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Rimes

Southgate Mall

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Currently they are building a Chili's restaurant in the Southgate Mall (located near the corner of Eureka and Trenton roads in Southgate). Why they are adding another bar/restaurant to that mall, when they already have a few such places next to it, is beyond me.

Anyway, does anyone know the history of this mall? One co-worker told me that it has been there since the 1950s. I would imagine that Montgomery Ward's was there from the start. Now the Ward's building is empty and the Service Merchandise building has been torn down (along with the water tower behind it). The Sears Hardware place in the strip mall is closing down. Back in the 1970s, I believe that a Kresge's store was in that location.

I would love to see some photos of how the Southgate Mall used to look like, even if it's just some pics of the Service Merchandise building before it got torn down. It's surprising how much can change in even just a short time.

074_74FormerlyWardsinSouthgateMall.jpg

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I wouldn't really call that a mall, well at least in the sense of real malls like Southland, Twelve Oaks, Fairlane, etc. It's just a strip mall with a Farmer Jack as the anchor now. They are building a Chili's because Chili's doesn't have a store in the area, and they want to compete with Applebee's, Buffalo Wild Wings, Red Robin, and all of the other chain restaurants in the area.

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It's a shane to see how much waste was left behind after Montgomery Ward's closed. It's pretty hard to fill those spaces.

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It's just a strip mall with a Farmer Jack as the anchor now.

Nonetheless, I remember as a kid in the 1970s thinking of it as being the main attraction in Southgate.

There used to be a lot of stores there. I was talking with some co-workers who were around in the 1960s, one of them said that the Southgate strip mall was new in the early 1960s. Southgate itself was a new creation, having previously been part of Ecorse township and consisting mainly of farmland.

Southgate became a village in 1955 and a city in 1958. (That's according to what I've read online;

I myself wasn't even born until 1970.)

What was there before the Southgate Mall? Well, here's an intrigiung clue that I stumbled upon the other day. There's a News-Herald article from 2004 at

http://www.thenewsherald.com/stories/06300...040630054.shtml

wherein an older resident reminisces about the old days and he writes:

"I remember Fourth of July events in Ecorse, where they had boat races, the airport on Eureka Road near where Ward's used to be , and the carnivals that used to be on the corner of Fort Street in the summer." (emphasis mine)

OK, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around this. There used to be an airport on Eureka near the present-day location of Southgate Mall? Or was there another Ward's on Eureka that he meant?

One of my older co-workers told me that before there was a Service Merchandise in the Southgate Mall,

it was a Federal's store. (Another Federal's store was located in downtown Wyandotte.) Another co-worker

said that the mall had a Kresge's, a Woolworth's, and that the present-day location of Old Country Buffet

was a Harbor House restaurant. I thought that the Kresge store was located where the current Sears Hardware store is, but she said that's where the Woolworth's store was, and that Kresge's was located more toward Harbor House (Old Country Buffet). I might be mixing things up in my memory because I recall a Harbor House and Woolworth's being right next to each other in Southland Mall in Taylor in the 1980s.

I recall that there was a small bookstore in the Southgate Mall around where Fantastic Sam's is located today. (I've been getting my hair cut there for the past 10 years.) Harmony House has since become, I believe, a dollar store. I seem to recall that the little store before you get to Ward's (between Harmony House and Ward's) was at one point in the 1980s an early video rental store. Later it became a candy shop I think, and then was my local comics shop The Pack Shack circa 1997-99. (Pack Shack had previously occupied the little store facing Eureka, since torn down, which had often been used as a Christmas store, or a place for kids to get photographed with Santa, during the holiday season.)

