Tuesday, June 25, 2024

[SPECIAL] A Look at the Past, Present and Future of North DeKalb Mall

Nearly three years after completing their purchase of North DeKalb Mall, real estate firm EDENS will June 26 host a ceremonial demolition event [despite the fact that demolition  started June 24] to mark the start of their planned decade long redevelopment plan.  

With nearly all of the recent reports focusing solely on the future of the project, we here at ToNeTo Atlanta, want to take a walk down memory lane and look at the mall's past, too.  (Interestingly, a site plan for Lulah Hills shows a strange "Mysterious Way" within the project which seems like a missed opportunity to call it Memory Lane.)  

ToNeTo Atlanta founder Eli Zandman grew up not far from North DeKalb Mall and always looked forward to visits to the mall and its many restaurant, retail, and entertainment options. 

North DeKalb Center, as the mall was first known, opened in 1965 with fifty-five stores including Rich's department store.  The mall was heralded as "the city's first weatherproof mall" in articles ahead of its opening. The mall debuted one year after Columbia Mall (aka Avondale Mall) opened along Memorial Drive near Avondale Estates, about seven miles away.  Columbia Mall suffered from some of the same demographic and economic changes that later plagued North DeKalb but their fate was sealed far sooner.  

Columbia Mall originally had both a Davison's (Macy's) and Sears.  The mall, like North DeKalb, saw the addition of a movie theater long after the mall was built.  Zandman recalls fondly seeing Mighty Ducks 3 at Avondale Mall Cinema 16.  After years of neglect and store closures, the mall closed in 2001, was demolished in 2007, and was replaced by a Walmart Supercenter in 2008.  

North DeKalb Mall had everything a kid in the 90s could want:  Mark's Hallmark for Beanie Babies, Sav-On Plants for "rare" [overpriced] Beanie Babies, RadioShack to look at cool gadgets like the Walkman you wanted, Bath & Body Works for a gift for the cute girl you liked, Challenges for arcade games and your first introduction to Mortal Kombat, Electronics Boutique for games for your Nintendo 64, Waldenbooks for books like Goosebumps and Animorphs, KB Toys for toys and model cars, Camelot Music (later FYE) for the Brittney Spears album "Baby One More Time," Foot Locker where Zandman purchased a Nike hat he still wears today, Everything's a Dollar to buy dumb stuff, Stein Mart to ignore and wonder who shopped there, Rich's (Macy's) to get your first Tommy Hilfiger rugby,  Mervyn's (later Uptons) for "cool" school clothes, Gap for "basic" school clothes, Rack Room Shoes when your mom was still dressing you (and paying for your shoes),  Woolworth's to waste allowance money, Gorin's Homemade Cafe for ice cream, duh, Wolf Camera to develop the photos you'd taken on your camera - there was little the mall did not have.  

Although we were not around for the mall's original tenants, research and readers tell us of favorites like Colonial Stores (later Big Star) H. Stockton, Zachry, Regenstein's (women's & children's apparel), Dipper Dan's Ice Cream, North DeKalb Theatre (before and in a separate space than today's AMC) Davis Brothers Cafeteria, C & C Rexall Drugs and F.W. Woolworth's Restaurant, among other early tenants.  

North DeKalb Center tenant list circa 1970 

For a few years the mall was also home to Phar-Mor, a large format discount drug store that Walmart founder Sam Walton once famously said was the competitor he feared most.  Phar-Mor occupied anchor space previously home to Lechmere, a Massachusetts-based retail chain.  Phar-Mor filed for bankruptcy first in 1992 before closing several stores, including the North DeKalb Mall store.    The company filed for bankruptcy for a second and final time in 2001.  AMC North DeKalb 16 opened in the former Phar-Mor on December 13, 1996.  

Former Phar-Mor loading docks 

The mall food court was also previously home to Chick-fil-A, Sbarro, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Subway, and other mall mainstays.  Perfect Pretzel and Freshens each occupied separate space in and around the food court, too. 

