Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth, GA: A Tale of Change and Renewal


Gwinnett Place Mall – A Journey Through Time

The Beginnings

Gwinnett Place Mall opened in 1984 near Duluth, Georgia, marking a significant addition to the local retail landscape.

With a sprawling floor area of 1,278,000 square feet and two levels, it quickly became a bustling hub for shopping and social gatherings.

The mall, developed by Cadillac Fairview and Simon Property Group, embodied the spirit of modern retail with a diverse range of stores and services.

The Mall’s Evolution and Challenges

Over the years, Gwinnett Place Mall has faced various challenges. The emergence of larger shopping centers, namely the Mall of Georgia in 1999 and Sugarloaf Mills in 2001, shifted a significant portion of its shoppers away.

These newer, larger shopping centers offered a broader array of shopping and entertainment options, impacting Gwinnett Place’s footfall.

Despite these challenges, the mall remained a familiar landmark in Duluth, adapting and evolving to retain relevance in a rapidly changing retail environment.

Closure and Anticipation of Revival

The mall officially closed its doors on March 15, 2020, leaving behind memories and a legacy. It was not just a shopping center but a community space where people gathered, shopped, and created memories.

Now, Duluth, Georgia, is witnessing the transformation of the once-busy Gwinnett Place Mall into a vibrant new community area.

This change follows an announcement by the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners about a revitalization plan that includes housing, improved mobility, and enhanced green spaces.

The iconic site is poised for an exciting new chapter, promising a revitalized future.

The Rise of Gwinnett Place Mall (1984)

The Inaugural Year: A New Shopping Destination Emerges

In 1984, Gwinnett Place Mall opened its doors, instantly becoming a pivotal destination for shoppers in Duluth, Georgia.

The mall’s original anchor tenants, Rich’s, Davison’s, and Sears, set the stage for a diverse shopping experience.

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These stores and later additions like Mervyn’s and Parisian drew crowds eager to explore the new retail options.

Expansions and Evolutions

Over time, the mall saw significant changes. Macy’s replaced Davison’s, and J. C. Penney took over Mervyn’s spot before Beauty Master’s eventual arrival in 2016.

The merger of Rich’s and Macy’s in 2003 further altered the mall’s retail landscape. These shifts reflected the evolving nature of consumer preferences and the retail industry.

A Hub for Community and Commerce

From its inception, Gwinnett Place Mall was more than a collection of stores; it was a community gathering spot.

The mall experienced various shifts in consumer trends and continuously evolved to cater to the expanding and varied needs of the community.

In its early years, the mall catered to shopping needs and became a place for social interactions, setting the stage for its role in the community.

Challenges and Changes (Late 1990s – Early 2000s)

Facing New Competitors

The late 1990s and early 2000s brought significant challenges to Gwinnett Place Mall. The debut of the Mall of Georgia and Sugarloaf Mills signaled a substantial change in the region’s retail environment.

These new, larger malls offered an expanded range of shopping and entertainment options, attracting a significant portion of Gwinnett Place’s customer base.

Retail Shifts and International Education

During this period, the mall saw changes in its anchor stores, affecting its appeal to shoppers.

Gwinnett Technical College opened an International Education Center within the mall, introducing an educational dimension to the predominantly retail space. This addition highlighted the mall’s evolving role in the community.

Struggles and Store Closures

Despite these adaptations, the mall struggled to maintain its prominence. The lack of new anchor stores and the closure of significant outlets like Belk in 2013 led to a downturn.

The mall’s decline was evident in the increasing number of vacant storefronts and dwindling foot traffic, signaling the end of an era for Gwinnett Place Mall.

Gwinnett Place Mall
Gwinnett Place Mall” by MikeKalasnik is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A Period of Decline and Notoriety (2010s)

The Decline of a Once-Busy Mall

In the 2010s, Gwinnett Place Mall entered a period of significant decline. Major stores like Belk closed their doors in 2013, followed by JCPenney in 2015.

The departure of these key retailers left a noticeable void, leading to a decrease in visitor numbers and an increase in vacant spaces.

