Dewayne Nickels' Commentary:

Posted May 17, 2004 (user submitted)

Springdale was the opening salvo of Mobile's growth into the westward expanses of Mobile County. Springdale Plaza, an automobile oriented strip mall, opened in 1957, anchored by Gayfers, a locally owned department store chain, Delchamps, a local supermarket chain and several local and national in-line tenants.

Springdale had a great location: I-65 at Airport Boulevard, in the heart of Mobile. For a couple of years, it was the premiere shopping destination for the Gulf Coast. In 1967, Bel Air Mall, a state-of-the-art superregional mall, opened across Airport Blvd from Springdale. Bel-Air was anchored by Himmel's (now Dillards) and Sears.

The two shopping centers reciprocated expansion projects throughout much of the 1970s. Springdale added an enclosed wing anchored by Montgomery Ward, extending from Gayfers to the new store in the mid-1970's; Bel Air followed suit by adding a second wing, anchored by JC Penney, leading from west of the center court; and DH Holmes, a New Orleans-based department store chain purchased Himmel's and remodeled the 200,000 square foot store into Holmes, complete with an auto center.

In 1987, McRae's, a department store chain owned by Saks Incorporated opened a freestanding store just west of Gayfers, which itself had expanded as a result of the DH Holmes store renovation, and by 1988, Springdale opened a west wing connecting McRae's with Gayfers. Parisians, another Saks nameplate anchored Bel Air Mall's new food court wing, which extended eastward from JC Penney.

By the end of the 1980s, Springdale was a smaller size facsimile of Bel Air. Both malls had similar in-line tenants: Express, Victoria's Secret, Foot Locker, etc.. Springdale was anchored by a nearly 300,000 square foot Gayfers, Montgomery Ward and Mc Rae's. In the late 80s, Toys R Us would co-tenant the Montgomery Ward building.

DH Holmes was purchased by Dillards in the early 90s. Barnes & Noble opened a location in 1993 in the renovated open-air Plaza section of Springdale. In 1996 and 1997, both malls renovated their facilities and re-landscaped the surrounding parking lots. Springdale even expanded its in-mall theater to eleven screens. To augment its retail offerings, Springdale began adding big-box format stores such as Goody's and Staples, in the mid-ninties.

1998 marked the start of inauspicious times for Springdale, as Gayfers was purchased by Dillards and Montgomery Ward closed its store later that year. For five years, Springdale and Bel Air both had a full-line Dillards store, within eye-shot of each other and something was bound to give. The Bel Air Mall Dillards store was the more attractive of the two stores and survived.

Perhaps it was the extreme close proximity of both malls that lead to Springdale's demise as an enclosed mall. Springdale was surrounded by the Westlawn neighborhood to its north and east, Airport Blvd to its south and I-65 to its west. It didn't have much room for expansion. By contrast, Bel Air could easily add a sixth or seventh anchor if needed. By 2003, Springdale was left with Mc Raes and Burlington Coat Factory (the Montgomery Ward replacement) as its anchors. Toys R Us is relocating to a freestanding location just east of Bel Air Mall. Springdale might survive in a power center format to complement Bel Air's traditional mall offerings.

The old Gayfers building at Springdale will be demolished to make way for a Sam's Club location, complete with gas station outparcel. Best Buy opened a 30,000 square foot store between Mc Rae's and Gayfers, on what used to be the west wing of the mall. The eastern end of the mall has been filled with Linen N Things, Staples and a few dead in-line stores.

While the enclosed mall itself seems to repel non-big box retailers, the outparcels have attracted much attention from restaurants. David's Bridal bridal shop, a sit-down restaurant owned by Cracker Barrel and other businesses have located along the I-65 service road fronting the western edge of Springdale. Romano's Macaroni Grille will open on the site of the former Montgomery Ward auto center sometime in 2004.

Perhaps Springdale could have survived as a mall, one not targeting the same demographic as Bel Air. Had managment spruced up Springdale further, it could have become an upscale-skewering mall, featuring such tenants as William Sonoma, Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware...all of which were rejected by Bel Air (near 100% occupancy rate) and are now heading to the suburbs along Mobile Bay. Basically, it could have survived on Bel Air's rejects.

Two things lead to the death of Springdale: its location and the size of the market.

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