Former Chick-fil-A

Earlier in its life, the mall also had Spinnaker's, a seafood restaurant, and Bonanza Steakhouse, a once ubiquitous casual dining destination, among other restaurants.   

Former Applebee's

Sit down restaurants such as Buffalo's Cafe, Johnny Rockets, and Applebee's opened in the mall in the late 90s and early 2000s but Buffalo's and Johnny Rockets closed first, followed by Applebee's in 2013.  Adjacent to the food court, the mall was also home to the only Dippin' Dots walk-in shop we had ever seen.  The shop had a cosmic theme and was definitely different from your typical ice cream shop but it didn't last long.  

One of the last locations of Little Bucks to ever open debuted in the mall around 2004 in the Burlington wing.  The store, bankrolled by several high-profile Atlantans, launched in 2002 and went bankrupt in early 2005.  The store's premise was simple, sell everything, even $1 Georgia Lottery Tickets, for just 99 cents.  The idea was great for customers where opening promotions included nine televisions, nine Game-Boys, and nine Razor scooters each for 99 cents.  The company also lost a penny on each lottery ticket sold.  Ultimately the company filed for bankruptcy and went away entirely.   Notable investors in the business included founder I. J. Rosenberg, a sportswriter-turned-stockbroker-turned-entrepreneur, Michael J. Coles, co-founder of Great American Cookie Co., Jay Davis, Chairman & CEO of National Distributing Company, and Ronald M. Brill, co-founder of The Home Depot, among others. 

The mall had been trending downward for more than a decade with closures of stores like The Athlete's Foot, Payless ShoeSource, Stein Mart, FYE, The Children's Place and Mattress Firm, but chain-store closures started to accelerate in 2016 when Macy's closed their longstanding store and adjacent auto center at the mall - occupying the Rich's space - making it the longest-running, continuously operating tenant in the mall to close. ROSS Dress For Less (in a converted Old Navy) relocated to the redeveloped Suburban Plaza, and Rack Room Shoes closed, too.  






Play It Again Sports fled the mall in 2017, reopening in nearby North Decatur Plaza while GNC and Foot locker closed entirely.  Late 2017 also brought the closures of Wendy's and Bath & Body Works.  Dollar Tree and The United States Post Office, both located on the exterior of the mall near Marshalls, closed, too, consolidating operations with other nearby locations.  Burlington (in the former Uptons/Mervyn's) left the mall in 2021 when they opened a new store at Briarcliff Village near Northlake Mall.   



Challenges, a North DeKalb mainstay for decades, had in more recent years adopted the "Challenges Comics & Games"  branding to more accurately reflect their move from arcade games to other games like Magic The Gathering, Warhammer, Dungeons & Dragons, Heroclix as well as comic books, tabletop games, and board games.  Challenges relocated to nearby Northlake Mall this past June.   

In recent years, the mall has been a popular filming location with movies and shows including Netflix's “Cobra Kai,” “The Mule” starring Clint Eastwood, “MacGyver” and “Zombieland: Double Tap .” The final season of the hit Netflix show "Ozark" also shot in the mall with a significant meeting immediately identifiable (to us, at least) as within the former Rich's (Macy's) wing of the mall.  

Cobra Kai 


Cobra Kai 

Several 90s storefronts were recreated in 2019 for the filming of R.L. Stine's "Fear Street Part 1: 1994," a Netflix horror movie that involves, among other things, a "mall massacre."  ToNeTo Atlanta covered preparations for the production in April 2019 which included photos of several returning stores from the mall's heyday like Casual Corner and RadioShack, among others.  A Nickelodeon and Paramount+ film "A Loud House Christmas" was filmed at the mall in 2021. 

B. Dalton Bookseller from Fear Street Part 1: 1994

Tick Tock Tavern from Fear Street Part 1: 1994

Fear Street Part 1: 1994

Ozark 

The mall redevelopment project, Lulah Hills, is expected to include a mix of single-family and multifamily residential, and retail and hotel space, among other uses.  

