Thursday, January 3, 2019

Lakeshore Mall - Sebring, FL

Welcome to Lakeshore Mall!
901 US 27 North, Sebring, FL

     The Lakeshore Mall opened on February 5, 1992 with four original anchors: Kmart, JCPenney, Bealls, and Belk, and also an 8 screen movie theater. The Lakeshore Mall was the first and so far only enclosed mall to be built in mostly rural Highlands County, Florida, in the county’s most populous city and county seat of Sebring, a town of 10,000 residents. This mall is rather large for a town of 10,000 (500,000 square feet), although this area is the main shopping district for the large rural expanse of south central Florida along the US 27 corridor. Back in the late 80’s and 90’s, many large suburban developments were built in Highlands County, with an expectation that the area was to surge in population. Many miles of roads were built in these subdivisions, however the people never came, and these large developments continue to sit mostly empty. Still in 1999, Sears was added as a fifth anchor to the mall. Until early 2018, the mall had all five of its original anchors open, the movie theater was still going strong and operating under the AMC brand, and the food court was completely filled. In all, the mall has 65 stores, restaurants, and services, but there were still some empty storefronts. Even with Kmart's closure in March 2018, Lakeshore Mall still has a decent draw and selection of stores within. During my visit in December 2015, there were a lot of people in the mall walking around. Most of the businesses in the main mall corridor are locally owned, with a few national tenants thrown in. The food court is comprised entirely of locally owned restaurants. This mall still acts as a main gathering place for the people of Sebring, and it has evolved to better serve the small size of the town. The mall is currently owned by BVB Properties, and it still retains its 90’s vibe, as we will eventually get to see. I wouldn’t call this mall dead or dying, but I think it may have been built a little too big for the current size of the town, as the developers of the mall were expecting the population of this area to have been much more than 10,000 by now. When I was here, I did see two new places opening up inside the mall, both of which were locally owned. At least it’s growth rather than decline! My main fear for this mall is if something happens to Sears Holdings, and the Sears store (which is still operating as of January 2019) also closes, like it's counterpart Kmart at the opposite end of the mall. That would mean two out of five anchors gone, and the anchor spots here will be really hard to fill, especially with the rural nature of the area. (However, I think Rural King would be a great fit for the empty Kmart space - the company is expanding in Florida, they love old Kmarts, and this area is quite rural - perfect!). However, if both the Kmart and Sears spaces are to sit empty for an extended period of time, the future of the mall will be pretty shaky unless the owners can think of something quick. I did a stand-alone post featuring the Lakeshore Mall's Kmart store, which was my primary reason for visiting the mall this day. This post will focus on the remaining 4 anchors of the mall (which we will start off this post with), concluding the post with a short walk around the mall corridor. If you like retail from the 90’s, then you’ll really like this place!

     First up on our Lakeshore Mall tour: Sears!

Sears #2135
901 US 27 North, Unit #130, Sebring, FL – Lakeshore Mall

     Sears opened their Lakeshore Mall location in 1999 as the fifth and newest anchor to the mall, joining the already established Kmart, JCPenney, Belk, and Bealls, all of which opened with the mall in 1992. This new full-line Sears was an upgrade for a Sears Hometown store located about a mile and a half to the north of here in Sebring Plaza. This store is still hanging on as of early 2019.

     The front of the Sears building can be seen here, or at least what I consider the front since this is the side that faces out toward US 27. The entrance you see here leads into the tool department, and the auto center was just out of frame to the right.

     Sears’ mall entrance can be seen here, which leads to the Women’s clothing department and the jewelry counter. 

     This is looking toward the children’s clothing department, located to the left of the jewelry counter. Merchandise pickup is also in the background. There were a decent number of people in here shopping too, as I’ve had a few occasions where I’ve gone into Sears at what would seem like a peak shopping time and felt like I was the only customer in the place. I’m not sure if this is typically the case here, or if it was just a before Christmas crowd.

     Looking down a center aisle that cuts though the Electronics and Appliance departments here, with mattresses in the background. As Devin Blackwood commented, "The floor here is holding up better than the store in my hometown that opened around the same time! That store is in a 30 year old building though so the foundation may have caused the floor to crack, and we don't have the nice ceramic tiles in softlines."

     The entrance into the auto center, located off of the tool department.

