12 April 2016

Mart Gallery - Northgate Mall, Durham, NC

We did a lot of road tripping as a family during the late eighties and early nineties. As I mentioned before, one of our most traveled routings, especially during holiday periods, took us from Norfolk, Virginia to Huntsville, Alabama then to Orlando, Florida. While most of the hours were defined by endless stretches of greenery streaming by at 65 miles per hour, it was all worth it to pass through all of those medium and large cities punctuating the maps. And, on the southbound, one of the first we always passed was Durham, North Carolina.


Northgate Shopping Center not long after its opening. (Source)

Unfortunately for me, though I’m sure my dad and his sense of urgency would argue, we never penetrated too far into the urban core as Interstate 85 merely skirted the northern edge of Durham. But there, at the interchange with US 501, was all I needed. It was a low slung, beige cinderblock monolith directly abutting the freeway to our south. And, for the first time I saw this strange new anchor store named Belk, with its B adorned in just the same way as the L in Legget with which I was already familiar. This was Northgate, one of my very first road malls.


Northgate Mall during much of the nineties.

Northgate Mall opened as an open-air center in 1960 with Rose’s as the main anchor. It was expanded intermittently throughout the years until 1974 when, facing new competition in the form of South Square, the shopping plaza was enclosed and fully incorporated with anchors Sears and Thalhimer’s. In the nineties, the old Rose’s building was taken over by Hecht’s while Thalhimer’s became Hudson-Belk. In the 2000s, with a substantial new adversary coming in the form of The Streets at Southpointe, the eastern portion of Northgate was de-malled (how often does a center get enclosed just to be made open-air again?) Today, the old Belk is now a cineplex while the Hecht’s has become Macy’s, but, like the Sears that’s still hanging on, Northgate seems to be holding its own.


Northgate Mall as of this writing.

Opening Date- 1960
Gross Leasable Area- 900,000 square feet
Tiers- One
Anchors- Macy’s, Sears
Spaces- 100


Northgate Mall from the air. (Source)

Owner- Northgate Associates
Location- 1058 West Club Boulevard
Online- Official Website

11 April 2016

All Mallmanac - River Park Square, Spokane, WA

Poor, poor Spokane. Though not the focus of near as much derision as Tacoma, I’ve heard more than a few people here in the Puget Sound region refer to it as some podunk backwater out in the middle of nowhere. In actuality, the eastern Washington agglomeration is the second largest in the state, and the only metro of real significance in its region. It actually reminds me quite a bit of my hometown of Huntsville, Alabama. Within the municipal limits, Spokane is slightly larger, while when looking at consolidated metropolitan areas, Huntsville comes out on top. And while both have skylines much more diminutive than cities their sizes deserve, Spokane does have something that I don’t think the Rocket City will ever have- A vertical downtown shopping mall complete with a Nordstrom.




The three main levels of River Park Square in 2016.

River Park Square is another center located in the urban core of a small to mid-sized city, joining a modest group of peers including Salem Center in Salem, Oregon and Burlington Town Center in Burlington, Vermont. The building held its ribbon cutting in 1974 with an expansion coming in 1978 that included physical links to both a JCPenney and a Nordstrom store, which then joined The Crescent as directly connected anchors. These changes brought River Park Square’s total scope to a respectable 800,000 square feet on three main levels. Before long, another skywalk was built over Wall Street to connect the rest of the facility with The Bon Marché. The mall proved popular and seemed to be successful in luring people back to Spokane’s nucleus despite the presence of its larger, suburban neighbor Northtown Mall.


River Park Square aerial. (Source)

In a story repeated time and time again with these revitalization projects, River Park Square’s good fortune started dissipating sometime in the late eighties into the early nineties. JCPenney relocated to Northtown while Seattle based department store Frederick and Nelson, which had taken over the anchor spot previously occupied by The Crescent, closed all of their stores. The mall limped along through the end of the millennium, but the city, fully aware of the benefits of having a retail anchor in their urban core, embarked on a massive expansion and renovation centered on an enlargement of the lone extant original anchor, Nordstrom.




