  • A blogger on explores the implications of sameness in malls across the country, and the reasons why fewer local stores exist in malls today.
  • Maplewood Mall in the suburban Twin Cities is getting a much-needed renovation to compete with Goliath, also known as the Mall of America.

Retail News Digest for Sunday, February 6, 2011

Comings and goings:

Other retail news:

Brickyard Mall; Chicago, Illinois

Brickyard Mall, which opened in March 1977 on Chicago’s northwest side, was one of two regional, suburban-style shopping malls constructed in the city – the other was Ford City Mall on Chicago’s south side, which opened in 1965. Three other regional malls are, however, literally within a stone’s throw of the city limits – Lincolnwood Town Center, Harlem-Irving Plaza, and Evergreen Plaza all are located either directly across the street from the city or just blocks from it. Brickyard Mall enjoyed a modicum of success through the 1980s, but in the 1990s its viability met opposition as neighborhood demographics changed and competition from other malls outmoded it.

More than 8 years ago I walked through Chicago’s troubled Brickyard Mall with my first digital camera, taking tons of pictures in anticipation they’d someday be the only surviving documentation of the mall – and then I promptly lost them.  Very recently, though, when consolidating some old photo CDs onto a larger hard drive, I rediscovered these great “vintage” shots of retail history that is now gone forever.  I hope you enjoy seeing them and reading Brickyard’s story as much as I enjoyed finding the pictures and reliving the memories.

Brickyard Mall, which opened in March 1977 on Chicago’s northwest side, was one of two regional, suburban-style shopping malls constructed in the city – the other was Ford City Mall on Chicago’s south side, which opened in 1965. Three other regional malls are, however, literally within a stone’s throw of the city limits – Lincolnwood Town Center, Harlem-Irving Plaza, and Evergreen Plaza all are located either directly across the street from the city or just blocks from it.  Brickyard Mall enjoyed a modicum of success through the 1980s, but in the 1990s its viability met opposition as neighborhood demographics changed and competition from other malls outmoded it.

The late 1970s was the middle of a great enclosed mall building boom across the United States.  The overbuilding of these hulking behemoths was often done without extensive foresight and with little abandon.  Brickyard Mall was built with two major goals in mind, neither of which would ultimately guarantee its permanency.

The first and main goal of Brickyard Mall was to give local residents a regional shopping center.  Belmont-Cragin, the neighborhood which Brickyard Mall anchors, was mostly built out by World War II with a modest housing stock of bungalows, cape cods and two-flats, which were intended to house Polish immigrant factory workers.  Over time, the factories which originally brought these immigrants to the far northwest side of Chicago closed, the original population left, and incomes have dropped.  The Polish influence on the neighborhood is still visible today, but has declined significantly in recent decades, as an influx of Hispanic immigrants has come to the area.  As of 2000, the neighborhood is 65% Hispanic, and this number is almost certainly higher today.

The second goal of Brickyard Mall was both political and fad-oriented.  A plaque used to hang on the wall in Brickyard Mall, indicating that Brickyard was “Chicago’s first in-city regional mall.”  It was signed by then-mayor Richard J. Daley, who put his name on practically every civic project the city invested in.  Malls were popular in the 1970s, so putting one in the city certainly helped promote him politically.  This plaque confuses me a little though, because Ford City Mall is also in the city of Chicago and opened in 1965 – 12 years before Brickyard.  Wouldn’t Ford City have been first?  Either way, Chicago wanted to get on the mall-building bandwagon, and selected a former brickyard at the corner of Diversey and Narragansett for this infill development.  The brickyard was also, for a short time in the early 1970s, the city of Chicago’s first ski hill – anyone who has been to Chicago and seen how flat it is knows how much of a mistake that was.  The site is located in a less-dense suburban area of Chicago, about 10 miles northwest of downtown, and was intended to supplant north and northwest side Chicago residents’ trips to suburban malls such as Woodfield, Randhurst, Golf Mill, and the nearest competitor, Harlem-Irving Plaza.

Brickyard Mall opened in two phases, starting in 1977.  The first phase was anchored by Kmart and Chicago-based grocer Jewel-Osco, and was connected by an enclosed plaza with stores on one side and a wall of windows facing the parking lot on the other.  A two-level Montgomery Ward was also placed behind the enclosed section of the mall, to the south of it, a full level above the rest of the structure.  As such, an escalator ran from the middle of the enclosed portion of the plaza-mall up to Wards’ first level entrance.  The grade separation at the site was a necessity because the site was formerly an artificial ski hill, so it was easy to just build the mall into the hill rather than to dismantle the hill and start over from a flat surface – plus, it gave the mall a very unique design.

