09 February 2015

Southgate Mall, Elizabeth City, NC

A relic of retail

I just ADORE these tiny town gems. From Jasper Mall in Alabama to Columbia Mall (formerly Shady Brook) in Tennessee, those diminutive hamlets that were lucky enough to get an indoor retail complex during the height of their proliferation were the lucky ones. The ongoing existence of these particular structures really pleases me, and they are the ones for which I really push to survive. Once they've met their demise, these Mayberrys may never see another such facility within their borders.

L- Southgate Mall's sign. (Source) R- Originally W.T. Grant, this location of JCPenney will soon be closing. (Source)

This one is the only shopping mall in the Hampton Roads region that I never had the chance to see in person. A big reason was that as long as I lived in Virginia Beach, I never even knew it existed. Southgate Mall is located just to the south of the bulk of the area's population, just across the state line in North Carolina. We never ventured out to Elizabeth City. That name only existed as several mentions on the news and in the weather. So, one can surmise how joyfully amazed I was to discover that they had their very own indoor facility.

Southgate Mall's anchor line up at its 1969 opening.

Southgate Mall, when looked at in the context of the rest of Hampton Roads, was the second of its type to be built in the area. The ribbon cutting in 1969 was a mere three years after that of Virginia Beach's Pembroke Mall. The quarter of a million square foot shopping center debuted with anchors Belk-Taylor and W. T. Grant. Along the main concourse, junior anchors Peoples Drug and a Winn-Dixie supermarket made their homes.

L- Belk before the painting of the arches. (Source) R- The distinctive concrete design elements up close. (Source)

This Belk location continues to be something truly exceptional. It was conceived as the company's new suburban prototype, as their business plan was evolving from one based on downtown markets to being more suburban centered. Most noteworthy are the distinctive concrete entrance arches, their nearly brutal nature holding my interest for far much longer than the present day standard single arch stucco clone. As far as I can tell, this is the only prototype location that holds on to these relics of the past, albeit softened when recently painted.

Southgate Mall's layout in 2014.

Belk's companion anchor, located at the western end of the barbell shaped structure, was occupied by Grants on the opening day. In 1974, the five-and-dime departed Southgate but was fairly quickly replaced by Rose's, a discount department store in the vein of Bradlees or Zayre. When this location was closed by the company, JCPenney took over after a few years of vacancy. Unfortunately, this location will soon be empty as it finds itself a victim of the latest round of the Dallas-based department store's restructuring.

Southgate Mall lease plan, ca. 2014. View the full PDF version here.

As the only enclosed retail complex in northeastern North Carolina, hopefully Southgate will keep chugging along. Elizabeth City is somewhat isolated from its larger urban neighbors across the state line, so it's good for these folks to have somewhere to hang out besides the local Wal-Mart or Hardee's. And although I've never actually stepped within its forty-six year old walls, hopefully they'll still be standing for a long time so that I can see for myself on my next visit to the region.

Southgate Mall's official website

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