01 May 2013

Knoxville Center (East Towne Mall), Knoxville, TN

A dead mall

26 December 2021

During the late eighties, our family took several road trips in the old station wagon between Virginia Beach and Huntsville. I loved the change from coastal plains to the piedmont through to the green peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, but I mostly looked forward to the cities through which we'd be passing. And one of my favorites was always the eastern Tennessee metropolis of Knoxville.

East Towne Mall Mallmanac ca. 1996. View the full PDF version here.

Nestled in the heart of Smokey Mountain country, the town hosts the University of Tennessee, the Sunsphere from the 1982 World's Fair, and one of the most distinctive malls that I had seen in my (by that time) short 12 years.

L- East Towne Mall around the time of its renovation and renaming. R- Knoxville Center in 2010, just before Dillard's closing.

Speeding along I-640 through the city's hilly eastern environs, I would never have noticed East Towne Mall had it not been for its distinctive white tents. It was a plain, mud brown building that was almost indistinguishable from its surrounding terrain, but the fabric centerpiece gave it away. In the midst of fighting with my older brother for back seat dominance and trying to stay occupied in those years before cell phones and vehicular entertainment systems, whizzing by the place was one of the highlights of the trip.

-UPDATE- Knoxville Center lease plan ca. 2011.  View the full PDF version here.

The mall opened in 1984 on the opposite side of town from Knoxville's other mall, the aptly named West Town Mall. In 1997, the mall was fully renovated and the name changed to The Knoxville Center. When I did finally get to visit the mall in 1996 instead of just speeding by, it was with my boyfriend at the time, as his hometown was nearby. He couldn't understand why I wanted to go to that mall when West Town was so much better. He just didn't understand that to us retail nerds, malls are more than just places to shop and eat. They're an experience in and of themselves. And, after about thirty minutes of experiencing every shade of brown imaginable in the interior and rows of empty storefronts, I was ready to head to the other side of town to do some real shopping.

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