Due to the confusing floorplan, I threw together a sketch of the mall by labelling satellite imagery.  You can see in red where the escalator was, connecting the lower Convenience Level of the mall with second and third levels of the main mall through Wards.  The sections labeled in yellow are a full level beneath the sections in blue.  Essentially think of this layout as a bigger mall with two anchors spooning a little plaza mall, also with two anchors and located under it.

A major expansion at Brickyard took place over the next two years, as a huge two-level mall structure was added from Wards southward, ending at a 209,000 square-foot two-level JCPenney, which opened July 1979.  The result was a weirdly-sewn-together frankenmall with a very interesting floorplan.  The original phase of the mall, featuring Kmart and Jewel-Osco and facing Diversey Parkway, was rebranded the Convenience Level, and was connected to the rest of the mall by Wards.  Shoppers using the Convenience Level could access Wards by ascending an escalator, located in the middle of the Convenience Level, which went up to a first level entrance of Wards.  By going through Wards, they could then access the rest of the mall.  This was a rather interesting and fun layout, giving Brickyard three separate levels, one (the Convenience Level) being completely disparate to the other two.  Also, while many malls are split by an anchor, Brickyard was split by both an anchor and an entire level.  Due to the confusing nature of this setup, there was ample signage throughout all parts of the mall advertising how to get between the main mall and the Convenience Level stores.

The brand-new Brickyard roared into the 1980s with success, as shoppers came from not only the surrounding neighborhoods, but from as far away as Edgewater and Lincoln Park via bus.  Brickyard was the closest mall to much of the north half of the city, and also to wealthier suburbs such as Oak Park, River Forest, and Elmwood Park.  However, this influence wasn’t maintained due to changing demographics in Brickyard’s immediate area during the 1990s.

In the 1990s, the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood, a pre-war area of modest, mostly single-family dwellings, lost its economic  foothold as the manufacturing jobs that established the neighborhood floated away.  The workers, mostly Poles who helped establish the neighborhood in the beginning, moved with the jobs, to other parts of the city or the suburbs.  The immigrant group replacing these original settlers were predominantly Hispanics of lower income.  As these demographic changes took place, store turnover at Brickyard replaced national, mid-level stores with discounters and urban-wear stores.  And, with the demographic shift also came a perception of crime.  Whether real or not, as evidenced by these reviews on, patrons no longer felt safe here and began driving out to the suburban malls and skipping Brickyard.  Also, at the end of the decade, JCPenney also downgraded their store to an outlet, an ominous predictor of what was to come in the 2000s.

As the 2000s reared, Brickyard was no longer a viable regional mall.  With a reduced selection of stores, a perception of crime, and changed demographics, Brickyard was demoted to a neighborhood center living in the husk of a regional mall.  Bus trips were no longer bringing in throngs of city residents from across town, and Brickyard began bleeding stores.  Over the course of a year, Brickyard lost all of its anchors except for Jewel-Osco.  Kmart was the first to close in Summer 2000, followed by Wards in March 2001, and JCPenney Outlet was the last to leave in mid-2001.  Wards’ closure wasn’t actually Brickyard’s fault, but a case of bad luck, as that entire chain folded; nonetheless, their departure was critical to accelerated demise at Brickyard, because their store bisected the two parts of the mall and connected them.  After Wards closed, it became necessary to walk outside and along the side of the store in order to access the rest of the mall from the Convenience Level.

Like a ship without sails, Brickyard didn’t go very far for very long without anchors – a year and a half passed between the last of the anchors closing at Brickyard in 2001 and the announcement of redevelopment in late 2002.  Not surprisingly, nothing was saved in the redevelopment, which commenced in May 2003 with the mall’s closing and immediate demolition.  Jewel-Osco hung on for a few more months, operating out of its original building, while a new store was constructed a block south, opening in 2004.

Securing fast and easy credit for the redevelopment, including a nice chunk of change from the city of Chicago, owner Goldman Sachs worked quickly to transform the Brickyard site.  Although the mall was a failure as a regional enclosed mall, it was seen as a potential gold mine as a neighborhood power center.  Because the city of Chicago and its near-suburbs are almost completely built out, space for big box power centers and new strip malls is at a scarce premium, and usually results from the redevelopment of former uses like industrial sites.  Knowing they had a captive audience, Goldman Sachs jumped on this opportunity to be able to develop a brand new, large-scale suburban-style power center right in the city.

In late 2004, most of the power center opened.  Anchored by big box stores Target, Marshalls and Lowe’s, The Brickyard, as it has been rebranded, is home to over 40 small stores as well.  In fact, many of the stores that were in the Brickyard Mall at the end have reopened here, including multiple shoe stores, the Super China Buffet, Radio Shack, and Jewel-Osco.  In addition, The Brickyard was home to the first midwestern location of Pollo Campero, a cult-popular Guatemalan chicken chain.

