14 November 2011

Southdale Center, Edina, MN

A relic of retail

26 December 2021
13 March 2022

Let me say, first of all, that I love Minnesota. I adore how those million or so lakes reflect the bright blue Midwestern sky. The people are some of the friendliest that I’ve ever met and exemplify the spirit of “Minnesota Nice.” And the drivers… Well, that’s another story. But I digress. I love Minnesota; in particular the Twin Cities. Let me qualify that. I love the Twin Cities between April and September.

Those upper Midwestern winters can be quite the killer, especially to a southern boy like me. The extreme weather can be as harsh as it is beautiful. And don’t even get me started on the temperatures… Oy, vey. The first time I stepped outside in Minnesota was on a January afternoon. I learned something new that day- nose hairs can freeze. (And perhaps that mine needed a trim.)

Southdale Center Mallmanac ca. 2000. View the full PDF version here.

What better place to be the birthplace of the modern indoor, climate controlled shopping mall as we know it today? Southdale Center in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina is popularly known as the one to fill that role. Sure, indoor urban arcades had been around for decades. But this was the world’s first shopping mall to be built entirely enclosed from the very beginning and to feature competing anchors.

Southdale Center in the late 1990s.

The mall, a design of Victor Gruen, opened in 1956 just to the south of Minneapolis. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of retail history knows the tale as far as its creator goes. Gruen envisioned a self contained village, with retail, residential and office zones in a pedestrian friendly environment. He was heartbroken to see that it developed no further than its retail origins. The expansive asphalt parking lot, originally intended to be available tracts for construction of his vision, remained just that- parking- and his utopic vision of live-work-shop never came to fruition.

Southdale Center in the mid 2000s.

Amazingly, this oldest of US shopping malls has survived and thrived over the decades. Its biggest challenge came in 1992 when the behemoth Mall of America opened in nearby Bloomington. But with the same visionary spirit that brought Southdale into existence in the first place, Southdale was proactive in regards to the new threat. They updated the entire facility and added stores on the third level tailored to the younger demographic called Urban Trendz. They even added a small outdoor element of restaurants and entertainment, years before it became the thing to do at seemingly every other shopping center in the nation. Then they marketed themselves as the mall of the local population while the Mall of America would surely be a huge tourist draw.

Southdale Center as of this writing.

As a result, Southdale, the granddaddy of themall (them all or the mall, however you want to look at it) soldiers on to this day. Not having visited the mall since 2004, I was devastated to hear that the mill has hit hard times. The vacancies are growing and the mall’s current owners seen not to have that proactive spirit that their predecessors had. These are difficult facts to face as I have always thought of it as a great place. It is by far my favorite in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area. There’s just something so fabulously old school about these first generation malls. There’s always something new to see, from darkened empty basements to mysterious staircases. In a society where everything, even million square foot shopping fortresses are considered disposable, I hope that what should be venerated as the beginning of an era never meets its demise. Southdale seems to have made its own permanent mark in the retail landscape and hopefully it’ll stay that way.


-26 December 2021

Southdale Center lease plan ca. 2011. View the full PDF version here.

-13 March 2022

Southdale Center lease plan ca. 2021. View the full PDF version here.

Southdale Center's official website

Greenville Mall, Greenville, SC

A dead mall

I visited the city of Greenville only one time in 1997. We stayed for a week at an uncle’s house who had been living there for a few years. We may have gone to Greenville Mall only once; I only remember it as the small place we passed to get to the area’s dominant center, Haywood Mall. As we drove past, I remember that my uncle always seemed to comment, “That theater is supposed to be the largest in the south,” referring to the on-site Hollywood 20 Cinema. Whether this was true or not, I don’t know.

Greenville Mall Mallmanac ca. 1988. View the full PDF version here.

Truthfully, I don’t recall much about the mall. It was bright inside and pretty standard for the nineties interior. I remember just thinking how rare it was to see an up-market Parisian and a lower mid-market Montgomery Ward right next to each other. Other than that, it was a pretty unremarkable place. I could definitely see how Haywood Mall became top dog in Greenville.

