mob attack on Fashion Square under the surge of demonstrations regarding the
George Floyd incident brought to mind the unique story of Fashion Square as
well as how there once was another mall in Scottsdale – Los Arcos Mall – that
had a much different fate. These pillars of the Scottsdale community have
played an important role in the life, culture and economic lifeblood of
Scottsdale. Their individual stories are
unique, but in comparison provide valuable insight into how to manage in or
during changing times.
Square was the first of the two malls to get started. Located at the northwest
corner of Scottsdale and Camelback Roads, the property had been used for a
couple years as the rodeo grounds for the recently organized Parada Del Sol
that was held at the end of January each year. The rodeo grounds moved to a
downtown site at the northeast corner of Hinton and Osborn
1959-60, the original ‘mall’ was and odd collection of a grocery store (A. J.
Bayless), a drug store, the Goldwater’s Department Store and an assortment of
in-line retail and service stores. The concept of a shopping mall was not yet well
defined and this early mall included components that would later be classified
as a “neighborhood center” and as a “regional center.”
Some of the
in-line store fronts filled the space between the grocery and drug stores while
others fronted an east/west breezeway.
The mix of stores was definitely eclectic, ranging from a
family-oriented diner to a high-end steak house. During this period, the tourist orientation
of stores in downtown Scottsdale was solidified along Main Street and Fifth
The site was
annexed by the City of Scottsdale in 1962 and shortly thereafter the Lenart
office building facing Camelback Road was constructed. Other adjoining
properties were being developed or prepared for development at this time as
that would become Camelview Plaza, west of Fashion Square, went through a
series of rezoning cases in 1964-65 that resulted in the property receiving
High-Rise Commercial zoning. Across
Camelback Road, the original Camelback Mall, including a Safeway grocery and a
Thrifty drug store, was built in 1964. Later in the 1960s, freestanding
restaurants at the corner of Highland and Scottsdale Road, a gas station and
the Days Inn were added to the mall site.
In the early
1970s, several zoning and design cases were approved for the proposed Camelview
Plaza property. Ultimately, from 1971 through 1974, the plans for this mall
were approved and included the Arizona Bank office tower, a Sakowitz Department
Store and a Bullocks Department Store, along with a limited group of smaller
mall tenant spaces.
In the late
1970s the Camelview Harkins Theaters were added northeast of the main mall
area. The unique aspects of this project
were the office tower and the underground parking structure. Also, across the street at Camelback Mall,
additions were approved for a major spa, a two-theater complex, and some pad
Fashion Square expanded with the addition of another department store
(Dillard’s) and the reconstruction of the breezeway mall into an open air and
sunken “Palm Court” mall area. In addition, the original grocery and drugstore “neighborhood”
portions had been removed.
By the mid-
to late-1970s the three major retail centers along Camelback Road west of
Scottsdale Road had emerged as a major core of regional and high-end commercial
and service uses that clearly took advantage of the market conditions in
Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and the Arcadia portion of Phoenix. These were
three separate sites and facilities, each competing with each other as well as
the broader regional marketplace across the Phoenix metro area.
volatility of the mid-1970s and the early 1980s, however, pointed out some of
the vulnerability of three separate sites acting on their own interests in a
rapidly changing environment. With two department store anchors each, Fashion
Square and Camelview Plaza were not able to compete head-to-head with the newer
malls that had four and five department stores as anchors. As a result, the
owners of Fashion Square bought Camelview Plaza and started a program of
expansion that would transform the properties.
At about the
same time, the city was creating the original Downtown Area Plan. Many of the
stores and services that had been popular and busy in the 1960s were no longer
in business, and high vacancy rates, T-shirt shops and other signs of decay had
crept into the downtown area. The new plan also addressed major transportation
problems as Scottsdale Road through the area was heavily congested and
intimidated some who might have gone to the downtown to shop and entertain. The
enlarged Fashion Square property coordinated with the emerging plan as it prepared
for its next phase of development and economic activity.
master plans and zoning for Fashion Square were approved in 1986 and presented
a radically new version of the mall. With the new plans came the Goldwater
Blvd. bridge along with the new Goldwater Blvd. road that was intended to be
the west side of a diversion loop around the core of the downtown area, the
change from an outdoor mall to a fully enclosed mall, and several new parking
changes, Fashion Square could compete directly with newer malls and could grow
its ability to market itself and to draw quality tenants. As this plan went forward, expansions to
Bullock’s at the west end, Goldwater’s at the east end and a new department
store building on the north side were also included. By the end of the 1980s a
new and strategically different Scottsdale Fashion Square was emerging.
early 1990s, several minor modifications were incorporated into the mall area
as it consolidated the recent major expansion and adjusted to yet another
economic slow-down. It was during this period that the ability of Fashion
Square to draw customers from not only out of state but out of the country
emerged. Visitors to Scottsdale area resorts began to spend more time and money
at the mall and in some cases, visitors even came to town with the express
intent to shop at Fashion Square.
second half of the 1990s, Fashion Square made another major expansion bid. In
acquiring Camelback Mall on the south side of Camelback Road, Fashion Square
began a series of plans to add another department store anchor (Nordstrom’s)
across the very busy Camelback Road and further transform the Mall into a
powerhouse retail center. This expansion was able to open in the midst of one
of the largest economic expansion periods in post-War American history. It
created the basic mall footprint that exists today. Given the east/west main
mall and the south wing extension, the interior mall is close to a half-mile in
length and the entire mall encompasses over two million square feet of
the late 2000s, Fashion Square went through another reconstruction and
expansion to remove the former Robinson’s May department store (and by doing so
finally eliminated the last of the original Goldwater’s building structure) for
the Barney’s mall extension along with the expanded and relocated Harkins
multiplex theaters. And barely a decade later, even this remodel was remodeled.