Here are a couple outside photos I snapped while driving by in May 2000.  The first shot is the pylon along Diversey, and the second shot is the Convenience Stores section at the north end of the mall.  Kmart would close a couple months after this was taken:

Some people have criticized the new Brickyard development for lacking verve as well as its rather generic layout.  I found this comment in Labelscar’s archives from user Allan:

“I dunno about you, but coming from briefly shopping at the lifestyle center that replaced Brickyard Mall(of Chicago) earlier today, there’s no doubt in my mind that the former Brickyard Mall was a much denser development, and was many times better than the lifestyle center that was built in its place. Not to mention, it’s unappealing as heck having to drive from store to store, rather than having the much more pleasurable experience of parking your car in one place, and shopping in an environment that you know won’t be too cold or too warm.”

In addition, there’s even a Facebook group decrying the mall’s renovation as not being up to snuff.  Maybe if they would have shopped there when it was viable…

I visited Brickyard Mall several times between 1999 and 2001, and have only been back once since renovation, when I visited Pollo Campero a couple years ago.  Other than that, there’s not much reason to go here unless you live in the area.  Overall, though, I think this repositioning was successful.  Sure, Brickyard is no longer that interesting to me, or anyone, and that’s a little sad; but I think if you look at the bigger picture, Brickyard is fulfilling its role as a neighborhood center.

If I renovated the mall, I wouldn’t have totally removed the two-level enclosed mall; instead, I would have renovated it with modern, bright flooring to replace the dark brick, adding comfy seating and bright colors on the walls.  The natural light from the skylights would flood the center, and it would feel vervey again.  I think people would come to the renovated mall, especially considering the density of the city, and although it would be a neighborhood center rather than a regional mall, it would still thrive.  I would have used Target and Lowe’s to replace JCPenney and Wards, and put Marshalls and other big box stores along the main mallway somewhere.  I probably would have removed the Convenience Center portion of the mall, though, since that portion of the mall was the most outdated of all.

What would you have done with Brickyard Mall?  How do you feel about the renovation?  Leave your own memories and thoughts on our comment page.

Here are the photos I recently found, which I took on November 17, 2001:

Also, here are some photos I dug up on the ol’ Interwebs.  They were taken by an impressive photographer named Chuck Janda, and featured on his site.  Be sure to check it out if you’re interested in sets of other abandoned and older buildings in the Chicago area.  These were taken in Summer 2003, during Brickyard Mall’s demolition:

UPDATE 4/7/10: I went down to Chicago the other day and swung by the “new” Brickyard development, and here it is!

Hickory Ridge Mall; Memphis, Tennessee

Located approximately 20 miles southeast of downtown Memphis, Hickory Ridge Mall opened in 1981 at the corner of Winchester and Hickory Hill Roads. At the time, this was the farthest mall from Memphis’s core, and indicative of a shift in population away from the city and into the suburbs. 1981 was also the same year the larger Mall of Memphis opened, closer to the center of population and near the airport. Over time, both malls failed: Mall of Memphis succumbed due to a perception of crime after some high-profile incidents, and Hickory Ridge Mall faltered due to the wrath of overbuilding and demographic changes before being snuffed out by mother nature.

Located approximately 20 miles southeast of downtown Memphis, Hickory Ridge Mall opened in 1981 at the corner of Winchester and Hickory Hill Roads.  At the time, this was the farthest mall from Memphis’s core, and indicative of a shift in population away from the city and into the suburbs. 1981 was also the same year the larger Mall of Memphis opened, closer to the center of population and near the airport.  Over time, both malls failed: Mall of Memphis succumbed due to a perception of crime after some high-profile incidents, and Hickory Ridge Mall faltered due to the wrath of overbuilding and demographic changes before being snuffed out by mother nature.

When Hickory Ridge and Mall of Memphis debuted, there were already several shopping centers in town. Memphis’s extant mallscape included the small, much older Southland Mall, built near Elvis Presley’s house in 1966, and the Raleigh Springs Mall, located on the north side, built in 1971.

Shortly after Hickory Ridge opened, it became the anchor to a long corridor of retail along Winchester Road, home to several million square feet of retail space in the form of big box stores and strip malls.  This was the hot retail area in Memphis for a hot minute, before changing demographics and other forces banished this corridor’s progress and revenues sank during the 1990s and beyond.

In 1988, Hickory Ridge received a minor blow in the form of a new upscale mall located in southeast Memphis on Poplar Avenue, Oak Court Mall.  While smaller than Hickory Ridge, Oak Court has always been fully tenanted and has been an upscale fixture in Memphis retailing since it opened, drawing wealthy shoppers from all parts of the area.  Oak Court Mall is also the closest mall to wealthy Germantown.  As an offensive move against Oak Court, Hickory Ridge completed an expansion in 1986.