River Park Square Mallmanac, ca. 2016. View the full PDF version here-
Level 1 | Level 2 | Level 3

In 1999, the new and improved River Park Square opened its doors to thousands of eager shoppers. It seems to have remained on its upward trajectory, and remains a popular shopping option in Spokane in spite of additional competition brought on by Spokane Valley Mall in the late nineties. But, with Macy’s on one end (having taken over The Bon Marché’s space in 1997) and Nordstrom on the other, all surrounded by a revitalized central business district, this will hopefully be one of the lucky urban city center malls that we won’t have to say good-bye to, at least not any time soon.

River Park Square Official Website

1 April 2016

No Supply, No Demand - Newmarket Mall, Chicago, IL

The eighties were absolutely the height of the mall boom. They had become a cultural icon, prominently featured and even starring in productions such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Ridgemont Mall,) Mama’s Family (The GalleRAYa) and the classic Chopping Mall (Park Plaza Mall.) Chicago is one of those big cities surrounded by countless suburbs and even more malls, many of which are long gone and forgotten to this day. Among them, tucked away in a non-descript bedroom community along the Windy City’s outskirts was the tiny, yet influential, Newmarket Mall.

 
L- Newmarket Mall’s original logo seen from Gary’s Shoes. R- A patron walks past a Newmarket mall map.

Built perhaps sometime between the mid and late seventies, the small neighborhood shopping complex was rather basic in design. Its corridor formed somewhat of a racetrack, with an island of stores in the center of the facility. Through its early years, it never really emerged as a popular choice in shopping, especially amongst heavy nearby competition. But then in the mid-80s, it all of a sudden became the place to be seen.

 
L- A scene from Muldin’s famed Timepiece Department. R- Muldin’s entrance into the mall.

Anchoring the facility was Muldin’s Department Store, with their overwhelming selection of elaborate timepieces amongst their claim to fame. Other popular spots were Rainbow Toys, Gary’s Shoes and Accessories and the Newmarket Cinemas. The mall seemed to find its niche in the community until late in 1987 when the larger and more strategically located Lakeside Mall opened in the next town. Newmarket immediately felt the pinch of competition.


A happy shopper displaying the Lakeside Mall logo.

In a twist of fate, however, Lakeside seemed to be cursed with bad publicity from the onset. One notable incident involved the parachuting Santa accident and a subsequent loss of sponsors, retailers and thousands of dollars in gift certificates. Newmarket immediately regained many of the customers it had lost and actually flourished in the shadow of its larger neighbors.

 
L- A student from nearby Polk High School walks past the mall’s new logo. R- A view outside the Newmarket Cinema, with excited patrons waiting in line to see “Rudy.”

It also seemed to attract both favorable and dubious notoriety. There were reported Elvis sightings within its concourse; the universally panned documentary A Day in the Life of a Shoe Salesman was filmed there, and their Christmas decorations and popular Santa were almost professional in appearance. But, alas, the drumbeats of time continued and, though updated at least once with brighter colors and a new logo, the mall was never expanded. This, and the absence of any nationally known retailers, led to the neighborhood mall’s inevitable decline.

 
 
TL- People gather in the popular mall. TR- An eighties style seating area near the food court. BL- Rainbow Toys shines brightly in the dark corridors. BR- The documentary A Day in the Life of a Shoe Salesman as it was being filmed.

The neighborhood was changing as the children who used to call Newmarket Mall home were growing up and moving on. The neighborhood, and its mall, were dying. Newmarket remained until June 9, 1997, the day it was cancelled, and joined Dixie Square Mall as another of Chicagoland’s early generation malls that slipped into obscurity.

 
L- The mall’s noted Christmas decorations. R- Santa makes an appearance.