     The aisle that leads through the tool and seasonal departments. As Retail Retell commented when he first saw this photo, "Those types of red floor mats on the right are the memory I most closely associate with Sears from when I was younger, back when we used to go in the Wolfchase location (although theirs were green, I believe... though they may be red now that I think about it, haha)." Interestingly, those green mats are the same thing I associate with Sears from when I was little, back in a time when we went to Sears much more often than we do now. I think there may have been red and green mats used together back then, but I do remember green, which they don't seem to use anymore.

     I had a lot of places to visit this day, so those were all the photos I got inside the Sebring Sears store. Moving on from Sears, who do we have but JCPenney:

JCPenney #287
901 US 27 North, Unit #150, Sebring, FL – Lakeshore Mall

     JCPenney opened with the mall in 1992. This store was a relocation of an older JCPenney located in what is now the Winn-Dixie Plaza in Avon Park (the current Winn-Dixie is located in the old JCP building).

     Here we have an overview of the front of the JCPenney building. 

     JCP's mall entrance, complete with a nice look the original 90's tile used throughout the mall. Again, due to my time constraints, my photos of JCPenney and the remaining anchors are limited to some exterior views and photos of the mall entrances.

Bealls #16
901 US 27 North, Unit #110, Sebring, FL – Lakeshore Mall

     Bealls was one of the original anchors to the mall, opening with the mall in 1992. This Bealls relocated from a smaller and older location located in the Southgate Shopping Center a little bit further to the south. Bealls converted their old location to a Bealls Outlet after they relocated to the mall. You can see the original Bealls location by clicking here.

     Turns out this was the best photo I got of Bealls' exterior, which is located in the left part of the picture behind those pesky trees. This photo also gives a decent overview of the exterior of the back portion of the mall.

     Bealls' mall entrance, which is a complete time capsule back to 1992. Also, to avoid confusion, this store is a part of the Bealls Florida department store chain, which is completely unrelated to the Bealls chain owned by Stage Stores out west. 

     This entrance leads into the mall's food court, which is dubbed "The Oasis".

901 US 27 North, Unit #140, Sebring, FL – Lakeshore Mall

     Belk opened with the mall in 1992, and it was the only anchor to the mall that was new to the area upon the mall's opening.

     Pictured here is one of Belk’s two exterior entrances, this one being the one on the left side of the building. Interesting fun fact: the current owners of the mall, BVB Properties, are somehow related to founders of the Belk Department store chain.

     The Belk logo on the front of the building.

     Belk’s other exterior entrance is the one pictured above, located on the right side of the building.

     Belk’s mall entrance, which is probably the most modern looking part of the entire mall. Even though I was on a bit of a tight schedule, I should have taken a quick look around this place while I was here, as I’ve never actually been inside a Belk before (and as of early 2019, I still can't say I've been inside a Belk).

     This is the main exterior entrance into the mall can be seen here, which is located between JCPenney and Belk. Now is the time most of you have probably been waiting for – interior pictures of the mall itself! Get ready to take a trip back to 1992 as we step through those doors!

     After much anticipation, here we have our first look at the mall itself! This is looking up the mall corridor from in front of Kmart. A local car dealership opened a branch location in the mall in one of the storefronts, and placed some cars out in the main corridor. While I've local car dealerships put a few display vehicles inside of malls many times in the past, this was my first time seeing the dealership itself inside the mall. However, as Retail Retell and PlazaACME noted, there are some other malls that have/had car dealerships inside of them: Retail Retell: "A Fiat dealer was open in Wolfchase Galleria for a time. Not only did they have cars displayed in this vein, they were able to fit a few inside the store itself!" PlazaACME: "We have a Tesla dealer in the King of Prussia Mall. It's cool, they have displays showing how their cars work." Personally, I want to know how many people impulse buy a Tesla during a shopping trip to the mall!

     Cars aside, as you can see here, quite a few empty storefronts yet still some life.

     f.y.d - For Your Dollar&More. A former f.y.e. music store here, one of the few former storefronts I was able to recognize. It’s now some kind of locally owned dollar store.

     The interior of the former f.y.e. store is still full of f.y.e.’s 90’s décor (or the 90's decor from one of the many other brands f.y.e's parent company, Trans World, merged with over the years - you can read much more about that here if you're interested). Now instead of digging through bins of CDs (or cassette tapes if we go back far enough), you can dig through bins of pre-bagged clothing and other random stuff here. As Retail Retell commented, "That is one busy looking place... and I'm not talking about customers!" There might be a customer or two lost somewhere in between all of that stuff though! This store had a pretty strange selection of stuff in here, as luggage and framed art aren't necessarily things I would associate with a "dollar and more" store.