"Our 73-acre mixed-use shopping destination in Atlanta's North DeKalb County is the evolution of community, designed to inspire all who visit. Encompassing 2.5 million square feet—including 320,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 1,700 for-rent multifamily units, 100 townhomes and a PATH Foundation greenway trail connecting Lulah Hills to Emory University."  

Columbia, South Carolina-based EDENS acquired the roughly 73 acre property from West Palm Beach-based Sterling Organization in a September 2021 transaction valued at $43 million.  EDENS is the latest of several developers to have purchased the property over the past twenty years or so hoping to redevelop it but is the first to actually get to demolition day.

A 2018 effort - Decatur Landing - was to be anchored by a Costco store, but after county and community unhappiness over elements of the developer's plans, was abandoned. 

 

EDENS closed off public access to the interior of the mall in 2020 but vandals have over the years found ways in and have done extensive damage.







The mall is currently home to just two tenants: AMC North DeKalb Mall 16 and Marshalls (in a converted Rhodes Furniture).  A freestanding Golden Corral is also still in operation in an outparcel of the mall along Lawrenceville Highway.  An EDENS released site plan suggests that the two mall tenants - likely protected by existing leases - are not going anywhere...for now.  It's unclear if both will remain in the project long-term with an EDENS representative telling ToNeTo Atlanta recently that "answers to many of these questions" will come via a press kit after this week's demolition ceremony.  

The board of the Decide DeKalb Development Authority voted unanimously this past December to grant $70 million in tax reimbursements over a 15 year period to EDENS as an incentive for the company’s redevelopment of North DeKalb Mall.  

The company indicated this past fall that the first retail spaces should be open in 2025, with the first mixed-use buildings expected to open in 2026. Additional retail and residential space will be added in stages through about 2033.  The overall development represents a nearly $1 billion investment.  

EDENS currently owns eight shopping centers in metro Atlanta including both Toco Hills Promenade and Toco Hills Shopping Center at Toco Hills, as well as several properties in Buckhead.  Since its acquisition, EDENS has added several new local and national businesses to Toco Hills including Westside Market, Spiller Park Coffee, Chopt, Club Pilates, Flying Biscuit Café, Yumbii, Ulta Beauty, Conte's Bike Shop, and most recently, Stilla Del Toro, a local Spanish tapas restaurant.  

Patience, something it seems Sterling, and Hendon before it ran out of, is something EDENS has been shown to have.  Moores Mill, a Publix-anchored center that EDENS developed at Moores Mill Road on Atlanta's "Upper Westside," opened in May 2017 after more than ten years of setbacks.  EDENS officially sold Moores Mill to InvenTrust Properties Corp. this past April for $28 million.  

EDENS has not yet named any specific new tenants for Lulah Hills but real estate sources have told ToNeTo Atlanta for months that Publix plans to relocate its store from Shamrock Plaza to the new development .  

In addition to the core mall property, EDENS wants to also include two outparcels in the overall redevelopment, according to an email sent to neighbors.  The developer wants to include - and have rezoned from C-1 to MU-4 - 2052 Lawrenceville Highway and 3861 North Druid Hills Road.  EDENS presented its plans June 24 via a virtual Zoom call.  The roughly 1.1 acre Lawrenceville Highway property, once home to a full-service Bank of America (originally Citizens & Southern National Bank) branch, currently functions only as a drive-thru ATM for the bank.  The approximately .4 acre North Druid Hills parcel was previously a Meineke car care center but has been vacant for some time.

  

DeKalb County tax records do not yet reflect a sale of the Bank of America property but do indicate that an affiliate of EDENS paid $1.25M for the Meineke site this past July.  

A triple drive-thru Chick-fil-A at 3905 North Druid Hills Road in front of the mall, closed as of June 15, and will reportedly soon be demolished but it remains unclear what will become of that property.  A new Chick-fil-A - that has not three drive-thru lanes but zero - opened June 20 on the site of a former Pier 1 [Imports] at 3795 North Druid Hills Road.  

