|Today's post highlights Tunica County, MS, retail.|
For our final post of 2017, I'm making good on my promise to branch out some and feature retail from a Mid-South county that has not been presented before on the blog. So today, we're going to take a look around the Casino Factory Shoppes in Tunica Resorts, MS. (Spoiler alert: there isn't much to see...)
As always, I think it's a good idea to share with you some history before we dive straight into the photos. (I'll try not to make it too long-winded!) Tunica is an interesting little area. Tunica County lies just to the south and west of DeSoto County, and runs along the Mississippi River. DeSoto is a highly commercially-developed area, especially the closer you get to the state line (i.e. the city of Southaven), seeing as how it is considered part of the Memphis metropolitan area. Tunica... not so much. The Memphis metro pretty much drops off as one exits DeSoto. If you're heading south on I-55, you enter Tate County, which is not as developed as DeSoto but still has its fair share of establishments. But Tunica County has no interstate running through it - only a state highway - and begins one's descent into the Mississippi Delta region.
Accordingly, Tunica County is a pretty, shall we say, quiet area. If not for the negative connotation, I'd also be willing to call it boring. It's not the people's fault, by any means. But Tunica is comprised almost completely of flat land and cotton fields. There are very few structures to break up the monotony. Or even trees, for that matter. Without a doubt, it fits the bill of the Mississippi Delta. And yet, if you live in the Mid-South - or even beyond the region - chances are, you've heard of Tunica before. So why is that, if there's not really anything there?
One word: casinos. While I have no pictures relating to them, I started doing some research on the Tunica casinos the other day, for I feel a discussion of Tunica isn't complete without a backstory on the means behind its rise to fame. "Really by accident," a 1996 New York Times article claims, Tunica in the 1990s was transformed from (literally) the statistically "poorest, worst-off place in the United States" to a gambling powerhouse. At one point in time, Tunica actually "generated the third largest gambling revenues in the nation, after Las Vegas, Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey," according to Wikipedia.
This improbable transformation was made possible by an almost-overlooked stipulation tacked onto a 1990 Mississippi legislative session regarding the installation of a state lottery that made riverboat gambling legal. The state lottery idea didn't pass, but the gambling one did. A short time later, in 1992, the first casino in Tunica County, and indeed the state of Mississippi - Splash Casino - opened at Mhoon Landing, MS. To most everyone's surprise, it was wildly, off-the-charts popular. Four others quickly followed in 1993, three at Mhoon Landing but the remaining one - the first iteration of a Harrah's Casino to open in the county - in a spot farther north, even closer to Memphis. A record seven casinos opened in 1994, most of which were located closer to Harrah's: the Memphis traffic was good, even better than the comparatively-isolated Mhoon Landing resorts had been getting. In fact, as more casinos continued to open in the northern area of the county - an unincorporated community known as Robinsonville - the remaining Mhoon Landing casinos all either relocated or shut down entirely. Splash, for instance, closed in 1995. On the other hand, casinos continued to open in Robinsonville all the way through 1999.
In all, Tunica County had seen the following casinos come (and, for several of them, also saw them go) within only one decade: Splash Casino, Lady Luck Casino, Harrah's Casino, President Casino, Bally's Casino, Southern Belle Casino, Treasure Bay Casino, Sam's Town Casino, Fitzgeralds Casino, Sheraton Casino, Hollywood Casino, Circus Circus Casino, Horseshoe Casino, Harrah's Mardi Gras Casino, Grand Casino, and Isle of Capri Casino. Although not all of these were in operation concurrently, that's a total of 16 casinos altogether over ten years. 16 casinos that, as you can imagine, drew in millions upon millions of revenue dollars from gamblers. In a county that had, for the years immediately prior to the casinos' openings, come in "dead last by virtually ever social and economic measure" when compared to its peers across the entire US. That's pretty impressive.