Farmer Jack had previously been located in the next strip mall over on Eureka, closer to Howard Street, next to a K-Mart which had a 2nd floor (or half of one anyway). Farmer Jack moved over to the Southgate Mall and the K-Mart was replaced by an Office Depot which apparently did little business judging by the common sight of few cars in the parking lot. This was replaced in recent years by a Kroger, which appears to be doing good business these days judging by the activity last time I was there (last month), and a Dunham's store. Incidentally, I've noticed that there's a huge empty parking lot located behind Kroger, east of the MJR theater, which presumably is going to be used for something someday. The MJR doesn't need all that parking space.

The building in-between the two strip malls used to house a Burger King. The building is still standing but currently vacant.

Some more recent pics of Southgate Mall (June 2006):

091_91EntrancetoSouthgateMallfromEu.jpg

Southgate Mall sign entrance on Eureka Road

092_92EntrancetoSouthgateMallfromEu.jpg

The entrance from Eureka Road

093_93BordersonEurekainSouthgateMal.jpg

Borders Express (formerly Waldenbooks).

018_18ApplebysonEurekaRdbymall.jpg

Appleby's on Eureka Road just at the outer edge of the mall. I'm surprised how good this photo

came out considering that it was taken from inside a moving car.

075_75FormerlyWardsinSouthgateMall.jpg

The empty Ward's building

072_72Littlealleynexttoex-Wardsbuil.jpg

A quaint-looking alley located next to the empty Ward's building. There used to be one like this in-between Service Merchandise and Farmer Jack.

082_82FrontdoorsofemptySouthgateWar.jpg

I wonder what hours Ward's is open?

058_58FormerlyServiceMerchandiseonT.jpg

That grass is where Service Merchandise used to be.

110_110buildingaChilisonTrentonRd.jpg

Building the new Chili's restaurant.

003_03SignentrancefromTrentonRd.jpg

Southgate Mall sign entrance on Trenton Road

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Actually, you'd be surprised how much that overspill parking lot is used by MJR. Granted, the entire parking lot is never used, but on a busy weekend, several lanes will fill up.

BTW, not to be insensitive, but I found it oddly fascinating that you have such a strong connection to this place. You almost sound like a former Detroit talking about the "glory days" of Downtown.;)

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BTW, not to be insensitive, but I found it oddly fascinating that you have such a strong connection to this place. You almost sound like a former Detroit talking about the "glory days" of Downtown.

It's only within the past few months that I've become intensely interested in the history of some local places, stores, etc. I'm equally interested in lesser-known locations such as West Grange Plaza in Trenton, the Trenton Farmer Jack, the Woodhaven K-Mart, etc.

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The Trenton Farmer Jack (though it's actually in Riverview) is probably one of the oldest remaining ones in the area.;)

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Thanks, Rimes for the trip down memory lane.

I had forgotten about some of those old stores.

I remember that there used to be a F & M store on the end of the center where CVS is. I used to shop there alot.

I haven't been by there in quite awhile I hadn't realized that they had torn down the Service Merchandise shell. It's a pitty that they can't find something to go in the old Wards location.

I hear that the trouble with leasing the vacant Wards is due to the fact that it is two story and has an escalator....apparently escalators aren't looked favorable upon as they are supposed to be expensive to maintain.

I had heard rumor of one of the gov't agencies leasing it, like SSA or Secretary of State, but that was two or three years ago, I guess that fell through.

Now you've got me curious about it and I'll have to keep my eye on that center to see what happens.

Thanks, again.

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No prob! I'd forgotten about F&M. It seems like they extended the mall sometime in the 1990s to make the rest of the stores in the strip mall nearer to the F&M/CVS building on the corner. I seem to recall a bigger space between that store and where the mall's other stores begin than there is now.

I just got back from the Southgate shopping center today to find that, coincidentally, today was the last day that its Sears Hardware store would be open. I briefly went in and it looked like they were selling off everything. There was a fan by the door blowing cool air in the direction of the cashier with a note attached to the fan saying "do not sell." But almost everything else seemed like it was up for grabs. It felt weird to sense the enthusiasm of the customers at getting a good bargain at the same time witnessing the demise of a store. I was wondering if the employees would be out of a job, if they were sad to see the place go, etc. Tomorrow this store will become yet another abandoned building in the mall, and a big space to fill given its size.

