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BCR Video Vignette: The suburban strip mall reflects on its younger days

What does the strip mall represent when it's been stripped away of all its essence, when every business except one hardy restaurant has left? How is the future of this strip mall, and its surroundings, so very different from what "forward-thinking Durhamites" expected back in those halcyon days in the late 1980s?

And just how can an empty parking lot, a small child, and a shopping cart combine to make the sweetest ad-hoc playplace?

Find out in this BCR video vignette, as we take a look at the tired South Square shopping plaza awaiting its transformation into a new mixed-use development:

Comments

Michael

I'm not at all sorry to see that strip mall be redeveloped. I'm glad to see that it looks like it is really going to happen and not just languish. FWIW, the Kroger that was there moved south on 15-501 about 3 miles to Patterson Place. The Super Target grocery next door must have siphoned off too much business. Finally, we love Sitar. I'll be there for lunch on Friday, in fact. I hope that the owners have a plan to land somewhere nearby.

lisa b

Empty parking lots are also a great place to learn to drive a manual transmission car.

James Martin

Sitar is the only business in that strip that will be staying. They will be opening a new location in that development once it's done, or so we've been told by our landlord, who owns the South Square 2 building (the red three story building by Chuck E Cheese).

Valerie

Love the vid vignette. When's the demolition?

(Don't play in parking lots! You could break an arm!)

Paul Dudenhefer

Great work, BCR, on this. Thanks. When I moved here nine years ago, I think every storefront was occupied. I wonder what accounts for the decline?

Ben

Glad to hear that Sitar will be reborn after the redevelopment! The best Indian food in Durham, IMHO.

ela9

Kevin, how long ago did you move to Durham?

The reason I ask is because I wasn't sure if you remembered pre-Target days. I'm hopeful for South Square 2 based on what happened with the other side of Shannon Road. South Square (the original mall, before it was demolished) was pretty empty/dead too at the end, when I moved to Durham. I remember when they decided to scrap the whole thing and ended up putting a Target in there; it was pretty much the Second Coming for many of us, especially those of us who had grown up elsewhere (and where Target was already established in our neighborhoods). Still it is weird to think that South Square used to be "THE mall" which helped lead to the decline of Northgate (pre-Southpoint) and then Southpoint helped finish off South Square. I think South Square lasted six months (maybe even less?!) once Southpoint opened - wasn't Dillard's the last thing to leave? If my memory is correct this was 2002 (I'm pretty sure they tore it down in '03 and I think Southpoint opened in 2002 as well, if I've got my timeline correct.. .) That was one sad mall at the end.

John Cole

Thanks for the visuals, and great blog!

We left Dur'm three-plus years ago following the Paxton buyout of The Herald-Sun (I was the editorial cartoonist there), and it's fascinating to check in on what's new (or not) with The Bull City. I arrived in town in 1985, when most of that area was open space and there was no I-40 bisecting it from Chapel Hill. The place is almost unrecognizable now compared to only a couple of decades ago.

What's "not new" is to see shopping centers like this (we lived nearby in the Duke Forest area) nearly empty and slated for redevelopment. So many of those places were built cheaply and with the expectation of eventually being destroyed. Maybe the developers were channeling Man Ray. At least Durham's economy is hot enouigh that the property won't sit fallow for years.

Have fun and order a Sitar takeout for all of us here in Scranton. Is International Delights on Ninth Street still open? I often find myself longing for good falafel and a little abuse.

tina

I live near Southpoint. And I get your comments about wondering if Southpoint will be like South Square in 30 years. As previous urban dwellers we asked ourselves the same question before we bought our home here in South Durham. And this is my thought. As long as RTP is open there will be some version of Southpoint. It might not be the mega mall with Nordys and Macys, but there will be something there to support all the RTP workers. And there is a large percentage of us that live down here who work in RTP. So even if Southpoint goes belly up we are still near work as long as RTP doesn't go belly up. And lets face it. If that's the case then this whole region is going to be in a heep of trouble. Most people who live down here live here to be close to work, not close to a mall. It makes little sense to live in Trinity Park and commute to RTP everyday.

But I don't think any area is completely immune to blight, whether it be urban blight in central Durham or Suburban Blight in Southpoint. I'm sure we're not done seeing blight in either area.

Kevin Davis

All: Thanks for the comments. I'll be doing more of these over time with the new super-mini video camera.

@Tina: I threw out there "Southpoint" as a too-generic reference to parts of south Durham, but I think you're right, that area has fundamental economic strengths for the imaginable future. It will be interesting to see what happens with the RTP long-range planning effort, which may encourage more residential dense development in the Park itself. Were that to happen, I actually could see the Airport Pkwy area near the fading outlet mall redevelop nicely since it could draw from Cary, M'ville, RTP and South Durham. OTOH, the other real driver of the Southpoint area is Chapel Hill, which leaks sales tax to Durham County like a sieve -- and I doubt the Mebane-area proposed megamall would draw CHers farther west to go there.

In the abstract, though, I think the real message is about the importance of getting quality development in the first place that will grow more desirable over time, and not be built for obsolescence from day one. Southpoint's mall and the adjacent shopping centers don't appear to be -- but I tend to find the Harris Teeter-anchored strip mall on NC 54 just north of there a property that risks such a fate.

FWIW, my wife does the TP-to-RTP commute each day; it's about 15-18 minutes depending on traffic and lights getting from where we are near Club to the Durham Freeway. We briefly thought about moving closer but with my work in downtown, would just be trading commutes, and we really like where we are. The TP-RTP commute, though longer than SoDur, is still far better than the Raleigh/Cary commutes time-wise. Still, I think the most sustainable way to grow is through adding density in and around RTP, though that idea has well-reasoned arguments against it (hi Melissa!)

@John: Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I know many folks miss your presence and that of many others in the H-S. (Fortunately we still have Jim Wise, of course, at the N&O.) Appreciate your insights. And yes, International Delights is still alive and kicking on Ninth.

@ELA9: Thanks for the comments. I've been here about three years, my wife one year longer -- so I came post-South Square, though I've heard about it from friends. The DeadMalls web site -- how's that for a niche -- has some interesting reminiscences about the property. BTW, have a great time in Cambridge; that's where we moved down from, and it's a neat city.

Michael

Update: I went to Sitar for lunch today and they had notices up that they'd be moving across the boulevard to the old Lone Star building. When I asked them what the status was they said that the kitchen was currently under construction. As I drove back to work and past Lone Store there were definite signs of construction actvity.

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