Costco, which has been linked to the North DeKalb property at least twice over the past two decades, appears out of contention for space in Lulah Hills, according to both sources close to the project and the lack of availability on publicized site plans. 

Although not here to read it himself, we can't help but think of how much our longtime friend, fan, and mentor Sherrod "Pete" Patterson would enjoy reading, commenting on, and reminiscing about this post.  Patterson, longtime President of the nearby Leafmore-Creek Park Hills Civic Association, passed away in August 2021 but is forever remembered and treasured as one of ToNeTo Atlanta's biggest champions.   

Thank you to tipsters, readers, photographers and of course our editor, Shelley, for your assistance in this special post. 

Looking for more North DeKalb Mall history? Check out our friends at Underground Retail who earlier this year published a great video on the mall! 

What is your fondest memory of North DeKalb Mall?  What is your favorite restaurant or retailer from North DeKalb that no longer exists?  What restaurant or retailer would you like to see join Lulah Hills?  

Please share your thoughts below.  

45 comments:

SB said...

Excellent piece Eli!

Anonymous said...

As a young curious boy, I watched them build North DeKalb Mall. I lived on Harrington Drive, just across the creek that runs through Shepard Preserve. I spent many days during construction and after opening hanging out at North DeKalb. Our Mother would take my brothers and me there to get school clothes. One day my friend Andy and I were walking through Woolworth’s, which is where we entered the mall after crossing the creek. I was not paying much attention to Andy as we browsed through the toys section. Suddenly we were approached by a stern security gentleman who had witnessed Andy pocketing a roll of caps he wanted for his cap pistol. The security man quickly determined I was not involved in the "five finger discount', so I was excused. He had a serious talk with Andy after Andy relinquished the product, but he decided not to call Andy's parents. That scared the crap (not literally) out of me and gave me a lesson I still remember more than 50 years later.
FYI, it was in those same woods along that creek that I learned to smoke cigarettes, which I did not cease until I was 37. I also learned a few things in those woods with the neighbor girls (very mild by today's standards). Ah the memories: woods, a creek with a bridge, cigarettes and girls.

Anonymous said...

They have actually has been 3 different movie theaters. At first, it was story theaters, which later sold to regal.Then cinex-odeon opened up a four screen theater near where the current is then came amc.

Anonymous said...

I remember going there in the late 80s after the remodel. Friends worked at American Eagle and loved getting slices of pizza at Luca Pizza in the food court.

Anonymous said...

Eli you do a wonderful job in writing this! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Wow Eli, this was clearly a labor of love. Well done.

Anonymous said...

I remember a huge barn being there before they built the mall. The house on Lawrenceville Hwy was torn down first then later the barn. Great place to explore when we were kids.

Anonymous said...

Babbage's was my favorite tenant. It became the meme stock known as GameStop. But back then, it was the place to go if you were into PC gaming. I have a fond memory of foregoing buying snacks at summer camp with my brother so that we could save the money to buy the first Civilization game from Babbage's at North Dekalb Mall. I can still see the box art. It's sort of sad to see the indoor mall experience going away, but it's obviously a massive improvement over what is left.

Anonymous said...

I went there the day of my wedding in 1969 with my Mom to eat lunch and pass the time before my wedding. We use to frequent the mall since it was close to my neighborhood. Will be sad to see it go. I was also there for the grand opening in1965.

Anonymous said...

I grew up with North DeKalb Mall since before I can remember. So many great memories in the late 70's and early/mid 80's - Milton Bradley, Woolworth's, the little movie theatre, Rich's, Chick-fil-A, getting my hair cut. After it was remodeled, I worked at the Cineplex Odeon theatre around 1990 thru 1991. In the later days I would go to the newer remodeled theatre, shop at Marshalls and the Dollar Tree. It's sad to see it all gone. 😞

Anonymous said...

