The Shoppes at Buckland Hills (Which was formerly known as the esoterically-named Pavilions at Buckland Hills until sometime… err, recently) is (Are? Damn you, subject-verb agreement!) one of the two major malls serving the immediate Hartford area. It’s the newest of the two by far, with the distinctively Taubman-styled–and far more interesting–Westfarms being the other, but it’s also the less upscale one. While the “Shoppes” is the cornerstone of one of the largest and newest retail districts in New England, it also faces a large amount of competition from the newly-completed Evergreen Walk lifestyle center in South Windsor, a super-fouffy faux-Main Street deal which houses nearly all of the truly upscale tenants for the area.
The 1 million square foot, two-level, 140 store mall opened in 1990 with Lord & Taylor, Sears, JCPenney, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and G. Fox as anchors. The May company acquired Filene’s in the mid-1990s and retired the storied G. Fox nameplate–a staple of Hartford for generations. This gave May two stores in the mall, and in 2004 they would shut the Lord & Taylor store and convert it to a second Filene’s location. Of course this wouldn’t last terribly long, given that both locations were converted to Macy’s in 2006. The Barnes & Noble store also opened in the mall in 2002 or so, as part of a minor renovation that also reconfigured the food court to be more open and airy.
I seriously caught these Filene’s signs just in time. These pictures were taken in early August 2006:
The opening of the Pavilions at Buckland Hills spurred a large amount of retail activity along I-84 in Manchester, just about 5 miles northeast of Hartford, and the build-out of this area continues today. Of course, given the mall’s vintage, it’s largely what you’d expect–and that’d be boring, in case you haven’t been paying attention. But like all malls, it does have a few interesting design features. The tent-like, canvas-roofed corridors are like few other malls (I can recall only three malls I’ve witnessed it in, though I’m sure there are more) and the semi-elaborate Victorian details and jaunty courts offer at least at a modicum of entertainment to a mall that, for the most part, is an awful lot like a slightly less-successful cousin of the Natick Mall outside of Boston.
The opening of the Evergreen Walk lifestyle thing seems to be hurting this beast somethin’ fierce, as there were quite a few vacancies (for a mall of this caliber and with such little competition, anyway) on our most recent visit, and we couldn’t help but notice that Buckland Hills is missing a lot of the most upscale tenants that normally frequent super-regional malls. Connecticut folks, give us some feedback–what’s going on here? How do people in the Nutmeg State feel about the Shoppes at Buckland Hills?
P.S.: We do know one little newsy tidbit–Boston record store mainstay Newbury Comics, my former employer and the largest independent record store chain in the United States, is planning to open a prototype store in the Shoppes at Buckland Hills sometime in the near future. It’ll be the chain’s first foray into Connecticut, filling the void left statewide by the demise of Media Play, and it comes at a time when record stores are in trouble. While Newbury has some mall locations, they tend to be somewhat accidental. Entering a whole new market in an enclosed mall carries a certain meaning for them as they’ll need to introduce themselves to the people of metro Hartford. Will it work?