entrance to el pedregal mall in carefree arizona
One of several of the mall entrances from the parking lot

I know I'm not the only one that has sentimental feelings for shopping malls that have changed or no longer exist as I've read about the memories people have had about these places. I come from the southwest suburbs of Chicago and I have many wistful memories of the two more famous malls I hung out at with my friends when we were teens. I'll mention them later since I know a lot of Arizonans are from the Chicago area.

El Pedregal Festival Marketplace, the Dead Mall

The large photo at the top of this page is of some of the boulders you'll pass before getting to the mall. I had read about el Pedregal mall located in Carefree, Arizona, the third highest priced town in all of Arizona, and also saw some videos on YouTube. I loved what I saw, although I was saddened, even though I had never been there, that it had pretty much been abandoned.

My husband and I were in the area the end of 2022 and I told him to drive to the mall. Then we visited it a second time when my son and grandsons were in town over Christmas and we ate at The Spotted Donkey Cantina for the first time.

spotted donkey restaurant in el pedregal festival marketplace

Then I was even further saddened when I imagined how wonderful this place must have been when it was full of shops, multiple restaurants, a bakery, ice cream shop, and more. Now there is just The Spotted Donkey Restaurant and a couple of small shops/galleries.

A Little History of el Pedregal

el Pedregal Festival Marketplace is a unique, open-air shopping center that takes its name from a Mexican volcano that is over 2,500 years old. The name "El Pedregal" translates to "A Place with Many Stones," which is fitting given the center's location on natural rock formations and the Sonoran environment.

The El Pedegral dead mall at the Boulders in Carefree, Arizona is not just another abandoned shopping center. It has a rich history that goes back decades, serving as a place to shop, dine, and listen to live music. Today, it stands as a reminder of a bygone era and a testament to the power of changing consumer preferences.

The mall was opened in the late-1980s, at a time when the suburban shopping center was at its peak. The Boulders, the luxury resort located adjacent to the mall, provided a steady stream of well-heeled tourists and residents who were eager to spend their money on high-end products and services.

The mall opened with the goal of providing a unique shopping experience that highlighted the local culture and heritage of Arizona. The mall was designed to resemble a Spanish village, with cobblestone streets, fountains, and courtyards. It was an instant hit with tourists and locals alike, and for a while, it seemed as though El Pedregal was destined for success.

For a time, El Pedegral thrived. It was a popular spot for locals to meet and socialize, and it attracted tourists who were drawn to its unique design and upscale offerings. However, as the years went by, the mall began to show signs of strain. Competition from nearby shopping centers, changing consumer habits, and an increasing preference for online shopping all contributed to a decline in foot traffic and sales.

By the early 2000s, the mall was struggling. Many of its tenants had left, and those that remained were struggling to stay afloat. Many of the stores that once called the mall home began to close their doors, and foot traffic dwindled. The owners of the property attempted to revitalize the mall by bringing in new tenants and renovating the space, but their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. High rents were an issue for many small businesses. The Great Recession of 2008 dealt the final blow to el Pedregal, and by 2009, the mall was virtually empty.

Despite its current state of disrepair, El Pedegral remains a fascinating piece of local history. As mentioned, its unique design, which features a central courtyard surrounded by shops and restaurants, was inspired by the traditional architecture of Mexico. This nod to the area's Hispanic heritage was a defining feature of the mall, and it helped to give it a distinctive character that set it apart from other shopping centers in the region. I've also read that the architecture resembles an ancient Moroccan oasis, and I can see that.

tower in the deal mall of el pedregal in carefree az

The mall was also notable for its location next to the Boulders, which was and remains one of the most luxurious resorts in the Southwest. This close proximity to such a prestigious destination helped to attract high-end tenants to El Pedegral, and it also made the mall a popular spot for resort guests to shop and dine.

Over the years, El Pedegral played host to a variety of events and activities that helped to cement its place in local lore. The mall was the site of numerous charity fundraisers, fashion shows, and other social events, and it was also a popular spot for live music performances. Many locals and tourists have fond memories of spending time at El Pedegral.