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I'd almost prefer to see the whole complex razed and reconstructed with a more modern design. Maybe rebuild it closer to Eureka with storefronts on the Eureka side as well as the MJR side. Doing so would probably attract businesses that prefer to only move into new spaces.

Something like this:

southgatemall.jpg

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By the way, in that aerial photo above, you can still see the Service Merchandise water tower before it got torn down...

There's some plans for the shopping center at

http://www.landmarkcres.com/prop_details.cfm?id=256

The link titled "Click here to view Site Plan" leads to a PDF file with a map showing the proposed

design. There would be 3 more new buildings built up next to Trenton Road. One of them is labeled "Old Chicago," presumably the pizza place. The current vacant area where Service Merchandise used to be would become a parking lot space for these new buildings. The current Trenton Road entrance would be moved southward a bit. I wonder if they will simply move the existing signage or opt for new signage.

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I'd almost prefer to see the whole complex razed and reconstructed with a more modern design...

The problem is that it has more than one parcel and more than one owner. The old Service Merchandise piece forward to Eureka Rd including Taco Bell and Applesbee are owned by someone different than the rest of the shopping center.

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Well, I just found online a little bit of info that I didn't know before about the mall's history.

I had wondered what year the mall got started. Sometimes I'll see descriptions of old malls on sites like the Labelscar blog, where the writer will mention when a particular mall opened, and I'll think, "How does he know that?" I would assume that in most cases one would have to look through old newspapers to find such information.

Anyway, in May 2006, the Detroit Free Press ran an article about Southgate which can be viewed at

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article.../605090423/1007

The article mentions that the vacant Montgomery Ward's building was "built in 1956." Mickey Sisskind, the building's owner, "said he is working to put together a flexible plan for the building, or perhaps tear it down to attract new retailers."

A January 12, 2005 Detroit News article, which is only available in cached form

here, notes that the Service Merchandise building was "razed the third week of December [2004]." "The water tower near the former Service Merchandise also will come down," the article notes. The mayor is quoted as saying, "I can remember as a very young boy shopping with my parents in the Federal Department Store, long before it became Service Merchandise. This building had been standing for over 40 years, probably closer to 50 years."

Incidentally, I noticed on Wednesday that the "Sears Hardware" lettering had been taken down from the blue sign (seen in one of my photos earlier in this thread) now that the store has closed.

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"...Service Merchandise building was "razed the third week of December [2004]..."

It was torn down that long ago? It doesn't seem like it to me.

Where the heck have I been that I hadn't notice that!?!?!

I guess I should get my nose out of the computer and get out a little more often. :huh:

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Well, I went to the Wyandotte Library today and did a little research. Turns out that some of what I thought I knew is completely wrong.

I had assumed that the Ward's building had been a part of the Southgate Shopping Center from the beginning. I also thought, because of the recent newspaper article I mentioned earlier, that the Ward's building was built in 1956. Wrong on both counts.

The official grand opening of the Southgate Shopping Center was on Wednesday October 16, 1957. A few of the stores opened shortly before that. A Wrigley's store was at the end of the L-shape nearest Eureka and it had its grand opening on Tuesday September 24, 1957. Its address was at 13555 Eureka, the same as the "Aaron's" store there today. The Wrigley's store held outrageous contests to celebrate its opening, such as taking 50 lucky winners (one at a time) up for a ride in the Wrigley's helicopter or letting them "win a YEAR'S SUPPLY of FOOD FREE."

Next to the Wrigley's, around where the closed Sears Hardware store is today, was an F. W. Woolworth's store. The biggest store in the strip was the Federal's building (later Service Merchandise); it opened on Wednesday October 9, 1957. The water tower was located behind it with a big "S" on it (standing for Southgate). The Kresge store looks to have been around where Old Country Buffet is today. A Cunningham's drugstore was located where the two strips almost come together. There was no Ward's building yet, so that space appears to be simply occupied by grass. The two huge Southgate signs at the entrances were there, although they appear to be a little different than the ones there today, although similar idea.

