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De-malling begins: Southgate's face-lift underway

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Work crews tear down the former J.C. Penny building at Southgate Mall in Elizabeth City, Wednesday. Work to "de-mall" Southgate into a shopping center began this week.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Demolition crews began work this week “de-malling” Southgate Mall in Elizabeth City.

The former Merchant's Tire and Auto store in the mall has already mostly been reduced to rubble, and crews on Wednesday were deep into tearing down what was the former J.C. Penney store.

Clay Boardman III, managing member of the Vireo Group, the mall’s Augusta, Georgia-based owner, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. But Boardman previously said both parts of the mall would be removed as part of an effort to “de-mall” Southgate and convert it into an outdoor shopping center. 

The Vireo Group acquired Southgate in an online auction in February, reportedly for $2.3 million.

City officials gave Vireo the go-ahead last month to remodel Southgate so that at least four tenants, currently in the mall's enclosed rear interior, can be shifted to the side of the mall facing Ehringhaus Street.

The four tenants, GNC, Hibbett Sports, Saslow's Jewelers and the Shoe Dept., will join Southgate anchor Belk, as well as Burkes Outlet and Dragon Buffet, on the mall's West Ehringhaus side.

Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce President Mike Hindenach said Wednesday he was excited to see the remodeling effort at Southgate underway, noting that the mall as it was "had done what it could do."

"And now we'll see something new and hopefully improved," Hindenach said. "And I'm excited to see how it finishes out."

Hindenach said he would agree with the idea that the de-malling effort at Southgate is indicative of a larger trend, largely because Americans have changed their shopping habits.

"I know malls were a big deal in the 80s because I used to hang out in them, but honestly that isn't the current desire for most shoppers now," he said. "So, yeah, I think you're seeing a lot of those spaces get converted into something that will be more appealing to today's shopper.”

As for what kind of shopping experience today’s shopper wants, Hindenach believes it’s clean spaces that feel fresh. Shoppers also want at least part of their experience to be outdoors, he said.

"Let's be honest: If they didn't, malls would still be in vogue, right?" he said.

Several shoppers at the mall Wednesday said they’re looking forward to Southgate’s new look.

Kevin Terazzi, a transplant to Elizabeth City from the Canton, Ohio, area, was heading to the parking lot after purchasing a pair of shoes from the Shoe Dept.

"It was super-quiet in there," Terazzi said. "I was kind of shocked when I walked in, to be honest with you."

Used to busier malls, Terazzi said he relocated to Elizabeth City because his wife's family is from here. He said he likes Vireo’s idea of converting the mall into a shopping center.

"I think it's a good idea, actually. I mean, it's a good little area right here," he said, referring to Ehringhaus Street.

Sammy Girardi, a retired Portsmouth, Va., police officer who now lives in Hertford,  was sitting behind the steering wheel of his car, waiting for his wife, Kathy, who was shopping in Belk.

Asked about the changes underway at Southgate, he said the mall’s owners needed to do something.

"It's going to be a ghost town before long," he said. "Everything keeps moving out."

Girardi said he doesn't know why Southgate went into decline. He said he just started noticing businesses leaving and not being replaced.

Girardi said he does almost all of his shopping now at the Walmart Supercenter off Halstead Boulevard Extended. He visits Southgate, he said, because his wife remains a loyal Belk customer.

As for the improvements Vireo is undertaking, Girardi said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach. It would be nice, he said, if Vireo is able to attract more businesses to the new shopping center.

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