Will Florence Mall survive?

Sear's going out of business is a foregone conclusion and an absolute certainty assuring that one of the major players in the Florence Mall will no longer be there to provide an anchor store to support the mall.  Now there is word, on the National scene, that many JC Penney stores will be closing, 140 I believe, and although we don't know if the local Mall store will be one of them it is a very distinct possibility that it will be.  

If the local JC Penny does close what do most feel will be the affect upon the Florence Mall.   One only has to walk through the mall now to see a great many of the malls real estate available and either boarded up or setting empty.  The mall just went through a huge remodeling project and a name change but I fear if JC Penny exists that scene that the Mall may not recover from it. 

I don't know what the new Mayor is doing with regards to try and keep major players in the Florence area but I can see a scenario where Florence's economic future could look quite dim.   I know there is a lot of optimism in the nation with Trump's presidency and the talk about bringing American Jobs back but I'm wondering if the optimism is something that will be extended to Florence's future?  

One only has to look at some of the things that appears to be going on and wonder just how the City will weather it.  Closure of K-Mart, Sears and Best Buy and the very possible closure of JC Penny and Gander Mountain given that Gander Mountain, at the corporate level, has declared bankruptcy .  With the future opening of Authority Sports and their prices one wonders even if Gander Mountain doesn't close account of their corporate bankruptcy will they, and D!cks be able to survive? 

Be as the Bereans ( Acts 17:11 )
Original Post

The downturn in the retail business is not the responsibility of Florence's mayor. 

Sears was the original mail order business, and they failed to change over the years.  They simply didn't do a good job.  Then they merged with K-Mart--another retailer that refused to invest in their business and had Walmart eat their lunch.

Best Buy is just another in a long line of electronic/appliance business failures.  Circuit City and all the other competitors are gone.  You'd thought there would be enough business to support one company, but obviously they're printing red ink in many locations or they'd not be closing so many stores.

The success of the Florence Mall is now on the backs of the Mall owners.  It's up to their selling skills to fill the Sears space--and any other vacancies.  I can tell you that their parking lot has been really, really busy in recent months. 

I've never been a shopper and when I go into any retail establishment it's not to look around.  I'm there to buy a specific item.  And I virtually never go into any mall.  If I could stay out of Home Depot/Lowes and Harbor Freight, I'd be richer.

But as a modern buyer, the internet gets most of my capital expenditures.


Your right that the downturn in the retail business is not the responsibility of Florence's mayor. But the decisions concerning Florence that have been made by past mayors is what has killed Florence and continues to this day. It started when Eddie Frost became mayor and one of the first things he did was to give away the interstate that was going to be build  north of Florence. Congressman Flippo had worked on this project for years and it was already on the books, then he left to run for governor and was defeated. Cramer was elected & he moved everything including the interstate to Colbert County including the area office. Frost caved in to the promise that the new Wilson dam road would be of interstate quality which it turned out to be nothing at all like that. In later years another loop was planned north of Cox Creek Pkwy but it was taken off the planning board & no one knows or will tell who made that request. Which leads to Florence having a terrible traffic problem. Cox Creek Pkwy is now over burden with traffic, especially in the late afternoon & evening. Traffic is backed up & sometime doesn't even move at the light change. Why would any out of town shoppers want to put up with this and the small street signs which you can't even find in the dark. Getting a interstate from I 65 north of Florence into Tn. or Ms. is the key to Florence not dying and with the  current thinking of the leaders of Lauderdale cty & Florence leader they will fight against the interstate. In 5 to 10 years Florence will be like Sheffield and Tuscumbia.

Mayor Frost was major in the business addition in Florence. there is something like a 300,000 buying population in the Shoals. This is the local population and the surrounding population that comes into Florence to shop. Things Mayor Frost did assured Florence that they became the major hub instead of other towns in the area.

Look around at all the businesses built since Mayor Frost built the Conference center. 

Sears, JC Penny and malls have been failing nation wide. Downtown areas have been failing nation wide. More People are buying on line due to local taxes,  and convenience.

I'm not trying to place the blame on the Mayor or all the responsibility for stopping mall failure on local government but the local government does have most ability to enhance a business environment for future investiment or attraction of industry.  When Hillshire Farms left the former Jimmy Dean location here it, along with other closings such as the Paper Plant really put a hurt on the area and I'm hoping with the Trump Administration and promised tax incentives that possibly there might be a chance to attract future businesses and industry.

I, too, had heard about an East/West Interstate through the area and while I have to plead ignorance as to the current status of that dream/vision I have heard that an alternative east/west corridor was in the works by the State of Tennessee by creating a semi interstate type road using an enhanced and improved Highway 64 from Memphis across to intersect with Interstate 24 by insuring it's 4 lane all the way, at least that is what I have heard since moving here years ago.  

As for traffic around the area while the engineering of it is horrible compared to Atlanta and it's surrounding areas the worst traffic in this are beats the best in many areas of Atlanta and it's suburbs.  As far as Traffic engineering, my opinion only mind you, Fort Wayne, Indiana, had the best traffic engineering of any city of any size in the way they created and engineered one way roads coordinating and syncing them with their traffic light system downtown.  The way they had it engineered, regardless of whether you were going east or west through the town, in all but the worst traffic times, you would be Guarnteed to only be stopped by one traffic light and then you would be insured that no other light would stop you given normal traffic volumes and no emergency vehicle control of the traffic lights. 

