For over 37 years, Georgia Square Mall has been the indoor mall for Athens-Clarke County and surrounding counties.
As reported in The Red & Black, much has changed especially since the Macy’s department store, one of the four main anchor stores of Georgia Square Mall, closed its doors in March of 2017 after 35 years of being at that location.
With anchor stores helping shopping malls to attract shoppers with large, well-known department stores such as JCPenney, Dillards, and Belk, smaller stores can pop up and do fairly well.
Although Macy’s left, Georgia Square Mall still has Belk, Sears, and JCPenney stores.
Still, shopping centers have grown significantly over the last few years. In Georgia, 12 new shopping centers were built from 2016-2017, bringing the total to 4,745, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Kris McWhite, an economics professor at the University of Georgia, said the use of anchor stores has shifted to online shopping.
“Sears started as a mail catalogue for all sorts of stuff, and they and other shopping mall stores have been replaced by the online version of the mail catalogue: Amazon,” McWhite said.
In 2017, Amazon’s net revenue hit $177.9 billion, compared to its 2004 net revenue of $6.9 billion and between 2016-2017, Amazon hit its biggest yearly revenue increase, from $136 billion in 2016 to $177.9 billion in 2017.
Even with Amazon becoming a dominant force in the retail market, a customer’s choice to purchase an item online or in-store all depends on the item's price and length of use.
As it relates to Georgia Square Mall, many new restaurants and shops have opened in the Oconee Connector area instead of the mall due to a lack of interest from locals.
“People aren’t shopping at the mall anymore because there are no good stores. I will occasionally go to Belk, but Macy’s is gone. There’s nothing there; they need to revamp it and start over,” said Jill Benson, a resident of Oconee County for more than 10 years.
Information on the mall’s revenue and profit is unavailable to the public, and the owner of the property did not respond to The Red & Black’s inquiries for that data.
Local residents of Athens have seen the lack of options in the shopping center.
Dwayne Cheney, a lifelong resident of Athens, said, “[Georgia Square Mall] is not like it used to be. A lot of places are moving from there to Oconee County. A lot of businesses are filtering over there, maybe for tax incentives. It’s just going to be a big, empty lot in the upcoming years.”
Cheney believes that within a few years businesses at Georgia Square Mall will stop renewing their leases, people will not have a reason to go to the mall and, it will eventually close down permanently.
With the closing of a popular store like Macy’s, local Athenians and those from surrounding counties have seen how many businesses are going to the Oconee Connector and Epps Bridge area in Oconee County.
Rachel Brackett from Loganville, who has come to Georgia Square Mall for over a decade, said she has noticed its decline.
“It has gotten run down, and I don’t feel safe when I’m around here. I feel like it’s going to close,” Brackett said.
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