Rediscovering Countryside Mall in Clearwater, Florida

Introduction to Countryside Mall

Unveiling Countryside Mall: A Journey Through Time and Space

Nestled in Clearwater, Florida, Countryside Mall is a testament to the city’s retail history.

Established on September 8, 1975, this shopping center began its journey as a hub for local shoppers.

Over the years, it has witnessed significant changes, evolving while maintaining its essence. Today, the mall offers a unique blend of shopping experiences across its two floors.

The Evolution of a Shopping Landmark

Countryside Mall’s evolution is a story of transformation and adaptation. This mall has seen various phases, from its original name in 1975 to Westfield Countryside.

Initially, it was a bustling center with popular anchors like Maas Brothers, J.W. Robinson’s, JCPenney, and Sears. However, the retail landscape shifted dramatically.

By 2020, under the management of JLL, the mall had to reinvent itself. Despite challenges, it remained a place where families and friends could gather, shop, and create memories.

The Current Chapter: Navigating Challenges

As of 2023, Countryside Mall confronts a challenging retail environment. The evolving consumer habits and the rise of online shopping have impacted its traditional model.

Yet, it continues to serve as a community cornerstone, offering a mix of 130 stores and services. The mall has become a cozy spot for those seeking things to do in Clearwater, Florida.

Its ability to adapt and remain relevant in a rapidly changing market is a testament to its resilience and commitment to the Clearwater community.

The History of Countryside Mall

The Early Years: Laying the Foundation

Opening its doors in 1975, Countryside Mall quickly established itself as a significant retail destination in Clearwater.

It initially featured major anchors like Maas Brothers and Sears, attracting a steady flow of shoppers. The addition of JCPenney and J. W. Robinson’s in 1976 further bolstered its appeal.

These early years set the tone for the mall’s role as a community hub, reflecting the shopping trends and preferences of the era.

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Transitioning through Decades

Significant changes began in 2002 when Westfield Group acquired Countryside Mall, marking the start of a new era.

This acquisition was part of a larger $4.8 billion deal involving multiple shopping centers. The mall underwent a name change to Westfield Shoppingtown and embarked on a transformation journey.

A $12 million renovation in 2009 revamped the mall’s interior, bringing modern aesthetics and new retail offerings.

Adding the Countryside Cobb-12 Cinema in 2011 and several dining options in subsequent years added a new dimension to the shopping experience.

Adapting to Contemporary Retail Challenges

Despite these efforts, Countryside Mall faced challenges typical of suburban malls, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The closure of Sears in 2018 and the consequent opening of Nordstrom Rack and Whole Foods Market in its space reflected the shifting retail landscape.

As the mall navigates through changing consumer behaviors and the growing impact of online shopping, it continues to evolve, striving to maintain its relevance in the increasingly competitive retail sector.

Current Anchors and Their Journey

Dillard’s: A Story of Growth and Change

Dillard’s, a key anchor at Countryside Mall, opened its doors in 1976 as J.W. Robinsons. The store has undergone several transitions, sold to Maison Blanche in 1987 and eventually to Dillard’s in 1991.

This 225,000 sq ft space has seen decades of retail evolution, adapting to the changing tastes and demands of shoppers in Clearwater.

JCPenney: A Time-Honored Retailer

Since 1976, JCPenney has been a constant presence in Countryside Mall. Occupying 166,000 sq ft, it remains one of the original anchors, enduring through the mall’s various transformations.

JCPenney’s resilience reflects its ability to stay relevant in a rapidly evolving retail landscape.

Macy’s: An Evolutionary Tale

Another major anchor, Macy’s, started as Maas Brothers in 1975, transitioning to Burdines in 1991 and finally to Macy’s in 2005.

This 215,000 sq ft store symbolizes the mall’s rich history and the dynamic nature of retail businesses.

Macy’s has continually adapted its offerings to meet the evolving needs of the Clearwater community.

Nordstrom Rack and Whole Foods Market: Newer Additions

Nordstrom Rack and Whole Foods Market, the newer anchors, opened in 2015 and 2014, respectively.

Nordstrom Rack, occupying the former Sears Auto Center, and Whole Foods Market, taking over part of the Sears space, represent the mall’s shift towards diverse retail options, catering to modern consumer preferences.

Financial Struggles and Foreclosure

The Onset of Financial Challenges

Like many other suburban malls, Countryside Mall faced significant financial difficulties in recent years.

The mall defaulted on loan payments in 2020, amounting to nearly $150 million, reflecting the broader challenges in the retail sector.

This financial strain was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which further impacted the mall’s operations and the ability of its tenants to pay rent.

