The Early Days
Asheville Mall, a regional retail powerhouse, is off Interstate 240 in eastern Asheville, North Carolina. The journey to its establishment was fraught with difficulties, marked by resistance from city officials and nearby property owners.
Groundbreaking and Resistance: The mall’s construction was initiated by R. L. Coleman and Company, with the first store, Sears, opening in February 1972. The rest of the shopping center was unveiled the following year. The journey to completion was fraught with challenges, including pushback from city officials and surrounding property owners.
Dramatic Incidents: The mall’s development wasn’t short of drama, with incidents as extreme as a neighbor threatening a bulldozer operator with a shotgun during site grading and a helicopter crashing into the roof during the final construction phase.
The Initial Anchors: Serving as the central pillars of the mall, the original anchors – The Bon Marche, Belk, and Sears – attracted substantial footfall. Ivey’s was added to the anchor lineup shortly after the grand opening in the mid-1970s.
Growth and Evolution
Over the decades, Asheville Mall expanded its retail landscape, adding more stores and refining its offerings. Chick-Fil-A opened its first store in the region at the mall in the mid-eighties.
The mall later extended a wing from JCPenney to Belk, adding 30 more stores. This period was marked by the closure of Montgomery Ward in 2000 and the space’s conversion to a Dillard’s Men’s, Children’s, and Home store.
The mall’s ownership changed hands several times, with the most dramatic transition being the foreclosure threat faced by CBL Properties in 2020.
In August 2022, the Asheville Mall underwent another transformation when it was sold for $62.15 million to the New York-based Kohan Retail Investment Group. This marked the beginning of a new chapter for the mall, now part of a portfolio of 65 malls owned by the Kohan Group.
Today, under new ownership, the mall is experiencing a revival. Several new shops have debuted, and the occupancy rate has risen to 90%, nearly matching the pre-COVID rate of 94%.
Moreover, the mall’s management is optimistic about the future, suggesting that Kohan’s network and relationships could bring in even more stores.
Despite the exciting progress, the future development of the Asheville Mall remains somewhat uncertain. The old Sears building, now owned by a separate entity, has the potential for significant redevelopment, but no plans have been submitted as of late 2022. Nevertheless, anticipating what could come next adds to the mall’s excitement and expectation.
Despite some uncertainties and challenges, the Asheville Mall is a testament to resilience and adaptation. Its rich history, current revival, and promising future make it a vibrant part of Asheville’s commercial landscape.
The Pillars of Asheville Mall: Current Anchor Stores
Belk: Southern Style and Hospitality
As one of the three anchors of Asheville Mall, Belk has been a familiar name to the shoppers of Asheville since the early days of the mall.
With its comprehensive range of national and private-label fashion apparel, footwear, and accessories for all family members, Belk is a hub of Southern style and warmth. But it’s more than just a department store.
With its long-standing presence in the Asheville Mall, Belk has evolved alongside the mall, weathering the shifts in the retail landscape and consistently providing a reliable shopping experience for mall-goers. It has served as a store and a stalwart pillar of the Asheville Mall, contributing to the mall’s identity and appeal to shoppers.
JCPenney: An All-American Staple
JCPenney, another anchor store at Asheville Mall, is well-known in American retail. Since joining the mall in 1989, JCPenney has been a vital component of its retail offering. From clothing and accessories to home goods, JCPenney provides a wide range of products that cater to the diverse needs of Asheville Mall’s visitors.
JCPenney attracts considerable foot traffic as an anchor store, which is a significant draw for the Asheville Mall. In addition, its broad product assortment and commitment to quality have made it a favorite among shoppers.
Dillard’s: A Tale of Two Stores
Dillard’s holds a unique position among the anchor stores at Asheville Mall as it operates two locations within the mall. This dual presence allows Dillard’s to offer a more diverse product range, with one store focusing on women’s apparel and the other offering men’s, children’s, and home goods.
The existence of two Dillard’s locations within the mall offers shoppers the convenience of having more options and selections within a single mall. This, in turn, has made Dillard’s a vital part of the Asheville Mall shopping experience.
New Directions and Future Possibilities (2023 and Beyond)
Under the new management of Kohan Retail Investment Group, the Asheville Mall is expected to see more stores due to the company’s network of connections. Several new shops, including Boho Lady, Mr. Tea Asian Bistro, and Papas Express, have moved in over the past year.
Kohan’s philosophy is to envision a new future for malls, seeing them as hybrid spaces for entertainment, food, and retail rather than solely retail-focused. They know the closing of large anchor stores around the country as an opportunity to repurpose those spaces for various venues, including galas, expos, concerts, arcades, and miniature golf.
While there is still a lot of uncertainty, the changes are expected to benefit the Asheville community and the mall’s future. It’s a story of resilience and adaptation, reflecting the broader shifts in the retail industry and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.