Jerry Sheehan's Commentary:

Posted March 14, 2015 (user submitted)

When South Park opened in 1974 with 75 stores, it was the largest center between Dallas and Jackson, and the Shreveport economy was booming. This is oil country - most major players had regional headquarters located here, and oil wells were everywhere. AT & T built a 7,000 - worker factory; other manufacturers included General Electric, General Motors, and several smaller factories. Despite South Park's poor location in a fairly undeveloped area down a back two-lane road (Jewella), the mall prospered.

I was a store manager for Shepard & Myers, next door to Selber's from 1978 to 1984 and had a front row seat. Unfortunately, oil collapsed in the early 80's; and several of the manufacturers began outsourcing to Asia. All of the major factories closed, to re-open overseas or Mexico. The oil companies closed their offices and wells, laying off thousands more workers in Shreveport. The town replayed the Great Depression of the 1930's, complete with bread lines, fistfights by desperate people over jobs,and the collapse of the banks. Thousands of people fled, walking away from their mortgages, hoping to start over in another part of the country.

South Park Mall no longer had customers with discretionary income, and the stores closed one by one for lack of business, along with much of the retail and restaurant trade in the area. As the ripples spread to the smaller businesses, they too laid workers off,expanding the damage.

It has been claimed the gangsters killed the mall - this is not true. Since the primary reasons for the mall to exist were the prosperous workers in the factories and oil fields; when they became unemployed, this set off a devastating ripple effect in the local economy. There were thousands of bankruptcies a year - for over ten years! Not until the casino operators began opening up on the river in 1994 did the bleeding slow down. But it was too late for South Park Mall.

The population of Shreveport declined from 1980 to current times, with the exodus of workers. The city's economy is has stagnated for most of the past three decades.

My wife was South Park's horticulturist in the 70's and early 80's, and she told me about one of the mall walkers: 'the crazy lady' Miss Dorothy. One day Miss Dorothy came and told my wife that Jesus had sent her a Vision! South Park Mall was going to become a church for Jesus! Of course, we just laughed it off. But she was right. Summer Grove Baptist Church bought the mall and turned into their new church! ( hmmmm....I wonder if she ever got any good stock picking tips from Jesus...)

Scott Greer's Commentary:

Posted February 4, 2004 (user submitted)

This mall used to be the big mall in the market. It had a Dillard's, the largest JC Penney in a 150 mile radius, and one of the biggest Montgomery Ward stores around. In addition to those were junior anchors Stage (formerly Beall-Ladymon, bought by Stage in 1995 or so) and Selber Bros., a local chain. Selber died in the 80's and was replaced by Phar-Mor, which in turn closed in the early 90's and was replaced by Burlington Coat Factory. There was also a cinema and a Piccadilly Cafeteria in the mall. Oddly, BCF and Stage are the only remnants.

There are several factors in this mall's demise. First, it's not necessarily in the best area of town. About a mile up Jewella Ave. is a particularly bad area. Also, Sam's and Wal-Mart, which were just across Shreveport's Inner Loop, have both moved away. The biggest blow, and the place it all tracks back to, is when Montgomery Ward closed its store in 1999. This was the first major round of closings, and the largest store closed at that time (175,000 sq.ft.) Soon after that, the huge JC Penney closed. It, too was 175,000 sq.ft. Dillard's hung on a bit longer. It remained until 2001. As the anchors left, so did the stores. Sadly, when Dillard's closed, so did most of the remaining mall stores.

Recently, the mall was purchased by Summer Grove Baptist Church, who plans to move its 6000 member congregation there. They intend to gut JCPenney and make that their sanctuary. The other stores are slated to become christian-related themes. The cafeteria has already opened up as a new eatery, and there are plans to use most of the remaining space. Dillard's, who owned their store, donated the space to the church. The only part of the mall that is not owned by the church is the Ward's store. Talk is that they are attempting to purchase that as well.

This entire area of Shreveport has experienced a major decline. SW S'port used to be the place to go. There was Kmart, Toys R Us, the mall, Sam's, Wal-Mart and more. Now all of those have moved away (Wal-Mart is in the area, but down away from the blight of the mall) and there are a ton of abandoned buildings.

David Avery's Commentary:

Posted January 20, 2004 (user submitted)

Once upon a time not long ago, South Park Mall in Shreveport, Louisiana was the place to shop. This once affluent enclosed mall -- once owned by Simon Corp -- was kept in business by the many people who worked at the Western Electric (later AT&T) plant at the corner of Baird Road and Mansfield Road, just south of the five-anchor center.

The mall, located at 8924 Jewella Road, opened in 1974 with Dillard's, JCPenney, Montgomery Ward, and local department stores Selber Bros. and Palais Royal.

I began working in the center in 1992 after being transferred from Virginia to Shreveport with J.Riggings, then a division of the now-defunct Edison Brothers company.

South Park was then booming with activity -- despite the construction of a brand new Dillard's at Mall Saint Vincent, closer to the city center, and the solid growth of Pierre Bossier Mall in Bossier City, just across the river.

J. Riggings transferred me to Dallas in 1993.

I'm not exactly sure where the decline began, but once it started, it was all downhill from there, and very quickly. From what I have been told, the mall suddenly had an increase in gang activity. By this time, Selber Bros. had been replaced by a Bealls and later a Stage; Palais Royal had been replaced first by a Phar-Mor and then a Burlington Coat Factory; and Montgomery Ward had slated their store for closing in 1999.

My sister Trish remembers the shooting in South Park's parking lot around 1995. She and a friend of hers were supposed to go to Jelks Coffee Shop in the mall but something else came up, and they didn't go after all. I've tried to find details of that shooting as well as a shooting that reportedly happened at Dillard's, but I've not been able to find stories on those.

I was just at South Park before Thanksgiving. The Dillard's store is completely boarded up and showing signs of vandalism. The same can be said for JCPenney (closed in 2000) and Montgomery Ward. Burlington Coat Factory and Stage are all that remain.

Its reported that Summer Grove Baptist Church has acquired the entire property. This brings hope to the residents of the area who have seen their property values dwindle because of the mall's crime-ridden reputation.

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