Southgate Shopping Center

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Southgate Shopping Center is a strip mall located at the corner of Eureka and Trenton Roads in Southgate, Michigan. Completed by 1958, it was one of the first major strip malls in the southern Detroit suburbs until the nearby Southland Center opened in 1970. At its height, the center housed over thirty stores.

Southgate Shopping Center sign (Eureka Road entrance) in August 2006

History[edit]

Construction and opening[edit]

As early as 1952, the Realty Mortgage and Investment Corporation of Detroit announced that a multi-million dollar Southgate Center would be built at Eureka and Trenton Roads, and that "space has already been let to many Michigan chain stores, including Kinsel Drugs, Federal's, Wrigley Stores, S. S. Kresge and others," with construction scheduled to begin in the fall of 1952.[1] Southgate's sister center, Eastgate Center (located at 10½ Mile and Gratiot in Roseville) was announced at the same time, with both to have Federal and Kresge as anchors.[2]

Five years later, Southgate Shopping Center was erected in what was then the lone remaining section of Ecorse Township. The 40-acre (160,000 m2) center was designed by architect Charles N. Agree in an L-shape: where one row of stores, near the Eureka entrance, faces Trenton Road and the other row, near the Trenton Road entrance, faces Eureka. There were large signs bearing the name "Southgate" at both entrances (the current neon sign off of Eureka Road was erected in the late 1970s). The mall's trademark was a 135 ft (41 m). water tower, located next to the future Federal's store, close to Trenton Road.

Coincidentally, the remainder of Ecorse Township was annexed in 1958 and became the city of Southgate; the name so chosen "because of the shopping center then under consideration," according to Ecorse Township Supervisor Thomas Anderson.[3]

First businesses[edit]

Wrigley's supermarket was the first tenant, opening for business in September, 1957. Federal's department store opened the following month in a separate 80,000 sq ft (7,400 m2) building next to the center.[4] The official grand-opening for the center was held October 16, 1957, featuring a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Supervisor (and later Southgate's first mayor) Anderson, music by a German polka band, and radio remotes from the parking lot (including Robin Seymour of WKMH, later host of the Swingin' Time program on CKLW-TV and eventually WXON-TV).

Two five and dime stores, Woolworth's and Kresge's (billed as the chain's "691st store")[5] opened their doors in late 1957 along with various other businesses, including Winkleman's, a local well-known clothier.

The two wings of the L-shaped structure were joined in 1958 with the construction of the mall's anchor tenant, Montgomery Ward, which opened its doors in February, 1959. Easily the largest business in the center at 133,000 sq ft (12,400 m2), a separate auto shop along Eureka Road was also built that year.[6]

By the end of the decade, the center grew to over twenty stores with a strong focus on footwear and women's apparel.

Southgate Shopping Center lineup - 1960[edit]

Note: bold-faced store names were anchor stores at the Southgate Shopping Center.

  • A.S. Beck
  • Al's Record Shop
  • Cameras & Gifts
  • Cunningham's (drug store)
  • Danby's (menswear)
  • Federal's
  • Good Housekeeping (appliance store)
  • Hal's Coney Island
  • Hartmann's
  • Holliday-Flagg Bros.
  • Irving's Fabrics
  • Kinney Shoes
  • Kresge's
  • Monroe Optical
  • Montgomery Ward
  • Queen Quality Laundry (dry cleaner)
  • Sanders (confectionary)
  • Suzy's (formal hats)
  • Thom McAn
  • Three Sisters
  • United Shirt
  • Vanity Fair
  • Western Auto
  • Winkleman's
  • Woolworth's
  • Wrigley's
  • Youth Center (children's clothing)

Lineup - mid-1970s[edit]

Note: bold-faced store names were anchor stores at the Southgate Shopping Center.

  • The Branch
  • Federal's (replaced with Service Merchandise by 1978)
  • Fotomat (separate kiosk in parking lot)
  • Good Housekeeping
  • Great Scott! (supermarket which replaced Wrigley's and subsequent Packer Foods, replaced later with F&M Distributors)
  • Harmony House (music)
  • Hartmann's
  • Howard's (Christian bookstore)
  • Kinney Shoes
  • Kresge's
  • LaPrima Music
  • Lawrence Hallmark Office Supply
  • Montgomery Ward
  • Pearle Vision
  • Pet Gallery
  • Sherwin-Williams (paint)
  • Shiffrin-Willins (jeweler)
  • Sanders (confectionary)
  • Suzy's (formal hats)
  • Thom McAn
  • Three Sisters
  • Vic Tanny's (fitness)
  • Winkleman's
  • Woolworth's
  • Youth Center (children's clothing)

Southgate Shopping Center in later years[edit]

Many of the smaller, mom-and-pop oriented shops began to vacate in the early 1980s due to changing economic conditions. Kresge's closed its dime store around 1984, as its subsidiary, K-mart was located just east of the center (in a separate building that today houses a Kroger supermarket and a Dunham's Sports). Tri-State Furniture opened in that space a year later, to be eventually replaced by an Old Country Buffet, which later closed on January 18, 2012.

The first physical change to the mall occurred late in the 1980s, when seven storefronts were razed to make room for a Farmer Jack superstore, adjacent to Service Merchandise. Other separate buildings were constructed at that time lining Eureka Road, among them Applebee's and Taco Bell.

