The Beginning: McFarland Mall’s Grand Opening
On February 19, 1969, the residents of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, witnessed the grand opening of the much-awaited McFarland Mall. Developed by Ward Wharton McFarland and James Hinton, the mall replaced the Woods Square Shopping Center and Leland Shopping Center as the main commercial retail center in the area.
The mall boasted two anchor stores, Woolco and Gayfers, and 30 other stores. Over time, McFarland Mall grew to accommodate four anchors, 40 stores, a 12-screen movie theater, and a food court.
Despite opening the enormous University Mall in 1980, McFarland Mall managed to survive for an additional 30 years.
The Evolution: Changes and Renovations
Over the years, McFarland Mall underwent several changes and renovations. In 1975, Gayfers added a second floor to its store, becoming the only two-story tenant. Woolco closed in 1983, and Zayre replaced it the same year.
After Zayre’s demise in 1989, the anchor space was divided into smaller areas and occupied by various tenants, including Jefferson Home Furniture (later Heilig-Meyers), T.J. Maxx, and Drug Mart.
The mall saw significant renovations in 1980 and 1993, with the addition of a 320-seat food court under an enormous atrium and a new anchor space occupied by Goody’s Family Clothing.
Other notable changes included the relocation of Winn-Dixie, opening a Books-a-Million store in an outparcel, and the conversion of Drug Mart into Shoe Station.
The Decline: Anchor Closures and Ownership Change
McFarland Mall faced a steady decline during the 2000s following the closure of two anchor stores. The McFarland family owned the mall until 2009, when Tuscaloosa developer Stan Pate purchased it, ending the family’s association with the facility.
The closure of Dillard’s in 2008 and Goody’s the following year left T.J. Maxx as the only remaining anchor store. In 2010, the Dillard’s wing was blocked off by the public.
In December 2012, Stan Pate announced plans for redevelopment to begin sometime in 2013. Under these plans, most of the mall, including the former Dillard’s building, would be demolished. However, redevelopment progress was slow, and several tenants, including T.J. Maxx, Shoe Station, and Cheddar’s, closed or relocated.
The demolition process began again on December 15, 2020, starting with the former Chili’s. Stan Pate planned to build a sportsplex over the site where the mall once stood.
Demolition continued on February 23, 2021, with the old Woolco wing where Shoe Station, Sticks ‘N’ Stuff, T.J. Maxx, and Michael’s were housed for many years. The process finally concluded with the demolition of the former Goody’s on April 20, 2022.
Despite the end of McFarland Mall, its memory lives on in the hearts of those who shopped, worked, or spent time there. It remains a symbol of Tuscaloosa’s past and the ever-evolving retail landscape.
|McFarland Mall opens
|First significant renovation
|Second significant renovation
|Goody’s closes, and mall ownership changes
|Redevelopment plans announced
|T.J. Maxx and Shoe Station relocate
|Demolition process begins
|Demolition of the old Woolco wing
|Demolition of the former Goody’s and end of McFarland Mall
A Hub for Entertainment and Socializing
Aside from being a shopping destination, McFarland Mall also played a significant role as a social and entertainment hub for the local community. The NGC Twin Theaters opened later in 1969 and provided moviegoers with a place to catch the latest films. In addition, the theaters became popular for friends and families to gather, especially during weekends and holidays.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the mall’s popularity was further boosted by the addition of Lee Roy Jordan’s Flaming Steakhouse, which offered a unique dining experience to Tuscaloosa residents.
The restaurant was named after the famous Alabama football star, Lee Roy Jordan, adding a touch of local pride and flair. The food court, added in 1993, provided visitors with various dining options, making it a popular spot for quick meals or casual gatherings.
The mall also hosted seasonal events, attracting families and shoppers during special occasions like Halloween and Christmas. These events created fond memories for the local community and reinforced McFarland Mall’s role as a hub for socializing and entertainment.
A Testament to Changing Times and Retail Landscape
The story of McFarland Mall is a testament to the changing times and the evolving retail landscape in America. Over the years, the mall struggled to maintain its prominence despite growing competition from other shopping centers, including the nearby University Mall.
The rise of e-commerce and online shopping in the 21st century further accelerated the decline of many traditional shopping malls like McFarland.
Responding to these challenges, McFarland Mall’s owners attempted to revitalize the property through various redevelopment plans. However, the mall’s transformation from a thriving shopping center to a nearly vacant property reflects the broader trend of shopping mall closures across the United States.
As more malls face a similar fate, the story of McFarland Mall serves as a cautionary tale for other shopping centers to adapt to changing consumer preferences and habits. It also highlights the importance of community engagement and the need to create multi-purpose spaces that cater to the evolving needs of residents.
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