River Roads Mall: A Lost Treasure of Jennings, MO

The Birth of a Shopping Center

In the heart of Jennings, Missouri, River Roads Mall opened its doors in 1962, marking a significant moment in the history of American retail. The mall initially featured J. C. Penney and St. Louis-based Stix, Baer & Fuller as its leading anchor stores, a Woolworth dime store, and a Kroger supermarket. Other significant tenants included Walgreens, Thom McAn, Lane Bryant, Bakers Shoes, and Hess and Culbertson’s jewelry store.

The opening of River Roads Mall was met with excitement and anticipation. It was a symbol of growth, prosperity, and modernity. The mall was not just a place to shop but a social hub where families and friends gathered, memories were made, and community bonds were strengthened.

In 1972, the mall underwent a significant expansion, with J. C. Penney replacing its location with a newer store, increasing mall space to 835,000 square feet. Several local boutiques, a fabric store, Foxmoor Casuals, and Waldenbooks were added to the new stores at the mall. The mall’s parking lot was expanded and re-landscaped, and many tenants underwent storewide renovations.

Expansion and Growth

The 1970s were a time of growth and prosperity for River Roads Mall. The expansion brought new energy, new stores, and new opportunities. The mall became a destination, attracting shoppers from near and far. It was a place where people came to explore, discover, and enjoy the pleasures of shopping and socializing.

But it wasn’t just about shopping. River Roads Mall became a part of the fabric of the community. It hosted events, celebrations, and gatherings. It was a place where people came together, friendships were forged, and community spirit was nurtured.

However, the success of the mall was not without challenges. The retail landscape was changing, and competition was growing. The mall had to adapt, innovate, and evolve to stay relevant and vibrant.

Architectural Features

The architecture of River Roads Mall was a reflection of the times. The mid-century modern design was forward-thinking and innovative, with its clean lines and open spaces. The interior featured wide corridors, artistic lighting, and decorative elements that created a pleasant shopping environment.

The mall’s design was about aesthetics and creating an experience. It was about making shopping enjoyable, comfortable, and convenient. The architecture played a vital role in shaping the mall’s identity and creating a sense of place.

But beyond the physical structure, the mall was a place of memories. It was where people came to spend time, explore, relax, and connect. The architecture was a backdrop to the stories, the laughter, the friendships, and the moments that made River Roads Mall a special place in the hearts of many.

Decline and Challenges

The 1980s brought challenges and changes to River Roads Mall. Major store closings began to occur, including most of the anchor tenants. J. C. Penney closed in mid-1983 due to declining sales, followed by the closure of Stix, Baer & Fuller, which was converted to Dillard’s in 1984 but closed in late 1986.

The decline was not just about store closings but a shift in the retail landscape. Changes in shopping habits, economic challenges, and competition from other malls began to take a toll. The mall’s once-bustling corridors became quieter, and the energy and vibrancy faded.

Despite efforts to revitalize the mall, including proposals to convert it into an outlet mall, the decline continued. The once-thriving shopping center began to show signs of wear and tear, and the sense of community and connection that once defined the mall started to wane.

Closure and Abandonment

The closure of River Roads Mall was a slow and painful process. The J. C. Penney outlet store closed in 1994, and the interior mall was abandoned in 1995. The once-bustling shopping center became a shadow of its former self, with overgrown greenery and built-up trash.

The mall’s decline was a loss for shoppers and the community. The mall’s closure left a void, a sense of loss, and a reminder of the transient nature of retail and community life.

But even in its decline, the mall was not forgotten. Churches United for Community Action, a collective of local churches, collaborated with the city of Jennings to undertake the cleanup of the property. The mall’s legacy lived on, not just in the memories of those who shopped and socialized there but in the efforts to preserve and honor its place in the community.

Demolition and Legacy

River Roads Mall was demolished between August 2006 and September 2007. The demolition marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter. The mall’s legacy was not just about shopping but about community, connection, and change.

The story of River Roads Mall reflects the broader trends in retail and urban development. It’s a story of growth, prosperity, decline, and renewal. It’s a story that resonates with many communities nationwide, where malls have played a central role in shaping social, cultural, and economic life.

The mall’s legacy lives on, not just in the memories of those who shopped and socialized there but in its lessons about adaptability, innovation, and community engagement. It’s a story that reminds us of the importance of place, connection, and the ever-changing nature of retail and community life.

River Roads Mall 1962
River Roads Mall, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

River Roads Mall: Current Status

Today, the site of River Roads Mall has been transformed into “The Residences at Jennings Place,” a Senior Community apartment complex. This development marks a significant shift in the utilization of the space, reflecting changes in community needs and urban planning.

The Residences at Jennings Place is more than just a housing complex; it’s a community. It’s a place where seniors can live, connect, and thrive.

The story of River Roads Mall is not just a story of a shopping center but a community story. It’s a story of growth, change, resilience, and renewal. The story unfolds as the mall site takes on new life and meaning.

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