By the end of the 1990s, the economic climate was changing once again, as big-box retailers began overtaking the business of older, established malls. Woolworth closed its Southgate store in the late 1990s, and Sears Hardware opened in its place. Construction of the MJR Southgate 20 megaplex theater took place about this time behind the shopping center, opening on November 6, 1998.

The center's big blow came during Christmas of 2000, as Montgomery Ward liquidated its assets and closed their store in early 2001 (the building has since been razed). Service Merchandise also began downsizing its operations considerably, eventually taking only half the space in its building. It closed its catalog showroom business by 2003 (later to re-emerge as an online retailer, similar to Montgomery Ward) and razed the building in 2004 and the water tower in 2005. Sears Hardware closed in July 2006. The Farmer Jack store was shuttered (along with the rest of the chain) a year later, in July 2007, leaving the mall without an anchor tenant.

Building along Eureka Road continued to prosper at that time. In 2006, a Chili's restaurant was built near the Trenton Road entrance. Construction began in mid-2007 to move the Trenton Road entrance south about 50 feet (15 m) to allow for the building of an Old Chicago restaurant, which opened later that year. Future use for the area formerly occupied by Service Merchandise (now an empty field) has yet to be determined.[7]

Re-development[edit]

In 2006, with the Wards building still vacant, mall owner Michael Sisskind stated he was "working to put together a flexible plan for the building, or perhaps tear it down to attract new retailers."[8]

In August 2007, the News-Herald reported that the center was a candidate to house a Wal-Mart supercenter, which would be the 50th supercenter in Michigan, but only the third in Metro Detroit.[9] Sisskind, however, expressed doubts that Wal-Mart would build on the property. The supercenter would likely have taken over the Wards plot, with additional sections of the center being torn down, as was the case with the construction of Farmer Jack.

Citing the fact that the Wal-Mart supercenter concept was new to Metro Detroit (at that time, two existing stores in Taylor and Woodhaven were being upgraded), Sisskind explained:

I don't think there's going to be any Wal-Mart... That doesn't mean if talks picked up months from now and I was unsuccessful in renting out the space, that it couldn't happen then... I just want to rent out my center. And it appears that Wal-Mart is not my answer, at least not right now."

[10]

Wal-Mart ended up erecting a new superstore in Southgate at the intersection of Eureka Road and Dix-Toledo Road, opening it on September 14, 2011.

In a State Of The City address on January 25, 2012, Southgate Mayor Joseph Kuspa stated the Wards building would be demolished in Spring, 2012, to make way for multi-functional public space.[11] This was a result of a survey conducted by New York-based Project For Public Spaces. Demolition was expected to commence in May, 2012, and the land turned over to the city in the summer.[12]

Water tower[edit]

A water tower was constructed shortly before the center was opened, located behind Federal's near the Trenton Road entrance. During construction it was noted that the "water tower, which will service the stores in Southgate, is 135 feet (41 m) high and has a total capacity of 100,000 gallons. By opening day, which is October 16, the tower will be painted white and will be adorned with a huge 'S'."[13]

When Service Merchandise took over the building in 1978 after the Federal's chain liquidated, the tower was repainted with the store's original "S-M" logo. The mall had its fire-suppression system upgraded in the 1980s, thereby forgoing the need for the tower, which later became an eyesore. It was restored and repainted in 2001 thanks to the letter-writing efforts of an elementary school girl, but was razed only four years later to help facilitate future construction on the Service Merchandise land.

Southgate Shopping Center today[edit]

Though most recent construction has occurred outside of the original mall (Ukazoo Books (which opened in a space formerly occupied by the now-defunct Borders Express in 2011 and closed in December 2013), Old Chicago, Chili's, Panera Bread, Buffalo Wild Wings, Jenny Craig, Applebee's, Taco Bell, and a skateboard/comic shop called Anime to Skateboards), stores that remain inside the strip itself include a Bongo Juice Smoothies, Val's House of Hair (formerly Fantastic Sams), an H&R Block, GNC, All American Buffet (which replaced the recently shuttered Old Country Buffet), Planet Fitness, Aaron's electronics, Bath and Body Works and (in a separate building at the Eureka entrance) CVS Pharmacy.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Ecorse Twp. To Be Site of 'Southgate'" Wyandotte Tribune, September 4, 1952.
  2. ^ Wyandotte News-Herald, September 2, 1952.
  3. ^ "'Southgate' Name Favored in Poll." Wyandotte News-Herald, November 29, 1956.
  4. ^ The Southgate Sentinel, October 10, 1957.
  5. ^ The Southgate Sentinel, October 3, 1957.
  6. ^ "Ward's Building Ready Soon." The Southgate Sentinel, October 16, 1958.
  7. ^ Landmark Commercial Real Estate This website has a Site Plan for the development of the former Service Merchandise area.
  8. ^ The Detroit Free Press, May 9, 2006. The article mistakenly said that the Wards building was "built in 1956."
  9. ^ The Sunday News-Herald, August 12, 2007
  10. ^ http://www.thenewsherald.com/stories/081207/loc_20070812002.shtml
  11. ^ The Sunday News-Herald, January 29, 2012.
  12. ^ The Sunday News-Herald, January 29, 2012
  13. ^ Wyandotte News-Herald, September 26, 1957.

Coordinates: 42°11′52″N 83°11′27″W / 42.1977°N 83.1908°W / 42.1977; -83.1908