7 January 2015
24 September 2023
It's difficult 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.
1- Southgate Mall's initial set up featuring Roger's and Woolco. 2- 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.
1- The Southgate Mall sign at the corner of Highway 43 and Avalon Avenue. This was my only indication that a mall was even there. 2- The very old-timey lattice portico at the mall's main entrance. 3- Southgate's exterior along Avalon from the southwest. 4- The mall from the southeast. 5- The old Woolco then Wal-Mart sits empty. 6- The mall's center court ready for the Christmas crowds.
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 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.
The stripey exterior of Roger's.
It was small, but adequate for the town. Roger's was a real draw in the middle, while Footlocker, Bookland, Blockbuster Music as well as a slew of other chains boasted locations. Then Wal-Mart, in their kill all competitors modus operandi, 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 jewelry 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.
Southgate Shopping Center pamphlet ca. 2011. View the full PDF version here.
More businesses moved into the front of the old Wal-Mart, including a Tractor Supply Store. A Walgreens Health Initiative facility 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 Roger's, one of the very last small town based department stores surviving into the new millennium, outlasting institutions like Parisian and Castner Knott.
Interior shots of Southgate. Some things never change.
Unfortunately, Roger's would eventually 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.
-7 January 2015
Though I can’t seem to find much information online, it seems that Southgate, which has dropped the “Mall” for “Shopping Center,” has closed off its interior. I’ll post more information as I find it. Sad news, indeed.
New pics from the mid-2000s.
-24 September 2023
After a brief stint as Southgate Shopping Center, Aronov has again renamed it, this time as Southgate Plaza. But it’ll always be Southgate Mall to me.
Southgate Plaza pamphlet ca. 2021. View the full PDF version here.
Muscle Shoals is a growing town and that alone does keep Southgate going, although the handful of remaining shops only have exterior entrances. Very few future plans have been presented for the site, so the building itself should stick around for a while, even though the interior concourse may no longer be accessible. A slight setback struck the facility in late August 2023 when all of the tenants were forced to shut down temporarily due to fire safety issues. Though able to open just a few days later, this does reveal shortcomings in the overall maintenance of the site.