Hickory Ridge’s design after the expansion was modified T-shape, with a slight zig-zag at the middle of the mall, where a two-story carousel sits under a tall glass canopy.  Anchors included Memphis-based Goldsmith’s, Sears, and Dillards.

A demographic change came to the Hickory Hill area in the 1990s, causing the number of whites in the area to drop by 50 percent and the number of blacks to grow 450 percent.  This trend changed the types of stores at the mall, even though the Hickory Hill area remains one of the wealthiest and most educated black-majority neighborhoods in Memphis.

Another change took place when the neighborhood was annexed by the city of Memphis, which doubled commercial as well as residential rents.  This taxation not only directly burdened retailers, but it further encouraged residents to move even farther into the suburbs where taxes are lower.  In addition, the 385 freeway, Nonconnah Parkway, was constructed in the area, allowing residents to bypass Hickory Ridge Mall on their way to the booming sprawl in Collierville.

In February 1997, a new mall opened on I-40 in far northeast Memphis, and quickly became the destinational retail center of choice in the Memphis area.  Wolfchase Galleria has 130 stores, four anchors, and 1.3 million square feet of retail space, and spawned a new retail corridor around it on Germantown Parkway.  Furthermore, Wolfchase is the closest mall to the most wealthy, newest parts of Memphis like Cordova.

As Wolfchase opened, Hickory Ridge issued its counter-offensive in terms of a whole scale renovation of the mall, removing the dated 1980s look completely and attempting to stave off competition as much as possible.  Unfortunately, the renovation of Hickory Ridge, located away from major freeways, was too late to ensure a permanency of success here.

The 2000s were a rough decade at Hickory Ridge Mall.  By 2003, the Winchester Road strip corridor was over 70% vacant, with 700,000 square feet of dead retail space.  The problems were much more serious than simple turnover, too – Memphis had too much physical space devoted to retail.  And, the mall wasn’t immune to the failure of the strip surrounding it.  To compound this, more retail was being constructed at an alarming rate in suburbs farther out, where a brand new mall was even being planned in Collierville.

In May 2003, Carlyle Development took the reigns of Hickory Ridge Mall, having purchased it that year for $13.5 million; and, citing an 20 percent vacancy rate and rapidly changing demographics, they decided to dramatically refocus the mall.  According to Carlyle, marketing the mall toward a middle-to-upper-income set, putting it in direct competition with Oak Court and Wolfchase Galleria, was a mistake.  They changed their focus to target a lower to lower-middle income set of folks, orienting the mall as more discount-focused with apparel at the forefront.  This repositioning was probably a good strategy at the time, all things considered, in an attempt to save the mall without too much wrangling.

Over the next few years, Carlyle implemented their plans and Hickory Ridge slowly lost many national middle to upmarket chains, which were replaced by local stores, discount chains, athletic apparel stores and shoe stores.  Oh, and vacancy.  The vacancy rate at Hickory Ridge creeped up from 20% in 2003 to 40% in 2006, and by 2007 nearly half of the mall was empty.  At the same time this was happening, Macy’s purchased Goldsmith’s, and phased out the name by 2005.

Meanwhile, two brand new malls opened in the Memphis area, one in growing DeSoto County, Mississippi, and another one in Collierville.  The one in Collierville, Avenue Carriage Crossing, stole more of Hickory Ridge’s potential customer base when it opened in 2005.  I say potential customers because they probably weren’t shopping at Hickory Ridge by then, anyway, so it was kind of a moot point.  Avenue Carriage Crossing ended up delivering a major blow to Hickory Ridge by sucking away Dillard’s, who opened a 200,000 square foot store at Avenue Carriage Crossing in early 2006, effectively making the Carriage Crossing store a replacement.

Up until this point, the Hickory Ridge story has been fairly typical.  Changing demographics, continued sprawl, and competition sent this mall into a pretty common downward spiral; however, on February 5, 2008, mother nature decided to change the mall’s slow decline into an immediate one.  An F2 tornado touched down at the mall that day, collapsing a 50-foot wall of Sears, tearing a giant hole in Macy’s and twisting much of the roof off center court.  The mall was also severely flooded.  Sears patched up the damage to their store and opened five days later, on February 10th, but none of the rest of the stores at the mall have been open since (as of March 2010).  The tornado effectively killed the mall.

Click here for a video of the tornado showing damage to the Hickory Ridge Mall.

Click here for a photo gallery of the extensive damage at Hickory Ridge Mall.  Whoops.  It seems the mall posted some photos it wasn’t entitled to post.  The author of the damage photos has denied their use, so the link is dead.  Sorry! 

