11 February 2022

Anchorage Fifth Avenue Mall, Anchorage, AK

 An extant asset

After a freezing, damp and snowy visit to Juneau, my next stop was Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage.  After a stunningly beautiful flight over the snow-covered peaks of the Chugach Mountains of southern Alaska, we descended over the broken ice of Cook Inlet and under bright blue skies.  Just like that, I found myself for the first time in the largest metropolis of the Last Frontier.

Landing into Anchorage Ted Stevens International Airport

I just so happened to be visiting during the weekend of the Fur Rendezvous Festival, known colloquially as Furrondy.  Essentially, Furrondy is a large street fair smack dab in the center of downtown during the middle of the cold dark winter.  There were prize booths and fair food vendors as well as carnival rides, and I enjoyed seeing crowds and bright lights on the streets when they would otherwise be fairly empty.  But after taking in the sights, it was time to turn to my attention to my planned retail destination- the Anchorage Fifth Avenue Mall.

Scenes around downtown Anchorage, including Furrondy and its fireworks.

In a city that experiences more of the wrath of winter than most anywhere in the country, there are several malls in Anchorage to keep its citizens warm and cozy while contributing to the economy.  There is the Mall at Sears, now called Midtown Mall, a small facility which used to house the city’s only, you guessed it, Sears.  There is also the Dimond Center with its ice-skating rink and absence of a full-line traditional department store anchor.  Then there is The Mall at Northway, which unfortunately closed in 2020.  But the large monolith on Fifth Avenue reigns supreme.

The Anchorage Fifth Avenue Mall lease plan ca. 2010.  See the full PDF version here.

Anchorage Fifth Avenue Mall’s position is anomalous compared to other markets in that, as an urban, vertical mall, it dominates the retail sector over its more suburban peers.  It was anchored at the time by Nordstrom and JCPenney and boasts four levels and 447,000 square feet of space under a quite attractive central atrium.

TL- Sixth Avenue entrance.  TR- The Fifth Avenue exterior.  BL- The Nordstrom building.  BR- JCPenney off of Fifth.

It was Saturday night, so the mall was quite lively especially with Furrondy only a couple of blocks away.  It had all of your first-tier mall basics like The Apple Store, Sephora and Eddie Bauer but also hosted a marketplace for local merchants to sell their wares on the bottom level.  I loved browsing the native Alaskan artwork and crafts.  I hope that it was a permanent installation and wasn’t just set up for that weekend’s festivities.  

1- Vacant at the time, now the home of Tent City Taphouse.  2- The JCPenney parking deck.  3- Looking west on Sixth Avenue from the Nordstrom skywalk.  4- Looking east from the same place.

I got a bite to eat in the fourth level food court, which was filled with a diverse array of culinary styles, but it was soon time to go.  It was my birthday, dammit, and I was ready to trudge my way through the snow to the northern most gay bar in the US.  At the time, cell phone data for any carrier besides AT&T was pretty much non-existent, so as the Lyft app was useless and I didn’t have the number of any cab companies, I bid farewell to Anchorage Fifth Avenue mall before making the long, and somewhat treacherous, walk down Fourth Avenue.

The Anchorage Fifth Avenue Mall lease plan ca. 2013.  See the full PDF version here.

It was a blast.  At least what I remember of it was.  I LOVE Anchorage.  And though I haven’t made my way back since, I definitely plan on going again.  I think that everyone should.  No, you won’t run into any Yetis or moose (at least not in the city) but, just like Juneau, everywhere you look there seemed to be a stuffed grizzly or Kodiak brown bear.

1- Looking toward center court.  2- The center court mezzanines from the fourth floor.  3- The Nordstrom entrance.  4- The JCPenney corridor.  5- Looking up toward the atrium.  6- The fourth floor food court.

Anchorage Fifth Avenue Mall was opened in 1987 by its original developers, The Rainier Fund and JCPenney.  Unfortunately, it opened during an economic downturn in Alaska caused by the eighties oil crisis which left the mall only a quarter leased for its first few years.  Simon later took over the mall in the mid-nineties and has held it in their portfolio since.  Although the JCPenney continues to hang on, Nordstrom closed its doors in 2019.  That was too bad; even for a company known for their friendly staff, the people at this location were exceptionally great.

The Anchorage Fifth Avenue Mall Mallmanac ca. 2017.  See the full PDF version here.

