Bibb County features several popular shopping areas. However, only a few short years ago, the most impressive shopping center in the district, and possibly in the county, was the Macon Mall.
The Macon Mall was overall a successful shopping area for many years until the late 2000s brought trouble, sending the shopping center spiraling downward, losing many of its businesses.
Two primary reasons associated with the decline of the Macon Mall, include the widespread rumors about a large gang presence at the mall and the opening of the Shoppes at River Crossing, an outdoor mall in north Macon, in March 2008.
However, all hope is not lost, as new management took over the mall in 2010 and is looking to improve the mall in a substantial way, working to make it more secure, enjoyable and convenient.
The Macon Mall opened in July of 1975 with 950,000 sq. ft. and four anchor stores, replacing Westgate Mall down the street.
In 1997, the mall reached its greatest size and capacity, adding more upscale businesses, two major anchor stores, Parisian and Dillard’s, and a two-story food court..
Many Macon natives have fond memories spanning from when the Macon Mall opened in the 1970s through its transformation into the fourth largest mall in Georgia in the early 2000s.
“Back in my Mercer days, it was the only place to shop and was twice the size it is now,” said Mercer alumna (2002-2006), Kate Miller.
“[The mall] was one of the highlights for me about moving to Macon. The mall felt very safe…[it] was organized so that shops appealing to similar clientele were all close to each other,” Miller continued.
However, the businesses are not the only aspect of the mall treasured by mall-goers of the past.
Many Macon citizens remember a time when the mall often held fun family events, such as the indoor car shows, choral groups, and fashion shows including one featuring Edith Head’s line.
Certain features of Macon Mall’s past remain close to people’s hearts, such as the train car restaurant, Farrell’s Ice Cream parlor, the giant carousel, the four-plex movie theatre, Big Top Sandwich Shoppe and the arcade with video games like Pac-Man and Galaga.
Since the mall’s decline, most of the businesses that attracted people to the Macon Mall have either moved to another location, the majority to River Crossing, or simply closed down.
According to Bill Murphy, 57, a former employee of Atlanta mall developer Scott Hudgens and a Macon resident since 2011, “The day of the mall as a mecca is gone, as the cost is prohibitive for construction and maintenance of elaborate public spaces.”
Several shoppers still believe the surrounding area to be dangerous and crime-ridden and remain uncertain about mall security measures, despite the efforts of the new management.
“[Since 10 to 15 years ago], the mall has gotten a little worse,” said fifth-year Mercer senior, Chris Borroso.
“Kids were running around without parents, causing trouble. The crime got a lot worse, and people stuck to the peripheral shops.”
Others claim that along with the area’s reputation for crime, mall management is to be blamed for the fall of the shopping center.
Randy Kitchens, 55, who grew up in Macon, said, “Going to Macon Mall risks car vandalism or theft at the least. This is during daylight hours. To go at night is simply flirting with disaster…If I want to enjoy a nice mall, I have to leave Macon. Poor management and lack of security destroyed what was the old Macon Mall.”
The negative reputation the mall has gained in past years is furthered by the number of crimes people imagine occur at the mall.
However, according to Sgt. Mark Schultz of Bibb County Police, in his five years at Macon Mall, he has seen no crimes more serious than shoplifting.
“The mall is just as safe as any other place in Macon,” said Shultz.
Widespread rumors and urban legends involving gang initiations at Macon Mall have also circulated and frightened off many shoppers in past years.
However, since new mall management took over the building in September 2010, they have been working to renovate and bring life back to the Macon Mall.
The new management company, Hull Storey Gibson Comapanies LLC, bought the mall and began making changes almost immediately, decreasing the mall’s size in order to eliminate empty spaces and updating the décor to show some of Macon’s history.
Hull Storey Gibson have bought and managed over 15 malls in the South, from Texas to North Carolina, over the past 35 years.
In order to bring more business back to the Macon Mall, Hull Storey Gibson has brought in a popular barbeque restaurant, Smok’n Pig BBQ, in April 2012 and two new stores in October 2012, Dry Falls Outfitters and B. Turners.
Caitlyn DuCharme, a sophomore at Mercer and Macon resident, said “Compared to the last few years, it’s a definite improvement. I don’t necessarily feel safe, but the atmosphere is much nicer than it was two years ago.”
The new management has recently torn down the old Dillard’s building and plans to replace it with a grassy area with the potential of being redeveloped in the future. The demolition and landscaping should be completed early this summer.
Deputy Johnny Blash, a Macon Mall police officer since 2005, said “The current renovations and security measures are very good. Now, it’s a matter of word of mouth. People will start to realize the mall is now more family-centered. It used to be a hangout place for people not doing any shopping. But that has changed now. It’s time to have fun with pants pulled up and showing some respect for other shoppers.”
The new management has put a large focus on security at the Macon Mall, continued Blash. “It will thrive now. It’s the safest it’s been in a long time.”
According to Blash and Schultz, two uniformed officers are in the mall during the day, along with six security officers. At 6 p.m., four more Macon police officers join them for extra night security.
The mall has also posted rules and regulations for shoppers, including an age limit for single shoppers and a dress code.
Schultz’s prediction about the future of the Macon Mall is that “it might never go back to what it used to be, but the new owners have put in a lot of work, and it is much more secure now than ever before. It will probably get even better in the future.”