I’ve long had a strangely antagonistic relationship with Connecticut. I’ve always had a suspicion that the state–which seems bizarrely undermalled–was hiding some enclosed malls from us. Too many of the ones that do exist there are too big or too new to have been the entire story, and my suspicions are correct. Over the past few years, I’ve repeatedly discovered Connecticut malls (almost a half dozen) that went unnoticed, although most of them are at this point long dead. Here’s a good example for you: a truly, 100%, no-bones-about-it “dead mall.”
The Meriden Mall eluded radar in large part because of its name; because the larger Meriden Square Mall is often referred to as the “Meriden Mall,” I assumed references to this mall were in fact referring to the other, larger mall. In fact, Meriden Mall was the city’s first mall, opening as a quarter-million-square-foot center in 1970. Anchored by WT Grant’s, Stop & Shop Supermarket, a twin cinema, and a Walgreens, the Meriden Mall was the area’s first enclosed shopping mall. That would not be the case for long, as the larger Meriden Square Mall would open barely more than a mile away in 1971. As a result, the Meriden Mall, which was perched on the edge of Meriden’s downtown area, would never truly gain its footing. Connecticut is the wealthiest state in the United States, but its urban areas are notoriously troubled, and Meriden is no exception. With the decline in the area’s silver manufacturing industry in the second half of the 20th century, Meriden’s economy suffered and the city itself has never truly recovered. The Meriden Mall today is surrounded by many empty, historic brick buildings from the downtown area on one side, and a large, sprawling post-war style public housing project on the other. It is not exactly an inspiring backdrop.
Meriden Mall attempted to compete with Meriden Square for some time as the city experienced this decline in the 1970s and 1980s, but it was simply too small and poorly located. WT Grant’s went bankrupt in 1975, and their space would be filled briefly a few years later by local discount department store Barker’s, who also would last in the space for only a few years. The Meriden Mall was renamed “Meriden Hub” to address the same awkward naming issue that caused my own confusion, but this didn’t seem to make much difference. The Stop & Shop store left the center in the early 1990s, effectively killing its viability as a retail center. It did briefly serve as the home of a company called Canberra Industries–whose signage still remains, as you can see in these photos–but they’ve long since left the property due to its tendency to experience severe floods. I haven’t been able to pin down an exact date on which the mall closed, but I was able to discover that “Sal’s Barber Shop,” a tenant at the center from the time it opened, didn’t shut until June 30, 2003. The city council minutes from whence I drew this factoid state that barber Saolo F. Sforza was one of the first tenants to move into the mall in September 1970, and will be (would have been?) one of the last tenants when his barbership closes.
The city of Meriden took the blighted parcel by eminent domain in the fall of 2005. They plan to demolish the mall using funds authorized by Governor Rell and build a park and flood control area in its place. In some ways, the story mirrors that of the Bristol Centre Mall in Bristol, Connecticut, another hardscrabble Connecticut town who tried to change their fortunes by demolishing part of their downtown and building a small enclosed mall in the 1960s/70s. The city of Bristol also took the Bristol Centre Mall by eminent domain and is also in the process of shuttering and demolishing the last remains of Bristol Centre to reclaim the long-underused land for the city.
In a Labelscar first, these pictures were all taken TODAY, August 6, 2005. You can also find some more on the city of Meriden’s webpage, including some really fuzzy interior photos!