Cupertino Square (Vallco Fashion Park); Cupertino, California

Cupertino Square, formerly Vallco Fashion Park, in Cupertino, California

Cupertino Square (the former “Vallco Fashion Park“) has a more tangled and bizarre tale than many of the malls of the San Francisco Bay Area, and today seems to be mired in a never-ending renovation and revitalization that bears few fruits. Take a look with us…

Vallco Fashion Park opened in September 1976 as one of the largest malls in the San Jose (soon to be known as “Silicon Valley”) region. Located in the affluent western suburb of Cupertino–which would become famous in later years as the home of Apple Computer–the mall sported Sears, JCPenney, and The Emporium (now Macy’s) as anchors. The mall got its rather sterile and discounty-sounding name from the center’s developers: Varian Associates, and the Leonard, Lester, Craft, and Orlando families. To me, it sounds like the kind of place that would have Totes, Bugle Boy, London Fog, and Van Heusen outlets.

Cupertino Square, formerly Vallco Fashion Park, in Cupertino, CaliforniaVallco employed a very strange floorplan from the very beginning. There is one large, two level wing that extends between Sears and the Macy’s store, west of Wolfe Road. Then the first level of the mall ends while the second level takes a 90 degree turn, going over Wolfe Road and ending at a JCPenney anchor while also sprouting a small first floor on the far side of the street. The decor of the center–even to today–is a unique mix of ’70s modernist design; if you’re at all interested in the kind of frumpy old ’70s shopping center architecture that was at one point designed to look “fancy” then this place is a real treat.

Vallco was for many years the dominant middle-tier mall in the west valley region, drawing shoppers from the many affluent suburbs to the west of San Jose. However in the 1990s the center began to falter due to the continued expansions at the nearby Westfield Valley Fair Mall, currently the largest mall in the Bay Area. Valley Fair’s growth–combined with the 2002 opening of the massive Santana Row lifestyle center directly across the street–caused many malls to go under, including the Sunnyvale Town Center and Mountain View’s San Antonio Shopping Center. Vallco remained open but occupancy rates dipped down to around 25%.

Cupertino Square, formerly Vallco Fashion Park, in Cupertino, California Cupertino Square, formerly Vallco Fashion Park, in Cupertino, California

In the mid-2000’s, three local investors (Alan Wong, Emily Chen, and John Nguyen) decided to use some Silicon Valley bank to restore some luster to this fading behemoth. Given that Vallco was located just a few miles from Valley Fair on Stevens Creek Blvd., the group needed to differentiate the center from its immediate competition by adding a significant dining and entertainment component–including the upscale Strike bowling alley, a huge AMC movie complex, and new restaurants–and giving it a spiffy new name in “Cupertino Square.”

However, while some progress has been made to date–such as the opening of all of the above attractions–the mall seems to be frozen in amber, unable to move forward on the promise of renewal. The entire first floor of the mall is mysteriously shuttered, the food court has been closed and under construction for over a year, and little seems to ever change. The large pylon facing I-280 still displays the “Vallco Fashion Park” name, even as all other signage for the mall has been updated to reflect the new name and logo. In 2008, it was reported that the mall’s investors were deep in debt and the center on the brink of foreclosure. For a dead mall, Cupertino Square does seem to generate a fair amount of foot traffic, but nearly all of the storefronts are dusty and vacant, relics of a bygone era of scrunchies, hairspray, and Huey Lewis cassingles.

Maybe Steve Jobs should turn it into a mall of the future, or something. For now, it remains one of California’s strangest dead malls.

  • Also read some memories of Vallco on its Yelp page.
  • More from BigMallRat–the mall has barely changed since this post was written.

40 Responses to “Cupertino Square (Vallco Fashion Park); Cupertino, California”

  1. Wow! So this is the Vallco! Thank you…what was the name of the food court stand that reportedly sells microwave burritos and ramen? Thanks!

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  2. Yay! I like it when fugly malls fail. Lifestyle centers forever!