     Looking back toward Kmart from the mall’s untouched Payless ShoeSource store. Changing the logo now would just throw off the 90’s theme at this mall!

     Moving further down the mall corridor, closer to the center court. The Battlezone was some type of comic book/fantasy gaming store I believe, one of two stores like this in the mall. Just beyond this store and those next few further up the mall opens into its center court. As BatteryMill Retail and Daniel Westfall said (respectively): "Still looking retro with the tiles." and "I like the look of the classic tile floor in the mall. Meadowbrook in Clarksburg and Ohio Valley in St. Clairsville have both went to carpet. Something just doesn't seem right with those in my opinion."

     The cobbler is in. Now here's something that pretty rare to find these days: a shoe repair place. David's Shoe Repair is located in the storefront directly to the right of Payless Shoes, conveniently enough.

     For this photo we move a little bit further down the mall corridor, closer to the center court.

     Here's a quick look down the corridor that leads to the main mall entrance, which we saw a few photos up before beginning the interior photos of the mall corridor.

     With a giant skylight like that, you know we've arrived at center court! At the time of my visit, center court was set up for visits to see Santa.

      I guess this mall can't be too dead if they have one of these large trampoline things here. The ceilings in the mall are pretty low, even under the skylight, and from the picture it almost looks like someone could hit their head on the skylight if they jumped too hard!

     Looking into the mall's food court for this photo. The food court has 100% occupancy, however every food court tenant is a locally owned establishment. I believe Sbarro was the last national restaurant chain to remain in the food court here, until they closed sometime around 2013/2014-ish. A line was beginning to form at a little pizza place just out of frame to the left, as lunchtime was just beginning as I took these pictures. A full food court is quite the feat for this rural mall, as some major malls can't even claim such! (I don't know how the food court occupancy stands three years after I took these photos, but hopefully it's still a decent occupancy rate).

     Let's not start playing Lakeshore's funeral march just yet! In the back of the food court was this electric organ. I believe its sole purpose here was to act as advertisement for a local place that gives piano lessons, which was holding a contest for free piano lessons. If they had to drag this organ all the way here, they should have someone come out every once and a while and play it for the mall patrons. Nothing gives better atmosphere at a somewhat struggling mall like some peppy tunes on the organ while you shop, right? As Baltimore Will commented, "I remember in the last years of Hunt Valley Mall outside of Baltimore, a local piano store had a player piano set up in the food court. It used to facinate me when I was younger how a piano could play without a person."

     The Lakeshore Mall Cinema 8 has its main entrance located right off of the food court. While there isn't any signage on the building stating it, this theater is actually owned by AMC (who acquired this theater when they merged with Carmike). As andsome96 said, "Although this theater has never been under their ownership, that sign reminds me of what Regal used in a lot of their theaters built in the 90's." The sign they have here just seemed like a classic movie theater sign, and perfect for a 90's vintage mall. I discovered plans from shortly after my visit here that Carmike wanted to remodel this theater, although those remodel plans were stalled due to the merger with AMC. From Google images it looks like some sprucing up of the interior did eventually occur, however the sign you see in the photo is still there!

     I really don't know why someone was digging a hole in the planter (I assume it was some kind of repair), but they had dirt strewn all over the place. As Retail Retell put it, "Maybe they were looking for a time capsule before realizing the mall itself is one :P" That's the beauty of hiding something in plain sight, it always throws people off!

     Looking into a store near the Sears court. I'm not exactly sure what this place sold (I think it was another comic book/gaming place), however they did steal a cart from Kmart to put books they were trying to sell in! Dollar&More also had a stolen Kmart cart they were using for their merchandise, but I didn't get a picture of that one.

     And here we arrive at the other end of the mall, near Sears. This picture gives a nice overview of the very 90's planter/benches in the middle of the court, and the pattern in the tiles. 

     And so with this we will finish our tour of the Lakeshore Mall. I wish I spent more time that day looking at the mall in more detail, as I wasn't expecting this place to be as interesting as it turned out to be. If you're ever in the Sebring area for some reason, Lakeshore Mall is an interesting place to visit, especially if you need a good dose of the 90's!

So until the next post,