Epic Transition: Cary Towne Center Mall’s Journey from Retail to Virtual Reality in Cary, NC

The Birth and Blossoming of Cary Towne Center

Once a bustling heart of retail in Cary, North Carolina, the Cary Towne Center Mall began its journey back in 1972.

The local developers had envisioned a superb $25 million Village Center project, including Cary Village Mall and Cary Village Square.

Opening its doors to the public on a chilly February 21, 1979, the mall quickly became the town’s retail paradise.

With anchors like Ivey’s and Hudson Belk leading the charge, it was where the heart of shopping beat with a steady, vibrant rhythm.

The design of the mall was nothing short of captivating. Its pinwheel architecture, a unique conception, blended well with the overall aesthetic of Cary.

The mall’s four wings were a sight to behold, offering a visually delightful geometry that was both functional and appealing.

Cary Towne Center in 2017

Amidst the hustle and bustle, a quaint, sunken, triangular food court sat at the core of this pinwheel, offering a haven for those seeking a gastronomic respite amidst a shopping spree.

“The sunken food court was a spectacle in itself, offering a bird’s eye view of the mesmerizing dance of flavors that Cary had to offer.”

As the years passed, Cary Towne Center became synonymous with retail therapy. It was not merely a mall; it was a part of the town’s identity.

With each passing season, it witnessed the city and its narrative evolve, reflecting the changing tastes and trends of the times.

Moving on, the mall’s story was not just about commerce; it was about community.

The mall saw countless first dates, impromptu family reunions, and the everyday lives of the townsfolk intertwining with its own story.

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It wasn’t merely a structure of brick and mortar; it was where memories were crafted and cherished.

The Challenge of Nearby Mega-Malls

The winds of change ushered in a new era during the 1980s, and Cary Towne Center found itself amidst a retail rivalry.

The proposal of a new “mega-mall” at Crossroads Plaza, a mere mile away, stirred the competitive spirit of Cary Towne Center.

In 1991, a significant expansion saw the mall stretch across 1.1 million square feet, asserting its stance as a central retail fortress amidst a growing cityscape.

With the “mega-mall” emerging on the horizon, Cary Towne Center saw it not as a threat but a cue to elevate its game.

Cary Towne Center in 2023

The expansion was a bold statement, reaffirming its position as a cardinal point in Cary’s retail landscape.

It was a testament to the mall’s resolve to continue being a hallmark of shopping extravagance for the folks in Cary.

“The expansion was not merely about adding square footage; it was about amplifying the mall’s ethos of being a sanctuary for shoppers.”

Despite the burgeoning competition, the mall was a preferred choice for many. It was where old-world charm met the new-world hustle.

The familiar chime of the entrance doors continued to echo the promise of a delightful shopping day, a promise that was kept day in and day out.

Yet, as more shopping behemoths emerged around, the retail landscape started to shift. The allure of newer, shinier establishments began to divert the steady stream of shoppers.

Despite the stiff competition and the changing tides, Cary Towne Center stood tall, maintaining its essence as a place of retail revelry.

The Closing Curtains: End of Retail Operations

The dawn of 2021 brought with it a sad reality. On January 31, Cary Towne Center closed its doors for the final time, marking the end of an era.

The once bustling corridors now echoed with the memories of the past.

Each store that turned its lights off carried stories of joy, laughter, and the simple pleasures of life shared by the people of Cary.

The reasons for the closure were many, but the rise of e-commerce stood at the forefront.

The convenience of online shopping began to overshadow the tactile joy of a day out at the mall.

As the shutters came down, a silence enveloped the place that once resonated with the harmonious cacophony of daily life.

“The closure was not a full stop, but a comma, in the long narrative of Cary Towne Center.”

As the last tenant, Dave & Busters, bid farewell, the finality of the closure hit home. The end was not just a local headline; it was a shared sentiment.

The mall that had once been a cornerstone of retail escapades and a treasure trove of “things to do in Cary, North Carolina,” was now stepping into the annals of history.

However, like the setting sun promises a new dawn, the closure of Cary Towne Center was not a tale of finality.

It was a pause, a moment of reflection, as the town awaited what the next chapter would unveil. The curtains may have closed on its retail saga, but the stage was set for a new narrative.

Unraveling Threads: The Decline of Cary Towne Center

Cary Towne Center started showing signs of strain as the retail landscape shifted with the advent of online shopping platforms.

While attempts were made to rejuvenate the mall, several events unfolded that further exacerbated its declining fortune.

On November 6, 2013, Dave and Buster’s opened its doors within the mall to attract more foot traffic.

This was seen as a positive move, offering a fresh entertainment option for visitors. But the challenges continued.

In October 2014, a significant tenant, Harris Teeter, relocated to a larger location across the street, leaving a void.

Jumpstreet, an indoor trampoline, later filled this space, bounce house and entertainment complex, bringing a new vibe to the mall.

The year 2015 brought more hurdles. In January, Sears, one of the anchor stores, shuttered its Cary Towne location due to ongoing financial woes at the corporate level.

Later that year, TopGolf showed interest in occupying the vacant Sears space and sought zoning approval from the town.