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  3. Oh my gosh, modernist and minimalist. It looks as sterile as the hallway leading to the OR’s at our local hospital. Minimal plantings, and seating; what an off-putting space. All white with those Japanese lanterns AKA schools of jellyfish floating above the empty space. And what’s with that funky seating? The freeform couches look really, really cool but really, really isolated. When I get to work tomorrow morning, I’ll be interested to see when our store(s) vacated this mall.

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  4. Wow…that’s…um…whoa…

    For the first time, I’m speechless after viewing this site. I don’t know which intrigues me more — the escalators, still unchanged with their harvest gold inserts; or the funky, angled, seemingly falling on your head Macy’s signage.

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  5. This poor mall. I thought I read in the business news that the mall was in foreclosure since September.
    I still think the mall can make it, but it does take time. With retailing the way it is now, it could take a few extra years. The question is, will the holders of the debt be willing to wait?
    I actually pleaded with the owners to get one of the old Vallco neon signs at the entrances. The manager agreed, but then flaked on me! I was hoping to have a piece of history.
    Scott

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  6. Is this a mall of a space ship?! Crazy exterior with the new white tiles. Not to mention the the lack of decor and those red chairs…

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  7. Those red sofas underneath the escalator with the AMC movie theater sign look like something from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Very strange looking. As gaudy and dated as this mall is, I really like it, there is just something about the unusual in design that intrigues me. That very strange layout has to be one of the reasons the mall went down. How could any mall developer think such a design would appeal to shoppers? It looks confusing to walk through and even Caldor’s description was hard to comprehend. A lot of malls that were built in the 70’s and 80’s have unusual and confusing layouts like this. Something that was corrected by the the 90’s and 00’s, as most newer malls have more linear layout, like a slightly curved line.

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  8. They don’t even list their stores on their own website. Pathetic.

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  9. IIRC, Sears was the first store to open at the site, in 1970. Then Bullock’s North opened in 1975. I.Magnin, a Neiman-Marcus-type store based in San Francisco opened along with the first phase of the mall in 1976. The Penney’s wing, including the bridge over Wolfe Road came a little later. Having Magnin’s locate there seemed an odd choice, as they already operated a store at Stevens Creek Plaza (now part of Valley Fair) just a few miles down the road since 1964. I.Magnin was a two-level store, about 50,000 sf, located next to Bullock’s (both were part of Federated at the time), and it gave Vallco some cache, even though they were only open Thursday and Friday evenings, while the rest of the mall stayed open late Monday through Friday. At the time, Vallco Fashion Park was quite popular.

    Although Bullock’s never had much success in Northern California, the Vallco store was their #1 store in volume, outpacing Walnut Creek and Palo Alto. Federated pulled the plug on all Bullocks’ North stores in 1983, except for San Mateo which they continued to operate for a few more years as a far-flug outpost of Bullock’s Southern California.

    The Emporium operated a store in the Bullock’s location from 1984 until the whole chain was closed (ironically, by new owner Federated) in 1995. It sat empty for a few years until Macy’s somewhat reluctantly opened a store there in 1997.

    On a personal note: I was in San Jose recently visiting friends and we visited both Valley Fair and Cupertino Square one weekend. Valley Fair was busy and crowded, CS was dead. If you’re like me, and think Macy’s will shut some locations after Christmas, putting Cupertino Square on the list wouldn’t be a bad bet. It’s less than 5 miles from Macy’s huge (700,000+ sf) operation at Valley Fair and less than 5 miles from Macy’s Downtown Sunnyvale store. Given the other anchors at CS, a Target or Wal-Mart may prove to be more of a draw than the rather small (177,000 sf) and lackluster Macy’s.

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  10. I went to Archive.org and it has a huge selection of stuff, including lease plans (albeit unmarked) lease plans and stuff, but no complete directory was found.

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  11. Anyone remember the weird food court in the basement next to the ice skating rink by Penney’s ?

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  12. Hey guys, don’t bash Vallco, it’s awesome, even if it is dead. I love this mall because it’s empty except for around FroYo and AMC, and plus, it’s the nearest movie theater to my house.
    It’s so not a fugly mall….the chairs are poufy and awesome.. but lol the chinese lanterns..