The story of Los Arcos Mall takes a different track from Scottsdale Fashion Square, and has different results. Built in total as a two-anchor mall in 1969, Los Arcos came on the scene as a major modern mall with some of the most popular anchors at the time: Sears and Broadways.
Square then was still a partial mall, and with the two-anchor Thomas Mall about
4 miles to the west and the two-anchor Tri-City Mall 4 miles to the southeast,
the East Valley had emerged as a hot spot of shopping. Other than the fairly
small Tri-City Mall, the Southeast Valley communities of Tempe, Chandler and
Mesa were underserved with major retail space, so Los Arcos quickly drew from
the south and east, which were areas of rapid growth over the following
Mall was an odd real estate feature in that it had four owners: Sears and
Broadways both owned their own buildings and the parking that served them and
the in-line and enclosed mall area had two owners. Amazingly, the minor mall
owner was the managing partner.
late 1970s, Los Arcos was very popular and drew customers from Tempe, Mesa,
Chandler and to a degree even from the emerging neighborhoods in the Paradise
Valley area. The intersection of Scottsdale Road and McDowell Road for many
years was the busiest one in the entire state. As one of two routes from the
East Valley to central Phoenix, McDowell Road functioned as a regional highway.
In fact, the original zoning in the county for the Los Arcos Mall site was due
to the projection that it would be next to the proposed Papago Freeway.
1978 and 1979 would bring drastic changes to Los Arcos from which it would not
recover. In the spring of 1978, there was a major flood that washed out almost
all the crossings of the normally dry Salt River through the Valley. And
basically, at the same time as the flood, Fiesta Mall, with four department
store anchors, opened in southwest Mesa. This double whammy effectively cut off
the market capture of the Southeast Valley that Los Arcos had depended on.
Sales dropped dramatically, and although they would recover to a degree over
time, it’s ability to draw customers had been greatly diminished. Just a year
later, Paradise Valley Mall opened and cut into the portion of customers Los
Arcos had been able to draw from that direction.
1980s, Los Arcos tried to sustain traffic and sales by recruiting lower cost
outlets and seasonal stores. As sales sagged at Sears, the second floor was
converted into a call center for their “Discover Card” division. The two-screen
theater was closed. With limited frontage and not willing to build expensive
parking structures, the mall had few options for expansion.
with such a complex ownership structure, it was difficult to get four property
interests to agree to any major course of change or expansion. Pepinos’ Mexican
food restaurant, Luby’s cafeteria, Red Robin restaurant and the Trails End
party after the Parada Del Sol parade added glimmers of activity, but the mall
and it’s major tenants struggled. A cosmetic remodeling in the early 1990s did
little to draw shoppers and tenants and by the end of the decade, Los Arcos
Mall finally closed for good.
Some of the
‘take-aways’ from these stories are:
— Change is
inevitable and almost all cases outside of one’s control or influence. In the
cases of these malls, changing demographics, changing transportation corridors,
new competition, changing market preferences, natural disasters and other
events resulted in the need for adaptability.
and willingness to recognize and adapt to change is critical in the success of
an organization. When reviewing the actions taken on the three properties that
now form Fashion Square, from 1959 to 2013 (54 years) there were 101 cases
submitted to and approved by the county and city. This reveals an ongoing and
persistent effort to keep these commercial properties relevant and successful.
Often, as soon as a remodel is completed, the management at Fashion Square is
already looking ahead and working on the next adaptation of the property in
order to stay economically active.
separate and individual interests hold sway, such as at Los Arcos, the
organization will not be able to respond to and stay relevant with change.
Ultimately, this will lead to the failure of the organization. Any organization
that cannot look forward, look around and look within itself is one that cannot
make good decisions and remain healthy.
willingness to take action and then accept it when such action is not
successful or becomes irrelevant is important. In the case of Fashion Square,
there have been at least 12 department and junior department store anchors,
innumerable restaurants, all range of stores from bookstores to toy stores to
bicycle stores that were successful for a period but no longer, various
services and offices, and many more attempts to find the ‘right’ mix.
been pop-up stores, seasonal outlets, special events and other creative ways to
attract customers. Some of these have worked well, others not so much. Two
restaurant chains started at Fashion Square (Hops and PF Chang’s) but are no
longer located there or even in business. This willingness to try and then
adjust if it is not working as hoped, has been a long-term hallmark of this
enterprise. A failure does not cause the
mall to complain and blame others, rather, they move on and continue to look
forward. Los Arcos tried to adapt, but their approach tended to be reactive and
not proactive and as such they were mostly behind the times
— As was
exhibited recently, Fashion Square has become emblematic of the economic and
social context of Scottsdale and Paradise Valley. It is interesting that before
the pandemic arrived, there was an amazing mix of cultures, languages and
lifestyles represented in the customers who came to the mall. Sometimes it was
possible to hear up to four or five different languages spoken in the mall
during an evening visit. This ultimately was not as relevant as the symbolism
it represents to those who have not frequented it. This is a new role for the
mall and it will be important to see how the mall responds. It has become a
cultural icon of sorts – one that has the experience and resources to reach out
and embrace the changing and dynamic community that Scottsdale is becoming.
In order for
Scottsdale to continue to be a desirous place to visit, to do business in and
to live in, the community will need to recognize the changes that are happening
and likely to happen, to embrace the changes and find ways to be successful
with them, and in many cases to lead the ways of change.
The Scottsdale of today is a place not
imaginable by those early pioneers who cleared the land to make this place
their home, but it likely is a place they would embrace as one that is
welcoming and well-rounded.