The far northwest corner of Greenbriar Mall is occupied by a pair of Black businesses, Tutu Maniacs and The Perfect Dress. Both are owned by Black women, the former by DeAndrea Byrd and the later by Moona Naima Mohammed.
Both have a customer base that is geared towards Black mothers and girls, birthday parties and prom season. These are not the customers that Macy’s, which is located on the opposite end of the mall and is preparing to leave the mall after decades of being the building’s retail anchor, seems to covet with their ever-present television advertisements.
The Atlanta Voice took a trip to Greenbriar Mall, once one of the city’s most popular shopping destinations, and now not so much, this past Sunday afternoon to learn what Black business owners think about Macy’s leaving the premises.
“Every mall needs an anchor store, Macy’s was this mall’s anchor,” said Mohammed, 25, an Atlanta native that could have easily doubled for one of the store’s dress models if not for the fatigue green crop-top hoodie and matching sweatpants she wore.
There was a customer in the store trying on prom dresses with the help of an assistant while Mohammed, a self-described “talker” answered questions.
“I grew up in this community and that’s why I opened this dress shop. We have nothing of quality here and for Macy’s to be moving out like this, they could have done a lot of things to change this,” Mohammed said.
The news of Macy’s decision to leave the mall came to Mohammed the same way it came to Byrd: word of mouth.
“We were blindsided,” said Byrd, who was busy cleaning up in preparation for an upcoming party. She continued to talk while wiping down a soft pink accent chair near the window.
According to Byrd, 36, Tutu Maniacs has a strong following on social media and a niche customer base and thereby doesn’t need Macy’s reputation for high-end fashion and quality service.
Byrd has owned the business, an all-purpose destination for little girls on their birthdays that includes spa treatments, since 2014.
The business has been inside Greenbriar Mall since January. She isn’t exactly devastated about losing the brand from the mall and admitted Macy’s being in the mall had no bearing on her decision to rent space.
“There are things the mall could do to give back to this community and the Black businesses here. Macy’s is kind of a dinosaur. We may have been blindsided but their shoppers are not my target audience,” Byrd said.
Medu Bookstore has been in the community for 25 years, and for the last five years was next door to Macy’s on the second floor of the mall. They moved to their current space prior to hearing about Macy’s decision.
Medu owner Nia Damali will miss Macy’s but for reasons one might immediately think.
“I’m sad that they are leaving and it has nothing to do with competition, it has everything to do with a fellow business, a business that has been here as long as I have been here,” she said. “When I got here they were Rich’s.”
Damali’s store, full of Black books, posters, and t-shirts with pictures of Malcolm X and Barack Obama on them, is one of a couple of stores in the mall that was not in direct competition from Macy’s but she still feels like it’s a loss for all involved that a retail name known the world over is leaving Greenbriar.
“I feel like we are losing a family member but change is a part of life and our lives are full of changes.”
A tall beautifully-dressed woman was putting masks in a display while customers browsed her kiosk. Peggy Kim, the owner of Tinga Tinga, looked up from her work to answer a question about Macy’s leaving the mall. Kim, a Black woman, has been a business owner for 20 years, 15 of those years in Greenbriar Mall.
“Of course it will have a negative effect on my business,” she said, barely looking up from her work. “When customers come there they sometimes browse the mall and come here. We won’t have that traffic anymore,” Kim said.
Everything must go
The entrance to Macy’s from the parking lot is peppered with large yellow and red signage that reads “This store only closing, everything must go.” The “only” is underlined for emphasis.
Another sign says, “Entire store on sale!” Yet another, “All store fixtures for sale.” The “all” is in all caps. Another still, “Nothing held back.” The “held” and “back” are in all caps on that sign.
The better to receive the point that this location and only this location is closing. Macy’s has plans to close more than 100 of their other retail stores nationwide.
There is no indication that the 162-year old retailer is planning to close any of the other Atlanta-area locations at Arbor Place, Cumberland Mall, Lenox Square, Perimeter Mall and Southlake Mall, in Clayton County.
And in a way that may be part of the issue Greenbriar Mall’s Black business owners have. The thinking is that this wouldn’t happen at those other places, particularly at Arbor Place Mall or Lenox Mall, both located in more, shall we say financially prominent areas of the city.
“I’m trying to stay as positive as I can because I’m probably the one tenant that will be affected the most,” said Mile (pronounced Millie), the owner of the Avon store just feet from Macy’s second-floor entrance.
She moved to what would ordinarily be a prime position in the mall two years ago.
“The seniors and super-seniors have been shopping with me for years,” she said of her 60-70-year-old customer base. Mile’s store, a small glass cube with a high ceiling and a small entrance had everything from makeup and facial soaps to colognes and dashikis. “I have a little bit of everything,” she said.
Asked about how she felt about being to Macy’s, Mile answered, “Now that Macy’s is gone they may not return.” Asked how she learned about the move she said, “The UPS man told me, some of the Macy’s workers told him.”
As a senior citizen herself Milie’s Avon store, which has a pink Avon sign above the door but no other immediate indication that her store is affiliated with the global retailer, depends on a single customer base to survive.
“The seniors have no other reason to come to the mall besides the bank, the post office and Macy’s,” said Mile who also has a handmade gift basket business, Omo Ova Designs.
Though she will most certainly be impacted by the loss of foot traffic she remains positive.
“We can’t keep blaming corporations for this, when we want something we have to support it. We have to fight for it. When we learned about the closing we should have boycotted every single Macy’s in Atlanta.”
There will always be time for what-ifs and coulda-woulda-shouldas but Mile had a customer walk in and she had to get back to work. “Good afternoon young man, what can I do for you?,” she asked a customer in an orange sweatsuit.
A couple of stores away from the Avon store lies Incredible Artist Market, an upscale Black art dealer.
Not long after the word got out about Macy’s leaving the mall Incredible’s ownership Densua-jeneb Williams and her mother Densua made the decision to move Densua’s African Treasures, a smaller version of their store that was housed on the third floor of Macy’s in the home section.
The foot traffic of Macy’s shoppers will be something they too will miss. “We felt a little kicked in the butt,” said Williams about learning of the move. We didn’t get a heads up or nothing.”
Williams, a woman in her late 40’s-early 50’s, grew up in her mother’s store and around Black art, running Incredible Artist Market is a family business.
Incredible Artist Market has a customer base that makes life easier for them to deal with the changes that come with leasing space in a mall during the age of COVID-19 and Amazon.
A lot of the African art seen in Coming to America 2 was from Incredible Artist Market. “That walk-in traffic is big for us but we definitely feel like it could be worse,” Williams said.
A community mall
There are only a few weeks remaining before Macy’s, one of the world’s most successful retail giants, leaves Greenbrier Mall for good.
There was once a Burlington Coat Factory here, along with a Camelot Music, Woolworth’s, JCPenney, a Magic Johnson Theater and in 1967 the first of what would become a mall standard, a Chick-fil-A location.
At least Chick-fil-A is still there and so are a number of Black-owned businesses. There’s still hope for Greenbriar Mall.
On this particular Sunday afternoon, the mall was full of parents with their kids, women shopping in groups, both the Foot Locker and Women’s Foot Locker had lines of customers waiting to enter.
The barbershop, that’s its official name, had all four chairs occupied by customers with three more waiting outside. Business is good, but it could always be better.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however.
“I do think it will be slower but this mall is always popping,” said Muhammad Rizi, 17, an employee at Perfume Paradise. “I think people will continue to come to this mall because it is a community mall.”
The Perfect Dress owner Mohammed has similar feelings. “As a business owner it just shows me that our community is the first they pull away from,” said Mohammed, who graduated from the University of West Georgia and came back home to Atlanta to start her business. “
I love my community.” And with that, she went back to help finish taking care of her customer.