The nation is littered with places where two malls sprung up right next to each other — the post that sat at the top of the Labelscar homepage for *cough* uhh *cough* four months, the one right in front of this one, is an example — and in only rare case are both dominant. In general, one is the good one, and the other is the also-ran, making occasional strides towards being a legitimate peer by snagging a hot new anchor or having a more up-to-date renovation. The Moorestown Mall, which lives in the shadow of the amazing Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey, is one of these also-ran malls.
Moorestown Mall was opened in 1963 by PREIT, just 3 miles east of the Cherry Hill Mall on state route 38 in the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia. A large, sprawling one-level enclosed center, the original anchor stores in the Moorestown Mall were Wanamaker’s, Gimbel’s, Woolworths, and Sears. For obvious reasons, only Sears remains today, and the mall has had somewhat of a revolving door of anchors throughout the years:
Gimbels became Stern’s in 1986, after owner Brown & Williamson sold off the chain. Stern’s remained at the mall for a short four years before leaving. The store was converted to “Ports of the World,” a new concept by Boscov’s ownership to covertly enter the Philadelphia market without anybody noticing (for some reason?). This silly experiment lasted very little time, and the store was converted to Boscov’s not long later.
Woolworth lasted in the mall in their junior-anchor space until their demise; the space later became a Vans Skate Park (one of the many attempts to draw more crowds to the mall with a destinational retailer) before failing and being turned into a Foot Locker and ultimately a Black Diamond Mountain Sports.
Wanamaker’s was absorbed into the Hecht’s nameplate in 1995, and the Hecht’s was ultimately converted to a Strawbridge’s (since this is the Philadelphia region, after all, so Hecht’s was somewhat of an anomaly here). This store was later torn down to make room for a new Strawbridge’s store and was converted to Macy’s in 2006.
The Moorestown Mall was partially renovated in 1986 but then suffered a devastating fire in the early 90s, that nearly killed it entirely. A Patch columnist recounts what it was like at the time:
I am sorry to say that the Moorestown Mall has always been the ugly stepsister in our family of local malls. Built in 1963 and only a few short miles from the Cherry Hill Mall, our mall has always suffered in comparison. When we moved to town in the early ’90s, the mall was a post-fire ghost town. There were rainy, wintry days when the “wooden playground” was not an option. I figured out pretty quickly that the mall was a great place to let the boys run. There was so little foot traffic that I could just let them rip and watch them as they ran towards Macy’s.
The mall received a new renovation in 1993/1994 that refreshed the look of the center significantly, adding atrium entrances and arched ceilings. This renovation was suspiciously similar to the renovation of Rhode Island’s Warwick Mall just a year or so earlier. Only a few years later, in 1997, the Rouse Companies purchased the mall and attempted a major upscaling and repositioning of the center, demolishing the existing Strawbridge’s store in favor of a new one in 1999 and adding Lord & Taylor as a new anchor in 2000, with their only location in South Jersey. Nordstrom was almost added as part of this expansion, but they ultimately opted to not expand to the area at the time.
The 2000s continued to be rough for the Moorestown Mall. The Cherry Hill Mall underwent a dramatic renovation and expansion, and a major outdoor big box/lifestyle center opened just a few miles to the east. The mall was again floundering and needed to be refreshed. A small renovation to add more pad restaurants and refresh the street-facing side of the mall began in 2008, and in 2011 the town of Moorestown voted to allow alcohol sales at the previously dry mall, allowing sit-down chain restaurants to open in the area. In addition, on December 22, 2011, Regal Cinemas announced that they planned to replace the existing 7-screen United Artists Theatre with a large, state-of-the-art facility RealD 3D, surround sound, and stadium seating. The new theatre will reuse much of the space formerly occupied by the Vans skate park and Woolworth.
The photos here were all taken in fall of 2006, so they’re six years old now. The mall today looks quite a bit different. Have you been recently? What has changed?
Nestled 25 miles northeast of Center City (downtown) Philadelphia, Burlington Center Mall is one of a handful of regional shopping centers on the New Jersey side of the metropolitan area. Opened in 1982, Burlington Mall is the newest regional enclosed center in Greater Philadelphia, and was conceived in order to fill a dearth of regional malls that exists between Cherry Hill/Moorestown and the mall north of Trenton. A considerable amount of residential growth in this section of Burlington County, combined with the height of regional enclosed mall development, precipitated the birth of Burlington Mall. Unfortunately, though, the mall has fallen on hard times as a result of locational disadvantages, competition, and a perception of crime, and is in a significant amount of trouble today.
Greater Philadelphia, the second largest metropolitan area on the east coast, stretches across four states and contains an impressive 6 million people total. With a population of around 1.5 million, the New Jersey suburbs of Greater Philadelphia shoulder about a quarter of that total. Most of these South Jersey suburbs are post-war enclaves of sprawling single-family residential developments, mixed with low-level commercial and some industrial areas near the Delaware River. For the average tourist, there’s little going on here, unless one happens to enjoy touring post-war sprawl and shopping malls – and we do! – or, for the more daring urban explorer, the city of Camden offers a post-apocalyptic exception to the suburban sprawl, with its disintegrated, densely urban infrastructure crumbling before our eyes.
