COLUMBIA MALL
Memorial and South Columbia Drives
Dekalb County, Georgia

Georgia's first fully-enclosed shopping complex opened in 1961. As odd as it might seem, WESTGATE CENTER was not located in the Atlanta metropolitan area, but was built on the periphery of the City of Macon. Greater Atlanta's first fully-enclosed shopping center, originally known as NORTH DEKALB CENTER, was officially dedicated in July 1965.

On April 10, 1963, ground had been broken at an 8.6 acre site, located 8.5 miles east of Atlanta's Five Points. This land parcel, in a section of unincorporated Dekalb County known as Belvedere Park, was situated 3.4 miles south of the NORTH DEKALB CENTER site. A fully-enclosed "shopper mall" was to be be built, which would be known as COLUMBIA MALL.

The complex-to-be was designed by Atlanta's Toombs, Amisano & Wells firm and constructed by a joint venture of Homart Development (a Sears subsidiary) and D & D Properties (an R. H. Macy & Company subsidiary).

The first structure built for COLUMBIA MALL was a 2-level (124,000 square foot), Atlanta-based Davison's. This freestanding store opened for business May 14, 1964. It was followed by a 2-level (116,600 square foot) Sears. Built as another freestanding structure, Sears was officially dedicated August 5, 1964.

In July of the same year, construction had got underway on the fully-enclosed mall that was being built between Davison's and Sears. It was to consist of a single level of retail and encompass approximately 351,000 leasable square feet. The 6 million dollar facility housed twenty-five inline stores, with Walgreen Drug and Thom McAn Shoes being two of its charter tenants.

The closest shopping hubs to COLUMBIA MALL were the aforementioned NORTH DEKALB CENTER and SOUTH DEKALB MALL (1970) {3.1 miles south, also in Dekalb County}.

Changing demographics had a drastic impact on COLUMBIA MALL. By the early 1980s, the shopping center was in a downward spiral. This had been exacerbated by the closing of its Sears, on February 1, 1984. This prompted Sears-Macy's to unload their "underperforming" property.

Atlanta's D. Scott Hudgens acquired the struggling shopping hub and initiated a 4.5 million dollar interior and exterior face lift. The first level of the vacant Sears was divided into inline retail spaces, including a (30,000 square foot) Sears Surplus Store. The upper floor became a Food Court. The opposite end of the shopping hub was anchored by the original tenant, by this time operating as a Davison's-Macy's.

A formal rededication celebration was held October 10, 1985. The complex would be known, henceforth, as AVONDALE MALL. Davison's-Macy's morphed into a standard Macy's on November 17, 1985. This operation would be shuttered in August 1992. The upper level of this store was rebuilt into a movie multiplex, the O'Neill Theatres Avondale Mall Cinema 16, which opened for business in July 1994.

Alas, the mid-'80s reinvention of the mall was not successful. By the mid-1990s,  the shopping hub was in another downward spiral that it would never escape from. Its shopping concourse was populated by mom & pop-type stores such as Direct Imports, Gold Plus and Bernard's Records.

AVONDALE MALL was sold in December 1999; the buyer being Newnan, Georgia's Thomas Enterprises. Under its new proprietor, the shopping center continued to decline. On December 31, 2001, its remaining merchants closed for good.

The vacant shopping center languished for several years, while a protracted battle was fought between Wal-Mart and Stop Wal-Mart, a consortium of local citizens opposed to plans to raze the mall and replace it with a SuperCenter.

By late 2006, the war had been won by the Bentonville retailer. The wrecking ball was brought in and the mall was gone by early 2007. A 1-level (182,000 square foot) Wal-Mart SuperCenter opened March 7, 2008.

Sources:

The Atlanta Journal Constitution
The New York Times
www.dekalbhistory.org / "Columbia Mall - Avondale Mall Time Capsule"
Dekalb County Georgia tax assessor website
http://movie-theatre.org / Mike Rivest
"Avondale Mall" article on Wikipedia