By Don Hadder
The recent 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.
Fashion 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
Built in 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 Avenue.
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 well.
The site 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 tenants.
In response, 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.
The economic 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.
The new 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 structures.
With these 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.
During the 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.
By the 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 building.
Again, in 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.
Los Arcos mall
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.
Fashion 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 decades.
Los Arcos 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.
Until the 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.
Events in 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.
Through the 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.
In addition, 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.
The ability 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.
Where 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.
— The 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.
There have 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.