This downturn reflected broader trends in the retail industry, where traditional malls faced challenges from online shopping and changing consumer preferences.

Troubling Incidents and Public Safety Concerns

The mall’s decline was accompanied by concerning incidents. In December 2017, a tragic event occurred when the body of a young woman was found in the back room of the food court, having gone unnoticed for weeks.

Additionally, there were reports of criminal activities, including robbery and assault, in 2018, which raised serious concerns about public safety in and around the mall area.

“Stranger Things” and Pop Culture Relevance

An Unexpected Spotlight on Gwinnett Place Mall

In a twist of fate, Gwinnett Place Mall garnered national attention when it became the filming location for the third season of Netflix’s hit series “Stranger Things.”

The production transformed a portion of the largely vacant mall into the fictional Starcourt Mall, a central setting in the show’s 1985 storyline.

This creative repurposing showcased the mall in a completely new light, bringing a wave of nostalgia for the era depicted in the show.

Fan Excitement and Set Dismantling

The revelation that Gwinnett Place Mall was the filming location sparked significant interest among “Stranger Things” fans.

Many visited the mall, hoping to see the recreated 1985-era spaces like the Orange Julius, Chess King, and the focal Scoops Ahoy ice cream shop.

However, the influx of fans and the challenges of maintaining the set led Netflix to dismantle it to prevent vandalism and souvenir theft, despite initial considerations of turning it into a permanent tourist attraction​​.

The Mall’s Role in the Show and Beyond

Netflix leased only a small portion of Gwinnett Place Mall, about 15 to 20 percent, to build approximately 40 shops for the show.

The area was transformed into an incredibly accurate re-creation of a 1980s mall, featuring stores like Waldenbooks, Radio Shack, and a movie theater advertising films of the era.

Despite dismantling the set, the mall remains a point of interest for fans of the show, underscoring its place in pop culture history​​.

The filming at Gwinnett Place Mall brought back a touch of the 1980s mall culture and highlighted the mall’s potential for adaptive reuse.

The excitement and buzz generated by “Stranger Things” demonstrated the enduring appeal of such nostalgic settings, albeit briefly reimagining the mall’s space for a new generation.

Gwinnett County’s Intervention and Future Plans (2020 – 2023)

Gwinnett County Takes Charge

In a significant turn of events, Gwinnett County’s Urban Redevelopment Agency purchased the Gwinnett Place Mall site in 2020 for $23 million.

This acquisition marked a pivotal moment in the mall’s history, signaling a shift away from its traditional role as a retail center.

The county’s decision reflected a broader vision for rejuvenating the area and repurposing the space for community use.

Planning for a Revitalized Future

In 2023, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners announced a comprehensive revitalization strategy.

This long-term plan, spanning over 20 years, aims to transform the mall site into a vibrant community hub.

The strategy incorporates housing, mobility, and green space, reflecting the country’s commitment to sustainable and inclusive development.

Community Engagement and Anticipation

The revitalization plan was developed in response to extensive community feedback involving over 3,000 people.

This inclusive approach ensured that the mall’s future aligns with the needs and aspirations of the local community.

So, there is a sense of anticipation and optimism about the potential transformation of Gwinnett Place Mall into a dynamic and multifunctional space.

Gwinnett Place Mall – From Retail Hub to Community Centerpiece

Reflecting on the Mall’s Legacy

Gwinnett Place Mall, once a bustling retail hub, has traversed a remarkable journey. Its evolution from a vibrant shopping center to a largely vacant space mirrors the changing dynamics of retail and community spaces.

In its heyday, the mall was not just a place for commerce but a social venue that held a special place in the hearts of Duluth’s residents.

Envisioning a Reimagined Future

As Gwinnett County embarks on a transformative project, there’s a collective excitement about the mall’s future.

The proposed redevelopment into a mixed-use community space, encompassing housing, retail, and cultural centers, is poised to rejuvenate the area.

A New Chapter Begins

The story of Gwinnett Place Mall is a testament to the adaptability and resilience of community spaces.

As it transitions into a new era, the mall stands as a symbol of change, reflecting the evolving needs and aspirations of the community it serves.

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