From Heyday to Today: Courtland Center Mall in Burton, MI

The Birth of Courtland Center Mall

Introduction to Courtland Center

In 1968, a significant addition to Burton, Michigan‘s retail landscape emerged with the opening of Eastland Mall, later known as Courtland Center.

This enclosed shopping mall at 4190 E. Court St. marked a new era in the suburban shopping experience.

Spanning an impressive 460,000 square feet, Courtland Center was not just a shopping destination but a symbol of modern consumer culture in the late 1960s.

Early Development and Key Players

The journey of Courtland Center began in September 1964 when the Burton Township board decided to rezon the property at East Court Street and Center Road from residential to commercial.

This move paved the way for Forest City Enterprises, a prominent real estate company, to commence construction.

The mall’s development was significant, with expectations set for a grand opening in the second quarter of 1965. However, it wasn’t until late October 1968 that the mall officially opened its doors to the public.

Initial Anchors and Stores

At its inception, Courtland Center was a haven for shoppers, featuring diverse stores and amenities. It boasted a 1000-seat theater, enhancing the shopping experience with entertainment options.

The mall initially housed 47 stores, including three major anchor stores that drew significant foot traffic.

Woolco, a discount chain, occupied the eastern end of the mall, while The Fair graced the western end. The center of the mall was anchored by Detroit-based Federal’s.

Over time, these anchors changed; Federal’s closed and was briefly replaced by Robert Hall Village until its closure in 1977.

JCPenney later occupied this central space, beginning its long-standing presence in the mall.

Reflecting on the history of Courtland Center, it’s intriguing to consider what to do near Flint, Michigan, during that era.

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The mall undoubtedly played a crucial role in the community’s social and economic fabric, offering various shopping and entertainment options to residents and visitors alike.

Evolution and Renaming

Transition to Courtland Center

In August 1986, a significant transformation occurred when Eastland Mall was rechristened as Courtland Center.

This renaming marked a new chapter in the mall’s history, reflecting its identity and market positioning shift.

The change was more than just in name; it signified a transition and adaptation to evolving retail trends.

Courtland Center
Courtland Center” by wachovia_138 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Store Changes and Additions

The late 1980s and early 1990s were a time of change for Courtland Center. In 1987, following the closure of The Fair, the space was occupied by Mervyn’s, a mid-range department store, adding a new dimension to the mall’s retail mix.

The former space of Woolco, which closed in 1983 as part of the chain’s U.S. exit, was subdivided.

This space welcomed Crowley’s department store alongside a range of additional stores, diversifying the shopping options available to patrons.

The 1990s Stability

During the 1990s, Courtland Center enjoyed a period of relative stability. By 1994, the mall boasted around 80 stores, catering to a wide range of consumer needs and preferences.

This era was characterized by a steady flow of shoppers and a consistent retail environment, with the mall maintaining its position as a key player in the Burton retail scene.

The 2000s Redevelopment

New Ownership and Renovations

The dawn of the 2000s brought significant changes to Courtland Center, as Tucker Development took over ownership of the mall from Forest City Enterprises.

This change in ownership brought a fresh perspective and led to significant renovations. In July 2000, part of the former Crowley’s space was transformed into an Old Navy store, signaling a shift towards more contemporary retail offerings.

The mall’s transformation progressed as Staples transitioned from its previous location in a nearby strip mall to occupy the space formerly held by Old Navy in 2005.

JCPenney’s Major Move

One of the most notable developments in the 2000s was the major move by JCPenney.

Towards the end of 2007, JCPenney revealed plans to shift its store to a more expansive and modernized mall area previously occupied by Mervyn’s.

The new JCPenney store, which opened on March 1, 2008, included several new departments, such as an inline Sephora, enhancing the shopping experience.

Courtland Center
Courtland Center” by wachovia_138 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Other Significant Changes

The 2000s also saw other significant changes in Courtland Center. Mervyn’s closed in early 2006 as the chain exited Michigan.

Following JCPenney’s move, the space they left behind was quickly filled by Steve & Barry’s, which opened its doors to the public on May 15, 2008.

However, this was short-lived, as Steve & Barry’s closed in December 2008. These developments reflected the ongoing evolution of Courtland Center in response to the changing retail landscape.

Recent Developments and Challenges

Ownership Changes and New Ventures

In 2013, Courtland Center experienced another significant shift when it was sold by Tucker Development to a Delaware-based limited liability company.

This change in ownership brought new hopes for revitalization and introduced fresh strategies to enhance the mall’s appeal.

One notable addition was opening a Goodwill Industries store in January 2016, occupying a 15,000-square-foot space.

Initially a temporary Christmas store in November 2015, this store became a permanent fixture, offering a unique shopping experience within the mall.

Cinema’s Closure and Reopening

The cinema at Courtland Center has had a tumultuous history. Initially closed in January 2009, it was reopened by NCG Cinemas on May 20, 2011, as NCG Courtland Cinemas.

This reopening was part of a broader effort to maintain the mall’s relevance as an entertainment destination.

However, this resurgence was short-lived, as the cinema permanently closed its doors on September 27, 2021, marking the end of an era for movie-goers at the mall.

Current State of the Mall

As of 2023, Courtland Center faces significant challenges. The retail landscape has evolved dramatically, with online shopping and changing consumer preferences impacting traditional malls.

Once a bustling activity hub, the mall needs help retaining tenants and attracting shoppers. This decline is evident in the reduced number of stores and the visible signs of wear and tear on the property.

Despite these challenges, Courtland Center continues to serve the Burton community, albeit in a diminished capacity compared to its heyday.

