After 60 years, Durham’s Northgate Mall will close effectively immediately, according to a statement emailed by Jonathan Stewart, head of licensing at Northwood Retail.
In that email, Northwood Retail—a Texas-based management company that purchased the mall in June 2018—cited the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on both mall tenants and management.
Nationally, the losses experienced by retailers during the shutdown have been substantial. During March, sales by clothing stores fell by half; furniture stores and food services, meanwhile, experienced more than a 25 percent drop in sales. And just today, preppy retail giant J.Crew filed for bankruptcy.
Northgate Mall has, however, struggled for years.
When the sprawling mall opened in 1960 it was a novelty and at the fore of the mall boom; it was able to ride that wave through the golden era of mall-culture in the 1980s and ’90s. The novelty would soon become an oversaturated American feature, however. As Katie Jane Fernelius wrote in the INDY, Northgate began to experience a series of hits in the early 2000s, including the opening of Southpoint Mall, the proliferation of big-box stores, and online shopping.
In 2001 and 2007, Bowman and Northgate Associates took out property-secured loans for $58.5 million and $27.5 million, respectively. Mall associates soon doubled-down with a series of multimillion-dollar expansions that offered a temporary bandage. In June 2018, Northgate—which had been locally owned since its opening—was purchased by Northwood Retail, along with its $63 million in outstanding debt from loans. In December 2018, major retailer Sears closed its Northgate location as part of a wave of national closures related to bankruptcy.
As Fernelius pointed out, the decline of enclosed malls like Northgate corresponds with growing inequalities: while luxury malls like Southpoint have continued to flourish, urban malls like Northgate—located in a working-class area of Durham, alongside Interstate 85 and Gregson Street—have struggled to regain footing.
Tenants at the Shops at Northgate, located outside of the mall, will continue to operate after the mall closes; those tenants include the Northgate Stadium 10 movie theater.
Contact deputy arts and culture editor Sarah Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Lots of errors. North gate began as a strip shopping center. It didn’t become a mall until the early 70s. NorthgAte was something of a disaster for a vibrant downtown Durham. That and the now demolished South Square Mall sucked retail from the city. Good riddance to both.
Northgate opened the first week of September, 1960, when my mother, brother & I moved to Durham near Northgate on West Club Boulevard. Mother started her Ph.D. program at Duke, and I started 6th grade at West Club Boulevard School. We raced our new go-cart around the newly painted parking lot at Northgate our first weekend before it opened on Monday. A large insert in Sunday’s Durham Morning Herald advertised each business– I had hardly even heard of a shopping center before. The entire ambience seemed to foresage a wonderful, bright, magical new future. I loved hanging around my mother’s library carrell at Duke, retrieving books for her, totaling rows of data, exploring books on World War Two…. I later attended Duke myself, out of nostalgia and a chance to create a bright future. I’m now almost 70, and have lived near Northgate on Guess Road for over 20 years. While it’s kind of sad to see this institution decay that was so symbolically pivotal to stages of my life, it also teaches me that sometimes such aspirations & metaphors are fluid, effervescent things, perhaps useful for specific purposes, but also subject to revision, or even discarded, as circumstances, like everything, change. Hopefully, new personal metaphors will soon replace the old ones. Still, it is probably worthwhile to at least examine them for any possible residual value…. At this stage, of both my life and also Northgate’s, I suppose that the most important conclusion to draw is to not let sentimentality subsitute for real-life accomplishments. Therefore, I’ll just conclude with this requiem: Goodbye Northgate — As the repository of a myriad of happy memories, you have served your purpose as a faithful and interesting friend.
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