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Bonwit Teller / Dillard's / Blacklion / The Department Store, Richland Mall: 1990 / 2003 / 3 September 2005 etc   37 comments

Posted at 12:01 am in historic,stores

Along with White's and Parisian, Bonwit Teller was to be one of the anchors of the new Richland Fashion Mall which was to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of the original open-air Richland Mall.

It is somewhat typical of that snakebit project that all three chains are now gone. Bonwit Teller was a very upscale store, which, according to Wikipedia was founded in the 1880s. When the RFM store opened, the chain was new to South Carolina, so I went there once to check it out. I quickly determined that it was not a "guy place" at all, and I suspect that even for middle class women, there would have been a hint of Are you sure you are Bonwit Teller material? attitude.

At any rate, the whole chain (17 stores strong at the time) went bankrupt in 1989. Apparently since then, two attempts to revive the brand have come to naught.

After Bonwit Teller went under, the space was taken over by an operation called Blacklion, which apparently still exists in some form. They put up a number of billboards around town (I recall one in particular by Za's on Devine) touting a "Revolutionary new concept in shopping!" (that's not an exact quote, but the spirit is the same). Again, I visited the store once, and as far as I could tell, their revolutionary new concept was an upscale flea-market. The place seemed to be a collection of botiquey little indivdually owned kiosks selling upscale crafts. Interestingly as this 2006 press release details, one of them, Mountain Manor Gifts, did in fact move from Blacklion to the Barnyard Flea Market out on US-1. There was also an Italian lunch sandwich operation in Blacklion whose name escapes me right now, but they moved out of Blacklion to a vacant counter-equiped storefront on the second floor on the other side of Belk's and carried on for another couple years.

After Blacklion closed, there was some talk of turning the space into apartments for an urban village like the condo space at Sandhill. You can see in one of these pictures, the treatments at the end of the Blacklion building that were mocked up for that idea, but like many of the plans for Richland Mall nothing came of that either.

UPDATE 23 June 2010: Added Dillard's and The Department Store to the post title based on the comments.

UPDATE 21 February 2012: Added a definite closing date for Black Lion based on commenter Andrew's research.

Written by ted on June 23rd, 2010

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37 Responses to 'Bonwit Teller / Dillard's / Blacklion / The Department Store, Richland Mall: 1990 / 2003 / 3 September 2005 etc'

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  1. There was also some sort of closeout clothing place there as well. It only occupied one floor. The name escapes me now.

    ChiefDanGeorge

    23 Jun 10 at 5:05 am

  2. I went in Bonwitt Teller once and realized in five minutes that the place would flop. Most of their clothes in the men's section were brown or tweed or both. More like what you expect to see being worn in Boston than in the South. The prices were absurd. $7.00 for a pair of socks?

    On this one and only visit, I was wearing a nice pair of jeans and a knit shirt, but you would have thought I was a leaper by the way the sales staff looked at me. Not one of them bothered to ask me if I needed any help.

    I happily shared my thoughts with a number of friends and almost everyone shared similar tales. Thus when it closed I was neither surprised nor sadden. To me it was good riddence to bad trash.

    Tom

    23 Jun 10 at 7:55 am

  3. Wasn't it a Dillards store for a while?

    bud

    23 Jun 10 at 7:59 am

  4. Yeah Dillards lasted a long time here. I can't believe you left them out. I believe they were there from about 93-early 2000's

    Mr Bill

    23 Jun 10 at 9:39 am

  5. Before this store was Blacklion, it was a Dillards. It closed in the company's first round of downsizing.

    http://www.allbusiness.com/retail-trade/miscellaneous-retail/4429386-1.html

    Blacklion has several locations in the Southeast and was on the 2nd floor only. They are based in Charlotte.

    The first floor for a short time was "The Department Store" and was part of a failed attempt to fill the empty 1st floor store around B&N one Christmas season. They tried to open approx 20 stores, but most didn't last till Christmas and all were filled with very little merchandise.

