Evans Criswell's Commentary

User submitted April 15, 2008

It is appropriate to begin the story of Parkway City Mall by saying that it had a very happy ending. The old one-level mall was demolished in 2000, giving way to a very successful, upscale, two-level mall called Parkway Place constructed on the site, which opened October 16, 2002. It has very nice Dillards and Belk (originally Parisian) stores and many upscale inline stores. Parkway Place should not be confused with the old one-level Parkway City Mall being described in this post.

On March 14, 1957, a "strip" style shopping center called "Parkway Center" opened (although it was eventually renamed "Parkway City Shopping Center"). It was Huntsville's first shopping center away from downtown, on the section of Memorial Parkway between Mallory Road (which became Bob Wallace Ave.) and Donegan Lane (which became Drake Ave.). Memorial Parkway had opened to traffic on December 1, 1955 and was the new north-south 4-lane bypass, carrying US 231, so naturally, it was the hot spot for new development and it began the relocation of shopping from the downtown area.

The shopping center featured 25 stores when it first opened: Baxter Clothes, Burgreen's Cafeteria, Diana Shops, G.C. Murphy Co., Harold's, H&H Walgreen Agency Drugs, House of Beauty, Hutchens-McCaleb Co., Jeff's Hobby Shop, Kwik-Chek Supermarket, Marlin's Delicatessen, McLellan Stores Co., Montgomery Barbers, National Food Stores, Noojin and Henson Realtors, Peggy Ann Bakery, Shainberg's, State Farm Mutual Insurance Agency, Stauffer System, Southern Shoes, The Hutchens Co., Thom McAn Shoes, Universal Photo Shop, Valley Cleaners, and Washerteria.

There was eventually a movie theatre on the site. On December 8, 1967, the Madison Theatre opened with "Hawaii" as its first movie. The theatre featured both 70mm and 35mm projection, and 6-track stereo sound capability, and had 850 rocking chairs. The theatre was made into a twin cinema, but fortunately that was done by turning an adjacent building into a second theatre rather than by dividing the original auditorium with the 70-foot screen. There were five Altec 84 speakers behind the screen and the surround speakers were recessed into the cinder-block walls and were behind the curtains, making them invisible to the audience. The theatre's last night of business was August 28, 1986. This was the "death of the big screen" in Huntsville, and until 2005, 40 feet was the widest screen in town. The space occupied by the theatre in the mall became Yielding, a women's clothing store, which closed in November 1996, and later the Castner Knott Home Store opened in the space in October 1997.

The shopping center was converted into an enclosed mall after being damaged by a major tornado (part of the famous "Super Outbreak") that hit Huntsville on the night of April 3, 1974 around 11 PM that ripped apart much of the southern end of the shopping center. After being enclosed, it complemented the other main mall in town ("The Mall") by having different anchor stores. Parkway City had Montgomery Ward, Pizitz, and Parisian, while "The Mall" had Loveman's and JCPenney. A much smaller mall, Heart of Huntsville Mall, had Sears. Pizitz was bought out by McRaes in December, 1986 and the stores were renamed in 1987.

Montgomery Ward opened at the center in 1959, relocating from the north side of the square downtown, and had a long life at the shopping center. When the company fell on hard times, the 76100 sq. ft. location with 72 associates was identified as one of 48 underperforming store locations, and it was closed on December 31, 1997, with the store sitting empty until the mall's demolition.

By June 12, 2000, the end of the mall that contained Montgomery Ward and the Castner Knott home store had been closed off with yellow tape. The rest of the mall still had quite a few stores in business. By June 21, 2000, the Montgomery Ward area of the parking lot had been fenced off and demolition on the Montgomery Ward building had begun. By June 30, that building was gone. Demolition proceeded on the closed off end of the mall. It wasn't long before the rest of the mall was closed and demolished to make way for the new mall. The new Parisian and Piccadilly Cafeteria were open a while before the rest of the new mall opened on October 16, 2002.

The old mall was successful until it was closed, and didn't go dead in the same way that many other old malls do. It certainly had a good many stores to go empty over the years, but surprisingly, others hung on and even moved and expanded. I remember Camelot Music moving and expanding twice during the 12 years I shopped there, but it eventually closed. Piccadilly Cafeteria was a big draw for the older crowd for lunch and dinner. The mall had an "old folks" feel to it for some reason. The mall had several sets of benches along the walkway with TVs mounted in the center at the ceiling, something I'd never seen in a mall.

The main factor in the mall hanging on, even with numerous empty stores near then end of its life, and its dated look, was its location. Even though Madison Square had caused it to lose a good portion of its younger shoppers, Parkway City was not far from many wealthy older shoppers who found the place convenient.

That mall had a very old-feeling 2-level McRaes (originally Pizitz). The lighting was very dull and pinkish, from old fluorescent fixtures (probably with "soft white" bulbs that were commonly used in stores of that era). Even the most colorful clothing looked dull with the store's lighting. I don't know if the store had been remodeled since the day it was built.

The Montgomery Ward felt trapped in time every time I went in. It was one-level and I looked around in that store many times, but rarely found anything I wanted. The only thing I remember buying there was a pair of gray sweatpants back around 1990. It had a very dated look and feel and I'm sure the chain didn't have the resources to update the look of their stores, since they were closing many of them by the late 90s.

The Parisian had a better feel to it, and I bought quite a few clothes there. They had some wonderful sales at times. Parisian had a strange L-shape, with the men's department in a section off the left rear of the main part of the store.

One memory that pops out in my mind about this mall was finding the hard-to-acquire Super Mario Brothers 2 video game for the original NES when it came out. I got it at Circus World at that mall, which was at the north end of the main corridor. Instead of the Montgomery Ward anchor being at the end of the corridor, a left turn led to a short hallway with a Sega Time Out arcade on the left, with the Montgomery Ward entrance ahead. There was no anchor store at the direct end of the corridor on the south, either. It was just an exit, and Parisian was on the left (east) at the south end, and the store was inline. The McRaes was off a hallway to the right (west), across from the Parisian, and if my memory serves, I remember the hallway slanted downhill a bit to reach it, since that store was not originally connected to the rest of the shopping center before enclosure.

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