The October 17, 1957 edition of The Southgate Sentinel, a Mellus newspaper, had a huge section devoted to the opening of the Southgate Shopping Center, with each store in the strip being shown and written about, accompanied by a full page ad for each store. (That issue also contained an insert celebrating the 2nd anniversary of the Lincoln Park Plaza, making for a thick edition of the paper.)

Other shops in the Southgate Shopping Center in 1957 included: an amazing amount of shoe stores (Holiday Flagg, Kinney Shoes, A. S. Beck, and Thom McAn), women's apparel (Three Sisters, Winkleman's, Vanity Fair, Hartman's), National Finance, Good Housekeeping, United Shirt Distributors, Danby's Men's Wear, Children Outfitters, and Queen Quality Laundry and Dry Cleaner.

The Shopping Center opened with a great amount of celebration: lights, a German polka band, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and radio remotes from the parking lot (Robin Seymour of WKMH and Fred Worf (?) of WXYZ).

Interestingly, it appears that the city's name Southgate was taken from the name of the shopping center. In a November 1956 newspaper article, Thomas J. Anderson (who had been Ecorse Township supervisor since 1953 and became the first mayor of Southgate in 1958) explains: "We [the township board] were trying to get a separate post office for our community, and were advised that it would help our cause if the township board passed a resolution creating an unincorporated village. The name Southgate was chosen because of the shopping center then under consideration, and the board agreed that it was an appropriate name. The resolution was adopted at a regular meeting in the early summer of 1953."

(An aside: At the time, Ecorse Township (later called Southgate) residents had to have their mailing addresses read "Wyandotte, Michigan" or else they wouldn't be delivered. The local post office was at 2481 Fort Street in Wyandotte. By 1961, the Southgate post office was located at 13741 Northline.)

Not everyone was happy with the name Southgate. Some felt it was generic; some proposed Indian-derived names instead. One resident wrote to the Mellus newspaper in Dec. 1956 the following: "To the Editor: Are we so bereft of tradition, of some sort of local heritage, that our prospective city must spend the rest of history glorifying a shopping center? Southgate ... what a fine name it is for a twentieth century city. Its namesake, a modern shopping development, epitomizes all the crassest materialistic ideals which characterize our age. .... I for one, do not want to go through life proclaiming that I lived in an expanded shopping center. There can be no civic pride connected with a name that has sprung from such a base, common source. .... Southgate is certainly not dignified and, being nothing more than a recent builder's dream, obviously is not intrinsically bound up in the region's past."

I still don't know when the Ward's building was built, but my guess would be shortly after 1957 when the shopping center opened. When I was looking through those 1957 issues of The Southgate Sentinel, I came across one brief article noting that Montgomery Ward was planning on opening a store in Allen Park. I don't know if they did indeed open one there, but if they did not, it's possible they changed plans and opted for Southgate instead.

Eventually I plan on putting this info (and more like it) on a webpage devoted to the topic. I photocopied a few of the photos that were in the old newspapers, on microfiche, but unfortunately they came out kinda crappy. But the fact that they had so many photos in the papers makes me think that eventually some great looking photos of the shopping center through the years will show up in time.

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Rimes, you're a researching ANIMAL! You go! I'm enjoying your updates and please keep us posted on the progress of your web site!

I find your enthusiasm invigorating! Thanks! :thumbsup:

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Ecorse TWP was actually more than what became Southgate. Originally Ecorse TWP contained all of present-day Taylor, Allen Park, Southgate, Ecorse, Melvindale, River Rouge, Wyandotte, Lincoln Park, and the portion of Detroit south of the Rouge River. Taylor TWP split away early on, and Wyandotte became the first city to split away from Ecorse TWP.

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