4 May 2013

No Supply, No Demand - Southgate Mall, Muscle Shoals, AL

It's hard for me to imagine a time or circumstance where in the northwest Alabama metropolitan area of the Quad Cities, also known as the Shoals for the quick moving and rocky stretch of the Tennessee River that runs past the towns, the anchor city of Florence, with a population greater than that of the other three cities combined, would be passed up for the location of the area's first enclosed shopping mall. But that's exactly what happened in the late 1960s. Florence was home to the area's largest university, vast industry and a large river port. But it was in the cross river town of Muscle Shoals where developers decided to locate Northwest Alabama's first enclosed shopping center, Southgate Mall.

 
L- Southgate Mall's initial set up featuring Roger's and Woolco. R- Years later, Woolco was replaced by Wal-Mart.

Southgate Mall was built as a Woolco vehicle. It was a rather small, even for its time, 250,000 square foot single level building with the main corridor running east-west. Woolco anchored the east end while Florence based department store Roger's anchored the middle at center court. Although the mall's footprint seems to allow for a future anchor to be added to the west end, it's unclear if they ever intended to do this.

 
 
TL- The Southgate Mall sign at the corner of Highway 43 and Avalon Avenue. This was my only indication that a mall was even there. TR- The very old-fashioned portico at the mall's main entrance. BL- The mall's center court ready for the Christmas crowds. BR- The old Woolco then Wal-Mart sits empty.

I first stumbled onto the mall rather serendipitously. I had no idea it was even there. Then I saw the sign at the town's busiest intersection declaring Southgate Mall. A mall. The podunk little town had a full fledged mall. This was 1994 and Wal-Mart was still operating from the old Woolco space while the rest of the mall was still very much alive. The exterior concrete blocks were painted in thick garish stripes of teal and off-white, very dated and nauseating even during the grunge days of the mid nineties. There was a weird aquatic theme to the interior which remained even on my last visit years later.

It was small, but adequate for the town. Rogers was a real draw in the middle, and Footlocker, Bookland, Blockbuster Music and a slew of other chains had locations as well. Then Wal-Mart, in their kill all competitors fashion, built a Supercenter right behind the mall and vacated their old building. It sat empty for years until Aronov, the mall's manager, decided to subdivide the space. A total exterior renovation commenced.

 
 
Shots of Southgate taken during the mid 2000s.

When I last visited in late 2004, the garish stripes were a thing of the past, buried underneath a coating or two of standard beige paint. Once they were gone, I realized that I kind of miss the old stripes. They gave the place personality. Albeit an ugly and insane personality, but a personality nonetheless. Stores like Hibbet, Radio Shack and Cato had moved into the building, but with only exterior entrances, giving the outside of the complex a strip mall look. On the inside, there was a jewelery place, a Chinese buffet, a Merle Norman that seemed to operate by appointment only, and Roger's. To my surprise, the local department store was still bright and open for business.

 
L- The old Woolco/Wal-Mart gets subdivided. R- The unfortunate present day footprint of Southgate Mall.

More businesses moved into the front of the old Wal-Mart, including a Tractor Supply Store. A Walgreens Health Initiative facilty took up much of the building's square footage not abutting the parking lot while the rest of the mall was struggling but still holding on. And I was still rooting for Rogers, one of the very last small town based department stores surviving into the new millenium, outlasting institutions like Parisian and Castner Knott.

 
 
Interior shots of Southgate. Some things never change. How unfortunate.

Unfortunately, Rogers would succumb to the present day economic realities and would meet its inevitable fate. Dallas based Dunlap's took control of the store, then announced its closing. Rather unceremoniously, another great regional department store met its end. Hopefully Southgate Mall, as tacky as it may be, will not meet the same fate.

Here's to Rogers.

 

-UPDATES-
7 January 2015

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the pics of Southgate Mall. It was once the major shopping center for the Quad Cities. It was still going strong in the 1990's with stores such as Bookland, Hibbitt's Roger's, Dollar Tree, Take Ten (cool arcade) and a nice food court anchored by Chicago Connection. When Walmart vacated the premise in 1995 and moved into the Super Walmart behind Southgate Mall, things quickly went down hill. It is a shame. An interesting aside, Larry Scott former Mr. Olympia, helped wire the original Southgate Mall.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree I live in hsv al and I am studying on malls

    ReplyDelete
  3. The interior of Southgate Mall is closed.

    ReplyDelete
  4. We shopped there ever since Woolco was there....before cassette tapes overtook 8-tracks. There used to be an arcade in the back of the Woolco just through the record department. I can still remember my grandmother buying me Star Wars toys there from when the original movies was out.

    Through the years, as I started a family, we returned there often. Bookland was a regular destination for us as well as take ten.

    Heck....the wedding ring on my finger right now came from the jewelery store right across from Bookland just past the fountain in front of Rogers. That was bought 14+ years ago.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I spent many summer days in southgate mall . Take Ten Arcade was so Awesome it had lots of arcade games and classic games . I miss the arcade like crazy it was a big part of my teen years . No cell phones and lots of cool places to hangout and have fun it was never dull or boring jus good times . Southgate mall actually did more business than Regency Square mall in Florence Alabama in the 1980s . Walmarts back doors and checkout led you into Southgate Mall and to the water fountain a nice art deco vibe . I think it was a Tom mcann shoe store there got some shoes there great shoes to . The Hibbets store was Awesome got many 1990s NBA jerseys there and shoes . Chicago Connection Sandwich shop was great food I was friends with 2 girls that worked there got free food...lol. Bring back the good times and the malls please I am so bored. Technology jus plain sucks let the good times roll again. Thanks Ya'll......dave.

    ReplyDelete
  6. When the mall opened in the 1968, it was the only indoor mall between Memphis and Huntsville. There was a 3rd anchor -- Winn-Dixie, just to the left of Woolco. Southgate began its decline when Regency Square opened in Florence in the late 70s and the decline accelerated when Wal-Mart built their Supercenter behind the mall in the 90s.

    ReplyDelete