The Rise of Sunrise Mall
Sunrise Mall, once a bustling shopping center in Corpus Christi, Texas, encapsulated the American mall experience during its heyday in the 1980s.
Strategically situated at the intersection of Airline Rd. and S. Padre Island Drive, the two-story, enclosed shopping mall offered a variety of shopping, dining, and entertainment options to the residents of Corpus Christi and its surrounding areas.
At its peak, the mall attracted visitors with its diverse retail outlets and anchor stores, including Sears, Frost Bros., and Joske’s, making it a central hub for commerce and leisure in the community.
However, the story of Sunrise Mall is one of both success and decline, reflecting the broader challenges shopping malls across the United States face.
Over the years, the mall experienced various stages of growth, competition, and eventual decline, grappling with shifts in the retail landscape, changing consumer preferences, and the emergence of e-commerce.
The tale of Sunrise Mall serves as a poignant reminder of the ever-evolving nature of retail and the struggle of traditional brick-and-mortar establishments to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world.
Founding and Initial Success (1979–1987)
Sunrise Mall in Corpus Christi, Texas, was constructed over 15 months, starting from November 1, 1979, near the pre-existing Padre Staples Mall (now La Palmera). The grand opening took place on February 4, 1981, featuring Joske’s, Frost Bros., and Sears as the primary anchor stores.
In its early years, Sunrise Mall held its own against its nearby rival, Padre Staples Mall. Many retailers even chose to open additional locations in the new mall, and it gained some fame as a filming location for the movie “The Legend of Billie Jean.“
In 1987, facing a renovation and expansion of Padre Staples Mall, Sunrise Mall management embarked on a significant expansion project that included adding a new anchor store, Mervyn’s, a movie theater, a nautical-themed food court, and two parking garages.
However, the mall suffered a setback when Dillard’s acquired Joske’s and decided to close the Sunrise Mall location, leaving an anchor store vacant. Montgomery Ward stepped in and filled the space in November of that year.
The Slow Descent (1988–2007)
In April 1988, shortly after completing the renovations, Frost Bros. announced the closure of their Corpus Christi location due to financial difficulties. Retailers at Sunrise Mall started to struggle, finding it hard to justify operating two stores nearby.
Many of them began migrating back to Padre Staples Mall. In 1990, the closed H-E-B store on the property was connected to the mall and reopened as a Stein Mart, adding a sixth anchor store.
In 1992, Burlington Coat Factory took over the Frost Bros. location, an unusual choice for a significant mall anchor. Despite this, major retailers continued to leave Sunrise Mall.
The collapse of Montgomery Ward in 2000 and the closure of Mervyn’s in 2006 left the mall with two central vacant anchor spaces. A series of ownership and management changes left the mall mostly empty by 2007, with a few non-traditional tenants remaining.
New Ownership and Attempted Revitalization
In September 2008, Laredo, Texas-based IBC Bank purchased Sunrise Mall at a foreclosure auction. A new management team was brought to revitalize the facility and attract new tenants.
Many improvements were made, including a new air conditioning system, professional security staff, and restoring the mall’s fountains.
Collapse and Struggles (2008–present)
Sunrise Mall suffered severe neglect in early 2008, including when Reliant Energy cut off the power due to unpaid bills.
After a legal battle and a bankruptcy filing, the mall was foreclosed upon in September 2008 but remained open with few businesses operating. In November 2018, more tenants were asked to leave by the end of the month, casting doubt on the mall’s future.
In August 2019, it was announced that Sears would close its location as part of a plan to shutter 92 stores nationwide. Sears closed in December 2019, followed by Wilcox Furniture in March 2021. In addition, Burlington announced the closure and relocation of their store to the nearby Moore Plaza shopping center in fall 2021.
Decline & Closure
By June 2018, the mall had become nearly deserted, despite being clean and well-maintained. It housed very few active businesses, and the mall’s escalators were shut down, leaving only a few elevators and staircases for second-floor access.
The upstairs food court dwindled to just one open restaurant. Major attractions included the anchor stores, arcade, mini-golf, two gyms, and bridal stores. Santa visited the mall’s center during the Christmas season. By January 15, 2018, the Cinemark Dollar Cinema had ceased operations.
On August 11, 2019, the mall officially closed its central portion to the public, with many remaining tenants following suit. As of July 2021, the remaining tenants were New Life Church, Freedom Fitness, and Planet Fitness.
Legacy of Sunrise Mall
Once a thriving shopping center, Sunrise Mall ultimately succumbed to a changing retail landscape and fierce competition from nearby malls. Despite the valiant efforts of new management and attempted revitalization, the mall’s fortunes continued to decline.
Its story serves as a reminder of the struggles many shopping malls have faced in recent years, as shifting consumer preferences and the rise of e-commerce have left these once-bustling hubs struggling to survive.
Thank you for an interesting story. Your title is perfection! My mother worked at Frost Brothers at this mall and I remember what a beautiful store it was inside this beautiful building. My Christmas china was purchased at Montgomery Ward and I still have tools and a four-poster bed that I purchased from Sears. Sad to drive past this building now, but good memories remain from its heyday! Good reading about Corpus Christi history. Safe travels to you.
I appreciate your kind words and am glad you enjoyed the article. It’s always amazing to hear personal stories like yours about places we visit. It’s a bit bittersweet to see these iconic locations change over time, but it’s great to remember the good times. Thanks again for sharing your story, and I wish you all the best. Safe travels to you too!
I was born and raised in Corpus Christi. I’m will be 40 this year. I absolutely miss the Sunrise Mall. The dollar movies was my absolute favorite. I remember every store in this mall. I wish we could have it all back. Great memories growing up!
I can understand how nostalgic you feel about Sunrise Mall in Corpus Christi. It’s always tough to see places with so many memories disappear over time. It’s amazing how a place can make such a significant impact on someone’s life. Thanks for sharing your memories, Melissa!
Make low cost housing apartments which are badly needed more than any malls or stores especially with the economy how it is nowadays. Instead of letting it go down make it into apartments with restaurants.
Thank you for your comment and suggestion regarding Sunrise Mall. Affordable housing is a pressing need in many communities, and repurposing underutilized spaces like malls can be a creative solution.
However, it’s important to note that converting a mall into housing is a complex process involving various factors, including zoning laws, building codes, and infrastructure needs.