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  13. The food court’s open now; it’s got a Burger King and a hofbrau, and a Popeye’s about to open.

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  14. Very interesting exterior architecture, the dramatic brown-colored diagonal roof slants are very 70’s indeed.

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  15. There were plans back about a decade ago for Dillard’s to fill in the former Emporium space, then after Macy’s took over instead, they were looking at some other point around the mall. California needs more Dillard’s stores to compete with Macy’s and Gottschalks.

    I was impressed by the enclosed bridge over Wolfe Parkway when I first came by Vallco in 1981 when Bullock’s (North) was still in business.

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  16. I have a lot of memories here, even since I was a kid. It used to be the coolest mall back in the day, in my opinion. I still go there today, the new AMC is the best theater to go to around now.

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  17. Macy’s didn’t want to open a store at Vallco after they closed Emporium, but there was some covenant with the city that they weren’t allowed to keep the space vacant–they either had to sell it or operate a non-outlet store (they first tried to get away with some sort of furniture outlet IIRC). So rather than let a chain like Dillards or Gottschalks get the space they opened a regular store there, and it’s like a ghost town. Now with Dillards about to go under, there’s less pressure on Federated to keep that Macy’s open.

    The previous mall owners (including the infamous Emily Chen) defaulted on construction loans and eventually sold the mall to get money to pay DPR construction company. The next owners defaulted and went into bankruptcy to prevent a foreclosure auction.

    What they should have done is to tear down the mall between the department stores and build an open air center. The Chinese shopping center across 280 is a very old center (previously called Vallco Village) but it does very well. Sunnyvale has torn down their old mall and is doing an open air mixed-use development.

    See a picture of the crane falling on the mall when DPR neglected to take it down during a storm.
    “http://i43.tinypic.com/357ir78.jpg” The delay in the movie theater caused by this accident resulted in the mall owners having to give AMC two years of free rent to prevent AMC from pulling out.

    I was part of the group that stopped the mall owners from building a condominium complex in one of the mall parking lots. It was a terrible location, and even the mayor admitted it, but the city allowed the rezoning claiming that without the condo complex there wouldn’t be enough money to “revitalize” the mall. We had to have an election to reverse the city’s zoning decision.

    It’s nearly impossible to “revitalize” a mall because malls fail because of reasons that you can’t fix with new floors, new parking garages, or paying retailers subsidies to open stores.

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    mander lee Reply:

    @SMS,
    Interesting that there was a construction mishap in the exact area where the original overpass (over Wolf) fell down when the mall was first being constructed.

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  18. SMS– please contact me at email address above or 808.222.2872. Thanks.

