North DeKalb Mall: The Early Years
North DeKalb Mall opened its doors on July 29, 1965, becoming an instant landmark in Decatur, Georgia.
The mall initially featured fifty-four stores designed by Barrett + Associates Architects, offering various shopping options to the local community.
Among the original anchor stores were Atlanta-based department store Rich’s and a Woolworth dime store, both popular shopping destinations at the time.
In the late 1960s, the mall faced a significant threat from the proposed extension of the Stone Mountain Freeway.
The freeway’s expansion would have led to the mall’s demolition, but fortunately, these plans were never implemented.
This allowed the mall to continue serving the community and quickly became a bustling hub for shopping and socializing.
The mall’s early years were marked by steady growth and a positive reception from the community.
It was more than just a shopping center; it was a place where families could spend quality time together, whether dining in the food court or catching a movie.
The mall’s initial success set the stage for future expansions and renovations, ensuring its place as a cornerstone in the Decatur, Georgia, community.
However, as the years passed, the retail landscape began to change. The rise of big-box stores posed challenges for traditional malls like North DeKalb.
Despite these challenges, the mall continued to adapt, leading to a significant period of expansion in the mid-1980s.
The Expansion Era
In 1986, North DeKalb Mall underwent a significant transformation. Two new anchor stores were introduced: department store chains Mervyn’s and discount chain Lechmere.
These additions were part of a broader renovation and expansion project that led to the mall being renamed Market Square at North DeKalb.
Lechmere, however, was short-lived and closed its doors in 1989. It was replaced by the discount pharmacy chain Phar-Mor, which also eventually closed in 1992.
Despite these closures, the mall continued attracting shoppers with its diverse stores and services.
During this period, the mall also saw the addition of several other stores and dining options, enhancing its appeal as a one-stop shopping destination.
However, the retail environment was becoming increasingly competitive, and North DeKalb Mall had to adapt to keep up with changing consumer preferences.
By the early 2000s, the mall showed signs of age and struggled to compete with newer, more modern shopping centers.
It was clear that significant changes were needed to revitalize the mall and make it more appealing to contemporary shoppers.
This led to the mall’s acquisition by Hendon Properties in 2003, setting the stage for another period of transformation.
The Decline and Struggles
In 2003, Hendon Properties purchased North DeKalb Mall for $25 million with ambitious plans to bring a Costco to the mall.
However, these plans never materialized, and the mall lost its luster. Several stores closed their doors, and foot traffic began to decline, signaling the beginning of a challenging period for the mall.
One of the most significant blows came in the spring of 2016 when the Macy’s anchor store closed its doors.
This closure had a domino effect, reducing foot traffic and making it difficult for the remaining stores to sustain their businesses.
Around this time, the mall earned the nickname of the ‘almost’ mall of DeKalb County as it struggled to secure a stable anchor store.
Despite these challenges, the mall found a lifeline in an unexpected place.
Employees from nearby Emory University began using the mall’s vast parking lots as a temporary location for ride-sharing into the University.
This and limited traffic from the AMC movie theater helped keep the mall from going ultimately under.
However, the writing was on the wall. On October 1, 2020, North DeKalb Mall officially closed its doors due to poor sales and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it was the end of an era, it also marked the beginning of a new chapter, as plans for the mall’s redevelopment started to take shape.
The Rebranding and Future Plans
In 2014, Lennar, in partnership with Sterling Organization, purchased the mall with plans to convert it into an open-air concept.
However, these plans were put on hold, and in 2019, the property was sold to Edens, a commercial real estate developer.
Edens had ambitious plans to transform the site into a mixed-use facility, breathing new life into the aging mall.
The most significant change came in 2023 when it was announced that North DeKalb Mall would be demolished and rebranded as Lulah Hills.
The goal of the redevelopment initiative is to encompass a total area of 2.5 million square feet, with a breakdown that includes 320,000 square feet designated for retail and dining establishments, 1,700 units for multifamily living, an additional 100 townhomes, and a hotel with 150 keys.
The first phase of the Lulah Hills project is expected to be completed by 2025. The redevelopment aims to create a retail-focused, mixed-use destination that reflects the community’s character.
With its strategic location near downtown Decatur and Emory University, Lulah Hills is poised to become a significant landmark in the area.
While the mall’s transformation marks the end of an era, it also signifies a new beginning.
The redevelopment aims to bring significant economic activity and strengthened connectivity to the area, ensuring that the mall’s legacy continues in a new, revitalized form.
Community Impact and Legacy
For decades, North DeKalb Mall served as a community hub where people could shop, dine, and socialize.
Its closure left a void in the community, but the upcoming Lulah Hills project aims to fill that gap.
The redevelopment plans have been carefully designed to reflect the character and needs of the local community.
The mall’s primary traffic once stemmed from Emory University employees who used its vast parking lots for ride-sharing into the University.
This unique aspect of the mall’s history highlights its role as a community resource beyond just being a shopping destination.
The new Lulah Hills aims to continue this legacy by offering various amenities catering to the community’s diverse needs.
The redevelopment project has received widespread support, including approval from the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners.
This support underscores the community’s desire for a revitalized shopping and social hub that can serve as a cornerstone for future growth and development.
As Lulah Hills takes shape, it’s clear that while the name and structure may change, the essence of what made North DeKalb Mall a community landmark will continue.
The redevelopment aims to enrich the community through innovative design, thoughtful curation, and active engagement, ensuring that the mall’s legacy lives in a new and exciting form.
The story of North DeKalb Mall is one of rise, fall, and rebirth. From its early days as a bustling shopping center to its struggles in the face of changing retail landscapes, the mall has been a constant presence in the Decatur community.
Its transformation into Lulah Hills marks a new chapter that promises to bring renewed energy and opportunities to the area.
While the mall as we knew it may be gone, its spirit lives on, ensuring its legacy will continue to be a part of the community for years.