Daniel Hull's Commentary

Posted September 3, 2006 (user submitted)

The site of a former steelyard brought one of America's largest malls at the time in 1978 to Pittsburgh's South side in Century III Mall. Located along Clairton Blvd. approximately 8 miles south of Downtown, it dealt a serious blow to the Eastland Mall mentioned on this site, stealing its JCPenney.

Century III opened with 5 anchors, unlike any other mall in Pittsburgh. It had JCPenney, Sears, Kaufmann's, Horne's and Gimbel's. No mall featured Kaufmann's, Horne's and Gimbel's together in the Pittsburgh area. The mall featured a unique design in that it was a 2-level mall, but a split-level mall. The first floor in the Sears/Horne's wing was really the second level of the rest of the mall, and the second level of that wing created essentially the third level of the mall, hence the name Century III. The mall was built by DeBartolo.

Steel dominated the economy of the South side of Pittsburgh, its most working-class side, and throughout the 1980's, became decimated in that local economy, eroding the base of the mall's shoppers.

Gimbel's closed their Pittsburgh stores in 1986, selling many to Kaufmann's. The Century III store remained empty since Kaufmann's was already there. It would be empty for a decade until Wickes Furniture and TJ Maxx & More filled the space. In 1994, Horne's was bought by Federated, and converted into Lazarus. The division struggled, and Federated closed the Century III store (along with Greengate and Beaver Valley) because of poor sales in 1997. The space became Kaufmann's Furniture Galleries.

The mall isn't dead yet, but many of its areas are today. The JCPenney wing, as well as the Sears/Kaufmann's Furniture wing are almost completely vacant, and only filled with mainly local stores, or services. Many of the stores cater to an urban demographic and feel rundown, usually using the old storefronts of previous stores. Oddly, the middle of the mall is the most lively, featuring the stores found in many malls. Wickes closed their Pittsburgh stores and TJ Maxx left the former Gimbel's space. Steve & Barry's took the first floor, and Dick's Sporting Goods took the second level, and they're both there today.

The downturn of the economy in Pittsburgh really hurt this mall, but the shoppers' still came from miles around for many years. While Century III Mall was renovated in the mid 1990's, so was its sister mall South Hills Village, located about 5 miles to the west in Bethel Park, which featured Sears, Gimbel's (which became Kaufmann's), and Horne's (which became Lazarus, now Macy's). South Hills Village moved upscale over the years, taking some stores from the larger Century III. It is very unlikely that 2 malls of this size would coexist in other cities of similar size if Pittsburgh had any sort of a Beltway (2-lane color-coded belts connect much of the city, and aren't terribly convenient for travelers, and tend to be congested). Also, many of the upscale dollars shifted to the Waterfront, located on the site of the old Homestead mill, which has a streetscape featuring many upscale tenants usually found in malls, as well as a large power center.

Time will tell how Kaufmann's becoming Macy's will affect the mall. I suspect it is doubtful Macy's will keep both a regular store and a furniture gallery here (They already have a Macy's Furniture from the Lazarus at Ross Park in the North Hills). The Kaufmann's has been untouched since its 1978 opening, and still features the wood accents inside, and the black smoked glass outside (Even the original Kaufmann's sign, an elongated New Roman font in white, with gold dots surrounding the K". If both of those stores are to be removed by Federated, Century III's fate may be sealed. The area surrounding the mall is already a big-box hotbed featuring all the usuals (Lowe's, Bed Bath & Beyond, Staples the largest exceptions, but the first 2 of these are 4 miles to the north at the Waterfront). Century III has always been Pittsburgh's most fascinating mall, and I wish it the best.

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