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  19. > As a teenager I watched as some lovely flower
    > fields were torn up and the foundation of a new
    > mall put in. I remember driving by the fields
    > with my parents and watching the Japanese people
    > who owned it work the land. Us teens were not
    > happy that more of beautiful Sunnyvale with it’s
    > orchards and flower fields was being torn up,
    > especially for a mall. Teenagers cared more
    > about the environment and less about buying
    > things in those days. The hub store in the
    > beginning was Bullocks which my boyfriend
    > quickly named Buttocks. This shop was equal to a
    > Saks or Nordstrom but is now long out of
    > business. There was a sad incident while the
    > mall was being built as a couple of the
    > construction crew were killed as the bridge over
    > Wolfe Road collapsed for some reason. The mall
    > was finally built around 1976/77 and it really
    > was the most beautiful and upscale mall in the
    > Bay Area. It had hardwood floors through out and
    > although lovely, very slippery and I fell on my
    > behind many times as they waxed the floors. The
    > top floor had polished oak railings and there
    > were podiums with pictures of all of the
    > founders of Silicon Valley and what they had
    > invented or started. Very educational. The shops
    > were all top notch. Some that I remember are
    > Familarie Shoes (spelling?). A very hot trend at
    > that time. They had a big wavy wedge heel. I
    > thought they were butt ugly but many people
    > loved them and said they were very comfy. Judy’s
    > was a cool place for the latest women’s clothes,
    > accessories and small gifty items. I worked
    > there and it was like Christmas at 3:00 every
    > day when we got our shipment of merchandise.
    > What a blast us sale girls had unpacking the
    > boxes and claiming our layaway items to the
    > latest disco beat playing on the tape real . Oh
    > yes, most stores offered layaway back then. It
    > was a great way to stay out of debt but get what
    > you really wanted. Credit cards were not given
    > to teenagers and were very hard to get in
    > general. The small chain was owned by Mr. and
    > Mrs. Israel out of L.A. and named after their
    > daughter. There were many more small chains or
    > individually owned shops in those days. It made
    > shopping much more interesting than it is today
    > as there was variety in each place that you
    > would go to. Grodins was a small fine men’s
    > clothing store chain that conducted business as
    > they had 100 years before. When I worked there
    > we wrote out paper receipts, called our clients
    > sir or Mr Whoever and all of the suits hung on
    > wooden hangers with sweaters all folded
    > immaculately with tissue paper inside. Items
    > that were cared for this way made you feel proud
    > to own them and keep them for a long time
    > instead of tossing out the stuff on your closet
    > floor every few months as so many do today. The
    > first Victoria Secret shop I saw was at Vallco.
    > It was not the flash and trash shop it is today.
    > It was a refined, small boutique with antique
    > furniture and looked like an elegant ladies
    > dressing room. The lingerie had class with lace
    > and real silk. Sexy is YOUR SECRET. Habersham
    > Plantation sold items you would have found on a
    > farm or plantation in the South. Some were
    > antiques, some were reproductions but all were
    > good quality and made in the U.S.
    > It’s better to have less items of good quality
    > than it is to have many items of junk. This time
    > was when trade with China had just opened up so
    > we were not flooded with their stuff. I remember
    > Asian style dresses, decorative fans and Chinese
    > style thongs (shoes) were sold at Judy’s as a
    > new fashion trend to go along with the disco
    > bags, candies backless shoes ($10.99) and the
    > skin tight designer jeans. Did you know you had
    > to lay down on the bed and suck in your breath
    > to put on those jeans? Some other names I
    > remember are The Clothesbarn (another family
    > owned shop) Casual Corner and Courrege. I worked
    > at both the The Clothesbarn and Courrege.
    > Courrege was the the French designer who had the
    > space age sculpted designs in the sixties. This
    > shop was owned by a French lady who was friends
    > with the designer back in Paris. Francoise Gaton
    > used to call me her little ingenue (look it up)
    > as I was the the youngest woman in her salon. We
    > all worked part time as sales associates as well
    > as tea room models. A tea room model was someone
    > who modeled clothes in restaurants and the like.
    > We had much of fun doing those fashion shows at
    > upscale restaurants such as The Velvet Turtle.
    > The women I worked with were much older than me
    > and all had interesting careers. One was a
    > photographer with her husband and owned Ball
    > Studios, Scott was a part time female race car
    > driver and Nena was a German model who had done
    > a commercial for Ex-on the year before. I can’t
    > forget eating on the bridge at Wolfe Creek Cafe,
    > an upscale cafe style eatery over looking Wolfe
    > Rd. and my first experience with Benehana
    > Restaurant. Japanese Teppan style restaurants
    > were all the rage.Vallco and Sunnyvale both have
    > illustrious histories that have become a bit
    > weather beaten but like most things in life it
    > is cyclical and will shine again!
    >

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    mander lee Reply:

    @Tresa,
    Great memories, Tresa.

