Most of the attention in the “dead mall” phenomenon has focused on large, once-thriving (and often, once-dominant) malls that were done in by changing demographics or newer competitors. On the whole, the smaller malls are seen as necessarily casualties, centers that never really worked or aren’t large enough to miss.
Strangely, I’m as fond (if not more fond) of these little guys, and it seems that an awful lot of the regular readers of Labelscar feel the same. On that note I present to you the sad little Norwichtown Mall, in Norwich, Connecticut, a deeply troubled 241,000 square foot mall that I doubt has much life left in it.
The Norwichtown Mall opened just off (present day) routes 2, 32, and I-395 in 1968 to serve the Norwich area of eastern Connecticut. While eastern Connecticut is one of the more rural areas of the northeast megalop, Norwich is one of the larger cities in the area, with a population of just under 40,000. However, the loss of the manufacturing industry (and the frequent ups and downs of the defense related jobs in nearby Groton and New London) hit Norwich particularly hard, and it has suffered from a malaise worse than many similar cities throughout New England. Today, however, the mall sits in the relative shadow of two of the largest tourist attractions on the east coast: Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Casinos, which are each about 10 minutes away from Norwichtown Mall.
Before the region’s dominant mall, the large Crystal Mall, opened in Waterford to serve the entire New London-Groton-Norwich metropolitan area, there were two malls to serve each of the region’s two anchor cities. The appropriately-named New London Mall was the first enclosed shopping mall built in Connecticut, and was opened on the north Frontage Road of I-95 in New London. I’m pretty sure–though not certain–that the mall opened in 1958, with the first Bradlees store as one of its anchors (I suspect, though am uncertain, that a Sage-Allen was the other anchor). Sadly, this grand old relic–which remained very dated until its death–was demolished in 1998 to be replaced with a relatively bland strip mall that stands in its place today. I have no photos of this old place, and it’s near the top of my “want” list, so if you have any old New London Mall photos, please let me know!
The Norwichtown Mall, its northern cousin, was slightly smaller and slightly younger, with Caldor, Stop & Shop, and local department store Styles as its initial anchor stores. Styles was a smaller anchor that nonetheless was pitched as a somewhat high-fashion chain in line with G. Fox and Filene’s. I’m not exactly sure when they departed, but they were the first of the three anchors to shut.
In the mid-late 1990s, Stop & Shop modernized and expanded their store, eating some of the former mall space. At the same time, much of the mall was given a renovation and modernization. Not long after this was my own first trek to the Norwichtown Mall, in summer 1998. At the time, Caldor was still open, and the mall did surprisingly well for a mall of its size, and was tenanted with a diverse roster of tenants that would be appropriate for the kind of community-oriented shopping mall that would be anchored by a discounter (Caldor) and supermarket (Stop & Shop). There was a Waldenbooks, Hallmark, Radio Shack, an independent record store named University Music, and Bee Bee Dairy, a popular local creamery.
Unfortunately, Norwichtown Mall would not last long in this incarnation. Caldor went out of business in 1999, closing all of their stores, and several years later the space was occupied by a Bob’s Discount Furniture store, although they did little to drive traffic to the mall. Since Stop & Shop lacked mall access, there was not really a major reason to enter the mall, and tenants very slowly bled out of the mall until 2007, when Bob’s Furniture also left for a larger, newer store in East Lyme, leaving the interior of the mall barren and empty. During this time, a large big box center also opened in Griswold, just to the north of Norwich, siphoning off retail traffic from that side of the city and wedging Norwichtown between several more successful retail areas. Today, little remains beyond Dollar Tree, Radio Shack, a bank, and several other small stores.
There have been some rumors of big plans for the mall, with names like Target and Christmas Tree Shops being circulated, though presumably almost any plan to come along will (sadly) include disenclosure of the small and outdated (if still immaculate) center.
The Caldor Rainbow also took a trip to Norwichtown Mall last fall, and if you look at their set of photos in comparison to ours, you’ll note how much the place seems to have gone downhill in just a few short months. Our pictures are a little over a month old.
UPDATED 4/12/2009: Labelscar reader Bryan sent us these updated 2009 photos of the Norwichtown Mall, with a note that our old photos looked a bit “livelier” than the mall today. Seems hard to believe, but sheesh–look for yourself! The place is more desolate than ever.