MALL OF MEMPHIS
Cherry Road and American Way
Memphis, Tennessee


One of the most revered of America's failed shopping centers, Tennessee's MALL OF MEMPHIS experienced a rapid ascent and decline. This "Marketplace of the Mid-South" mega mall was in existence for only 23 years.


Planning for the dual-level shopping hub got underway in 1972, when Memphians James Bridger and Stanley Trezevant, Junior started to acquire land at a site located 7.7 miles southeast of the "River City" Central Business District. Eventually, 100 acres were purchased. Construction commenced in September 1979.

By this time, a company known as Mall of Memphis Associates had been formed to oversee development of the project. The participants were the aforementioned Bridger and Trezevant and El Segundo, California-based Ernest W. Hahn, Incorporated. The shopping center portfolio of the Hahn company was acquired by the Toronto-based Trizec Corporation in 1980, with the entity eventually taking on the official title of TrizecHahn.

As originally planned, MALL OF MEMPHIS would feature five anchors; Memphis-based Lowenstein's, New Orleans-based Maison Blanche, New York City-based J.C. Penney, Richmond-based Thalhimers (the chain's sole Volunteer State store) and a Baton Rouge-based H.J. Wilson Catalog Showroom.


The tentative lineup of anchor stores was never realized. Philadelphia-based City Stores, the parent company of the Lowenstein's and Maison Blanche chains, filed for bankruptcy in July 1979...with plans for MALL OF MEMPHIS stores being altered.


The 2-level (205,700 square foot) anchor store on the west end of the complex, originally plotted to be a branch of Lowenstein's, opened as a Dillard's. The Maison Blanche location was cancelled. Thalhimers, who intended to build a store on the south facade of the mall, opted -instead- to take the north side spot originally allocated for Maison Blanche. The original Thalhimers spot would never be filled.

MALL OF MEMPHIS was officially dedicated October 7, 1981. Charter tenants included Chick-Fil-A, GNC, Kay Jewelers, Spencer Gifts, Camelot Music, Docktor Pet Center, Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio, Record Bar and Your Father's Moustache. 

The primary features of the new shopping hub were its Ice Capades Chalet skating rink, 17-bay Food Court, 175-seat Community Room and General Cinema Corporation Mall of Memphis I-II-III-IV-V.

A second mall anchor, a 2-level (160,000 square foot) J. C. Penney, was dedicated November 4, 1981. H.J. Wilson built a 2-level (61,200 square foot) structure which opened, as a third anchor, September 1, 1982. 

A fourth, and final, anchor was realized with the dedication of a 2-level (123,300 square foot) Thalhimers, in July 1983. With its completion, MALL OF MEMPHIS enveloped 885,600 leasable square feet and housed 167 stores and services.

Contemporaries of MALL OF MEMPHIS were SOUTHLAND MALL (1966) {5.8 miles southwest, in Memphis}, RALEIGH SPRINGS MALL (1971) {9.7 miles north, in Memphis}, HICKORY RIDGE MALL (1981) {3.4 miles southeast, in Memphis}, OAK COURT MALL (1988) {6.8 miles north, in Memphis} and -eventually- WOLFCHASE GALLERIA (1997) {11 miles northeast, in Shelby County}.

In 1985, stores in the Wilson's Catalog Showroom chain were acquired, and rebranded, by Nashville-based Service Merchandise. The MALL OF MEMPHIS store would be in operation until 2001.

Thalhimers, a division of California's Carter Hawley Hale stores since 1978, was sold to St. Louis-based May Department Stores in 1990. The new owner decided to merge Thalhimers with its Hecht's division. 


The MALL OF MEMPHIS store was sold to Dillard's. It ceased to operate as a Thalhimers on May 19, 1992 and re-opened, as a Dillard's Men's, on August 19, 1992. Simultaneously, the original Dillard's at the mall was refashioned into a Women's & Furniture Gallery Store.

The first renovation of the complex was done between July 1990 and July 1991. During the 10 million dollar project, larger skylights were installed and Food Court seating enlarged.

A second -mall-wide- renovation commenced in March 2000. Totalling 18 million dollars, the undertaking was completed the following December. The skating rink, now known as simply the Ice Chalet, was expanded, the parking lot repaved, a new HVAC system installed and a new teal color palette applied to the interior. This was accompanied by a new logo.

A name change, to MEMPHIS PARK GALLERIA, had been proposed but was never officially instituted. Neither was a prospective 12-screen megaplex theatre.


In spite of all the improvements, the mall was foundering. Robberies and shootings (some fatal) topped the headlines in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1999. The public perception of MALL OF MEMPHIS as a haven for crime was (naturally) intensified by the local news media.

By 1991, James Bridger and Stanley Trezevant had sold their interest in the mall to Chicago-based JMB Retail Properties. TrizecHahn sold out, to the Chicago-based Carlyle Real Estate Limited Partnership, in October 1995. In June 1999, Sherman Oaks, California-based American Mall Properties established a 100-percent share in MALL OF MEMPHIS.

Turnaround attempts were unsuccessful. In 2002, an Atlanta-based entity known as Memphis Mall Holdings bought portions of the complex in increments. This phased acquisition ended with the foreclosure of the property later in the year. A division of New York City-based Lehman Brothers Holdings would be the final owner of the retail hub.

An anchor exodus was underway following the 2001 shuttering of Service Merchandise. Dillard's shut down its "double-header" operation in October. J.C. Penney, the last operational department store, went dark November 29, 2001.

By November 2003, a mere 12 tenants were still in business at the gigantic shopping complex. December 24, 2003 was the last day of business. Demolition started October 1, 2004 and was completed September 16, 2005.

Wal-Mart entertained the notion of SuperCentering the vacant mall site but eventually abandoned the plan. Another scenario, to redevelop the property as Logistics Park, a 5-building light industry and warehouse facility, fell through in September 2015. 


Sources:

http://www.mallofmemphis.org
"Mall of Memphis" article on Wikipedia

Comment posts by Randy and "Anonymous"
http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.mallofmemphis.com (Mall of Memphis website on the internet archive Wayback Machine)
The Memphis Commercial Appeal

www.cinematreasures.org
www.bizjournals.com