For all the casinos, however, Tunica still was not seeing much other development. Nevertheless, the county government was still pretty optimistic about what was to come. They envisioned hotels, parks, golf courses. A lot of these came true, albeit mostly as part of the casinos' ever-growing sprawling entertainment complexes. They also foresaw retail and residential growth. The latter, unfortunately, never amounted to much - a foreshadowing of things to come. But they at least saw some success in the retail sector. In 1998, news broke that a development company had signed a letter of intent with the owners of Grand Casino - Tunica's largest facility - to "build an outlet mall on Grand's gaming site, on land leased from Grand." Local media scrutinized the development company, however, and discovered they had a shady, lawsuit-plagued past; needless to say, the "Grand Casino Factory Shoppes" never came to fruition.
But in 1999, another outlet mall - the similarly-titled "Casino Factory Shoppes," which were also similarly-located: across from the Grand Casino site, rather than on it - came into existence. By the end of May that year, the company behind the project announced that "of the total 300,000 square feet in the outlet mall" (to be built in three phases), they had "100,000 in signed leases and several more tenants scheduled to sign next week." The outlet mall opened to the public on November 23rd, 1999; Phase II debuted an additional 60,000 square feet of retail space on October 12th, 2000. At the center's prime, some 39 storefronts were occupied by such national retailers as Gap Outlet, Pfaltzgraff, Etienne Aigner, Nautica, Reebok, Danskin Outlet, V.F. Warehouse, Jantzen, Healthtex, Vanity Fair Lingerie, Casual Corner, Samsonite, and more. In 2002, the outlet's first locally owned stores opened: 1251 Place and Silver Spirit. As late as 2007, an outparcel to the complex was sold to Waffle House.
|Under the walkway on the left half of the complex|
This isn't the end of the story. But this is where the pictures start to come in. Above are two images of the Casino Factory Shoppes early on in their lifetime, straight from their architect, Jackson, MS-based Canizaro Trigiani. Below, additional images, taken from various sources (unknown unless otherwise credited), of the complex during the 2000s.
|The monument sign at the complex's side entrance|
|Old Navy, in the left half of the outlet mall|
|Tunica Information and Welcome Center, in the left half of the outlet mall|
|Silver Spirit, next door to the welcome center and mentioned earlier in the post|
|CB Gifts & Collectables, another locally-owned store. Would later relocate to Horn Lake, MS. The owners retired in early 2017.|
|A view down a portion of the left half of the complex, with Dress Barn visible in the foreground. CB Gifts & Collectables, Silver Spirit, the welcome center, and Kitchen Collection are among the bays visible beyond that.|
|A similar view looking across several of the shops in the left half of the outlet mall, this time taken from a spot even farther south. In the foreground here are Factory Brand Shoes and KB Toy Outlet, with Reebok and Dress Barn beyond that.|
|Turning the other direction for this view, but otherwise taken from the same spot. KB Toys later became Rue 21 after the former declared bankruptcy and closed all of its stores in 2009. Image courtesy|
|Rack Room Shoes, an original tenant from November 1999, in the right half of the shopping center. (Thus, the right/south half must have been Phase I!)|
|"Fragrances." I'm assuming this was a locally-owned store. Looks like that could be Wilsons Leather Outlet next door on the right.|
|An overview of the right half of the shopping center. Anchors on the left are Carter's and OshKosh B'gosh, with Gap Outlet acting as the anchor on the right.|
|An aerial view of the mall, looking roughly northeast. MS Hwy 61 is the road on the left. It was only ever expanded to four lanes due to (and, as far as funding is concerned, thanks to) the casino traffic. Courtesy LoopNet|
|The high-profile sign for the center, including many of its retailers, as viewed illuminated at night. During the day, this was the same teal color as the low-rise sign seen earlier in this post.|
In 2011, everything changed. The Mississippi River experienced historic, extreme flooding. Recall that the Tunica casinos all complied with Mississippi law, which legalized only "riverboat gambling." The loophole here was pioneered by Splash, Tunica's first casino; according to that aforementioned New York Times article, "The casino operators dug trenches inland and created ponds, floated in barges, then filled the trenches. The gambling floors of the casinos now sit atop the barges, making them legal 'gambling boats.'" So none of the casinos were actually in the river itself. But this made no difference to the floodwaters of 2011. The river was rising so high that every single casino in the county was forced to close down - an unprecedented move. The hotels on the Grand Casino property - directly across from the Casino Factory Shoppes, and by this time operating as Harrah's Casino Tunica (a final iteration, after two previous Harrah's elsewhere in the county) - fared worst, with almost six feet of water on the lower floors.