Foreclosure Proceedings and Ownership Uncertainties

The financial struggles led to foreclosure proceedings against Countryside Mall. In December 2020, the mortgage lender filed lawsuits seeking control over the mall due to missed payments since May.

This move highlighted the deepening crisis for brick-and-mortar retail spaces, particularly in suburban areas.

Transition of Ownership: From Westfield to JLL

As a result of the financial difficulties and the subsequent legal actions, management and ownership of the mall transitioned to JLL in 2020, this transition was part of a broader strategy to handle the financial challenges and was seen as the best outcome for the assets under the circumstances.

Tenant Diversity and Community Engagement

Fashion and Lifestyle Retailers

Fashion takes center stage at Countryside Mall with stores like American Eagle Outfitters. This popular retailer offers the latest casual wear, appealing to a youthful, fashion-forward crowd.

Chico’s, another key tenant, caters to a more mature demographic with its sophisticated range of women’s clothing and accessories.

For those seeking trendy, affordable fashion, Forever 21 is the go-to spot, constantly updating its collection to reflect the latest styles.

Specialty Stores and Services

Countryside Mall is home to unique specialty stores like Atomic Tattoos, where artistic expression and creativity come alive through body art.

Families find joy at Build-A-Bear Workshop, an interactive store where children can create their custom stuffed animals for a memorable shopping experience.

Video game enthusiasts flock to GameStop, a haven for the latest games and consoles, entertaining for all ages.

Culinary Delights

The mall isn’t just about shopping; it’s a culinary destination, too. BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse is renowned for its deep-dish pizza and a wide selection of brews, providing a perfect spot for a relaxed meal.

Planet Grilled Cheese offers gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches for a quick, delightful snack, a hit among all age groups.

And for those with a sweet tooth, Cinnabon’s aromatic cinnamon rolls are a must-try, filling the mall with their irresistible scent.

Health and Wellness

Health and wellness are also a focus at Countryside Mall. Crunch Fitness caters to the health-conscious, offering a range of fitness equipment and classes.

Bath & Body Works provides various fragrant body care and home fragrance products for personal care and relaxation, perfect for pampering oneself or finding that special gift.

Entertainment and Leisure

Entertainment is vital to the Countryside Mall experience, with CMX Cinemas Countryside 12 offering the latest movie entertainment.

The state-of-the-art cinema complex is perfect for unwinding after shopping, providing top-notch audio-visual experiences.

Fostering Community Connections

The mall actively engages with the local community through various initiatives. A notable example is the “Merry Market in the Mall,” which brought together 53 local vendors, offering a platform for local talent and businesses.

This event exemplifies the mall’s commitment to supporting the community and creating a vibrant, inclusive space for shoppers.

Future Outlook and Redevelopment Plans

As of 2023, Countryside Mall in Clearwater, FL, is poised for significant redevelopment and transformation.

The city of Clearwater envisions the stretch of U.S. 19, where the mall is located, as the next thriving mixed-use corridor in Tampa Bay.

This vision focuses on turning the area into a dynamic space for corporate expansions, relocations and a vibrant community gathering spot.

The redevelopment plans for Countryside Mall are ambitious and aim to redefine the mall’s role in the community.

Officials see the mall’s property, spanning over 60 acres, as one of the largest redevelopment opportunities in the region.

The proposed changes include remaking parts of the massive parking lot and the mall wing currently anchored by JCPenney while keeping the rest of the mall intact.

The concept envisions a mix of office spaces, residential areas, diverse retail options, and parking structures to optimize land use.

Clearwater’s economic development coordinators are focused on attracting investment and corporate offices to the corridor.

The goal is to bring in more high-paying jobs in IT, fintech, healthcare, and light manufacturing sectors.

These efforts are part of a broader strategy to revitalize the area and make it a key regional business and lifestyle hub.

The future outlook for Countryside Mall involves transforming into a more integrated, mixed-use space beyond traditional retail.

This redevelopment is expected to enhance the mall’s appeal, making it a central component of Clearwater’s economic and social fabric.

Conclusion

Reflecting on Countryside Mall’s Journey

Countryside Mall’s story is one of evolution and resilience. From its inception in 1975 to facing modern-day challenges, the mall has navigated various retail trends and economic shifts.

It has transformed from a traditional shopping destination to a center that embraces diverse tenants and community engagement.

The Road Ahead

As Countryside Mall stands at a crossroads, its future holds potential for redevelopment and renewal.

The decisions made in the coming years will be pivotal in shaping its role in the Clearwater community.

Whatever the outcome, Countryside Mall’s legacy as an essential retail and social hub remains integral to its identity.

Embracing Change

In conclusion, Countryside Mall’s journey mirrors the larger narrative of retail evolution. Its ability to adapt and reinvent itself in changing times will be crucial for its continued success and relevance in the community.

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