The school science fairs were always at North Dekalb Mall. I have fond memories of viewing all of the projects.

Ham said...

Sad, but at the same time long overdue. North DeKalb died a long time ago it just took a while for the funeral. My last visit was a fragrance purchase at the Rich's/Macys not long before they closed. Seems like North Lake killed North DeKalb and Gwinnett Place killed North Lake. Probably oversimplified, but everything has a limited lifespan.

Anonymous said...

My most fond memory would be taking my 3 children to see the same Santa for their entire childhood. He was wonderful, and albeit a bit out of our way, we went every year to see him! Another fond memory is the bakery in Rich’s. They had the BEST brownies ever !! I’d shop, then leave with a bag of brownies! Always a treat!

Beth Goodale Kirincich said...

Great article! Thanks for including so much of its past, as it brought back some fond memories! Growing up on Laurel Ridge Dr, it was an easy walk to Notth Dekalb Mall as a teen, so lots of time spent there 😊

Anonymous said...

What about Market Square?

Anonymous said...

Interesting read. Thank you

Anonymous said...

With my babysitting money, I bought my first pair of Weejun loafers and my first John Romaine purse at that Rich’s in the late 60’s. Also bought many coconut cakes from that Rich’s bakery. Also used to see movies at the theater and afterwards, go to the Gigi’s Pizza for the best pizza!

Anonymous said...

….and Tape World, Barnie’s Coffee and Tea, Circus World, Electronics Boutique, Kuppenheimer, that amazing potato bread burger place, Coles The Book People, Milton Bradley, Cindy’s Cinnamon Rolls, Thompson Boland Lee. So many great old stores and memories.

Anonymous said...

Eli-
I taught you during your Sunday School years! What an excellent article that could take any native Atlantan down memory lane with all the sights and smells of N Dekalb Mall. Your writing brought it all back! Thank you

Anonymous said...

Thanks for jogging my memory! Great pictures. Who remembers the GREAT Santa that was there when my kids were young, late 1990s early 2000s?

Anonymous said...

Excellent job on this

Anonymous said...

Trader Joe’s!!

Anonymous said...

My first job was at Rich’s as a Santa helper. I took photos of kids with Santa. Circa 1971. I also have fond memories of Starblaze Jewelers as did hundreds of others. As time went on the community changed and some of the stores moved on OTP.

Anonymous said...

House of Almonds! And Woolworth’s. The Lechmere was fun, lots of tapes and CD’s and electronics.

Anonymous said...

When this mall got redeveloped into Marketsquare, it was owned by Cadillac Fairview. They also owned Shannon Mall which has been demolished too. And Gwinnett Place which is probably not far behind.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember the aquarium/reptile place there in the early 90s? The avarium I think. I remember buying aquarium stuff and computer games at I think Babbages near the food court.

Anonymous said...

Hello…I’m Jello, later Hello I’m Gelatin. What a concept, a mall based jello shop that wasn’t even in the food court.

Anonymous said...

So interesting

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, Eli, as per usual, you are spoiling us with your talent. Whether Eli knows it or not, he is an Atlanta treasure! There should be some kind of Emmy type awards for local blogs, and Eli would be winning every year. One of the news stations and/or one of the Atlanta newspapers or magazines should do a detailed story on Eli and his blog. Eli, you’re just wonderful. Thanks for spoiling us and sharing your talent with your readership.

Anonymous said...

My earliest memory is when I was around 5 years old or so, so 1965’ish, and my sister was babysitting me and she and a few of her girlfriends took me there. They all wore their curlers/rollers so everyone would know they had a date that night! Well, I thought they were going to go up the escalator so I jumped on and my sister called to me to get off but it was too late. I turned around to see them all standing and watching me as I headed to the 2nd floor!! I cried the entire ride!! I remember it like it was yesterday!

The same sister worked at Rich’s and I’d help her fold clothes on the display tables while waiting for her to get off work. I always hoped I could work there when I grew up. I never did.