I do know that the mall opened in 1978 and coexisted happily with Haywood until the latter expanded to the size that it is now. In the mid 90’s (when this mallmanac is dated), they re-tenanted with more upscale stores hoping to capture a niche market. This didn’t work out well and today, the mall seems to be pretty much dead.

Greenville Mall Mallmanac ca. 1997. View the full PDF version here.

13 November 2011

Shangri-La Plaza, Mandaluyong, Philippines

An emerging marketplace

The Philippines is a place of extremes. Right next to the gleaming glass towers of Makati’s central business district are blocks of informal settlements, more commonly known as slums. The weather is basically half a year of non-stop rain and half a year of bone dry skies. Even their shopping is extreme. While the vast majority of the population make their purchases at their local market, or palengke in Tagalog, and at the nearest sari-sari store, the privileged few get to browse in some of the largest and most extravagant shopping malls in the world.

1- The main entrance on Shaw Boulevard. 2- The Grand Atrium above center court. 3- The view of Shangri-La Plaza from my condominium.

As of this writing, three of the world’s seven largest malls are located in Metro Manila. And they are huge. They’re all encompassing as well; Victor Gruen would be happy to see how they have developed in this archipelago. More often than not, they contain supermarkets, doctors’ offices, cinemas, countless restaurants, residential space and more. This being said, of all the malls in Manila, Shangri-La Plaza is my favorite.

Shangri-La Plaza Lease Plan ca. 2011.  View the full PDF version here.

Affectionately known as The Shang, the seven level center is a paltry million square feet of gross leasable area. It is dwarfed by its next door neighbor, the 4.2 million square foot SM Megamall. However, I find it to be the much more impressive of the two. It is anchored by Rustan’s, considered to be the Philippines’ most upmarket department store, there is a massive food court in the basement level, and the Grand Atrium at Center Court, with its many unaligned escalators, mezzanines and staircases, is reminiscent of an M.C. Escher painting.

1- Shangri-La Plaza with Star Mall on the opposite side of EDSA. 2- An MRT train pulls into the Shaw Boulevard Station right next to Rustan's.

Each of the levels has its own theme. From the basement to the sixth level, they are respectively known as Food and Fun, home of the food court and the electronics sector; City Streets, a hodge-podge of different stores and an outdoor strip of nightclubs and restaurants; Casual Lifestyle, focusing on everyday fashion; Indulgences, offering upscale accoutrements; My Family, My Home with domestic design, child and baby stores; Urban Lifestyle, with fashion forward clothing and accessories marketed to the younger crowd; and Pleasures of Life on the top level, home of the cinemas and other entertainment venues. Shangri-La caters to people of most demographics with stores ranging from the upscale Coach and Tiffany’s to mid-market Marks & Spencer.

Around the Ortigas Center in Metro Manila.

When I moved to Manila, I specifically sought out a condominium in the Ortigas Center, a business district straddling the line between Pasig and Mandaluyong cities in which Shangri-La is located. Within walking distance are seven other malls including Saint Francis Square, the Podium, the SM Megamall and Robinson’s Galleria. I did most of my grocery shopping at Rustan’s supermarket and got prescriptions filled at Mercury Drug. I got my hair cut at a barber shop in the basement area, and there was a great little natural foods store that had one of the best selections of wine that I’ve seen in the country. It was perfect. Everything that I needed was just a few steps outside of my building.

1- Shangri-La Plaza with my former residence building in the background. 2- The Saint Francis Shangri-La Place twin residential towers. 3- A fire that started in the mall's basement viewed from my condo window. No major damage occurred, but Rustan's Supermarket was closed for a few months.

The MRT (Manila’s light rail system) has a station directly connected to the mall that I used daily to commute to and from work. There are a series of skyways and bridges that connected Shangri-La to two other malls, EDSA Central and Star Mall. I’ve always wanted to live in an urban environment where a car isn’t a necessity, and living right next to Shangri-La allowed me to do that.