However, the plans fell through due to concerns from a nearby neighborhood regarding potential lighting and noise disturbances.

“The continual change in tenants was a reflection of the trying times the mall was navigating through.”

As 2016 rolled in, Macy’s decided to close its doors early in the year due to underwhelming sales and earnings performance, marking another significant loss for the mall.

In May 2016, a glimmer of hope appeared when a local furniture store, Cary Towne Furniture, took over the Sears space, proudly promoting itself as the largest furniture retail store in the region.

Sadly, this venture, too, was short-lived, as the store closed down in December 2016.

The following years saw no respite. On January 31, 2019, JCPenney, another anchor store, revealed plans to close its Cary Towne Center location by May 3, 2019.

Shortly after, on July 12, 2019, Dillard’s announced its intention to exit the mall by December, making the news official through a notification filed with the State of North Carolina.

“The domino effect of store closures was a clear indication of the challenging path that lay ahead for Cary Towne Center.”

The continuous exit of key tenants, coupled with failed attempts to fill the growing vacant spaces, marked the eroding allure of Cary Towne Center.

The narrative of its decline vividly illustrates how traditional retail spaces struggled to keep pace with evolving consumer preferences and the rise of digital commerce.

A Fresh Horizon: Epic Games Takes Over Cary Towne Center

The narrative of Cary Towne Center was on the verge of a new chapter for quite a while, with plans brewing to metamorphose it from a conventional mall to a mixed-use development.

The initial spark came with an announcement by IKEA in 2017 to unveil a sprawling 350,000-square-foot store where Sears and Macy’s once stood, slated for a 2020 opening.

Propelled by this announcement, CBL, the mall’s owner, and the Town of Cary initiated rezoning to reinvigorate the property.

The ambitious proposal entailed a mix of retail, residential, office spaces, hotel accommodations, and community areas.

However, the course of transformation hit a snag in late May 2018. IKEA backpedaled on its earlier plans, citing the unfolding retail apocalypse as the reason for withdrawing from the Cary venture.

This reversal led to CBL defaulting on the mall’s mortgage and deciding to sell the property.

On January 31, 2019, a joint venture between Turnbridge Equities and Denali Properties came to the fore, acquiring Cary Towne Center.

Fast forward to October 2020, the new owners unveiled their vision to morph Cary Towne Mall into a mixed-use haven dubbed Carolina Yards.

This revamped space was conceived to blend retail, residential, office, and hotel spaces, punctuated with expansive outdoor areas for community gatherings, recreation, and events. Yet, destiny had a different plan in store.

In a twist of fate, January 2021 announced that Epic Games had purchased Cary Towne Center from Turnbridge and Denali for a hefty $95 million.

The acclaimed video game and software developer aimed to refashion the property into its sprawling new headquarters by 2024.

This new plan encompassed office buildings and recreational spaces, ushering in a new era for the once-beloved shopping center.

The mall bid farewell to its retail legacy, closing its doors for good on January 31, 2021.

“The acquisition by Epic Games was a beacon of renewal, infusing the old mall’s framework with a fresh pulse of creativity and innovation.”

As January 17, 2022, Dave & Buster’s commenced operations at its new location in the former JumpStreet trampoline park at 1111 Walnut Street, marking one of the first steps in the mall’s transformation journey.

The physical metamorphosis kicked off in March 2022 with the demolition of Cary Towne Center, making way for the envisioned Epic Games headquarters.

The transition from a retail hub to a digital innovation hub was set in motion, painting a promising picture of Cary Towne Center’s future role as a cornerstone of technological creativity in Cary, North Carolina.

“The evolution was not just about changing structures, but about envisioning a new realm of possibilities for the town of Cary.”

A Measured Pace: Cary Towne Center’s Transformation Journey

The tale of Cary Towne Center mirrors the dynamic nature of urban development, reflecting the shifts in community needs and economic paradigms.

The transformation from a bustling retail hub to an envisioned mixed-use complex and further to the prospective headquarters of Epic Games underscores the flexibility inherent in urban spaces.

However, as 2023 unfolds, the pace of transformation appears to be more measured than initially anticipated.

The recent downsizing at Epic Games, shedding 16% of its staff, casts a silhouette of uncertainty over the expeditious realization of the grand plans for Cary Towne Center​​.

The ripple effects of this organizational reshuffle may extend to the pace at which the redevelopment project advances.

The narrative of Cary Towne Center is far from over; it’s a living story of urban evolution.

As the contours of this development saga continue to unfold, the eyes of Cary’s residents and the broader North Carolina community will remain keenly fixed on the old mall’s grounds, watching as each new layer of its transformation story is carefully etched.

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Comments: 4
  1. Avatar of Jack van Dijk
    Jack van Dijk

    I miss this mall. ;-)

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      It’s always sad when a beloved shopping center shuts down, especially if it holds sentimental value.

  2. Avatar of Bob Perra
    Bob Perra

    Very sad and disappointing to see these awesome shopping malls disappear. Bring them back please.

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      Your sentiment resonates with many who share fond memories of shopping malls like Cary Towne Center. By exploring innovative and engaging experiences, there’s an opportunity to reestablish these malls as vibrant community hubs, meeting the needs of today’s consumers.

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