Someone mentioned the mall hosting art from local schools. I had my art there a few times and one time someone stole my art! Anyone seen a string (pin & thread) frog? I’d like it back please.

Great job Eli!! Thanks for the memories!!

Kat said...

spent a lot of money at that mall over the years. in the mid 70s there was a skate park that my brother and I would go to. I think it was where the Subaru dealership is now though it may have been on the other side of the creek where the community garden now sits.

Anonymous said...

Great article! Thank you for taking me down memory lane.

Anonymous said...

Best mall Santa ever. Loved him.

Anonymous said...

You didn’t even mention the period where the mall was renamed Market Square. Also, EDENS does not own Toco Hills. They have a long term lease and management contract.

Anonymous said...

They had one like that in Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, called “Hello, I’m Jiggles” and it was also a jello parfait place. Hilarious! Only lasted a couple of years.

Anonymous said...

"If I could turn back time..."

Anonymous said...

Also, no one owns Toco Hills. There is no such shopping center in the Atlanta area.

Anonymous said...

Used to catch the bus from across town to shop at the comic book shop on the loop road overlooking the mall, and wandered into the mall quite often to kill time. Later on visited the PharMor quite often with friends. We loved that store. The Everything is a dollar store was one of the four prototype stores for what became DollarTree, not related to the much later exterior DollarTree that closed this year. So retail history was made at North Dekalb.

Anonymous said...

I worked at challenges video arcade from 91 to 93 before going off to college. That job was a lot of fun, and I have fond memories of that period. Addams Family pinball, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, the cacophony of gaming noise, tokens, and two TV's over the ticket redemption counter blasting the last vestiges of '80s pop and the beginning of '90s grunge. I'm grateful to the manager at that time, Chris, for giving me my first non-family job and being such a joy to work with. Damn, that guy was funny!

Anonymous said...

I worked at the bookstore, which was Coles, not Waldenbooks (although Waldenbooks owned it) from September 1989 to January 1994 it was located next to Camelot Music just off the food court. I remember my lunch breaks well: a hamburger at Cupim Potato Bread, or some tempura veggies at the Japanese place, a slice of pizza at Sbarro, or a sandwich at Gorin’s. (And sometimes some Barnie’s coffee.) But the place I really miss is the Comic Company, a comic book store on Mistletoe. It used to be called Art Moods, but I remember it as the Comic Company. The guy who owned it, Dick, was the nicest person - complete opposite of the Simpson’s “comic book guy”. Lots of good memories there!

Anonymous said...

Regarding the new chik fil A; no drive thru, 20+ curbside parking spots, full dining room and only a handful of parking places for those wishing to eat like normal people. I guess the dining room is for uber and bus riders.

Anonymous said...

Yes on Art Moods! And thanks for the name of the potato bread burger place. They were awesome. I still have some books from Coles in my collection!

Anonymous said...

Excellent job of remembering Cupim. I remember eating there, and couldn't quite remember the name. I'm a child of the early 70s (it was a treat when mom would take us to play at the firestation across the street) and I barely remember the Woolworths, definitely remember going to Coles. Lechmere had a lot of cool cutting edge speaker and receivers for the day. It was a better time.

If the new place is 'live/work/play' I fear there will be theft and crime issues, unless it is gated and secured. The neighborhoods by Shamrock still seem fine, but this development is just more 'exposed'

Anonymous said...

Two things.
1. You forgot to mention the furniture store Shoder, which took over the Rhodes furniture location and simply shuffled the letters of Rhodes to come up with their name. Great deals on Furniture, though it did not last too long.

2. No mention of the original owner, Charlie Hendon (sp?) who was a legend in the shopping center industry, known nationally for throwing huge parties in Las Vegas at the National Shopping Center convention. Charlie was a master promoter and is responsible for North Dekalb's development. No history is complete without mentioning him.

Anonymous said...

3. No mention of the famous clock in the middle of the mall.

4. No mention of the Rich’s restaurant.

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