Determinedly, Harrah's reopened, but it never truly recovered. Citing steadily declining business, the parent company of Harrah's closed the casino on June 2nd, 2014. Understandably, since they are located right across the street (with no other casino as close by), the Casino Factory Shoppes were hit hard by this decision. Stores rapidly began closing up shop and/or relocating. Gap Outlet, for instance, moved to Southaven. A few years later, Southaven also almost wiped out the mall altogether, as one report circulated in 2015 claimed that the Casino Factory Shoppes were slated to close outright following the November opening of competitor Tanger Outlets Southaven that year. That rumor did not come true, but mall ownership did change. Below are images, mainly from Google and Bing Maps, of the complex in the 2010s, as compared to the 2000s photos above.
|Aerial view from Bing Maps, which notoriously has outdated imagery. (Here at the blog, we often use this to our advantage!) The absence of the Waffle House outparcel dates this image to a time prior to 2007.|
|I know I promised 2010s imagery for this section of the post. But I wanted to quickly include these images first for comparison. Be sure to note how the storefronts are all tenanted in both this view of the left half...|
|Across the street, this is the view of the entrance to the Harrah's (former Grand Casino) property as viewed on Google Street View in 2013. As noted earlier, it would close just one year later.|
|Things were so bad at the Casino Factory Shoppes, in fact, that Rue 21 had to have this sign posted to their door in August 2015 promising customers that they weren't going to close anytime soon. Despite this, they would indeed close by the time the Google Street View car rolled around for the images below, taken less than one year later in July 2016. Image courtesy|
|Entering the property and beginning at the right half. Not much left to see in summer 2016: just Wilsons Leather and Hibbett Sports. Gap Outlet used to occupy the rightmost space here; they closed circa 2011-2012.|
|Panning left, we see more stores, including Nautica and GNC. But the complex is still not nearly as full as it once was.|
|Rack Room Shoes and L'eggs-Hanes-Bali-Playtex|
|By 2016, Rainbow had taken over the former Carter's/OshKosh space. Looks like nothing between it and Rack Room.|
|An overview of the left half of the center, which seemed even more empty.|
|The remaining retailers over here included Kitchen Collection and Rue 21, plus the Tunica welcome center. Old Navy, which was also in this half of the center (but not pictured above), outlasted the Gap Outlet but was also closed by 2016.|
But wait, there's more! As I said above, the mall never did close outright (despite the rumors) but its ownership did change. Previously, it had been owned by (or, at the very least, its leasing operations were handled by) The Prism Co. out of North Carolina. I'm not sure who the new owners are; for all I know, the center could be locally owned now. (There likely weren't many buyers clamoring for the place, anyhow!) As a final blow, all remaining national retailers - with the exception of Rainbow - closed up shop by the end of December 2016, meaning the Casino Factory Shoppes entered 2017 virtually 100% unoccupied. A May 2017 local news report wrote that "only 15 of the 40 storefronts here are locally open," and those that are open (again, excluding Rainbow) are locally owned and operated outfits. I visited the Casino Factory Shoppes on July 14th, 2017. Here's what I saw.
Beginning, as with the Google Street view images shown previously, at the right half of the complex. Hard to believe it, but the center looks even emptier than the year prior.
As we move onward, however, several occupied storefronts come into view. From left to right, you've got Super Bargain Furniture, Mattress, Rugs, School uniform and phones [sic]; Super Discount Meat & Grocery; Second Time Around; Ms Kitty's Bakery & Deli Soul Food; Tax Service; and (appropriately) an office of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. Considering all of these bays sat empty for a while, it's nice to see that they've been filled again (and no small feat, either). Still, they're not on the same tier as Rack Room, Hanes, Nautica, GNC, or Wilsons Leather, all of which had preceded these stores in these spaces.