El Pedregal Festival Marketplace today

Today, El Pedregal stands as a shell of its former self, with most of its storefronts boarded up and its once-thriving courtyards now overgrown with weeds. You can peer inside some of the prior storefronts, and boggles my mind how dirty and dusty these places are. It's Iike the owners just left and no one bothered cleaning up, although I realize years of sitting unused can create it's own mess. It's a haunting sight, to say the least.

The future of El Pedegral is uncertain. In recent years, there have been rumors that new owners are planning to redevelop the property, possibly turning it into a mixed-use development that combines residential and commercial spaces. However, as of yet, no concrete plans have been announced, and the mall remains an abandoned shell of its former self. Although I've read it was sold in the 2015 (I've also read 2017), nothing has been done and if something had been in the works, Covid probably shut that down.

Despite its decline, El Pedegral remains a beloved part of the local community. Its distinctive design, rich history, and cultural significance make it a unique and fascinating piece of Arizona's commercial past. Whether or not it ever sees new life as a bustling shopping center or a residential development, it will always hold a special place in the hearts of those who remember its heyday.

Here are a couple quotes I've found:

On Tripadvisor, dianesocialworker posted: "Ghost Town, but Spotted Donkey Alive and Kicking! What a great place this USED to be, with beautiful open treed courtyard, waterfalls, free concerts, lovely, artsy, unique stores from Ben and Jerry's ice Cream shop, to a Nature Museum type store with geodes and fossils, coffee shop, bakery and many other cool clothing and furniture stores. The courtyard is still there with the water feature, and of course the Spotted Donkey upstairs with fantastic food and ambiance! The rest of the undeservedly neglected Pedregal is crying out for some TLC to bring it back to its former glory! Come on, owners of the Boulders! This could be a N Scottsdale attraction again. This place is a missed opportunity for investment! Good location, good bones! It just needs some restoration! We miss it!"

uplandbarb wrote on Tripadvisor, "My husband and I have been visiting El Pedregal for nearly 10 years and have watched it go from a really unique spot to dine, relax, shop, snack, etc. to an abandoned ghost town.

Once a pretty courtyard used for a variety of events including art shows and concerts, surrounded by unique shops, galleries and restaurants, El Ped is now home to only a shop/gallery or two and a restaurant. Gone is the yummy deli/bakery. Gone are the unique clothing and art shops. Gone are the other galleries. Gone are the other restaurants. Gone are the fun events that brought people here...."

On Yelp Anna A wrote "This place is a ghost town. Only one store. Don't bother. Seems like it was built for the resort next door. But that is not busy either."

The Boulders Resort and Spa, with 2 golf courses, is still alive and kicking and has mostly positive reviews. I couldn't understand why the mall couldn't continue with such a popular tourist resort nearby. An organization owns this mall and the water features are working and the koi pond has fish in it and doesn't look too dirty, so someone is doing something.

Koi pond and a waterfall by the stairs

We had seen a few people each time we were there. One was walking a dog and I told my husband we should bring the dogs there. I'm sure most visitors are people that dined at The Spotted Donkey and then walked around the mall. I could imagine just taking a brisk walk at the mall since it is contained and I'm so fascinated by it.

Paradise Valley Mall Died

I had never been to el Pedregal Mall so I didn't have memories of it when it was in its glory days. I had been to Paradise Valley Mall and saw it change over the years, but it had already been dying when I first visited around 2009. There were still anchor stores like Dillards, JC Penney (still there as a standalone building now), and Macys. When my Mom (who moved from Mesa, AZ to California to be closer to my brothers when she turned 80 & had a fall) visited us in Scottsdale we always went to Macys and Dillards. She loved Dillards. But we never really walked the mall because there wasn't much of anything else we were interested in.

The last time I went with my grandkids we got rolled ice cream at the newer rolled ice cream shop and then went to the small boba tea place. That was many years ago and I rarely went to that mall with the exception of visiting Macys, Dillards, and JC Penneys.

