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Dead malls: You could shop... until they dropped

Once booming, now barren. Let’s take a peek at malls of Nashville’s past — plus hope for the future.

A store interior with multiple brightly-colored signs hung from the ceiling that say things like "Store closing sale," "Nothing held back," and "25%-60% off." The main portion of the store pictured has various empty shelves on wheels, with a few people seen shopping clothing racks in the background.

The Bellevue Center’s Sears during its store closing sale in 2015. | Photo by MikeKalasnik via Wikimedia Commons

Shopping malls across America have been left in a state that not even Paul Blart could save, and Nashville is no exception.

Known as “dead malls,” these abandoned, dilapidated, or mostly vacant shopping centers have become a subject of fascination — especially thanks to the online popularity of liminal space aesthetics.

Let’s go to the mall

100 Oaks Mall was once in its heyday.

Upon opening in 1967, 100 Oaks was a bustling hub with tenants like JCPenney, WoolCo, and Harveys; a food court; and a movie theater. After closing in the early ‘80s, 100 Oaks reopened as an outlet mall in 1989. Facebook users remember a talking robot + cheerful holiday decorations at the mall back in the day.

Bellevue Center — now One Bellevue Place — opened in 1990. The then-indoor shopping center boasted stores like Dillard’s and Macy’s + was popular for its children’s play area in the center of the mall.

Of course, there are also a few spots you might remember that came and went without return:

  • Hickory Hollow Mall | Later known as Global Mall at the Crossings, Antioch’s over one million-sqft space was home to more than 200 stores, a movie theater, and an arcade. It’s credited for being the highest grossing mall in Tennessee at its peak. Check out Metro’s most recent draft master plan for the future of the site.
  • Harding Mall | The South Nashville staple opened in 1966 as the city’s second-oldest mall before undergoing an $8 million renovation and expansion ~20 years later. The mall was demolished in 2005 and replaced by Walmart.
  • Fountain Square | If you don’t recall the mall, surely its notable blue roof will ring a bell. North Nashville’s $25 million shopping center situated on the bend of the Cumberland River was built in 1987 and expected to bring in shoppers from Louisville, KY and Huntsville, AL. Read more about the fall of the mall and MetroCenter’s adaptation to a changing city over the years.
  • Church Street Centre | The three-level mall in the heart of downtown was built atop three of the city’s parking garages + featured a sky bridge connecting it to a Castner-Knott department store and the Hyatt Regency hotel. Today, Nashville Public Library’s Main Branch stands in its place.
A sign says now leasing and beneath it, another sign reads, "100 Oaks Shopping Center" in big, all caps, block letters. To the right of the sign is another, shorter horizontal billboard reading, "Harveys, Penneys, Woolco Department Store, and Giant Foods of America."

100 Oaks was Nashville’s first enclosed mall. | Photo via Nashville Public Library’s Digital Collections

Back to the future

Today, 100 Oaks Mall is not quite the same. While a few stores are still open to shoppers on the bottom level, much of the mall is now utilized by Vanderbilt University Medical Center as an outpatient clinic. You can still catch flicks at the mall’s movie theater, though.

After Bellevue Center sat empty for several years, it was torn down and redeveloped into One Bellevue Place, a multi-use outdoor center with restaurants, retail, offices, and residential space.

Plus, but Nashville has a number of other thriving shopping centers or districts where you can make like NSYNC and buy, buy, buy:

  • The Mall at Green Hills | This neighborhood shopping center is popular for its luxury stores from Chanel to Gucci.
  • Opry Mills | The indoor mall, which sits where the now defunct Opryland USA theme park operated, offers 100+ outlet stores.
  • Tanger Outlets | Make a stop at the city’s newest shopping destination — a seven-building open-air outlet at Antioch’s Century Farms development. Pro tip: Find deals happening at your favorite stores by navigating to this website tab.

Do you have memories of a local mall from back in the day? Share them with us and we may feature your story in a future newsletter: First date at the food court, trying on prom dresses at the department store, hitting up Orange Julius before picking up the perfect graphic tee at Hot Topic — we wanna hear it all.

Blast from the past

We asked and you came with receipts. Here are a few mall memories our readers shared with us.

  • “I loved going to the movie theater at 100 Oaks when I lived in Nashville from ’96-2004. I remember when ‘The Matrix’ was first released, I went to that same theater to see it a total of 12 times! I was absolutely obsessed with the movie.” — Carol V.
  • “Anyone who ever had a meal at the Morrison’s Cafeteria in 100 Oaks Mall will remember the cheerful salad server. As we completed the long walk from the lower level front door to the silverware and tray stacks, our ‘salad lady,’ with bright, rosy, rouge cheeks, would loudly greet us with her catch phrase, ‘sal-lid?’ We never declined the salad course option.” — 100 Oaks Morrison’s salad fan
  • “The original 100 Oaks Mall in its glory days was the preferred destination my grandmother would take me to do our Christmas shopping. After a busy walk through the mall shops on the upper level, we would have lunch at the Woolworth’s busy diner on the bottom level. They placed discounted price tickets in helium balloons along the counter bar that you could select one, pop it, and pay that reduced price for a slice of pie!” — Sam B.
  • “Not a ‘mall,’ so to speak, but a wonderful strip mall in its day — Donelson Plaza. Great stores, Wilson Drug with counter food, as well as Woolworth with a great food/soda counter. Anchored with Castner Knott. Bowling Alley in the back. Good ol’ days….” — Nancy W.
  • “My great grandmother used to take us to 100 Oaks Mall to the Sears and buy all our school clothes for the year. It was such an exciting day to get new Levi’s, shirts, socks, and underwear. She did that every year till she passed away. She was such a blessing in our lives.” — Rick H.
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