The area's roads have always been an interest of mine. I don't post much, but I've been on Shoals forums (even going back to the Usenet days) for over 15 years now and the majority of my posts have probably discussed transportation.

Some points:

  • A lot of legwork was done in the 80s and 90s concerning the supposed "Memphis to Atlanta Highway". That would have been an interstate basically paralleling US 72 (if not replacing it for stretches) to Huntsville, then running southeast across Sand and Lookout Mountains into Georgia. Whether north or south of the river, this would have been the absolute best case scenario for our area. I always heard that Alabama was on board with getting it done, but Mississippi and Georgia had very little interest in doing their parts. Interstate 22, running through Tupelo and Jasper to Birmingham, has killed this proposal for good. 
  • The "West Alabama Freeway" idea has been kicked around for years. This would be either a freeway or toll road from the Shoals, through Tuscaloosa, to Mobile. It would pass through some very rural parts of the state and be a supposed "economic boon" to those areas. Unfortunately those areas also don't have a lot of political clout. In our poor state, the money for this project has just never materialized, if the idea has even gotten further than the drawing board. I wouldn't be opposed to using a toll road to get where I need to go, if it means a faster trip, but I may be in the minority of Alabamians on that. 
  • The US 43/AL 157 projects were long promised to help the Shoals. The four-lane 157 certainly improves travel time to Birmingham. The US 43 project should have been done at least 10 if not 20 years ago, as Nashville and southern middle Tennessee is growing daily and that link is important. Perhaps in another five years this will be complete. 
  • The Patton Island Bridge corridor should have been a freeway from Florence Blvd to AL 20 - period. The Shoals' "leadership", either locally or at the state level (or both), really dropped the ball there. It's a mess of a road, as is. A great "what if" for the area would have been a Memphis-Atlanta interstate running just south of the existing AL 20, with the PIB corridor a spur freeway into Florence (such as 565 from 65 into Huntsville). 
  • The ONLY remaining option the area has for ever seeing a true interstate connection, is for a sometimes-talked-about extension of 565 west from Decatur all the way down AL 20 to the Shoals. I put the chances of this happening at less than 5%, however. The state just can't (or won't) afford it. 
  • The City of Florence can't even get College Street extended to Savannah Highway, or a simple roundabout installed, without debating it for years. It's no wonder the "outer loop" of Cox Creek Parkway never happened. Even the half from the industrial area out to Shoal Creek would've been helpful.

Now all of this ties back into "I'm stilling calling it Regency Square" Mall, believe it or not. The Shoals likes to see itself as an "economic hub" for a surrounding area. The thought was that good roads would pull people in from Athens, Moulton, Russellville, Iuka MS, Savannah TN, Lawrenceburg TN, etc. But the world has gotten smaller. If people in those areas are looking for places to shop, they have more options now than ever in places like Huntsville, Nashville, Tupelo, etc, and it's not that much longer of a drive. Why come to the Shoals? Meanwhile, if they can't find it in their own hometown, they can always just buy it online. The Shoals as a "destination" shopping experience is just not a viable long-term idea. 

As for the mall itself, there IS a population here to support it, but its purpose/focus may have to evolve. There area a lot of redundant stores now in the Cox Creek area. Do we need three or four sporting goods stores? Do we need Kohl's/JCPenney/Belk all competing for the same customers? Maybe now a Burlington Coat Factory too? The odds are one (if not two) will be forced out. If the mall loses both JCP and Belk, for example, that could be three or four anchor pads to fill. I don't know what the answer will be to draw people back in, but I'm not sure it's more of the same type of retail. 

I love my hometown of Florence and appreciate all the positive growth we have seen, especially downtown. It's interesting to see if some of the trend for shopping/dining leaving downtown to head out to Florence Blvd/Cox Creek, which has been happening for 50 years, isn't finally starting to reverse. 

Thanks gbrk! I know you have been here for years as well and I appreciate your posts. I actually live in Chattanooga and have for the past ten years, but I have friends and family in Florence and still visit often. I care very much about the Shoals and the happenings there. I do lurk on this board from time to time, I just find it hard to have something to contribute between all the political threads, in which I have zero interest of participating in! 

I do believe the "brick and mortar", big-box retail market will be forever shrinking, so I hope the cities in the Shoals are preparing the best they can for that. As I mentioned above, I like what is happening in the downtown areas and I think even more focus in the future needs to be there, and additionally on "neighborhood" retail hubs that have disappeared, such as East Florence. 

Even with the State of Alabama striking a deal with Amazon to recoup some tax money, it still won't save the brick & mortar stores.  Shopping online has so  many conveniences.  I know there are people who still like the aesthetics of walking into a store and feeling the product they are buying, but it is becoming less and less a requirement for younger shoppers.  

However, and some of you have touched on this, with big box retail seemingly declining it is offering options for locally owned, artisan, specialty stores to pop back up.   It's an interesting time we find ourselves in.   

I do almost all of my non grocery shopping online, except record stores.   I do some record buying online too, but there is just something about the atmosphere of a cool locally owned record store.

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