In the days, weeks, months, and even years that have followed the tornado, residents have sat and waited for their mall to reopen.  Early on, Macy’s decided to give up and not reopen their damaged store, showing their commitment to the site wasn’t that strong.  Also, due to the mall’s beleaguered state before the tornado, owner Carlyle wasn’t in a hurry to patch it up and get it running again either.  For a time, the city even wanted to step in and purchase the mall to put civic offices there.  However, a different buyer was found, and Carlyle sold the site to a church in October 2008 for $1.4 million, about 10 percent of what they paid for it in 2003.  Ouch.

The new buyer, World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church, immediately set forth with grandiose plans for the tornado-ravaged site.  Its first order of business was to repair the twisted center court area, which cost $5 million.  Next, the church laid groundwork for re-tenanting the center, which is to be a mix of commercial retail, social services, and entertainment.  The 3,000 member church, which is located down the street from Hickory Ridge Mall and is known for displaying a striking 72-foot-tall Christian reinterpretation of the Statue of Liberty, holding a cross in one palm and the ten commandments in the other, laid out these plans in five ambitious phases.

Phase I, set to commence in April 2010 with the grand reopening of the mall, will include 32 commercial retailers, 10 community and social service agencies, 8 food court vendors, 2 education and training centers, and entertainment venues including the two-level carousel and a movie theater.

Phase II will consist of 18 various medical offices, including natal care, 15 additional social services agencies, 4 more food court vendors, a child care center, more training and education centers, and an Incredible Pizza franchise.  This phase will take place mostly in the former Macy’s wing of the mall.

Phase III will convert the former Macy’s building itself into a 72,000 square-foot conference center and banquet hall.  It will also have an auditorium, kitchen, and historical museum.

Phase IV will convert the former Dillard’s location to a youth enrichment and entertainment center, including a roller skating rink, recording studios, and computer lab.  In addition, a business center or a hispanic cultural center, to reflect the changing demographics in the area, will open as well.  Phase IV is slated to be complete by 2012.

Taking place away from the mall, Phase V will manage the construction of a 60-80 unit senior living facility on the periphery of the mall, as well as a 1,000 seat outdoor ampitheatre and performing arts complex.

In addition to these phases, Sears will remain at the mall where it has been the entire time, except for the five days it closed after the tornado.

According to the church, Phase I and the mall’s reopening will take place next week, on April 3, 2010.  Check out these photos of the work the church has been doing to repair the mall and prepare it for opening. It’s been a long time coming, but this is a welcome reinvestment in a neighborhood that has had major setbacks as retailers follow the dollars east.  It’s hard to really feel bad for Hickory Ridge Mall and this area, because it was sprawl to begin with, but it’s sad that an entire layer of the city has fallen in this manner.

We’ll keep up to date with developments in this interesting story.  In the mean time, take a look at the pictures I took in January 2004, when the mall still had Goldsmith’s.  Feel free to leave some comments, too.

Eastgate Consumer Mall; Indianapolis, Indiana

What’s a consumer mall without consumers?

Indiana’s first major shopping center debuted with a bang and died so slowly and painfully that its end was little more than a whimper.  Opened in 1958, Eastgate Center was the first large-scale shopping center in Indiana.  It located on the growing east side of Indianapolis, in what was then unincorporated Marion County, at the corner of Shadeland Avenue and Washington Street, which was then the heavily traveled cross-country National Road, US 40.  After many years, and many changes, Eastgate finally bit the dust in 2004 and closed the doors, leaving its husk ripe for redevelopment.

When Eastgate originally opened, the mall was situated very similarly to how it was in later years, on a north-south axis, with an anchor at each end.  A two-level Indy-based H.P. Wasson’s was the north anchor, and a smaller JCPenney dry goods-only store as well as a Standard supermarket anchored the south end.  Eastgate had a weird tilt to it, too – the south end of the mall was flush with the parking lot, but at the north end the mall was significantly higher than the parking lot grade, and many people accessed it there by either ascending a long stairway or going through Wasson’s and using the escalator.  Inside the mall were G.C. Murphy and Woolworth five-and-dime stores, as well as venerable 1950s mall stalwarts Thom McAn, Kinney Shoes, Lerner Shop, a National Shirt Shop, Harry Levinson’s, and Dr. Tavel Optical – who would become the last original tenant at the mall, closing in 2006.

In 1958, another open air mall arrived in Indianapolis when Glendale Center was built on the north side.  However, Glendale provided little competition to Eastgate, as Indianapolis was large enough to support two (or more) centers and Glendale was a good distance away.  Both centers thrived for the good part of two decades, in spite of forcing kids to wait in line for Santa Claus out in the cold.  Brrr! 

Competition did come a-knockin’ in 1974 with the opening of an enclosed, super-regional center just a few minutes away from the small Eastgate Center.  DeBartolo, an Ohio-based mall developer, opened Washington Square Mall just two miles east on US 40.  Sensing a trend, and not wanting to be left out in the cold (rather literally…), Eastgate’s owner quickly enclosed the 370,000 square-foot mall – but it was too little too late.  Penneys moved out, and when the struggling Wasson’s closed in 1980 it became clear that Eastgate was in rapid decline. 