    Blacklion closed because the aborted development known as Midtown at Forest Acres intended to turn part of the space into a hotel and the rest into a street. I was told this by an employee when they were going out of business.

    Matt

    23 Jun 10 at 9:44 am

  6. I can remember my grandmother and I going in Dillard's right as it was closing. Turns out that (per my great aunt) that the rent was about to face a bigger increase than they could handle. There were big open spaces much like can be seen in the pictures of the Columbia Place location as it was about to close. I wowed some friends as I was explaining this to them.

    Andrew

    23 Jun 10 at 11:10 am

  7. Like the saying goes : If it aint broke, dont fix it.. and that's why they should have left the ORIGINAL Richland Mall alone. It was doing just fine, but as usual, Columbia always has to go and screw things up and make it worse.

    Del

    23 Jun 10 at 10:05 pm

  8. Well, I tend to agree because in general I don't like things to change.

    However, they would have had to do something, at least as much as Trenholm Plaza has done, or risk ending up like Midlands Shopping Center.

    Consider -- No matter what: JB White would be gone. Woolworth would be gone. The Happy Bookseller would be gone. Eckerds would be gone (no drive-through). Jackson Camera would be gone. Big Star would be gone. Hickory Farms would be gone. The theater would be gone (too small). Winn Dixie would be gone. Lourie's Records would be gone. Mr. Popper's & Russell Stover were nice, but I don't think they could carry a mall..

    ted

    23 Jun 10 at 10:18 pm

  9. The record store in Richland Mall was called Meri's, not Lourie's.

    Meri's and Russell Stover might not have been able to carry a mall, but throw in Baubles N Things, Berry's Men's Shop, Lisbeth Wolfe, Redwood Cafeteria, Merle Norman, and Gerald's Shoe Repair...

    Jim

    24 Jun 10 at 1:40 am

  10. The record store in Richland Mall was called Meri's, not Lourie's.

    Meri's and Russell Stover might not have been able to carry a mall, but throw in Baubles N Things, Berry's Men's Shop, Lisbeth Wolfe, Redwood Cafeteria, Merle Norman, and Gerald's Shoe Repair...

    Jim

    24 Jun 10 at 1:40 am

  11. Meri's -- D'oh!

    But it would still be gone as almost all record stores are.

    ted

    24 Jun 10 at 1:53 am

  12. I think Blacklion was done in (like so many other businesses) by its lack of advertising. Nine people out of ten had no idea what they were or what they offered. They just had a few billboards with their black lion logo and folks were not interested enough to investigate. "Word of mouth" is a once in a million shot to make a business succeed.

    Way before that I believe that the parking garage is the cancer that starting killing Richland Mall. Not only does it almost completely hide the mall from view, but this is Columbia, SC -- we do NOT LIKE parking garages. They reek of the big city-ness that we are trying to avoid by living here. They frighten and confuse us, and worse, they slow us own. We have a lifelong small town mindset of parking near the door of the store we want to go to, running in and running out. The garage kills that shopping experience and remains a terrible mistake.

    Dennis

    24 Jun 10 at 4:49 am

  13. There also a Meri's on the second floor of Belk's at Columbia Mall until the mid 1980s.

    Tom

    24 Jun 10 at 5:38 am

  14. You left out Pet-a-rama--next door to Mr. Poppers. A trip to Columbia back in the '60s wasn't complete without lunch at the Market Restaurant, a trip to Belk's downtown (with valet parking) and on the way home, stopping by Pet-a-rama to see all the fish and some caramel popcorn from Mr. Poppers.

    Mike

    24 Jun 10 at 5:46 am

  15. I agree with the parking garage comment. I think that killed the whole mall.

    Mr Bill

    24 Jun 10 at 9:24 am

  16. I think that having to walk through a department store to get from one end of the ground floor to the otherr is what killed that mall. I've never seen that anywhere else.

