Cary, NC — I took a trip down memory lane to visit South Hills Plaza, Cary’s oldest mall.
Remembering the Old
As a 20-something who has lived in Cary my whole life, I love watching Cary grow. I re-visit places I frequented as a child to see how so many of them have changed and how some have stayed the same. I visited South Hills a couple of weeks ago to do just that.
In my time at CaryCitizen, I’ve made an effort to track and write about new developments while also remembering the older places in town that, like me, were born when Cary was still small. In my opinion, South Hills Plaza on Buck Jones Road is one of Cary’s most interesting landmark developments. It was Cary’s first mall, after all, and it’s still filled with interesting stores.
Cary’s First Mall
Cary acquired South Hills in 1974. The development was built by David J. Martin, a resident of Cary since 1937. In Around and About Cary, Tom Byrd explains that, “Martin had planned South Hills to be a regional mall with anchors like Belk, but, after the state took so much of his land for the US 1-US 64 bypass, he had to convert South Hills to an off-price center instead.”
South Hills opened in 1972 in Raleigh’s planning jurisdiction – which explains why it has a Raleigh mailing address today. As Cary’s first mall, South Hills was home to Cary’s first chain restaurant, Cary’s first bowling alley and Cary’s first automobile dealership.
A Look Inside South Hills
South Hills still has some of my favorite stores – Grand Asia, Baker’s Dozen and Tuesday Morning to name a few. It’s both a mall and a plaza – in one brick building, you’ll find a small, indoor mall with several large tenants and a couple that are smaller. Many of the businesses have large entrances outside of the mall – in fact, it’s hard to tell that the indoor part even exists.
In a stand-alone strip, you’ll find several other businesses. You can view the complete directory online, but I’ve listed some of the big stores here.
Food & Restaurants
Baker’s Dozen and Thai Villa are both in an outdoor strip, and you can’t miss Grand Asia.
Baker’s Dozen is a made-in-store donut shop that serves classic and specialty donuts, coffee and some of the best apple fritters around. Editor’s Note: Check out our Cary Guide to Donuts for more information about Baker’s Dozen.
Thai Villa serves classic Thai cusine.
Grand Asia is one of the largest Asian markets in this area. I’m a fan of the bubble tea.
Lundie’s is inside the mall and specializes in portraits of families, children, seniors, brides and pets. I remember getting family photos taken here as a little girl.
Carolina Sew-n-Vac is still inside the mall portion and looks just as I remember. You can take your sewing machines or vacuums here for service or shop in-store for fabric and more.
Despite all the distinct businesses inside the South Hills Mall, it’s this DMV that brings people inside. It’s a tag and title DMV only, so don’t go there for a driver’s test.
Cary Awards, a little trophy and custom design shop, is still there too.
I was also reminded of Glenda’s Beauty Shop and of the South Hills Barber Shop.
Comics & Toys
During my visit, I was sad to see that Tom’s Train Station is now closed. I went there as a kid. There is, however, still a large train set in the middle of the mall that I remember quite well.
Ultimate Comics, which isn’t listed on the South Hills website, is located in the same strip where you’ll find Baker’s Dozen and Thai Villa. Their website claims “brand-new, hot-off-the-press comic books” and “hard-to-find in-the-box toys and collectibles” from the 80’s.
Clothes & Shopping
I found a store called Kedus: Everything Ethiopian & Eritrean inside the mall. It’s a place to find cultural gifts and food items from Ethiopia.
Burlington Coat Factory, Roses and Tuesday Morning all call South Hills home. There are several Tuesday Mornings in the area, but this location is the largest – and my favorite. If you’ve never been in a Tuesday Morning, it’s a one-stop shop for deals on cookware, furniture, home decorations, crafts and more. Roses makes me smile, because I have a beautiful photo of my grandma working in a Roses, sporting her red apron, from when she was in her twenties.
There’s a little sunglasses stand in the middle of the mall labeled Carolina Sunglasses.
I found a little treasure of a thrift store called Robin’s Nest & Co. inside the mall, too. With items from “past and present,” you can find antique, vintage, cottage and shabby chic styles. I especially liked the collection of teddy bears and beautiful ceramicware.
Five Hole Sports, a hockey equipment shop, has an outdoor entrance in the mall building.
I listed most, but not all, of the shops that are currently open in South Hills. Additionally, some of the signs at South Hills – and the stores in the online directory – were outdated, so call before you make a trip to a store you don’t see in this story.
Story and photos by Jessica Patrick.