In 1981, Eastgate was sold to Melvin Simon, an Indianapolis-based retail/real estate magnate, who promised to ease the mall’s woes and put it back on the path to success.  And it did just that, for a while anyway.  Burlington Coat Factory was brought in to replace the Wasson’s, and a mix of local and outlet stores were brought in to replace tenants who fled to Washington Square a few years earlier.  Eastgate Center was renamed Eastgate Consumer Mall, and continued on through the 1980s and into the 1990s as a discount-themed mall, which was also appropriate for the changed demographics of its immediate area.  This part of Indianapolis was in decline, as more people moved out to greener pastures in the suburbs, which only further benefited centers like Washington Square and decimated places like Eastgate. 

As Eastgate Consumer Mall soldiered on, even the outlet mall concept became a flop.  By the early 2000s, the mall was in decline again, as the caliber of stores went from okay to laughably nasty.  In April 2001, when I visited, there was a store actually called What Would D$llar Do?  I wanted to answer, “Not shop in this mall?” but it seemed to be a rather moot point since no one was there anyway.  However, I did get yelled at for taking pictures by a rather fiery security guard lady, who seemed to be chatting with her friends in the nearly empty food court at the time of my egregious photo-snapping crime and felt it necessary to shout at me from across the cavernous emptiness and waddle over to give me hell.  Par for the course at this mall, I guess.

Simon finally gave up the ghost and unloaded the mall in 2002 to a series of commercial slumlords, one of whom was Heywood Whichard, a slimy North Carolina ‘businessman’ who is infamous for craftily buying dead or dying retail properties and sitting on them, collecting rent with no reinvestment strategy whatsoever, until the properties are in such disrepair that almost nobody wants them.  At this point the local government usually has to step in and spend taxpayer money to redevelop these blighted eyesores and Whichard runs away laughing, having made a tidy profit.  This strategy has made Whichard the enemy of several cities around the country, including Akron, St. Louis, Niagara Falls, and Ft. Wayne

Whichard certainly made the death spiral worse at Eastgate, and the mall began to shake off tenants faster than ever before.  Mini anchor Dunham’s Sports and The Finish Line left first.  Then, Burlington Coat Factory, who had been at Eastgate since 1981, decided to call it quits in March 2004 by moving to Washington Square, seizing the opportunity of a recently-closed JCPenney there.  Burlington’s departure was the death knell for Eastgate, because in early 2004, Whichard gave a harsh and sudden notice, via a letter served by his attorneys, telling the 15 or so tenants operating there that they would need to skedaddle before the end of June or he would lock them out and take their stuff. 

The interior of the mall closed in June 2004, and later that year Whichard did what he does best and sold the mall at a tax sale.  The empty dead mall went through several other owners, including a woman from Michigan City who wanted to turn the mall into a senior-based shopping and entertainment center, and a Texas firm who did nothing.  Not surprisingly, she abandoned her plans too, and the mall sat and sat.  And sat.  Meanwhile, Dr. Tavel, the mall’s lone remaining tenant, who was one of the mall’s original tenants and had an exterior entrance, continued to operate until his lease expired in 2006.  Said Tavel in a 2003 interview in the Indianapolis Star, “One of the keys to our constant viability in that center is the fact that we always maintained an outdoor entrance,” he said. “That back door became our front door when the mall went to hell.”  Well put.

In recent years, ruminations of redevelopment have finally reared their heads, which will give Eastgate new life.  In July 2008, Lifeline Data Centers, an Indianapolis-based data storage outsourcing compan, decided to put a $50 million data center in the former mall.  That same year, a group of U.S. Marines also used the mall to play war games, simulating urban combat for soldier training.  In addition to the Lifeline project redevelopment, portions of the now-excessively-large parking lot will be removed and turned back to nature, with a landscaped park featuring walking trails and ponds.  Although Eastgate Consumer Mall failed as a retail mall, it’s interesting that in the end it won’t be totally demolished and will have a use – as office space.     

I visited Eastgate Consumer Mall in April 2001, just before Haywood Whichard got a hold of it and totally ran it into the ground, and took the pictures featured here.  There was even a bright yellow mustang parked inside to offset any problems the mall might’ve had.  For a more complete set of pictures, be sure to check out this Flickr page of photos of the mall from user penske14 .  Taken in 2006, you can see that the mall quickly and alarmingly fell into disrepair, as evidenced by its condition less than two years after closure.   Also, you can check out a Facebook discussion relating to the mall, or better yet, leave some of your experiences and thoughts on or own comments page here.