Like most Philippine malls, it is pretty unremarkable from the outside. It is an unassuming concrete block washed in dull yellow paint. It is surrounded by scores of high-rise buildings, further diminishing its presence. There are no surface lots, just several parking decks and rooftop spaces. Finding a place in the carpark can be quite the hassle, and I would merely smile at all of the cars in the queue for entry as I walked right past them and to my own condominium just a short stroll away.

The Saint Francis Shangri-La Place tower complex.

Without a doubt, the most impressive part of the facility is its residential portion. The seven levels of shopping are punctuated by the 60 story tall twin towers, The Saint Francis Shangri-La Place. At just under 700 feet tall each, they are the tallest residential buildings in the entire country, as well as the tallest skyscrapers of any kind in the Ortigas Center.

Shangri-La Plaza may not be the largest mall in the area, but I found it to be the best by far showing that, once again, bigger may not necessarily be better.

12 November 2011

Madison Square, Huntsville, AL

A mall of my youth and dead mall

7 January 2015 
19 December 2021
5 February 2023

Age fifteen was a time of major changes for me. I was beginning high school, my father had just retired from the Navy, and we moved from the big city of Virginia Beach to the largely rural exurbs of Huntsville, Alabama. In this town, nicknamed The Rocket City, was the third of the Malls of My Youth- Madison Square.

Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 1994. View the full PDF version here.

We had actually spent a bit of time in the area years before. We had family in Decatur with whom we stayed with during the summer of 1985 as we made our way from Florida to our new home in Virginia. We spent plenty of time at Decatur's Beltline Mall but really wanted to cross the river to the brand new shiny facility affectionately dubbed The Supermall. But to my own heartbreak and disappointment, that visit never materialized.

Madison Square Mall and vicinity from my window seat 10,000 feet up. As oldsters would say, "I remember when you couldn't spit without hitting a cotton field 'round thar."

Madison Square, on my first seeing it, was quite the impressive structure. The two tiered building loomed on the horizon for quite a distance along University Drive. The entire mall, anchors and all, was covered in dirty, sandy colored brick. It was an elongated khaki slab that stretched as far as the eye could see. (Or as they would say in the south, all the way past yonder.) Like Lynnhaven Mall, this monotony was only interrupted by the occasional dark glass entrance element. Unlike Lynnhaven, however, there was no focal point like The Atrium. Each mall entrance was only marked by a triangular stucco wedge of dull bronze, with the name madison square, all in lowercase letters, raised from the wedge surface. It was about as inviting as a Pyongyang prison.

1- Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 1999. View the full PDF version here.
2- Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 2001. View the full PDF version here.

The interior seemed to suffer from design schizophrenia. The lower level floor was covered in earthy toned ceramic tile, while the upper concourse was blanketed by wood in a parquet pattern. Absolute madness, it was! The skylights were a translucent manila color, giving all of the natural light that filtered downward an apocalyptic yellowish glow. The ceilings were layered around the skylights and seemed a bit dusty and dirty for a mall that was only coming up on its sixth birthday. It seemed that the walkways were a tad narrow, but all things considered, it was an absolute beauty.

1- Madison Square's original layout and anchor lineup. 2- Early nineties layout.

Few changes occurred throughout the years. There were never any expansions, just some anchor shuffling. They did reconfigure the food court, one of the best features of mall, and actually created a dead corner that only interrupted the natural flow of the space.

Madison Square's main entrance in the early nineties (1) and the early aughts (2.)

This was the first Mall of My Youth that I was able to access on my own, so we went there quite a bit. We weren’t the most gracious guests (I got kicked out of Tape World one time. For what reason, I don’t remember.) I even worked at the mall’s Waldenbooks for a few months but had to leave after they got on me one too many times for being rubbish at selling those damned Preferred Reader Cards.

Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 2003. View the full PDF version here.

In a city notorious for not having a whole lot to offer young people, Madison Square was the place to go. It ruled the retail scene for years, unchallenged in its trade area dominance. But changes were coming that, while good for the city’s retail scene as a whole, presented more than a few challenges for Huntsville’s oldest extant mall.

Only a few years separate these two CBL maps, but the changes are obvious and distressing.

Between 2002 and 2007, two new malls opened locally- the upper mid-market Parkway Place and the open-air Bridge Street Town Center. I realize that Bridge Street’s developers refer to it as a “lifestyle center,” but, by definition, its having a non-vehicular, pedestrian only common area makes it a shopping mall. So there. These days, the mall once called Super has one anchor darkened and another downgraded to a clearance center.

1- A rendering I made of Madison Square at age 15 completely from memory after only one visit. A few things are off, but I think it turned out to be fairly accurate. 2- Madison Square from above. (Source)

Besides a few cosmetic changes, the mall mostly remains just as it was when it opened in 1984, and CBL doesn’t seem to be too interested in investing in the old blonde building. The changes needed to keep the aging beige monolith relevant in today’s retail environment would be massive in scope and dollars, so I’m afraid that the guys in Chattanooga may just let this one go.

Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 2014. Three anchors are dark, one is probably on its way out and the other two represent companies in the process of failure. View the full PDF version here.


-7 January 2015

Even though all character has been radically removed from Lynnhaven Mall’s soul, at least it remains a viable retail entity. Conversely, even though the exterior at least still looks much the same as it did when it opened in 1984, Madison Square continues its downward spiral. Belk has vacated their space, which originally opened as a Parisian, for Bridge Street. Dillard’s maintains one level of their former full line store as a clearance center, while Sears and JCPenney are still clinging to life. Not promising. I’m expecting to read any day now that Dillard’s is pulling up stakes for some fancy and highfalutin exurban lifestyle center in Limestone County (with plenty of incentives, of course.) And we are all well aware of the crumbling foundations on which the venerable names JCPenney and Sears are built. However, with their Decatur locations now closed, that leaves these two as the only ones available between Florence and Chattanooga. So, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the old blonde, but my knuckles are getting tired...

-19 December 2021



1- The broken Madison Square sign just after demolition.  2- The escalators on the west side of the mall. (Source)  3- The elevator at center court. (Source)  4- The skylight over center court. (Source)

On January 29, 2017, the first of the three malls of my youth died.  Madison Square Mall’s doors, open for the previous 33 years, were closed for good.  I was disappointed to hear of its passing, but it ended a process started years earlier when the behemoth on University lost its status as the chief retail destination of the city.  It went home to the massive parking lot in the sky, joining four other malls in the city which had come and gone. 

1- Looking east toward JCPenney.  The corridor leading to Parisian/ Belk is just to the left.  2- Your basic JCPenney mall entrance.  3- Above the east court.  4- The court on the east side of the mall.  That "notch" on the upper level balcony to the right is where the east end escalators used to be.  5- The east escalators were moved closer to JCPenney as that end of the mall was the least vibrant to bring additional traffic, even when the mall was healthy.  6- The darkened corridors. (Source for all)

I was glad to have the memories, but it was time for it to move on.  My first visit back home after leaving in 2008 was in 2017.  A friend brought me to see the site, and by then it was just a pile of rubble.  In a fast-growing city like Huntsville, prime pieces of real estate like this don’t sit idle for very long.  A replacement development, called the MidCityDistrict, was already in the works to rise from Madison Square’s gravesite.

1- The west court.  To the right is the former location of Pizitz/ McRae's/ Belk.  2- The skylight over the east court.  3- Looking up at the west court skylight.  4- The shuttered entrance to the Parisian/ Belk anchor.  5- Neglected furniture in the quiet halls.  6- The lonely mall directory... (Source for all)

When I moved away from Huntsville in 2008, Madison Square was already in decline but was still a somewhat viable destination.  I should have made the stop at least once to take a few snapshots, but I never did.  So, thanks goes to AL.com for many of these photos that were taken just before its closing. 

