I am feeling nostalgic for the mall

Gwinnett Place Mall photo by Robert J. Nebel
For me and most likely folks across the country, I can get nostalgic. For me, I recently got a bit nostalgic when I caught a few minutes of the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Much of the 1982 film takes place in a thriving American mall. I’ve always connected with those scenes which was a good part of my life growing up on Ohio’s North Coast. When I was there in the 1970s and 80s, folks were excited by malls which featured futuristic looks, cutting-edge shops, eateries and movie theaters.

The explosive growth of malls was no exception to the Cleveland, Ohio metropolitan area. It was happening everywhere. Malls seemed like they were symbols of American financial and marketing success which would never end. How could I ever forget this one mall that was touted as being like something out of a science fiction film with its long ramps and bright hues in the mid-1970s? I hear that mall is now long-gone. Then there’s another mall that pre-dated me. I have no idea what happened to that one but I recall it featured an anchor department store by the name of Halle’s and another called Higbee’s. One cannot get any more 1960s than those names.

Something unfortunate happened to the malls throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s: the rise of the Internet. Unless one has been living up in the mountains of Colorado or in the hills of West Virginia off the grid all the years, it’s obvious that electronic retailers ranging from Amazon and Jet to traditional stores’ websites took a lot of business away from the modern malls and strip centers.

Add the “e-tailer” issue with brick mortar competition dilemma and you have struggling malls throughout the country. In the Atlanta metro area one such mall is Gwinnett Place Mall. Gwinnett Place Mall is about 30 miles north of Atlanta’s downtown in the county named after Button Gwinnett, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. No, Button couldn’t foresee all this mall activity back in his day, but he would be a bit concerned by how the area looks these days. This once-bustling mall is now a shell of its former self.

Gwinnett Place Mall, top level - photo by Robert J. Nebel
In recent years, there has been much talk of redeveloping Gwinnett Place Mall, but now, it’s a challenging situation with scores of vacant shops, a Macy’s department store and at the other end of Gwinnett Place, a dated-looking Sears. When I first arrived in the area nearly three decades ago, it was a lively place. Today, it’s sad and seems quite smaller with so many abandoned retail spots. Even the place where I used to get my shoes repaired left due to a fire in their shop. A few jewelers are there as well as an Abercrombie and Fitch (as of this writing).

The bright spots for me at Gwinnett Place is the Macy’s which features some nice clothes and handbags. They even have a ‘Backstage’ area where there is reduced merchandise. At certain times, I go to Professional Bodyworks for massages. The Payless Shoes outlet across the way offers some great deals. It looks like there are some nice nail places as well.

Mega Mart at Gwinnett Place Mall photo by Robert J. Nebel
The Mega Mart Korean grocery store looks to be like a star attraction at the mall, but it truly seems out of place. Therefore, Gwinnett Place needs to be imploded and re-developed to make Mega Mart look more attractive in the area which hopefully would attract more brick and mortar stores. Perhaps if Gwinnett Place could become more of an outdoor walkable mall area mixed with dynamic shops, housing and public transportation access.

It would be a dream to have the area’s public transportation network -- MARTA -- run a rail line from its most northern point stop in nearby Doraville -- up to a reinvigorated Gwinnett Place, but that will probably never happen. Would could be realistic is better participation from county transit with more buses and other vehicles serving the area. Even with the struggling mall, the area’s traffic is still abysmal. Public transportation needs to be a part of this area’s future as well as the rest of the metro area’s future.

Indeed, we cannot go “Back to the Future” by trying to get new tenants in dated shopping structures like Gwinnett Place Mall. Also, there are still thriving malls like DeKalb County’s Perimeter Mall and Atlanta’s Lenox Square Mall and Phipps Plaza, but there are many more sad malls out there like Gwinnett Place. Innovative new thinking needs to come into play with malls like Gwinnett Place.  

An Asian community center is one bright spot in Gwinnett Place Mall photo by Robert J. Nebel


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