College Hills Mall (The Shoppes at College Hills); Normal, Illinois

In the mall-crazy late 1970s, a developer decided that one mall wasn’t enough for little Bloomington-Normal, and made plans to build a second enclosed mall on the same strip. Located just a mile north of Eastland Mall along Veterans Parkway/Old Route 66, the College Hills Mall opened in August 1980 with anchor Carson Pirie Scott and a single-level T-shaped corridor of stores. The second anchor, Montgomery Ward, opened about a month later, also in 1980, and a third anchor, Target, opened in 1982.

Illinois’ twin cities of Bloomington and Normal (which is technically not a city, but a town.  Discuss…) comprise a relatively small metropolitan area in Central Illinois, about 2 hours south of Chicago and 2.5 hours north of St. Louis, Missouri.  Together, the cities have around 125,000 residents, with 50,000 in Normal and 75,000 in Bloomington.    Bloomington and Normal are also immediately adjacent to one another, with no gap in between them, and thus effectively function as one city.  In fact, they are almost always referred to together, as Bloomington-Normal, B-N, or even the Twin Cities.  Home to State Farm Insurance and two educational institutions, Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University, which together have over 22,000 students, Bloomington-Normal has a more white collar, professional persona than many other Central Illinois cities. 

Bloomington-Normal was an important stop along Route 66 during its heyday, and as the famous highway grew in popularity it became congested – especially through cities and towns where local and cross-country traffic mixed.  Even before the interstate system debuted, which would largely supplant Route 66, many bypasses were constructed around the cities and towns Route 66 passed.  One such bypass, known as Beltline Road (later renamed Veterans Parkway), circumnavigated around Bloomington-Normal to the east, and opened in the 1950s, a full decade before Interstates 55 and 74 were built around the cities to the west. 

As Route 66 became obsolete for cross-country trips, supplanted by Interstate 55 and subsequently removed in this area by the late 1970s, it became a mostly local thoroughfare and Bloomington-Normal’s dominant retail strip.  In 1967, the Eastland Mall opened along this strip at the corner of Route 66 and IL 9.  Expanded through the years, Eastland Mall is the biggest and only enclosed mall in Bloomington-Normal, but this wasn’t always the case.   

In the mall-crazy late 1970s, a developer decided that one mall wasn’t enough for little Bloomington-Normal, and made plans to build a second enclosed mall on the same strip.  Located just a mile north of Eastland Mall along Veterans Parkway/Old Route 66, the College Hills Mall opened in August 1980 with anchor Carson Pirie Scott and a single-level T-shaped corridor of stores. The second anchor, Montgomery Ward, opened about a month later, also in 1980, and a third anchor, Target, opened in 1982. 

Only about 60 percent the size of Eastland Mall, College Hills Mall never had the same cachet of stores, but it served as a successful ancillary to it for a number of years.  An anchor change occurred at College Hills Mall in 1989 when Peoria-based Bergner’s purchased Chicago-based Carson Pirie Scott.  Because Bergner’s did not want to operate two adjacent stores in such a small market, the Carson’s at College Hills was closed in favor of the extant, larger Bergner’s at Eastland.

Following the departure of Carson’s at College Hills Mall, management quickly found a replacement for the space – Davenport, Iowa-based upscale department store Von Maur.  For those unfamiliar with Von Maur, it is considered in the same class and quality as Nordstrom and Lord and Taylor, a step up from Carson’s/Bergner’s.  A weird fit for an ancillary mall, it gave College Hills an upscale cachet that management thought might translate into greater success. 

Unfortunately, though, the location of Von Maur at College Hills Mall did very little to upscale the mix of stores there.  In fact, during the 1990s, the mall began a slow period of decline, and finished the decade in extremely poor shape.  In the early 90s, College Hills Mall had a decent mix of stores, including MC Sports, Kay-Bee Toys, Waldenbooks, Spencers, The Buckle, Foot Locker, and Champs Sports.  But the loss of a department store anchor and a change of ownership in 1997 brought an irreversible decline from which College Hills would not recover.   

In 1997, Montgomery Ward exited the mall amid a round of closures and in 1999, a Hobby Lobby crafts store was brought in to replace it.  Discounter Stein Mart moved into the middle of the mall, taking a few dead store spaces in 1997, but this move turned out to be an unprofitable mistake for the chain and it closed in 2000.  Meanwhile, many of the aforementioned national chains closed and were not replaced due to lacadaisical remote management by the Chicago-based owner of the mall.

By the 2000s, College Hills Mall was in serious decline with many vacancies as in-line stores closed and weren’t replaced.  Many of the stores relocated down the street to the larger, more successful Eastland Mall, which completed an expansion in 1999, adding a Famous-Barr anchor.   By mid-2004, only 11 tenants remained at College Hills Mall, including the three anchors, Target, Von Maur, and Hobby Lobby, with Radio Shack, Payless Shoes, Bath & Body Works, GNC, Christopher & Banks, Diamond Dave’s Mexican Restaurant, and some local stores among the remaining that were left. 