Cheers to the old blonde supermall on University.

-5 February 2023

Almost all signs have been obliterated of the first of the three malls of my youth to fall.  There are a couple of old “tombstone” signs still sitting just off of the main roads surrounding the spot where it once stood, but the main building and even the out lot movie theaters are gone.  The only remaining structure even slightly showing signs of Madison Square Mall is the Holiday Inn located just to the northwest outside of the ring road.

1- One of the old Madison Square signs altered for MidCity.  2- The main entrance and Trader Joe's off University.  3- The Holiday Inn, the only structure remaining from the mall days.  4- The view of MidCity coming off of University Drive.  5- The view from the north.  6- The view from the east.

Although it is sad that Madison Square is gone, I'm pretty stoked about what's being built.  MidCity District is under construction in full force and it already seems to be a hot spot for new stores coming to what is now Alabama’s largest city.  It’s attracted a Top Golf, Dave and Buster’s, REI, Wahlburgers and Trader Joe’s.  And it’s still growing, with many urban style apartments, an amphitheater and even a kayak course in the works.

1- MidCity Drive, the District's main street.  2- Looking south down MidCity Drive.  3- REI is one of the retail anchors of MidCity.  4- Dave and Buster's.  5- Morgan Echol's colorful shipping container art piece.  6- The Little Richard mural.

On my most recent visit in October of 2022, I finally got to see what all of the fuss was about The Camp.  Calling itself “Huntsville’s coolest outdoor destination” there are several food truck style food vendors, coffee shops and stages of various sizes.  It hosts special events such as Mardi Gras and Halloween festivities.  It’s kind of hard to describe as there are very few places like it.

Scenes of The Camp, all decked out for Halloween.

Also sprouting on Madison Square’s grave is the Orion Amphitheater.  Opening in May 2022, the venue has already attracted acts such as Jack White, Jason Isbell, Brittany Howard, and Stevie Nicks (on Halloween, no less.)  They also host community events like Huntsville’s Gay Pride and a winter park in the lead-up to Christmas.  It’s been lauded by Jason Isbell and Rolling Stone as one of the top new music venues in the country.

The 8,000 seat Orion Amphitheater.

Also under construction are several more hotels and apartment buildings including Encore MidCity and The Metronome net-zero apartments catering to Huntsville’s transient military and government workers.  There are murals and artwork scattered throughout, such as a portrait commemorating Little Richard, who was buried in Huntsville not far from the site, and a colorful shipping container mural by Morgan Echols located in the center of the main retail strip.

The residential buildings of MidCity under construction.

I’ll always be a mall guy through and through.  Hell, that’s what this blog is about.  But even I know that shopping malls in the traditional sense are on their way out.  Even the best performers in their markets are having struggles.  Madison Square Mall’s time has surely passed, and the city has moved on.  The plans look great and there’s much more to come, and I can’t wait to see what else MidCity brings to the fast-growing Rocket City.

MidCity District pamphlet ca. 2022. View the full PDF version here.

Though I don’t love that MidCity offers no interior walkways to waste hours of my day, non-MTV watching adult me really likes what’s there now.  It’s really much more in tune with this new version of Huntsville, Alabama.  It seems the trade-off for the city’s amazing progress and growth is losing some of the outdated places that we loved.  No more Southern Adventures or Funtasia; The Mall or University Six.  But now I can find amazing locally brewed beers, one of the largest privately owned artist facilities in the country and a revitalized downtown packed with new hotels, restaurants and bars.  It’s a good trade-off; and I’ll always have my memories.

The outdoorsy western side of MidCity including High Point Climbing & Fitness, the future Apollo Park kayak course, and Top Golf.

This will be my last update for Madison Square Mall.  Anything new will be updated in the post for MidCity District.