Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Carolina Circle Mall Lights Up for Celebration (November 16, 1988)

Image0004 I was downtown at the library this afternoon and I came across an old newspaper article that finally answers the question I’ve been asking for years, “When did Carolina Circle Mall complete its renovation?”.

Ever since I began my Carolina Circle studies in 2005, I’ve gone by the date given in the July 31, 1996 edition of the Greensboro News & Record, June 1988. I would look and look through every single newspaper from June of 1988 and find absolutely nothing about the renovation completion.

Today, I was going through the November 1988 newspapers trying to find some Carolina Circle Mall Thanksgiving/Christmas ads from that year. I got to the Wednesday, November 16, 1988 edition and I came across this article talking about Carolina Circle Mall’s renovation completion!

Obviously, the date given in the July 31, 1996 newspaper was incorrect.

So anyway, this article gives a good deal of information regarding the renovation, including the improvements made to the mall.

The renovation has always come off as “stupid”, regarding of course to the removal of the Ice Chalet. I, of course, have always preferred the Carousel because it was what I grew up with. I’ll still never forget that afternoon in 1995 when I was eating lunch at the Carolina Circle food court and trying to find scuff marks left from the Ice Chalet!

So here it is, from November 16, 1988, the renovation completion article. FINALLY!!! If only I had the above picture in color.

Tess Morris has one word for the Carolina Circle Mall of yore.

“Drab.”

The lights were low, the floor was dark, and walking from one end of the mall to the other was like negotiating an obstacle course.

“The walkways were kind of like a maze,” says Morris, the mall’s assistant manager. “You’d go left and go right and go left and go right”.

Given those descriptions, hindsight is 20-20, especially after you’ve gotten rid of any problems. It’s no surprise that mall officials are eager for this weekend’s celebration to show off the fruits a $7.5 million renovation.

They hope the renovation, and an eventual “upscaling” of merchandise, will allow them to make a run at Greensboro’s two largest shopping centers: Friendly Shopping Center and Four Seasons Town Centre. Ever since Carolina Circle opened 12 years ago, it has lagged behind the other two shopping centers in size and money-making.

Amidst a two-day festival of song and dance starting Saturday, Carolina Circle shoppers will see a lighter, brighter mall.

Giant pink-and-blue butterflies and banners hang from the ceiling. A brown terrazzo floor was ripped up to make room for a light gray tile floor. Interior support columns have been covered with mirrors and ringed with neon. Brown handrails have given way to chrome, and walkways cross splashing water fountains.

Inside, the mall is five times brighter than it used to be with just 60 lighting fixtures.

“During the nighttime, it was incredibly dark,” says Morris. “Now over a thousand lights illuminate the center. It looks a lot more alive than it ever has”.

Lighting in the parking lots has been upped by 30 percent for safety reasons. Exterior entrances have been spiced up with prism towers and the mall’s new logo: a crescent and circle inside a larger circle.

Back inside the mall, newly nicknamed The Circle, concourses have been straightened. Before, store fronts jutted out in a jagged pattern, blocking customers’ views of some stores and making a crooked path from one end of the mall to the other.

Store fronts have been cut back, allowing a wider, straighter path from one end of the mall to the other. More stores are using glass fronts to display more items and, therefore boost the chances that they’ll sell more.

Shopper convenience is important, but the bottom line is the bottom line, which can be seen in seemingly small changes.

Before the renovation, there was a pair of escalators at one end of the mall. Post-renovation finds the up escalator at one end of the mall and the down escalator at the other end.

“You have to walk past more stores,” Morris says, adding that mall officials are considering putting escalators in the middle of the mall.

The stairs remain where they were, at both ends of the mall, but their angle has been lowered. “They were so steep, and rather dangerous,” Morris says.

The renovation also means more stores. The controversial removal of the lower-level ice-skating rink, skaters wanted it to stay, the mall wanted the unprofitable rink to go, ahs allowed for an additional 4,000 to 4,500 square feet of space that can be leased.

The area around the former rink will be known as the “food court”, and will be highlighted by a $250,000 custom-made carousel that features scenes from Greensboro’s past. The carousel, which was made in Italy, should be set up and ready to ride by November 26.

Some individual stores are still finishing their own renovations. At least two more stores, a 5-7-9 and Jeans West, are scheduled to open soon.

About 75 percent of the mall’s available space is occupied, compared to 69 percent at the lowest point, says mall manager Larry Berry.

Most stores are undergoing “remerchandising” with greater “disposable income” in mind, according to Berry. That means look for more expensive goods.

Berry works for Strouse Greenberg & Co. of Philadelphia, a management company hired by Sunshine-North Carolina Investments, which bought the mall for about $20 million two years ago.

Berry and others have said the mall suffered from poor management before the buyout. Other problems included a stench that wafted to the mall from a city sewer treatment plant, which has been cured.

Berry thinks the renovation is the first step in the mall’s about-face.

“You’ve gotta crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run,” he says. “We’re at the stage now where we’re just getting the shopping center to walk, getting it into motion”.

Inset:

The renovation celebration starts at the center of Carolina Circle Mall’s lower level at 9:45am Saturday. Singers will offer the “Hallelujah Chorus” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” before speeches by Greensboro Mayor Vic Nussbaum and mall officials. Entertainment, acting, beach music, gospel, bluegrass, spoon playing, will continue on three stages Saturday and Sunday.

2 comments:

Steven Swain said...

I didn't realize how extensive the renovations were. Thanks for posting the article.

Sam Billingsley said...

The renovation took longer and cost more than anticipated. The Sunshine Group fired their partner they had overseeing the renovation, because he kept changing his mind on things. The food court never filled up as planned, and Annabelle's ended up closing, as one reason I believe is due to no one wanted to sit at the windows that used to overlook the ice rink and look at people eating in a food court.