I planned on visiting Dimond later the next day, but hangover maintenance took precedence.  I stayed in my hotel room that morning and watched the sun circle us at its sunken position in the sky before it was time to make my way to the airport for the relatively short flight home.  I guess that missing Dimond was for the best; it gives me another reason to hurry back.  That and another trip to The Raven.

Anchorage Fifth Avenue Mall official website

06 February 2022

Nugget Mall, Juneau, AK

 A relic of retail

The Nugget Mall's main entrance.

It took me way too damn long to visit Alaska for the first time.  After having lived the closest one possibly could to the Last Frontier in the lower 48 for several years, I decided to make the trip on my birthday (in February) in 2018.  Anchorage was my ultimate destination, but to get there I took advantage of one of Alaska Airlines’ milk run routes to hit the state capital of Juneau along the way.

The dramatic arrival into Juneau International Airport during a February snowstorm

Following a breathtaking, snow drenched landing into Juneau International Airport, I breathed that clean Alaska air for the first time.  I spent the first part of my trip walking the streets of downtown which, considering the time of year, were thankfully covered by inches of fresh snow rather than tons of cruise ship tourists.  I’ll always be glad that this was the first way I got to see the city.

Scenes of downtown Juneau

After slipping and sliding my southern backside up and down the hills of downtown, I had one more stop to make before returning to the airport and setting off for my final destination of Anchorage. Not far from the airport, in fact close enough that had it not been snowing so heavily I could have walked there, was the Nugget Mall.

Inside the Nugget Mall

The Nugget Mall, along with Mendenhall Mall, is one of two in the diminutive state capital.  It’s an unassuming, low-slung box located in the northwestern section of the city proper.  It wasn’t much to look at, there were no major department stores as anchors just big boxes, but it sure as hell was cozy after walking in from temperatures in the twenties and non-stop snow.

Nugget Mall lease plan ca. 2017.  See the full PDF version here.

Nugget Mall opened in 1974 on a 12-acre lot on Glacier Highway. Although never a smashing success, it has remained a viable retail option in the city through its many decades.  Anchored on my visit by Jo-Ann’s Fabrics, Office Max, Petco and Sportsman’s Warehouse, it attracts an established looking clientele into its intimately lighted hallways.  There are a handful of closed storefronts, though I would hesitate to call the mall dying.  It seems to offer a warm, social respite in a city where there’s probably not much else to do in the winter.

Scenes of the Nugget Mall.

There have been proposals on how the mall will function going forward including the addition of vertical elements.  Nugget Mall fell into receivership in 2017 in hopes of attracting more capital, though not much has actually been carried out.  Of course, I hope it sticks around.  It seems like a nice place for the locals to gather when the summertime tourists invade the city during the high season. 

Riverbend Mall, Rome, GA

 A dead mall

Rome, Georgia is a quant little town in the northwestern mountains of the state.  Just a pit stop halfway along the back roads route from Huntsville to Atlanta, the town of 37,000 hasn't seen much growth over the last several decades.  But it has seen two indoor shopping malls opened in its market.  The first was Riverbend Mall.

Riverbend Mall opened in 1975 on the banks of the Etowah River just south of the downtown area of the city.   It opened with Miller Brothers and Belk Rhodes as the main anchors, though Miller's was later replaced with Hess's.  At its peak, a JCPenney, one of the smallest mall locations in the chain, was added.  

Riverbend Mall Mallmanac ca. 1975.  See the full PDF version here.

Though fairly successful in its day, it did endure a few hardships.  The infamous kidnapping and subsequent murder in 1982 of Lisa Ann Millican took place at Riverbend Mall.  Then in 1990, the Etowah River overflowed and flooded the property, leading to its closure for several months.  But it's death knell rang loudest with the opening of Mount Berry Square in 1991.  The 4 anchor mall debuted on the city's northern fringes to much fanfare.  Riverbend faded away in the shadow of its new, glitzier competition and in 2002 finally closed its doors.

Riverbend Mall satellite view. (Source)

Today on the banks of the Etowah River, Riverbend soldiers on as quite the successful power center.  Its proximity to the city gives it a big advantage over the curiously placed Mount Berry Mall.  The newer mall is seeing struggles of its own and has lost two of its anchors.  In addition to being built much too large for the small town, it was built in an area near Mount Berry College but not much else.  Funny how retail trends go and the killers of these first and second generation malls are fighting through struggles of their own.

Riverbend Mall on Wikipedia