The Dutch Square White's from the Bush River Road side:
The Dutch Square White's from the theater side:
The Dutch Square White's from the Dutch Square Boulevard side:
White's in the original Richland Mall:
The (second) Richland Mall White's from the Beltline Boulevard side:
The downstairs interior entrance to the Richland Mall White's from the "Parisian" side:
The upstairs interior entrance to the Richland Mall White's from the Barnes & Noble side:
White's as J. B. White was known to us was the department store we most often shopped at when I was small. This may have been due as much to the location as anthing else as White's was in nearby Richland Mall, both closer and easier to park at than Main Street. Whatever the reason, White's was always on the docket when it became time to "buy clothes". Mind you, when I was a boy, I hated "buying clothes" with a white-hot passion, and must have been a real trial for my mother to shop for; even now, I tend to buy 5 of the same pairs of pants or 10 of the same shirts if I know they fit so I won't have to do it again any time soon.
Despite hating clothes shopping, I liked White's. I think part of the reason was that the store, at least at Richland Mall, seemed rather mysterious to me. If I recall the layout correctly, there were doors on all four sides of the store (3 into the parking lot, and one into the mall's open air corridors) and the centrally placed escalators made it impossible to see from one side of the store to the other, so it was easy (for a kid) to become confused about exactly where you were. The escalators were somewhat mysterious and exciting in themselves. By today's standards they were very narrow, so you could stiff-arm your self up off your feet between the two rails and pretend that you were on some sort of space conveyor-belt, and when you got to the top, you had to walk around to the other side to come back down, so it was kind of confusing as well. The most mysterious aspect of the store though was the PA. In those days, I suppose there would not have been a phone at every service desk, and important announcements were communicated to the staff in code. And not just innocuous phrases that the customers would miss, but real numeric spy code! And the code would always be over-ennunciated by a melodious female voice: Fiiiiive-NiiiEeen, Fiiive-NiiiEeen!. It was sort of like I imagined announcements on Trantor would be.
Aside from clothes (which as I said, I hated), the merchandise at White's was a mixed bag. As I recall, they had no heavy electronics or appliances, but they did have cookware and small kitchen appliances upstairs. I liked that because it was "sort of" like hardware. They also had a small book department upstairs which I guess had bestsellers, but more importantly to me, remainders. I remember specifically finding the last Tom Swift, Jr. book there. Unfortunately, The Galaxy Ghosts had apparently been written by an entirely different team than the rest of the series, violated continuity and the characters, and wasn't very good.
If I haven't said anything about the Dutch Square store yet, that's partly because we went there less often, and partly because it was about the same, but less interesting. By the time it was built, the chain had dropped the code-talk, and its escalators were the modern width and harder to play on. (For that matter, by that time, I would have been getting self conscious about doing stuff like that). Its building is still standing however. The original Richland Mall store was razed during the ill-fated conversion to an enclosed Richland Fashion Mall, and a new one was built in the middle of the oddly shaped new space. Some time after the chain was sold in 1998, both the Richland Mall store and the Dutch Square store became "Belk's" locations. I was a bit disgruntled because as an adult I had come to rely on White's as a source for clothes that I considered looked "OK", and Belk's had a slightly different mix (no Arrow shirts, in particular).
As a side note, since we didn't travel much growing up, and I never saw a White's in the places we did go, I always assumed it was a Columbia chain like Tapp's, but when I started working in Augusta in the mid 90s, there were several there (which became, if I recall correctly, Dillard's instead of Belks).
UPDATE 20 Aug 08: The White's store at Richland mall was not torn down, and is in fact the same building housing the current Belk's and still has the skinny escalators. I think memory played me false because Whites was at the end of the original mall, and I was mentally assuming that the current end of the mall (Black Lion) was the same geographic spot.
UPDATE 14 March 2011: Updated closing date in the post title to 20 September 1998 based on commenter Andrew's research.
UPDATE 17 May 2011 -- I've mentioned it in the comments, but the closed off (except for salon and restrooms) third floor of the Dutch Square building is sort of spooky:
UPDATE 21 June 2011: Added a vintage shot of White's in old Richland Mall from a Chamber of Commerce promotional book.