Unlike el Pedregal Festival Marketplace, someone took action at Paradise Valley Mall. I'll be interested to see what they do with it. It's not just going to be a mall. It will be a mixed-use area with luxury rental apartments, restaurants, storefronts, and a dine-in movie theater. The mall has been razed and it sounds like the new shopping/dining experience will be open-air, unlike the prior enclosed mall.

Since Paradise Valley has the most expensive homes in all of Arizona (it is #1 with the highest-priced real estate averages), I was surprised when I first stepped into the mall. It was not what I expected with very few shoppers any time we went. So I guess the redevelopment will fit in better with the luxury lifestyle of Paradise Valley, AZ.

My Chicago Mall Memories

Evergreen Plaza

Malls have always been favorite places for teens. So many fun and happy memories are created in malls. Hearing a mall is closing or knowing it's going downhill can be upsetting for teens and adults that remember the good old days.

One of my favorites was Evergreen Plaza in Evergreen Park, IL. It was the first regional mall in the nation and the second indoor mall in the United States (Edna, Minn., lays claim to having the first one indoors in 1956). It started as an open-air mall in 1952 - where my friend and I got separated from our moms and ended up crossing a busy street at around the age of 6. In 1966 it was enclosed and after many years it was comprised of an older section and a newer one.

To us at the time, it was huge. The anchor stores were Carson Pirie Scott, Montgomery Ward (4-story), JCPenney, and Chas. A. Stevens. It also featured the top clothing and shoe stores of the times, and one of the children's shoe stores had a slide to the lower level.

My friends and I took the bus (and sometimes we'd ride our bikes) and we still talk about funny stories that happened there. I remember as a 20-something, Bozo the Clown was supposed to make an appearance and I took my young daughter. The center area of the mall, which was on the main level and you could view it from the 2nd level, was full of parents and kids. Guess what? Bozo didn't show up! I don't remember what his excuse was, but what a disappointment.

My best friend worked at Maurice L Rothschild, a men's clothing store. I saw Chaka Khan play there and I still don't know how they got her to perform. Unlike the Bozo debacle (that happened years before), there weren't many people at Chaka's show. Her popular song was out so I'm surprised.

The mall was razed in 2013 and now is a smaller outdoor mall area called The Plaza. It is more like a large strip mall than what I consider an outdoor shopping mall.

Ford City Mall

This mall holds a lot of history. It was originally built in 1942 as a defense plant - testing aircraft engines for the B-29 bomber
and then left vacant by Dec 1945. It reopened during the Korean War to build airplane engines from Ford Motor Company.
It was then sold in 1961 to develop a shopping center.

We only knew it as a shopping mall. We usually took the bus to get there. When we first went it was a one-level mall and didn't have as many stores as the Plaza. But then a lower level was opened up that was called Peacock Alley and featured the first jean store where you could choose waist and length sizes. It might have been called Just Pants.

The main mall was enclosed with a strip mall across the parking lot. You could avoid the parking lot by walking through Peacock Alley, renamed "The Connection", which turned into a lower-level walkway to bring you from the big mall to the strip mall area. We thought it was cool but there weren't many stores we frequented in the strip mall area. Part of the lower level was closed in 2012, and all stores were moved upstairs.

As a teen one of my friends worked at a popular teen clothing store called Candy's Casuals. My other friend happened to see Simon and Garfunkel play there and she helped herself to one of their cigarette butts. I'm not sure if she still has it. That's another popular act that surprises me that they played in a mall.

The area started to become more dangerous with gangs beating people up, and the stores started changing. We stopped going there, as more malls were open that were newer and located in safer areas. It has been decades since I stepped foot in there but I think it's still open.

Mall Survival

It's a good thing that malls in Arizona go through updates and renewals. Even smaller strip malls are going under redevelopment. It sure would be nice if someone would bring el Pedregal Festival Marketplace back to life.

Posted by Judy Orr on
Email Send a link to post via Email

Leave A Comment

e.g. yourwebsitename.com
Please note that your email address is kept private upon posting.