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  20. To the above poster – Where did you get some of your information and what’s with the “carrots”? Did you copy this from somewhere else? Firstly, the bit about caring about the environment when you were a teen was a bit too precious and misleading as this is in Cupertino, not Sunnyvale and you seem to be bringing in 21st century ideologies into your 20th century mind frame. At the point of Vallco’s construction the boom for the valley hadn’t occured yet and orchards were still very abundant in the entire valley. All the bits about the people who worked there were ridiculous and not necessary, along with your take on what Victoria’s Secret was like. Habersham Plantation was a chain store with home items in general, not things from the South. Courreges (as in Andre Courreges, the designer…check your spelling), was a short lived store way too modern for the area in style and was located along what they called “millionaire’s row”. This was an area starting with Burke’s Luggage, Gene Shaw Leather, Ralph Lauren’s Polo store and then Courreges. I don’t think you need put in the fact of your then boyfriend renaming Bullock’s. That was completely unnecessary. And Bullock’s was never on a par with Sak’s or Nordstrom. It was competition to Macy’s and was the reason it was placed in Vallco to draw people from Valley Fair. It was owned by the May Co. in Los Angeles and later became incorporated into Federated and dropped. Famolari were the brand of shoes you so inelegantly messed up. The Clothes Barn was a national chain. Might have been owned by a family, but you make it sound like a small shop. And, the wood floors were never polished so people slipped while walking on them. I never witnessed this happening in my experience shopping or working there. Ridiculous accusation. Possibly you started drinking at a young age? My point in all this is stop editorializing your input. This is how history is changed and rumors started. Stick to the facts. If you want to eloborate, take it to another site. Vallco was a great mall at it’s beginning. Too bad. Sometimes it’s better to pull the plug and start with something new rather than continually patch it up with worse management and add-on ideas.

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    Tresa Reply:

    @Marbella DeVille, What a rude, sad person you are Marabella. Did you actually just tell me what I can and cannot write? I thought this was the land of the free not the land of the ill-bred and self centered bores! These are memories from a person who actually lived and worked in and around Vallco at this time. My intent was to share some of my memories with younger people. You must work in the “new mall biz”. Things must be bad if you try to attack an innocent bystander like me. You are a prime example of what is wrong in today’s World.
    May I suggest a course at Miss Manners Charm School? By the way, yes technically Vallco is in Cupertino but it is on the cusp of Sunnyvale. WHO CARES???

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    mander lee Reply:

    @Tresa,
    Marbella DeVille – first off, Valley Fair was a trash of a mall when Valco was coming up. Second, there were plenty of young kids at the time that watched as orchards were being mowed over and replaced with malls – who cares if it was Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Saratoga or anywhere in the south bay – we might have been young, but we registered the change. I personally watched as my own backyard turned from an orchard without a fence to a track home development – fences and all. And lastly, this is Tresa’s version of HER life and experiences, respect that.

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    J-Man Reply:

    @Marbella DeVille, Bullock’s was never owned by The May Company. It was an independent, Los Angeles-based retailer until it was acquired by Federated (along with I. Magnin.)

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  21. I kind of liked the name Vallco, if for no other reason than that it wasn’t just another “ridge” or “gate” or “mills”, but my favorite thing about the place was the way that it bridged Wolfe Road, which I thought gave an otherwise ordinary mall lots of visual interest. (Take that, big boxes!)
    And, the lower level of shops between Sears and Bullocks/Emporium/Macy’s wasn’t original; it had been parking with glassed-in landings for the escalators. (I used to park there when I went shopping at Vallco back in the early 80’s.) The work to convert this area took place sometime around 1985 or ’86. My guess is that the addition of the lower level was prompted by Valley Fair’s big rebuilding at the same time. Unfortunately, the lower level only seemed to be successful for a few years and began to empty out in the early 90’s; by the beginning of this decade only a few businesses were left , all seemingly huddling around the escalators, and now, even these are gone.

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  22. About 30 stores and services remain in the mall now…

    There’s a blurb in BigMallRat about it:
    “Cupertino Square LLC and Vallco International Shopping Center LLC sought to reposition this mall as an Asian-inspired destination (east Asian). However, my informal racial profiling of shoppers showed that a majority of shoppers fell into the Caucasian and Indian segments. Did repositioning the mall alienate these groups?”

    I know for a fact that Aji Ichiban (Hong Kong bulk candy shop) is there, but it isn’t that a good location either. There’s also a Froyo and a few other businesses, but that could be an outdated website.

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  23. Frankly, I’m surprised they don’t have an Apple store. Or maybe an Apple DISCOUNT store (slightly damaged computers at discount prices!)

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  24. An Apple discount store would be awesome!
    I like the Aji Ichiban. Candy appeals to everyone. Now they seem to also be carrying jewelry. Seems an odd combination.
    I’d like to think that positioning a mall to an ethnic group to be a good idea, but having a Todai just doesn’t cut it. Where is the Dim Sum? Where is the Diaso?
    Those red lanterns hanging from the center court are gone, now. I wonder why.
    Scott

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    Jonah Norason (Pseudo3D) Reply:

    To REALLY make it “East Asian” inspired, they need to have storefronts selling knock-off goods!

    “Hey, why does this watch say ROLEK?”
    “And why is this handbag have LOUIE VUTTON printed on the front?”

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  25. “Now they seem to also be carrying jewelry. Seems an odd combination.”

    I can imagine it now: “No, Mike, that shiny stuff WASN’T candy!”

    There used to be dim sum in the mall, I heard.

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  26. If pulled off properly, Cupertino Square could capitalize on being ethnically diverse…serving every segment of the population. Most malls seem to focus on one (black or white)…

    Is there any other way to get into the Sears/Macy’s wing without going up an escalator from the gloomy, closed first level or an outdoor staircase?

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  27. “In the mid-90’s, three local investors (Alan Wong, Emily Chen, and John Nguyen) decided to use some Silicon Valley bank to restore some luster to this fading behemoth. Given that Vallco was located just a few miles from Valley Fair on Stevens Creek Blvd., the group needed to differentiate the center from its immediate competition by adding a significant dining and entertainment component–including the upscale Strike bowling alley, a huge AMC movie complex, and new restaurants–and giving it a spiffy new name in “Cupertino Square.””.

    Don’t you mean mid-2000s, or is there something I didn’t know?

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  28. I remeber when this mall was doing very well with a down stairs and a coffee shop and other small stores. They closed down bath and body works. Down stairs is closed and they are not doing anything at this moment. I think the Westfield should take it over. It should not turn into an asian market.

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  29. When the Emporium opened in Vallco, did that store replace the free-standing store they had in the area– I think it was at El Camino Real and CA-85. Not sure what city that’s in — Mountain View?

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    j88 Reply:

    @J-Man,
    Nope, that Emporium, you are right, it is in Mountain View, operated until the acquisition by Federated Inc. in the mid 90s. It sat empty and dilipadating until as of about 3 years ago when El Camino Medical Group built medical offices on the site.

    But what did happen relocation wise was with Sears, before the Vallco store was opened, they had a free standing one at San Carlos Street and Meridian Ave. in San Jose (that site is now a Safeway and a housing development) that was closed when the Vallco Sears opened.

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  30. New twist: Cupertino Square has reverted (sort of) back to “Vallco Shopping Mall”.

    Huh.

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  31. Okay, I used to live in sunnyvale, I now live in Canada.

    I ALWAYS used to go to vallco when i was a kid. (back in ’93/’94)

    Is there still the place in the foodcourt that has corndogs, lemonade, and a little stool for little kids to stand on?!

    if so, I will be planning on taking a roadtrip down there in december.

    if it is, could someone please email me and let me know?

    i more than likely wont come back to this site.

    dhookins@gmail.com

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  32. I wish I was not 1000+ miles away from this mall in VT , otherwise I would check this place out. It is the outdated, campy interior design that is a draw for me. I much prefer something that borders on “in bad taste” than something bland & cookie-cutter.

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  33. Although the Macy’s is closing for good this week, Sears on the chopping block, and JC Penny’s rumored to be closing within the next 12 months, leaving this already dying mall with zero anchor tenants, I’ve talked to the managers at Benihana’s & TGI Friday’s as well as the AMC and Ice Center and they say the mall has no plans to shut down or be demolished. Maybe the new owner has some tricks up his sleeve.

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