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G-E-X Membership Department Store / Intertec Data Systems / Home Gold Financial / Phar-Mor / Home Quarters Warehouse / Blue Cross Blue Shield / Palmetto GBH, 2340 Broad River Road: 1973   36 comments

Posted at 11:35 pm in stores

I never heard G-E-X pronounced Gee-Eee-Eks as the spelling here would imply. It was always just "Gex" to rhyme with "Vex". Not that I heard about it that often. Given the 21 Dec 1969 phonebook listing (ie: for 1970) above, it sounds like it was a Costco or Sam's before its time -- certainly we did not have a membership, and I never went with anyone who did. (There are some pictures of the membership cards here.)

The building (behind Applebee's just North of I-20) is certainly massive, and it seems to have had a department for everything, including groceries and meat, which really makes it sound ahead of its time. Wikipedia says G-E-X was another label for G.E.M the Government Employees Mart and that the electronics department eventually morphed into Circuit City by way of Ward's. The December 1972 phonebook is the last one to list the Columbia G-E-X which meshes with Wikipedia's claim that the chain went under "during the discount store shakeout of 1973".

After G-E-X the spot seems to have been a number of different operations including Home Quarters and Blue Cross. In fact, LoopNet says Blue Cross has a lease on the whole building that lasts until September 2012. Currently the building seems to be empty, with the last branding on the street sign as Palmetto GBH which seems to be some sort of Medicare related operation (their sign is still on the storefront in the LoopNet listing).

UPDATE 21 March 2011: Added "Intertec Data Systems" & "Phar-Mor" to the post title. Those apparently closed in the early 1980s and 3 October 1992 respectively. (Also fixed spelling of Applebee's..)

UPDATE 6 April 2011: Added the 1970 Bellsouth Yellow Pages ad for the pharmacy department (which apparently was open to the general public).

Written by ted on March 18th, 2011

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Bonwit Teller / Dillard's / Blacklion / The Department Store, Richland Mall: 1990 / 2003 / 3 September 2005 etc   36 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.

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Written by ted on June 23rd, 2010

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Belk's / Dillard's, Columbia Mall: late 2008   17 comments

Posted at 10:21 pm in stores

Dillard's started out as a Belk's when Columbia Mall opened in the 1970s and was one of the original anchor stores (along with Sears, Penny's and RIch's).

Since I considered Belk's mainly a "clothes store" and I hated shopping for clothes, in the usual course of events, I would not have gone there often. However in one of those odd little bits of department-store whimsey (nut counters, lunch rooms, hair salons..) that were common in pre-mall days and had yet to be abandoned, they had an area on the second floor near the kitchen-ware which was leased out to a local record store. I knew the name of it before I started this post, but I find it has completely escaped me at the moment. At any rate, it was a small area and the selection of regular LPs was not deep by any means, but they frequently had incredible finds for anyone willing to root through the cut-out bins. Being broke and somewhat obsessive, that was me. I know I still have a number of LPs from there, with the standout being a two disc Jan & Dean collection which had all the hits (which were otherwise pretty unavailable at the time) and a number of the tracks cut by Dean after Jan's accident under the names Laughing Gravy (a fun cover of The Beach Boys' "Vegetables") and The Legendary Masked Surfers (the infectious "Sunshine Music"). The liner notes promised that all the tracks were in "quasi-moto monaural" and if you experienced any problems to "take a shower with a friend".

Aside from browsing the record cut-outs (and kitchen gadgets from time to time) my other favorite thing to do in the store was to ride the small capsule-like elevator. This managed to look both futuristic and a bit art-deco at the same time, and allowed you to look out over the whole store as you ascended or fell.

I forget all the details, but at some point in the late 70s or 80s, Belk left the Columbia market for a while. I think it might have been a family inheritance struggle over management of the chain, but it's very fuzzy. At any rate, after the store space closed as a Belks, it reopened as a Dillards.

I can't say very much about Dillards -- it had no music section so I think I only went in there a few times and found nothing that struck my fancy. I'm pretty sure I never purchased an item there. The chain has been hurting in recent years, and though I don't find any news suggesting the chain itself is in danger, they have been closing underperforming stores, one of which was apparently the Columbia Mall store.

I recall a story in The State mentioning the (then) upcoming closing and interviewing the mall owners who allowed that you (approx) "seldom had the opportunity to replace two anchor stores" (Steve & Barry is also leaving). I was reminded of the old Pogo quote:

We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities!

I took these pictures in October. I would have taken more, but one of the floorwalkers politely inquired as to what I was doing, and it always sounds pretty lame when I try to explain it. Jan & Dean in "Submarine Races" mode would have been much more persuasive!

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Written by ted on January 7th, 2009

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