In 2004, ownership changed again and the College Hills Mall was purchased by Peoria-based Cullinan Properties, who had recently developed the successful Shoppes at Grand Prairie outdoor mall in Peoria in 2003.  Given the sad state of College Hills, Cullinan decided to demolish the existing mall and develop another lifestyle center.  The enclosed mall’s last day was June 30, 2004, when the interior corridors were sealed until demolition began a short time later.  The anchors – Target, Hobby Lobby, and Von Maur – remained open and continue to operate today in their original buildings. 

Almost immediately, demolition work began on College Hills Mall, in order to transform it into The Shoppes at College Hills.  The extra ‘e’ in Shoppes apparently confers an ‘upscale for ladies’ vibe – there’s no doubt that your mom or girlfriend would enjoy shopping here.  All of her favorite stores are present – J Jill, Chico’s, Ann Taylor Loft, Coldwater Creek, Lane Bryant, Yankee Candle, and Bath and Body Works.  These, combined with Von Maur, Target, Gordman’s, Starbucks, The Childrens Place, Hobby Lobby, and a make-your-own-stir-fry chain restaurant, will keep mom and all her girlfriends busy all day.  In fact, there’s even a Hampton Inn in case they get too tired after all that shopping.

I don’t mean to hate on The Shoppes at College Hills – it’s not terrible or anything, just kind of poorly executed in light of the image and vibe they are trying to sell.  I mean, it’s definitely not for me, and I’ll certainly concede that it’s better than the hulking dead mall that was there before.  I can’t help but wonder, though, did the enclosed mall fail due to mismanagement?  It was pretty dark and dated inside, so couldn’t they have just renovated it and put all these stores in there?  Clearly there was a market for a retail center here, and I wonder how many people really want to walk around in the cold, rain, snow, and excessive heat – Central Illinois is a land of extremes, after all.  This isn’t the Sun Belt, and ‘perfect’ days are rare.  It’s kind of a moot point, anyway, because no one is realistically going to walk around here all day either – it’s not that pedestrian friendly and really set up more like a strip mall than anything else, where you can park near the door of your favorite stores.  Want to visit another store?  Get in your car, drive over there, and park there, too.   

My biggest problem with this place is that the type of branding they’re selling is really a bunch of smoke and mirrors.  All they really did was demolish the interior of a dead mall and replace it with a few, much smaller buildings, and a sea of parking lots.  There are no definitive pedestrian corridors that encourage people to use them, except the sidewalk in front of some of the stores – which is how any strip mall is set up – and there’s no cohesion bringing the center together.  Target and Hobby Lobby don’t even have entrances facing the rest of the development. 

And yet they are selling a brand, a lifestyle even.  Whatever that means.  Whose lifestyle?  Doesn’t a lifestyle center really need to have some non-retail components such as entertainment options, or more than one restaurant?  Some even argue that a true lifestyle concept needs housing as well. 

According to the mall’s website, which also states that the Shoppes are “where outside is in style”,  “The Shoppes at College Hills has a stylish fountain in the midst of our outdoor lifestyle center in a beautiful, relaxing setting.  The fountain is the base for a sculpture entitled “Adventure” by Jim Davidson.  The fountain and sculpture pair encourages the shopper to rest or meet friends near the soothing sound of its waterfall.”  This is nice, don’t get me wrong.  But they fail to note that the fountain is really located in the corner of one of the parking lot seas, and that the whole setup of this place really lacks cohesion and encourages driving between the stores, not meeting at a fountain in a far corner of the parking lot.  When you go to a strip mall or big box center, do you often walk to the far edge of the parking lot to meet?  I don’t.  There’s absolutely no reason to.

There are definitely good ‘lifestyle’ centers that pass muster, with legitimately cohesive plans and a density that allows for well-placed pedestrian concourses that will actually be used.  This just isn’t one of them.  Many of them have pedestrian-only corridors, like Easton Town Center in Columbus, or if the corridors allow cars the focal point is not hindered by automobile traffic but rather a dense, urban-like streetscape, like Victoria Gardens in southern California.  Lacking encouragement for people to walk around and linger, a lot of the stores miss out from foot traffic walk-by sales.  On a different level, without people walking around and staying a while there is less of a community feel.  Plus, it doesn’t look as nice aesthetically, either.  By the way, Cullinan’s outdoor mall in Peoria is a pretty good example of what a lifestyle center should be, so that makes this even more perplexing. 

I visited College Hills Mall in May 2001 and June 2004, just a couple days before the mall closed forever.  Feel free to leave your own experiences on the comments page.

Photos from May 2001:

Photos from June 2004, days before the mall closed forever: