Village Center Mall, Harlan, Kentucky – Then — Now — Does it Have a Future?

I’ve recently taken a strange interest in photographing different things.  One of those subjects I have taken an interest in is retail establishments.  I found a group called Sky City on Facebook.  There I met people like me.  People who were interested in preserving the memory of past retail establishments and malls.  


As much as this sort of thing interests me.  it also saddens me.  Especially since the subject of my first exploration was my home town mall, Village Center Mall located in Harlan, Kentucky.   Harlan Kentucky you say?  Yeah.  the same Harlan Kentucky which is the setting of the FX television series “Justified”.  Yes, Harlan is a real place.  The topic of this blog post is going to be the rise and fall of Harlan’s Village Center Mall and  prospects for its future (my pure speculation fueled by rumors).

The mall was originally constructed in the early 80s.  I cant find a definite date, but I have been told in 1982 or 1983.  And that seems about right, I can’t remember a time in town without the mall.  But then again, I hardly ever paid attention to things as a kid.  I must have been spacey.  The mall brought a lot of new business in to our town.  The mall opened with Belk, which moved from downtown to the new mall location, KMart, Kroger, Magic Mart, SuperX, Shoe Show, Radio Shack and Swensen’s Ice Cream.  Yes, there was a Swensen’s in small town Southeast Kentucky.  

the mall pretty much operated unchanged until the mid 90s.  In 1995, during the first major round of store closings, Kmart had, the location at Village Center was closed.  The space was soon filled with Big Lots and Dollar General.  About 5 years later, Kroger closed their location and CVS relocated to a stand alone location on the south side of town.  In 2003 Magic Mart closed their Harlan location.  That space was fairly quickly filled with Goody’s.  By this time the Kroger building had been vastly remodeled and a clinic had taken the space.  



The Kroger space as it stands today after the remodel.  You can still see the greenhouse glass to the sky in the breezeway.



The mall would remain basically unchanged over the next few years until major upheaval in the late 00’s.  During this time a former restaurant space, which was taken by a local place called the Boardroom was gutted, and reconfigured with other nearby spaces.  In this space, the Kentucky exclusive clothing retailer, Dawahares opened a store.  The store was very short lived as the chain went out of business completely in 2008.  In 2007 Belk announced they would close their Harlan location leaving the store with another anchor empty.  The space remains empty today.



Soon Goody’s too had filed bankruptcy and the entire chain closed down.  This left the mall with another anchor spot empty.  That spot remains empty to this day as well.Image

Now, I know what you are saying, but I see Goody’s right there.  But I also see the labelscar on the other building.  What happened?  Well its a bit confusing.  During the time between when Goody’s (the original) and Dawahares closed, Peebles opened up a location in the space that had been taken by Dawahares.  After Goody’s went bankrupt and closed their stores the owner of Peebles bought the Goody’s name.  After this happened, the powers that be decided to revert the Peebles store to the Goody’s name in Harlan.  Confused?  So am I.

Image Image


While all of this confusion was going on with playing musical and empty anchors, much of the inside of the mall was dying.  Radio Shack, was long gone, most of the local stores had pulled out.  The Swensens was replaced by Subway and last year the last founding member of the Village Center Mall left when Shoe Show moved down the road to a new store in Woodland Plaza.  


On the back wall of the Shoe Show store you can still see the Shoe Show sign.








Kmart….errr Big Lots



If you look closely you can still see the labelscar of the Kroger sign.

If Image



Kmart and Kroger must have had some sort of deal in the early 80s.  You see a lot of Kmart and Kroger stores built together in this style.  I know of at least 3 more in the area that were built like this.






The all so rare Kmart auto center is largely unchanged since the Kmart closed in 1995.  It was home to Western Auto until a few years ago.  Now there is a local shop there.


This use to be just one big Kmart sign.


The Lawn and Garden exit of Kmart is now the housewares section of a Goodwill.



The rear exit to Belk Simpson.





This was the lawn and garden section of Magic Mart.  It hasn’t been used since the Magic Mart closed in 2003.



This project wasn’t my favorite subject to tackle.  I enjoy photographing abandoned buildings.  But not in my own back yard.  It’s sad to see this mall as empty as it is.  the grounds are still kept up very well and the building is always clean.  I hope that some day, the mall owners will find some lucky tenants to take the place of those businesses who have left.  There are 30,000 people in Harlan County.  The economy isn’t the best right now with the coal industry and it’s struggles.  But, there are people who still work and spend a lot of money.  Every time I go to the tri cities area of Tennessee or down to Middlesboro, Kentucky its almost as if the entire town of Harlan has traveled down with me.  You see so many people from this town traveling an hour or longer to shop.  There is another strip mall in Harlan, which ironically I always thought was kind of ran down and dumpy when I was growing up, but today is completely full and filled with a lot of national retailers, in fact, that’s where the Shoe Show from this mall relocated to last year.  Is there hope for Village Center Mall?  You betcha.  You always have to have hope.  



7 thoughts on “Village Center Mall, Harlan, Kentucky – Then — Now — Does it Have a Future?”

  1. Was originally looking at this post for what date magic mart closed down but actually read quite a bit of it then skimmed the rest and honestly as a now 26 year old the only thing I remember about the mall from back in my childhood was the only thing not mentioned in this article….. Didn’t we have an Aladdin’s castle?

    1. yeap I cant believe I left that out! I think it was up near Magic Mart. As for the year Magic Mart closed, it closed in the summer of 2003. June or July I think. I had found the link to the original story on but I cant seem to find it as of right now. I do know that they closed when I first started working at Walmart and that was in June of 03. I think that the Wildcats visited in 98, but I definitely could be wrong on that.

  2. Another question does anyone remember what year the Kentucky wildcats visited the mall for a signing it was before magic mart closed I remember but other than that I can’t remember any help would be appreciated thanks and good article

  3. thank you for this. i managed to delete every single one of my digital photographs dating from 2007 until this past spring. OY!!! of course that included every picture i’d ever taken of/in harlan county. i look for stuff like this to find my way around again.

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