Courtland Center Mall
Courtland Center Mall” by wachovia_138 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Anchor Stores and Their Stories


JCPenney has been a key anchor at Courtland Center for several decades. After occupying the space left by Federal’s, JCPenney underwent a significant expansion and relocation within the mall in 2008.

The new store in the former Mervyn’s space offered a broader range of departments, including a Sephora outlet.

This move was part of a strategic effort to modernize the store and enhance its appeal to shoppers.

Despite the mall’s broader challenges, JCPenney remains a central fixture, continuing to draw customers with its diverse product offerings.

Dunham’s Sports

Dunham’s Sports, another major anchor at Courtland Center, has a unique story within the mall.

Originally located in a nearby strip mall, Dunham’s moved into Courtland Center, occupying part of Crowley’s previously occupied space.

This move brought a sports and outdoor gear retailer into the mall, diversifying the shopping experience for visitors.

Dunham’s presence in the mall underscores the ongoing efforts to adapt to changing retail trends and consumer interests.

JOANN Fabric and Crafts

JOANN Fabric and Crafts is an addition to Courtland Center’s anchor lineup. The store, which opened in the space formerly occupied by Crowley’s and Old Navy, marked a shift towards more niche retail offerings.

JOANN’s arrival in the mall was part of the 2000s redevelopment efforts to bring in new types of stores to attract a wider range of shoppers.

The store caters to craft enthusiasts and hobbyists, adding a unique dimension to the mall’s retail mix.

Sloan Museum’s Interim Years at Courtland Center

Temporary Relocation to Courtland Center

While Flint’s original Sloan Museum building underwent a major overhaul and expansion starting in 2018, a significant part of its collection found a temporary home in Courtland Center Mall.

This move was a strategic decision to keep the museum accessible during renovation. The museum’s presence in the mall offered visitors a unique blend of retail and educational experiences.

Showcasing Flint’s Automotive History

During its stay at Courtland Center, Sloan Museum continued to fulfill its mission of preserving and showcasing Flint’s rich automotive history.

The museum exhibited the city’s significant contributions to the automotive industry. These exhibits included rare and historic vehicles, providing a glimpse into the evolution of automobile manufacturing in Genesee County and Flint’s role in it.

Impact on the Mall and Community

Sloan Museum’s presence in Courtland Center was more than just a temporary arrangement; it brought an educational and cultural dimension to the shopping mall.

The museum attracted visitors who might not typically visit a mall, increasing foot traffic and adding to the mall’s diversity of attractions.

This period also underscored the museum’s adaptability and commitment to staying connected with the community, even while its main building was renovated.

The Community and Cultural Impact

Mall as a Community Hub

Throughout its existence, Courtland Center has been more than just a shopping destination; it has served as a vital community hub for Burton, Michigan.

The mall has been a vibrant center for various local events and activities, nurturing a strong sense of community engagement and connection.

These events have ranged from holiday celebrations to local gatherings, making the mall a central meeting point for residents of Burton and the surrounding areas.

Courtland Center
Courtland Center” by wachovia_138 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cultural Significance

The cultural impact of Courtland Center extends beyond its role as a retail center. It has been a part of Burton’s social fabric, reflecting the changing trends and preferences in shopping and leisure activities.

From its bustling early days to its more challenging present, the mall’s evolution mirrors broader shifts in consumer behavior and the retail industry.

It has witnessed the transition from traditional brick-and-mortar shopping to the rise of online commerce.

Challenges in the Retail Landscape

Courtland Center’s journey also highlights the challenges faced by traditional malls in adapting to the rapidly changing retail landscape.

The rise of e-commerce, changing consumer preferences, and economic shifts have all altered the mall’s fortunes.

Despite these challenges, Courtland Center continues to adapt and find its place in the modern retail world, striving to maintain its relevance in the community.


Reflecting on Courtland Center’s Journey

Courtland Center’s story is one of transformation and resilience. From its inception in 1968 as Eastland Mall to its current state, the mall has experienced numerous changes.

It has seen the rise and fall of various stores, undergone ownership changes, and adapted to the evolving retail environment.

The mall’s history is a testament to the dynamic nature of the retail industry and the challenges traditional shopping centers face.

The Future of Courtland Center

Looking ahead, the future of Courtland Center remains uncertain. Like many others, the mall faces the daunting task of reinventing itself in an era dominated by online shopping and changing consumer habits.

However, its enduring presence and ability to adapt suggest it may find new ways to remain relevant and serve the Burton community.

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Comments: 4
  1. Avatar of David Forsmark
    David Forsmark

    Cute, but around 2022 the mall actually banned “mall walkers,” old people looking for a safe space to exercise (and they usually shop.) Most of the stores you list, including Dunhams, doesn’t even have a mall entrance. You have to park outside the store and enter that way. I’m sure they take new renters, but they seem to be actively discouraging mall traffic while the owners look for something else to do with the space. You obviously have never been there.

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s essential to hear from people who know the mall well. Your insights are certainly valuable in understanding the current state of Courtland Center.

  2. Avatar of Barb

    I believe that if the mall has managers that knows how to offer incentives and lower rent for a period they might be able to revive the old girl!!! I still go there, to Penneys, and Dunham’s and will go to Ross!!! I’ve always hoped they would bring her back!!! I not only shopped, ate and saw movies there, but strolled many times through there!!! Good luck!!!

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      Thank you for your insightful comment! It’s heartening to see someone who believes in the potential of Courtland Center Mall. Your loyalty and optimism are truly inspiring.

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