Southgate Shopping Center


Southgate Shopping Center

Southgate Shopping Center is a strip mall located at the corner of Eureka and Trenton Roads in Southgate, a suburb of Michigan. For most of its 50 years, the center had as its anchor Montgomery Ward, with other notable shops being Kresge, Woolworth, Winkelman's, Hartman's, Three Sisters, and Federal's (later Service Merchandise). The Shopping Center's main anchor store, Farmer Jack, shut its doors in 2007. Stores that remain inside the strip itself include an Old Country Buffet, Fashion Bug, Fantastic Sams, a dollar store, GNC, Aaron's electronics, Armed Forces, Bath and Body Works and (in a separate building at the Eureka entrance) CVS Pharmacy. In the parking lot there is a Borders Express, Old Chicago, Chili's, Panera Bread, Buffalo Wild Wings, Jenny Craig, Applebee's, Taco Bell, and a skateboard/comic shop called Anime to Skateboards.

History

The Southgate Shopping Center originated before there even was a city of Southgate, Michigan. Prior to 1958, the area now known as Southgate was the last remaining portion of Ecorse Township, since former parts of the township had broken away over the years to form their own villages. When Ecorse Township planned to become a city in the mid-1950s, the name Southgate was "chosen because of the shopping center then under consideration," according to Township supervisor Thomas Anderson. ["'Southgate' Name Favored in Poll." Wyandotte News-Herald, November 29, 1956.]

As early as 1952, the Realty Mortgage and Investment Corporation of Detroit announced that the multi-million dollar Southgate Center would be built at Eureka and Trenton Roads, and that "space has already been let to many Michigan chain stores, including Kinsel Drugs, Federals, Wrigley Stores, S. S. Kresge and others," with construction scheduled to begin in the fall of 1952. ["Ecorse Twp. To Be Site of 'Southgate'" Wyandotte Tribune, September 4, 1952.] Southgate's sister center, [http://mallsofamerica.blogspot.com/2006/10/eastgate-center-mall.html Eastgate Center] (located at 10½ Mile and Gratiot in Roseville) was announced at the same time, with both to have Federal and Kresge as anchors. [Wyandotte News-Herald, September 2, 1952.]

Southgate Shopping Center had its official grand opening on Wednesday, October 16, 1957, with a great amount of celebration: a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Township supervisor (and later Southgate's first mayor) Thomas Anderson; music by a German polka band; and radio remotes from the parking lot (such as Robin Seymour of WKMH).

The very first store to open within the center was Wrigley's Supermarket, located at 13555 Eureka, moving from its previous location at 2245 Eureka in Wyandotte. The store opened on Tuesday, September 24, 1957, three weeks before the center's grand opening. By 1965, the store had become a Packer Foods; in the 1970s, a Great Scott! grocery store; and by the 1990s, an F&M superstore. In 2006, the address belongs to Aaron's, an electronics store.

Next to Wrigley's, there was a Woolworth's store at 13591 Eureka in 1957. The store was a fixture of the center for many decades but was shuttered by 1990. In recent years, a Sears Hardware had been located at Woolworth's old address, but it closed on July 23, 2006 and remains vacant.

Originally the largest store in the center was Federal's Department Store located at 13851 Eureka in a separate building near the Trenton Road entrance. The 80,000 square feet building opened for business on October 9, 1957, a week before the center's grand opening. [The Southgate Sentinel, October 10, 1957. ] In the late 1970s, Service Merchandise took over the building. It was torn down in December 2004 after the chain closed.

The center's Kresge store, located at 13751 Eureka, opened on October 3, 1957. It was the company's 691st store and "the fifth in the Downriver area." [The Southgate Sentinel, October 3, 1957. ] The store lasted until the early 1980s, when the Kmart chain consolidated all its operations under one name and closed the store (Kmart had a store barely two blocks away). A Tri-State Furniture outlet appeared; replaced in the early 1990s with Old Country Buffet.

Among the center's smaller stores in 1957 included shoe stores (Holiday Flagg, Kinney Shoes, A. S. Beck, and Thom McAnn), women's apparel (Three Sisters, Winkelman's, Vanity Fair, Hartman's), Cunningham Drugs, National Finance, Good Housekeeping, United Shirt Distributors, Danby's Men's Wear, Children Outfitters, and Queen Quality Laundry and Dry Cleaner.

By 1959, the following stores had been added: Montgomery Ward (see below), Al's Record Shop, Suzy Hats, Irving's Fabrics, Cameras and Gifts, and Monroe Optical.

The center's lineup in the 1970s included such stores as The Branch, a Fotomat kiosk, Harmony House, Henry's Meat House, Howard's Books, LaPrima Music, Lawrence Office Supply (a Hallmark Cards outlet), Pearle Vision, Sanders, The Pet Gallery, Vic Tanny's, and Youth Center (Children's) Outfitters.

Appearance

The 40-acre center was designed by architect Charles N. Agree in an L-shape, where one row of stores, near the Eureka entrance, faces Trenton Road and the other row, near the Trenton Road entrance, faces Eureka. There were large signs bearing the name "Southgate" at both entrances (the current neon signs were erected in the late 1970s). The Southgate sign at the Trenton Road entrance was removed during the summer of 2007.

