RALEIGH SPRINGS MALL
Austin Peah Highway and Yale Road
Shelby County (Memphis), Tennessee

Youngstown, Ohio's Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation was the mid-20th century's most prolific shopping mall developer. After opening his first mall project in Mentor, Ohio, "Mr. D" established a shopping center empire that stretched between New York State, Florida, Washington State and Southern California. By late 1980, DeBartolo & company had built thirty-nine mall-type retail centers.

DeBartolo's twelfth mall endeavor was constructed on a 63.5 acre parcel, located 9.3 miles northeast of center city Memphis. At the time of its August 1971 dedication, RALEIGH SPRINGS MALL was located in an unincorporated section of Shelby County known as Raleigh. The shopping complex was annexed into the City of Memphis in 1973.

The Raleigh community had developed, in the 19th century, around the Raleigh Springs, whose artesian water was reputed to have medicinal and curative powers. A large inn was completed in 1892. However, by the early 20th century, the  resort had fallen out of favor. Within a few more years, the spring had dried up. 

Fast forward to the fall of 1971. The new RALEIGH SPRINGS MALL encompasses approximately 861,100 leasable square feet and houses fifty-five inline stores. Its anchors are a 2-level (168,000 square foot), Memphis-based Goldsmith's, 3-level (95,500 square foot), Memphis-based Lowenstein's, 2-level (141,700 square foot) J.C. Penney and 1-level (110,200 square foot) Sears.

Charter inline tenants include Merry-Go-Round ladies' wear, Card Cage, Lerner Shops ladies' wear, Richman Brothers men's wear, The County Seat and an F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10. The mall also housed the General Cinema Corporation Raleigh Springs Cinemas I & II. This venue was eventually reconfigured as a 6-plex.

For its first 10 years, RALEIGH SPRINGS MALL was the preeminent shopping center in Greater Memphis. Its only commercial counterpart was SOUTHLAND MALL (1966) {14.8 miles southwest, in Memphis}. In 1981, two new regional retail centers were dedicated. HICKORY RIDGE MALL {10.7 miles southeast, in Memphis} and MALL OF MEMPHIS {10.1 miles south, in Memphis}. These were joined by OAK COURT MALL {6.8 miles south, in Memphis} in 1988.

The first anchor nameplate change at RALEIGH SPRINGS MALL took place following the demise of the Lowenstein's chain, in 1981. Little Rock-based Dillard's acquired the Lowenstein's store, expanded it to 149,000 square feet, and re-opened it under a Dillard's nameplate. RALEIGH SPRINGS MALL now encompassed approximately 914,600 leasable square feet.

1997 brought the dedication of a formidable retail rival. WOLFCHASE GALLERIA {6.6 miles southeast, in Shelby County} quickly assumed the position of dominant shopping center in the region. RALEIGH SPRINGS MALL was soon in decline.

J.C. Penney was downsized into an Outlet Store in March 1999. Dillard's followed suit, with its Clearance Center being established  August 27, 1999. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group had acquired the RALEIGH SPRINGS property as a facet of their 1996 merger with the DeBartolo Realty Corporation.

In an attempt to curtail the mall's downward spiral, Simon announced an 11 million dollar makeover in February 2000. New floors, ceilings and entrances were installed. The Woolworth space, sitting vacant since late 1993, was reconfigured as the Malco Raleigh Springs 12. The new movie house held its grand opening July 4, 2001.

Unfortunately, the renovation of RALEIGH SPRINGS MALL was unsuccessful. The J.C. Penney Outlet Store closed for good January 25, 2003, followed by the shutterings of Goldsmith's and Dillard's, in April. This left the mall with only Sears and the Malco multiplex to sustain it. A deal with Wal-Mart, to raze the vacant Penney's and replace it with a SuperCenter, fell through in June 2009.

In October 2009, Raleigh, North Carolina's Whichard Real Estate acquired the shopping center. Its final operational anchor, Sears, went dark April 3, 2011. The J.C. Penney structure, vacant since 2003, had been severely vandalized over the years. The dilapidated building was knocked down in December 2012.

An entity known as Raleigh Springs Mall, Limited Liability Company purchased five of the mall's ten land parcels in May 2013. Simultaneously, The City of Memphis, who owned (or was closing on) the remaining five parcels, announced a redevelopment plan for the moribund mall. This project would entail complete demolition of the structure and construction of an open-air retail, office and entertainment complex encompassing 700,000 square feet.

Tentatively known as RALEIGH SPRINGS CIVIC CENTER, it would cost approximately 66 million dollars and feature 100,000 square feet of retail, a farmer's market, skateboard park, two lakes, walking trails, a Memphis Public Library branch and Memphis Police traffic precinct. The plan was approved by the Memphis City Council in March 2014.

Meanwhile, Raleigh Springs Mall, LLC was pursuing a modest renovation and retenanting of the existing mall. They filed suit against the City of Memphis and won their case in August 2015, presenting a major stumbling block to the city's demolition and redevelopment plan.

Alas, all issues and litigation were eventually resolved. Demolition began, in earnest, in March 2017 and was complete by June. It was hoped that a new mixed-use facility, known as RALEIGH TOWN CENTER, could be in operation by mid-2019.

Sources:

www.labelscar.com / "Caldor"
http://bartlett-express.com
“I Remember Raleigh” by M. Winslow Chapman
"Raleigh Springs Mall" article on Wikipedia
http://thewhileyreport.blogspot.com
www.bizjournals.com
Shelby County, Tennessee tax assessor website
www.cinematreasures.org
https://wreg.com