A quick pan over to take a look at the left half of the center. We'll get closer up on those bays later in the post.
More looks at the Super Bargain/Super Discount duo, as well as Rainbow beyond that. The former two stores seem a bit questionable, in my opinion, but I suppose I shouldn't knock them till I've tried them. Either way, it's interesting to note that the stores in this half of the complex all seem to have opened in the spaces most recently occupied by the retailers who stuck it out the longest and only closed in 2016. I have to wonder how dusty and dirty the other, still-unoccupied bays, which have been abandoned for many years now, are looking these days.
Rainbow, as noted, is the single last national outfit in the Casino Factory Shoppes. They're occupying space formerly home to OshKosh B'gosh. Personal story time... I have memories of shopping at these outlets when I was much younger; Tunica (well, Robinsonville) was only about a half-hour away from my home, and - despite the fact that they are now - a lot of these retailers weren't in the Memphis metropolitan area at the time, or at least not in outlet format anyway. This place made a nice day trip. If it tells you anything about just how young I was, OshKosh was one of the places I remember frequenting. I also fondly remember Kitchen Collection and the next-door welcome center (mostly for its restrooms and water fountains!) as well as, later on, Gap and Old Navy. But my hands-down, absolute favorite store to visit here was the KB Toy Outlet. Nerd moment here: I collected toy Cars, like from the Disney-Pixar movie Cars. An employee at the KB Toys would call our house and hook me up with the new Cars when they arrived. I hesitate at giving her name, but I will say that she was always friendly, and (the closest I'll go as far as divulging her identity is concerned) she loved Mountain Dew. I have no reason to believe she's reading this post, nor (unfortunately) do I know whatever happened to her after the store/chain's closure, but I hope she's doing well. We only came back here intermittently after KB shut down, and simply stopped altogether at some point. It was sad visiting again and seeing the place so run-down. Such is the feeling I get throughout the whole of Tunica County, really. :(
Continuing on with the pictures. As you can see from the landscaping island in the foreground, even the shrubbery has vacated the complex. That certainly contributed even more to the desolate feeling at play here.
Moving on to the left half of the center now. The two retailers in the photos above are ReMix Thrift & Gifts and Tunica Furniture Market. It seems very apparent that the days of permanent, three-dimensional signage in this shopping center are long gone now in favor of those more cheaply-producible banners. Still, I've got to say that the center itself isn't looking bad at all; the paint in particular seems to be holding up quite well, and the buildings don't look structurally compromised or anything like that.
Another cluster of retailers appears as we shift to the left some more. (Notice how they're all grouped together - they must get more business that way, by preventing customers from having to walk long lengths of sidewalk alongside unoccupied storefronts.) Visible here are Smartbuys Indoor Market, The Chocolate Factory Boutique, The Auto Toy Store, the still-operating Tunica Information & Welcome Center, and Mary Lou's Re-Sale Shop. Both Smartbuys and the aforementioned Tunica Furniture Market have actually been here prior to the remaining national anchors all moving out in 2016, but I'm not sure about the others.
Some close-ups of the former Dress Barn storefront. Nothing has moved in here since they vacated, and the labelscar from their logo and signage is still clearly visible. (It's also interesting to note that it looks like they used to be in a different, smaller bay elsewhere in the complex, based on the first photo in today's post.)
Rounding the final corner of the center's layout. Mary Lou's appears to be the last retailer in the strip on the left half. (The Mississippi Gaming Commission office holds that honor for the right half.) And in case you were wondering, the Auto Toy Store is a car lot. Plenty of empty parking spaces here for the store owner to park his inventory on...
Some attempted close-ups of the Old Navy labelscar. This one isn't showing up as well as the Dress Barn one; whether it's actually fainter in person or if it's just my camera, I'm not sure. Old Navy is the very last store I remember ever shopping at in this outlet mall. I may be mixing my memories here, but I think I bought some T-shirts that day, and if so, I'm pretty sure I still own them.