Originally, the center had a tan-brick exterior. By the early 1970s, the center was repainted in a lime green color. An early 1980s touch-up brought a gold & brown scheme to the center. Finally, in the early 1990s, the mall's exterior was partially refurbished and repainted to its current gray color with red & white canopies above the storefronts. The Service Merchandise building, sitting on a parcel belonging to different owners, maintained its own facade design independent of the center, as did the now defunct Farmer Jack superstore.

The addition of Farmer Jack in the early 1990s was the biggest change to the actual mall up to that time. Seven storefronts on the west (Trenton Rd.) wing of the mall were demolished, including Winkleman's, Three Sisters, Hartman's, Kinney Shoes and Sanders Candy store. The Farmer Jack store closed on July 5, 2007 at 6pm, although the small bank inside the otherwise-vacant building remains open. In the late 1990s, MJR Theaters opened a 20-screen movie theater immediately behind the center which brought more people to the area, but not necessarily to the mall itself.

In 1957, the parking lot could hold over 4000 cars. Eventually much of the outer edges of that space was turned over to building new stores. Currently this includes a Borders Express (formerly Waldenbooks), Jenny Craig, Applebees, Taco Bell, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chili's, and Panera Bread among others.

With many of the smaller stores going out of business by the mid-1980s, vacant storefronts began to pile up, with some existing stores (Hallmark in particular) simply acquiring those storefronts to expand their businesses. The Hallmark store closed in early 2007.

In 2006, a Chili's restaurant was built near the Trenton Road entrance. Construction began in mid-2007 to move the Trenton Road entrance south about 50 feet, so that an Old Chicago can be built next to Chili's. Golden Corral and Steak 'n Shake are slated to eventually take over the grassy lot where the Service Merchandise building once stood. [ [http://www.landmarkcres.com/prop_details.cfm?id=256 Landmark Commercial Real Estate] This website has a Site Plan for the development of the former Service Merchandise area.]

With the closing of Montgomery Ward, Farmer Jack and the demolition of Service Merchandise, the mall itself currently functions at less than 50% capacity.This mall is not as full as West Edmonton Mall.

Montgomery Ward / Wal-Mart Redevelopment?

The 133,000-square foot Montgomery Ward building located at 13665 Eureka, at the meeting point of the two sides in the center's L-shape, had not been built when the shopping center opened. The Ward's building was constructed in 1958 and Ward's opened for business on Thursday, February 12, 1959, as the largest store in the shopping center. Another addition to the center was Ward's automotive center located at the Eureka entrance. ["Ward's Building Ready Soon." The Southgate Sentinel, October 16, 1958. ] Around 2000, the Ward's building closed and remains vacant. Center owner Michael Sisskind stated he "is working to put together a flexible plan for the building, or perhaps tear it down to attract new retailers." [The Detroit Free Press, May 9, 2006. The article mistakenly said that the Wards building was "built in 1956."]

In August 2007, the News-Herald [http://www.thenewsherald.com/] reported that the center was a candidate to house a Wal-Mart supercenter, which would be the 50th supercenter in Michigan, but only the third in Metro Detroit [The Sunday News-Herald, August 12, 2007 ] . Sisskind, however, expressed doubts that Wal-Mart would build on the property. The supercenter would likely have taken over the Ward's plot, with additional sections of the center being torn down, as was the case with the construction of Farmer Jack.

Citing the fact that the Wal-Mart supercenter concept was new to Metro Detroit (two existing stores in Taylor and Woodhaven are being renovated), Sisskind explained:

cquote|"I don't think there's going to be any Wal-Mart... That doesn't mean if talks picked up months from now and I was unsuccessful in renting out the space, that it couldn't happen then... I just want to rent out my center. And it appears that Wal-Mart is not my answer, at least not right now." [http://www.thenewsherald.com/stories/081207/loc_20070812002.shtml]

In addition to Southgate Shopping Center, Wal-Mart was also eyeing a site in nearby Lincoln Park, taking over the Sears Shopping Plaza area.

Water Tower

A water tower was constructed shortly before the center was opened, located behind the large Federal Department Store (later Service Merchandise) building near the Trenton Road entrance. During construction it was noted that the "water tower, which will service the stores in Southgate, is 135 feet high and has a total capacity of 100,000 gallons. By opening day, which is October 16, the tower will be painted white and will be adorned with a huge 'S'." [Wyandotte News-Herald, September 26, 1957.]

When Service Merchandise took over the building in 1978 after the Federal's chain liquidated, the tower was repainted with the store's original "SM" logo. Over time, the tower began to rust and became an eyesore due to neglect. This changed in late 2000, when a young girl wrote to the Southgate City Council addressing the issue. Impressed, city leaders arranged to partner with Service Merchandise to have the tower repainted with a "Welcome To Southgate" message above the newly-designed store logo. It was noted at the time that the tower itself no longer provided the water for the shopping center's fire suppression system.

The water tower was taken down in early 2005, shortly after the razing of the Service Merchandise building itself in December 2004. [The Detroit News, January 12, 2005.]

References


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