RICHLAND MALL
North Beltline Road and Forest Drive
Forest Acres, South Carolina

America's shopping mall phenomenon spread to the Palmetto State with the completion of the RICHLAND MALL shopping center. Comprising approximately 253,600 leasable square feet, the open-air retail complex was built on a 22.6 acre site, located 2.6 miles northeast of the South Carolina State House.

Developed by the Greenville-based Liberty Life Insurance Company, RICHLAND MALL was designed by Atlanta's Toombs, Amisano & Wells firm. Work on the project commenced in January 1961, with the official grand opening being held in late 1961.

Anchoring the mall was a 2-level (123,600 square foot), Augusta. Georgia-based J.B. White (a.k.a. White's). The charter tenant list of twenty-seven stores and services included Eckerd Drug, Redwood Cafeteria, an F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10 and Colonial and Winn-Dixie supermarkets.

The mall's first motion picture venue, the single-screen Richland Mall Theatre, showed its first feature July 9, 1966. The cinema had been built as a southeast parking area outparcel. It was eventually split into a twin-screen operation.

RICHLAND MALL was followed by DUTCH SQUARE CENTER (1970) {5.7 miles northwest, in Richland County / Columbia}, DECKER MALL (1977) {3.6 miles northeast, in Columbia}, COLUMBIA PLACE (1977) {3.6 miles northeast, in Columbia}, WOODHILL MALL (1978) / SHOPPES AT WOODHILL (2004) {2.7 miles southeast, in Columbia}, COLUMBIANA CENTRE (1990) {10.2 miles northwest, in Richland County / Columbia} and -finally- THE VILLAGE AT SANDHILL (2004) {10 miles northeast, in Richland County}.

RICHLAND MALL operated in its original early '60s configuration until late 1987. Winn-Dixie was shuttered December 23, signaling the beginning of the redevelopment of the property. All was demolished, except for the White's store and two outparcel structures. Construction of the first phase of a new fully-enclosed mall soon got underway.

Built southeast of the existing White's, the mall-to-be was implemented by Atlanta-based Hooker Development, an American subsidiary of Australia's J.L. Hooker Corporation. The first phase of RICHLAND FASHION MALL extended to a 2-level (80,000 square foot), New York City-based Bonwit Teller. The store, and 2-level Phase One mall, opened for business October 18, 1988.

Construction had been initiated on the White's store in February 1988. It would be expanded with a third level and 2-level addition and encompass 219,000 square feet. At the same time, work was underway on the 2-level Phase Two mall structure, which would extend northwest of White's and be anchored by a 2-level (99,600 square foot), Birmingham-based Parisian. This store, and its adjacent mall wing, were dedicated November 15, 1989.

The new RICHLAND FASHION MALL included a large, multilevel parking garage and aviation-themed Food Court. A rooftop parking deck was also provided. The complex was considerably upscale, but included middle-market tenants such as Woolworth Express and S & S Cafeteria.

An all-new motion picture venue, the seven-screen Litchfield Rooftop Cinemas, made its debut March 2, 1990, signaling completion of the 150 million dollar mall renovation. RICHLAND FASHION MALL encompassed 875,000 leasable square feet.

Before the RICHLAND FASHION MALL project was even completed, the Hooker Corporation was in deep financial trouble. Construction of Greater Cincinnati's FOREST FAIR MALL (1988) had gone seriously over budget. Moreover, the Hooker Corporation's purchase of the Bonwit Teller chain, and a majority interest acquisition of the Parisian chain, left the company 1.7 billion dollars in the red. A chapter 11 bankruptcy was filed in September 1989, with the Hooker enterprise being purchased by another Australian concern in 1990.

Bonwit Teller at RICHLAND MALL was shuttered in August 1990. Its building was expanded and re-opened, as a 189,300 square foot Dillard's, in mid-1993. By this time, the uber upscale mall, which now encompassed 984,000 leasable square feet, was failing.

The reasons for this were many, but the fact that the shopping hub was anchored by two unknown, out-of-town department stores probably carried the most weight. It is also opined that the parking situation, with few surface spaces, caused Columbia shoppers (who tend to dislike parking garages) to spend their money elsewhere.

By 1996, management of the shopping hub had changed four times. Youngstown's Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation had a stint, as did Montgomery, Alabama's Aranov Realty. As a promotion, the official name of the complex was truncated to RICHLAND MALL in November 1996. Customers still stayed away in droves.

Two renovations were done to RICHLAND MALL during the 1990s. The first relocated tenants such as the TGI Friday restaurant. The mall's northeast entrance was remodeled and a new facade built. A 1-level (20,700 square foot) Barnes & Noble opened November 12, 1997.  The second remodeling, costing 10.5 million dollars, relocated the existing Upper Level Food Court into a new 5-bay facility on the center's ground floor.

The old Food Court was gutted and rebuilt into Richland Centre, which housed a Bell Atlantic Call Center. This facility, which opened in October 1999, was rebranded, as the Verizon Wireless Columbia Call Center, in the year 2000. It was expanded, from 70,000 to 132,000 square feet, in May 2001.

Anchor nameplate changes began September 23, 1998, when Charlotte-based Belk rebranded the RICHLAND MALL White's. Dillard's shuttered their store in the spring of 2003. The 93,000 square foot first floor was leased to Charlotte-based Blacklion, who dedicated their store in October 2003. This operation was short-lived and was followed by another brief endeavor known simply as The Department Store. Parisian went dark in February 2007, with its store space never being retenanted.

Raleigh's Whichard Realty acquired the shopping hub in May 2003 and soon flipped the property. In March 2005, Spruce Pine, North Carolina's Peerless Development Group took possession. A grandiose, 300 million dollar renovation was proposed. An exterior Streetscape would be added, new upscale shoppes and bistros opened and 3-level condo tower built in the Dillard's spot.

By December 2006, local residents were frustrated by the lack of progress on the mall's redevelopment. A name change, to MIDTOWN AT FOREST ACRES, was about the only thing that had transpired. Then came The Great Recession. Peerless defaulted on their 39 million dollar mall loan. The shopping center was auctioned off in February 2007.

Sarasota's Richland Joint Venture operated the mall until it was sold, to a consortium of Columbia's Century Capital Group and Kahn Development, in early 2010. They re-changed the name of the complex back to RICHLAND MALL soon after.

Since then, tenants have come and gone. A short list would include S & S Cafeteria (closed in January 2011), TGI Friday (in March 2013), Jackson's Southern Kitchen (March 2014) and China Max (May 2014). As of early 2017, businesses such as Belk, GNC, Columbia Children's Theater, Barnes & Noble and the Regal Columbia Cinema 7 were still in operation.  

Sources:

"Richland Mall" article on Wikipedia
The State (Columbia, SC)
http://columbiaclosings.com/wordpress/?p=2243 / Dennis
http://cinematreasures.org
http://columbiametro.com/Columbia-Metro/January-2011/A-New-Future-for-Richland-Mall
http://columbiabusinessreport.com
http://irmoscnews.risblog.info