You may have noticed the "Flea Market" banner inside the windows of the former Old Navy; the outlet mall site is indeed being used twice monthly for a flea market, which is a nice sight. It's definitely much busier on those first and third Saturdays of the month, if the above pictures from the flea market's Facebook page are any indication! The outlet mall was also once slated to become the new home of the Mid-South Fair, but for whatever reason those plans fell through and that event now takes place at the Landers Center in Southaven every year. (Fun fact: DeSoto County once considered opening a casino of its own around the same time that Tunica's casinos took off in popularity and numbers, but locals voted down the proposal. Memphis, too, has not shown support for opening any casinos, leaving Tunica's offerings and Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis, AR, as the closest casinos to the city.)
Two last looks at the left half of the complex, focusing on the end building. This is the very same building pictured at the top of the post, housing Casual Corner Annex. I believe this later became the mall's Lane Bryant store. Unsurprisingly, it's empty now.
This one blurred on me, sadly, but I still thought I'd include it since it's the only overview of the right half of the center that I have. (I took all of these pictures from the passenger seat of a car, without getting out as I normally would, so that's why the photo didn't focus correctly. Frankly, I'm surprised it didn't happen with more of my pictures from this visit, haha! Empty as it may be, this complex is still quite large, so I was able to cover a lot more distance by driving and taking photos than walking around and doing the same :P )
Last up from the photos I took on my July 2017 visit is this view of the still-standing road sign for the Casino Factory Shoppes. Remember, these signs were once teal; they were repainted white sometime post-2007. And, as promised earlier in the post, several of the former retailers' placards remain intact on the sign. Rainbow, at least, is still in operation, but GNC and Lane Bryant are not. Neither is Nautica, whose placard is among the overturned ones.
Before I go... I dug up the above new logo for the mall, which has apparently changed its name to "Casino Outlets." As for the name underneath: Robinsonville, the community in which the mall and all of the casinos are located (despite all of the establishments having "Tunica" in their names, none were ever in the city of Tunica proper), has officially changed its name to "Tunica Resorts" to avoid confusion. The logo looks nice, but I think we all can tell it's just for show.
These days, eight casinos are still open: the Fitz (Fitzgeralds), Gold Strike (former Circus Circus), Hollywood, Horseshoe, Sam's Town, Tunica Roadhouse (former Sheraton), Resorts Casino Tunica (former Southern Belle, Harrah's Mardi Gras; sold May 2017 to a new operator), and 1st Jackpot (former Bally's, just renamed in September and also sold off this past May). Tunica County tax revenue, according to the May 2017 news report I've referenced (from Fox 13 Memphis), "is down 20 million dollars from what it was eight years ago." Obviously, things aren't as booming as they once were down in Tunica County, either at the casinos themselves or the Casino Factory Shoppes.
Regardless, though, "Shop owners tell me [the Fox 13 reporter] as bleak as things look here, more stores have moved in since Christmas  when the big stores packed up." So I guess it's ultimately just a question of how optimistic you are concerning the situation. Tunica never expected to wake up from its sleepy Mississippi Delta life to the glitz, glam, and gold of the casinos back in the 90s, so after getting used to it, this current downturn from the high life is a hard pill to swallow. But who knows - maybe, just maybe, things will unexpectedly pick up again one day in the future. Here's to hoping the odds are in Tunica's favor.
That's it for the Mid-South Retail Blog in 2017. I hope you all have a happy holiday season, whatever you celebrate, and I wish you only the best in the new year. I hope to see you guys back here in the new year as well: I've got plenty more posts in the works for y'all! Until then, stay safe and warm this Christmas, and have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!
UPDATE: If you would like to leave a comment pertaining to this post, please email me at midsouthretailblog [at] gmail [dot] com (or, alternatively, leave it at any other post on the blog). I've been forced to disable comments on this particular post due to an unusually high amount of spam comments with malicious links attached. Thanks for your understanding.