Boom to Bust

Macon's Eisenhower Parkway corridor has seen better days

The Eisenhower Parkway corridor once boasted two shopping centers that were the envy throughout Georgia's retail industry.

Westgate Shopping Center - or Westgate Mall - opened in 1961 on Eisenhower Parkway at the Pio Nono Avenue intersection. Anchored by retailer JJ Newberry's, Westgate was the first fully enclosed mall in the state. It continued its growth into the early 1970's. During that time, two grocery stores - Piggly Wiggly and Colonial Stores - were added as anchors.

Westgate Mall continued flourishing adding more retailers and Westgate Triple Cinemas.

The beginning of the end for Westgate came in 1975 with the opening of Macon Mall about two miles down Eisenhower Parkway.

Packed with national retailers and restaurants, Macon Mall drew in patrons from all over central Georgia sealing the fate of Westgate Mall.

By the late 1970's, Westgate was just about empty.

Several attempts were made to save it. Some of the anchor stores were razed and the movie theater was also knocked down. Scotty's Home Improvement Center took over the Piggly Wiggly location and Burlington Coat Factory opened in the former Newberry's location.

Burlington had a successful run in the center as other retailers - including Scotty's - went out of business. Big box retailers Walmart and Home Depot were later added. To make way for these retailers, Westgate underwent a major facelift changing it to a big box shopping center.

Media Play and Petsmart were added to the mix, but as Macon Mall flourished and the neighborhoods around Westgate declined, the redeveloped shopping center didn't stand a chance.

In what seems to be the final blow for Westgate, Burlington moved to Macon Mall about three years ago as Macon Mall continues to deal with its own set of major problems.

The slow decline of Macon Mall

Just like Westgate, Macon Mall once boasted being the largest mall in Georgia.

It opened in 1975 during a period retail experts call the “golden age” of mall building.

However, the last two decades have not been kind to this former retail gem.

Nationally, many of the malls built during the "golden age" have disappeared, or in the case of Macon Mall, continued shrinking as national retailers close stores around the country.

The most recent set backs came with the soon-to-be shuttered J.C. Penney and the closures of other major anchor stores such as Sears, Dillard's and Belk.

Macy’s said last year it was closing 100 stores nationwide.

Macon Mall didn’t make that list, making its Macy’s the mall’s last surviving traditional anchor store.

Macon Mall has not only suffered at the hands of major national retailers folding, but also flight as new shopping centers open.

Such was the case in 2001 when Eisenhower Crossing opened a big box shopping center a couple of miles away from Macon Mall. Even with the challenges of some major vacancies, Eisenhower Crossing has managed to remain mostly occupied.

The flight from Macon Mall was more pronounced nine years ago with the opening of The Shoppes at River Crossing in North Macon. A wave of stores left Macon Mall for the new 750,000-square-foot “lifestyle center” in north Macon.

Many refer to it as “the new mall,” calling Macon Mall “the old mall.”

Belk and Dillard’s left Macon Mall for The Shoppes at River Crossing.

The Shoppes also delivered a blow to Eisenhower Crossing. Dick's Sporting Goods vacated Eisenhower for The Shoppes leaving yet another big hole in the Eisenhower Parkway corridor.

The recent closure of retailer HH Gregg created another large, empty store front in Eisenhower Crossing.

Retail centers in the Eisenhower Parkway corridor continue to search for ways to battle a volatile national retail climate and overall decline in the neighborhoods that surrounds them.

Macon Mall history at a glance

1975: The Beginning: Macon Mall opens. It’s 1.08 million square feet costing about $30 million.

1997: Expansion: A $50 million east wing is built and anchored by department stores Dillard’s and Parisian. The 423,000-square-foot expansion makes Macon Mall 1.4 million square feet. It’s touted as the largest mall in Georgia.

2001: Competition: Eisenhower Crossing, a big box shopping center, opens a few miles away from Macon Mall. The center includes 32 stores offering shoppers more retail options.

2005: New Owners: New Jersey-based The Lighthouse Group buys Macon Mall and uses it and a North Carolina mall as collateral for a $141 million loan. Foreclosure proceedings start in 2008 against Lighthouse for nonpayment.

2007: Major Anchor Closes: Parisian department stores are bought by Belk Inc. in 2006. The company closes all of its Parisian stores leaving Macon Mall with an empty 104,000-square-foot space.

2008: The Shoppes at River Crossing; More Competition. The 750,000-square-foot “lifestyle” center opens in north Macon. It features 44 stores and restaurants.

2008: Dillard’s closes its Macon Mall store and opens a new one in the Shoppes at River Crossing.

2010: Hull Storey Gibson Companies purchase Macon Mall. As part of its transformation of the mall, the new owners demolish the entire east wing, which was added in 1997.

2012: Smokin’ Pig barbecue restaurant and retailers Dry Falls Outfitters and B. Turner’s opens. Smokin’ Pig was changed to Ole Times Country Buffet in Feb. 2017.

2015: Burlington Coat Factory relocates to Macon Mall. The store moves from the long abandoned Westgate Mall about two miles down the road from the Macon Mall.

2017: J.C. Penney announces that it's closing 138 stores around the country, including its Macon Mall store.