    Jim

    24 Jun 10 at 6:30 pm

  17. That is weird, but that wasn't an original feature. Before Verizon, you could walk through the original food court and get to the other side without going through White's/Belk's.

    ted

    24 Jun 10 at 6:48 pm

  18. I've been to several malls with centralized dept. stores that you had to walk through....

    Mike

    24 Jun 10 at 8:37 pm

  19. Yeah what Dennis said about the parking garage.

    Michael Taylor

    24 Jun 10 at 8:38 pm

  20. I was talking about this mall withsome yesterdy and was reminded before they tore down the old mall, a developer had tried to "modernize" it, by adding extensions to the store fronts (I.e.- big glass windows) and a few otehr things, that went over like a lead ballon with the tennants and the shoppers.

    Tom

    25 Jun 10 at 9:45 am

  21. One of the "other things" was to scatter homade cement animal statues around the mall. I remember a turtle in particular that was pretty crude, but had a nice goofy grin.

    ted

    25 Jun 10 at 9:50 am

  22. The outdoor version of Richland Mall was in decline for some time before the massive renovation in the late 80s. But in it's heyday in the 60s it was a very enjoyable experience to visit the mall. I wish they had simply kept it an outdoor mall but modernized it a bit with fountains and perhaps added another anchor. I visited a mall in Raliegh recently that was partially outdoors and it reminded me of the old Richland. It was a very pleasant place to walk.

    bud

    25 Jun 10 at 3:03 pm

  23. I knew about the food court on the second floor--Sbarro's, Great Steak and Fry, and a Chinese place, as I recall.. I was talking about the ground floor.

    Once upon a time, Lenox Square in Atlanta was designed a lot like the old Richland Mall. It had the same kind of overhangs down both sides of the center promenade.

    Jim

    25 Jun 10 at 7:07 pm

  24. I know things do not always stay the same...but I am traveling to Columbia, SC in a couple of weeks and was hoping for a trip down memory lane. My family lived there in the late 80's and my dad and brothers worked on the Richland Fashion Mall. I was 14 and was mesmerized by Bonwit Teller. I felt rich when my dad bought my mom a dress suit that cost several hundred dollars. (Small town country girl who grew up on hand me downs and discount store clothing.) Oh well...no Bonwit Teller...no memory lane...what is a girl to do. lol

    Tina

    31 Jul 10 at 10:08 pm

  25. It's my understanding that Dillard's closed in 2003 like it did b/c they were going to double the rent and Dillard's couldn't afford it...despite the good business...

    as an aside, am I The only one that it took a while to get accustomed to Midtown at Forest Acres only to have to relearn Richland Mall??

    Andrew

    4 Aug 10 at 9:32 pm

  26. @Andrew, you may be right about Dillards, but the chain has scaled back operations during the last decade. And for the record I have never called the mall anything bu Richland Mall!

    Tom

    5 Aug 10 at 10:10 am

  27. The call space owners want an obscene amount of money, more than the value of the rest of the mall. The space is the only way of unifying the mall. The new mall has never done well since its inception in the late 80's. It was a ghost mall even then. There was a period in the late 90's that most space was rented and the mall seemed to be doing well. Then it turned into a dead mall seemingly overnight. Apparently the owners raised the rent beyond reason and the store owners fled the mall.

    joel

    5 Aug 10 at 5:28 pm

  28. BLACKLION CLOSING SHOP AT RICHLAND MALL
    The State (Columbia, SC) - Thursday, August 18, 2005
    Author: DAWN HINSHAW Staff Writer

    One of the largest tenants at Richland Mall is closing his last store, Blacklion , on Sept. 3, making it the 10th to close since mid-July.

    Bob Emory, who owns the interior-design store Blacklion , said officials with mall owners asked him to "make way for the construction to begin."

    So when he found a buyer for his clothing inventory, sold at The Department Store and a dozen other outlets scattered through the mall, Emory said he seized the opportunity.

    Construction is expected to begin at the first of the year on a massive redevelopment of the mall, converting it into a modern "downtown" filled with condominiums, offices, restaurants and retail outlets.

