Residents of the Southeast neighborhood surrounding the old Skyland Shopping Center waved a fond farewell to the commercial hub that once held sentimental memories and the promise of stronger economic development.  With many of the buildings erected as early as 1947, Skyland exemplified the trade possibilities that were available when strong community-led entrepreneurship converged with the city’s plans for increased business revenue east of the river.

Even as the community awaits the erection of the new Skyland Town Center, a $220 million project, that will include a Wal-Mart, CVS and 250 apartments, many have grown wistful over the shifting landscape.

Fields’ Music and Clancy’s were recently razed as part of the final demolition of Skyland Shopping Center. The site will host the new Skyland town Center by 2017. (Photo by Shantella Sherman )

Janice Alston, a tenant in the nearby Woodmont Crossings apartments said that while she remains hopeful about the coming commerce set to replace what had become a dilapidated eye sore, she became tearful when the last buildings – Clancy’s and Fields’ Music – were recently razed.

“These businesses were staples in the community and even though they needed repairs here and there, they were operated by hardworking residents,” Alston said.

The widowed mother of two said she protested the dozen or so businesses forced out by eminent domain following a decades-old battle to secure redevelopment.  Alston said she believes the appeal and convenience of community-anchored big businesses like Wal-Mart and Target will fade and leave residents at the mercy of strangers.

“Business owners like the Dicksons were a part of the neighborhood and it wasn’t just about the profit they could turn from the people who lived here.  If the people up and down Good Hope Road or Alabama Avenue ever need anything, on a personal level, these big corporations will not care less,” Alston said.

Ronald and Deloris Dickson, owners of the gentlemen’s club Clancy’s, according to Alston and several neighborhood old settlers, often used the proceeds from their businesses to support local and national causes.  In 2004, for instance, Clancy’s held a benefit to raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Coalition, which were refused by the organization, but later provided instead to the Children’s National Medical Center.

“The workers lived here, the owners lived here and they made Fields and Clancy’s an extension of the neighborhood.  They were comfortable spots,” said Otis Preston, a retired security officer who spends his days shuttling shoppers from the Alabama Avenue Safeway to their homes. “Most of the businesses took time to get to know the people who lived here and they could call people by name.  I’m happy to see progress come, but I still wish there had been a way of keeping some of the old alongside the new.”

Preston, likens the shifting landscape to the necessary push of time and progress.  He said that even as his neighbors relish the shiny and new, there is difficulty watching the faces and structures that impacted their lives disappear.

“Most people are too young to remember when you could get a bottomless cup of coffee for fifteen cent.  I love 7-Eleven and even Starbucks, but there is still something special about sitting quietly and having a pretty waitress fill your cup every now and again,” Preston said.  “The signs and last buildings that came down signal a time that’s passed… but one that will surely be missed.”

Skyland Town Center development at the southernmost part of Ward 7– bordered by Alabama Avenue, Naylor Road and Good Hope Road has begun.  Conceived more than 25 years ago by the residents of Ward 7, Skyland Town Center will be built in multiple phases, with Phase I, consisting of land development and infrastructure work for the entire site, as well as the construction of the expected Walmart and the first mixed-use apartment building currently referred to as Block 2. The completed development is expected in 2017.