|City/Town: • Montgomery|
|Location Class: • Commercial|
|Built: • 1954 | Abandoned: • N/A|
|Status: • Abandoned • For Sale|
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit|
Table of Contents
History of the Normandale Shopping Center
After World War II, the first shopping plaza in Alabama was constructed on a 22.5-acre plot, 3 miles south of the Alabama State House. The plaza was named Normandale Center, designed by Sherlock, Smith & Adams, Albert L. Williams (from Montgomery), and Copeland, Novak & Associates (from New York City). Aronov Realty, based in Montgomery, developed the facility.
On December 20, 1952, ground was broken for an initial strip shopping center. The official dedication took place on September 10, 1954, with Jason H. Smith, reputedly the oldest resident of Montgomery, cutting the ceremonial ribbon. Normandale Center consisted of a single-level retail space and a small lower level at the north end of its East Wing. It encompassed approximately 186,000 leasable square feet, accommodating twenty-nine stores.
These stores included Lee’s Self-Service Drugs, Toyland, Roslyn Eagle Furniture & Gifts, Francis Cafeteria, and an 18,000-square-foot Kwik Chek grocery store, a predecessor to Winn-Dixie. The Doctor’s Building housed six medical practices and two dental practices. A two-level, 84,000-square-foot Loveman, Joseph & Loeb store from Birmingham served as an anchor for the complex. The Montgomery store was the first suburban branch in the chain, later renamed Loveman’s of Alabama in 1956.
Loveman’s of Alabama
Founded in 1870 by Adolph Bernard Loveman, the store originally operated as A. B. Loveman’s Dry Goods Emporium in Greensboro, Alabama Attracted by the glowing stories of the new, young iron ore center, Loveman decided to move his business to Birmingham in 1880. Moses V. Joseph from Selma, Alabama, joined the company, leading to its renaming as Loveman & Joseph. In 1889, Emil Loeb joined the team, resulting in the store becoming Loveman, Joseph & Loeb.
In 1890, Loveman’s primary location was established at 200 19th Street, situated on the corner of 3rd Avenue North. The store underwent an expansion in 1899. By 1911, Loveman’s had gained a reputation as the largest and most splendid department store south of the Ohio River. In 1917, an extension known as the Loveman’s annex was constructed between the main building and the Alabama Theatre.
In 1923, Loveman, Joseph & Loeb, alongside B. Lowenstein, Inc. of Memphis, Tennessee, and Maison Blanche Co. of New Orleans, Louisiana, became the initial three department stores of the Philadelphia-based City Stores Company syndicate.
Tragedy struck on March 10, 1934, when a massive fire engulfed the department store, although the exterior of the annex survived. The store reopened within a few weeks at a temporary location while a new Loveman’s building was erected on the same site. The new building was completed in 1935 and featured a clock on the corner facing the intersection of 19th Street and 3rd Avenue, becoming a beloved local landmark. It was one of the first air-conditioned department stores in the nation and the first in Alabama to introduce an escalator. The name was changed to Loveman’s of Alabama in 1956 to distinguish it from Loveman’s department stores in Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1954, Loveman’s opened its first suburban branch store in Montgomery’s Normandale Shopping Center. Huntsville’s The Mall welcomed a branch store in 1966, followed by Bessemer’s West Lake Mall in 1969, marking the first Metro Birmingham branch. Branch stores were subsequently established at Fairfield’s Western Hills Mall in 1970 and Birmingham’s Century Plaza in 1976.
City Stores filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 1979, leading to the liquidation of the chain and the closure of the flagship downtown store in April 1980. The downtown Loveman’s building was recognized as a historic place and added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 14, 1983. Today, it is home to the McWane Science Center.
Normandale Shopping City
In August 1956, construction began on an expansion project, which introduced an open-air mall called the “Normandale Arcade.” This addition featured a two-level, 30,000-square-foot F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10 store and a one-level, 30,000-square-foot W.T. Grant variety store. The Woolworth store replaced a smaller location in the original strip center and was dedicated on March 7, 1957. Marion McKnight, “Miss America 1957,” made an appearance.
The expanded facility, now known as Normandale Shopping City, encompassed approximately 325,000 leasable square feet and housed around fifty stores and services such as Brenner’s Shoe Factory, Gulp Piano & Organ, Hancock Fabrics, Cohen’s Records, Twix ‘N Teens, Buster Brown Shoes, and Western Auto. A second expansion of the shopping facility was completed by 1964, adding a 15,700-square-foot A & P grocery store to the northwest side of W. T. Grant.
The first retail competitor, Montgomery Mall, emerged in April 1970, located 2.7 miles east of the Normandale Shopping Center. Another rival, Eastdale Mall, opened its doors in August 1977, positioning itself as the dominant shopping center in the region.
By its 20th anniversary in 1974, Normandale Shopping City was promoted as “The Fashion Center of Southern Alabama,” with forty-six tenants. However, competition from Montgomery’s two enclosed shopping malls began to cause a decline in Normandale’s popularity. In an effort to revitalize the complex, a face-lift was carried out between December 1980 and March 1981, and the shopping hub was renamed Normandale Mall.
Unfortunately, the complex continued to struggle. Loveman’s closed its doors in 1981, followed by Woolworth’s. In 1995, a tornado damaged the southern arcade section severely. An exterior face-lift project was undertaken, adding new store facades and awnings to the original strip center.
Over the years, Normandale changed ownership multiple times. Acadia Realty Trust from White Plains, New York, and Sabharwal Properties from Islandia, New York, were among the owners and operators. Plans for renovations and redevelopment were announced but were never implemented.
Meanwhile, The Shoppes at Eastchase opened in November 2002. Not only did The Shoppes at Eastchase strangle Eastdale Mall, but it was also the final nail in the coffin for Montgomery Mall as their last anchor store, Dilliard’s, moved to Eastchase. By this time, Normandale Centre was 60% vacant, with only the original strip center in use. Some remaining tenants included Calhoun Foods, Compass Bank, Dollar General, and Hall & Smith Shoe Repair.
In 2009, there were reports that a potential buyer, Joseph G. Arnone from Kansas City, was negotiating a deal to acquire the retail hub. Arnone planned to undertake a large-scale renovation of the historic property. However, the purchase deal fell through. In 2014, Jim Shirian from California acquired the complex. In August 2018, he began demolishing the majority of the vacant and deteriorating Normandale Arcade.