    To make the transition, Peerless Development is partnering with the mall's current owner, Angela Whichard of Raleigh, N.C., an investor who bought the mall in December 2003.

    Emory's departure leaves about 30 stores still doing business at the Forest Acres mall, including anchors Barnes & Noble, Belk and Parisian, along with restaurants S&S Cafeteria and T.G.I.Friday's.

    Emory said once news broke in March that the mall was being retooled with a residential focus, customers strayed.

    "None of us can survive on little or no traffic," he said.

    In an unrelated development, The Bombay Co., a national retailer, closed its Richland Mall store Aug. 6 to move to The Village at Sandhills, according to a sign on the door.

    Kimberly Melton, a retail spokeswoman for Peerless Development, said she knew of no other stores making plans to close or relocate.

    Stores that Emory closed in recent weeks include: Boutique Paris, Euro Jean, Bullseye Bargains, Jus' Spoilt Rotten, Sassy'cessories, Wisteria Arbor and Trousseau.

    He has closed The Department Store, too, while merchants who rent space in his Blacklion are preparing to leave.

    Emory expressed concern about the fate of his 110 employees. "We are now working very hard to find them new jobs."

    Emory, based in Charlotte, made a splash at Thanksgiving by opening 16 stores on the eve of the nation's busiest shopping season. He announced plans to open 22 stores but fell short.

    "Anybody that was here Thanksgiving night, or the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, has to agree that the people will come if we have the right stores and the right marketing in place," he said Friday.

    "It really gave everybody a shot in the arm."

    His Blacklion has been at the mall since 2003, in the space once leased by Dillard's.

    In March, North Carolina-based Peerless Development announced plans to buy the struggling, 36-acre mall and transform it by adding condominiums and office space.

    Officials acknowledged last week, however, that they're entering into a partnership with Whichard, the mall's current owner.

    Ultimately, Peerless officials have said the property will be about 40 percent retail use, compared with about 85 percent retail now. The remainder is used by Verizon Wireless, which expanded its call center earlier this year.

    © 2005 The State

    They left right around the time that Richland Mall became Midtown at Forest Acres.

    Blacklion is down to two Charlotte locations and a third in Huntersville, NC.

    Andrew

    21 Feb 12 at 12:30 am

  29. So 3 Sep 2005..

    I'll update the post title.

    My, wasn't *that* a great idea!

    ted

    21 Feb 12 at 12:41 am

  30. here's the kicker...Blacklion closed on September 3, 2005 right around the time the site was renamed Midtown at Forest Acres only to go back to being called Richland Mall approximately 5 years later...

    Andrew

    21 Feb 12 at 12:05 pm

  31. here's the kicker...Blacklion closed on September 3, 2005 right around the time the site was renamed Midtown at Forest Acres only to go back to being called Richland Mall approximately 5 years later...

    Andrew

    21 Feb 12 at 12:05 pm

  32. If I recall a German restaurant on the second floor that moved from Columbia mall

    mike

    5 Feb 13 at 8:20 pm

  33. ^Yeah there was. Tucked into the corner of the old (vastly superior) food court. Something Haus.

    tonkatoy

    6 Feb 13 at 7:36 am

  34. @ Mike : It was the "Hofbrauhaus". Excellent sandwiches to be had there. I think the one in Columbia Mall stayed open too. This was a second franchise.

    Cam

    6 Feb 13 at 5:02 pm

  35. And the hemorrhaging continues with the closing of TGI Friday's...

    Lucjanrc

    23 Mar 13 at 1:54 pm

  36. ted

    23 Mar 13 at 1:56 pm

  37. I worked at Bonwit and managed the women's clothing department on the 1st floor. We carried the same brands in that area as the other stores in the mall but offrered top notch customer service. LJ Hooker, an Austrailian construction company, purchased the chain and then went bankrupt.
    PS: A group of us that worked at BT still get together after all these years.

    Debbie McDaniel

    18 Dec 14 at 6:54 pm

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