Nestled 25 miles northeast of Center City (downtown) Philadelphia, Burlington Center Mall is one of a handful of regional shopping centers on the New Jersey side of the metropolitan area. Opened in 1982 by Rouse, Burlington Mall is the newest regional enclosed center in Greater Philadelphia, and was conceived in order to fill a dearth of regional malls that exists between Cherry Hill/Moorestown and the mall north of Trenton. A considerable amount of residential growth in this section of Burlington County, combined with the height of regional enclosed mall development, precipitated the birth of Burlington Mall. Unfortunately, though, the mall has fallen on hard times as a result of locational disadvantages, competition, and a perception of crime, and is in a significant amount of trouble today.
Originally, competition was not an issue for Burlington Mall. In fact, Burlington Mall’s 1982 debut eventually helped kill several smaller malls in the vicinity. The extant built retail environment in this area prior to the construction of Burlington Mall consisted of several smaller local/neighborhood centers – the enclosed set of Cinnaminson Mall and Willingboro Village Mall, and the outdoor Willingboro Plaza – all of which closed and were significantly redeveloped by the early 2000s.
Located along Burlington-Mt. Holly Road on a small strip of land between two major parallel highways – the New Jersey Turnpike and Interstate 295 – the Burlington Center Mall enjoys access to both, and also to a bridge across the Delaware River into populous Bucks County, Pennsylvania. This locational advantage, along with its size and relative newness, put Burlington Mall many steps ahead of the aforementioned smaller malls in the area, which are mostly located along US 130, a semi-controlled access highway with frequent lights.
During the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s, the two-level Burlington Mall enjoyed success, reaping the rewards sowed by a great location and a lack of competition in its core market. In 1996, the first and only expansion of the mall took place, with the addition of a JCPenney store near the crux of the mall’s two L-shaped hallways. The other two anchors were Sears and Philadelphia-based Strawbridges (changed to Macy’s in 2006), at the far ends of each hallway, respectively.
The end of the 1990s and the dawn of the new millennium saw a shift in shopper preferences which would eventually lead to a downward spiral at Burlington Mall, as offerings shifted from a dominance of staid, popular, national brand stores to local mom-and-pops and vacancies. Also, the mall had begun to show its age, and, as of 2010 has not received a significant renovation in its lifetime. In contrast, nearly all of the other malls in South Jersey have undertaken renovations and expansions of varying degrees, the largest being the complete renovation and addition of Nordstrom at Cherry Hill Mall, the largest mall on the New Jersey side and the second largest mall in the Greater Philadelphia area. Also, in the mid-2000s, the lifestyle center craze of outdoor malls hit South Jersey, and the large Promenade at Sagemore opened in nearby Marlton, contributing to competition in an already-crowded market.
In 2007, Burlington Center Mall received a pall in the form of bad press. On the night of January 13, 2007, a gang fight erupted in the mall, involving over 20 individuals. The mall closed early that night, but that wasn’t as big of a deal as the ongoing bad press the mall received in coming weeks and months, which earned Burlington Mall the reputation of being an unsafe haven for gang-bangers. Once a mall is branded as unsafe, a positive feedback loop often begins, regardless of whether or not the reputation is actually earned. Shoppers begin to avoid the mall, causing stores to close, causing less traffic in the mall overall which, in turn, causes even more stores to close. This feedback loop correlates with a downward-spiraling trend of tenancy, eventually leading to a mall’s closure, and can often be traced to a single event or series of events exposed by the media.
Unfortunately, this downward spiral is already taking place at Burlington Center Mall. It has also reached critical mass, as evidenced by a recent blow from Macy’s, who announced in January 2010 that they were leaving the mall, citing poor sales. Adding insult to injury, the media exposed the larger troubles at the mall in addition to the Macy’s departure. According to an article that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer and announced the Macy’s departure at the flagging mall, Burlington Center Mall is a “dead mall” full of “junk stores”.
The same article also had a quote from the mall’s marketing manager, Sunshine Lewis, who has a glass-half-full mentality and stated the Macy’s departure will give the mall an opportunity to court another anchor. In her defense, the mall isn’t quite dead just yet, and still has a fair amount of national chains like American Eagle Outfitters, Victoria’s Secret, a handful of shoe stores and jewelry stores, and a decent full food court. But it also doesn’t have far to go before it’s dead, either.
Burlington Mall’s owner is Jager Management, a relatively small player in the world of the PREITs, Simons, Maceriches, and Westfields. Jager, based in Burlington County, owns two other malls – the very dead Mountaineer Mall in Morgantown, West Virginia, and the Fairgrounds Square Mall, a flagging mall in Reading, Pennsylvania. Because of their relatively small (and underperforming) portfolio, Jager is not well-poised to ward off competition through updates and renovations, which are necessary tools in today’s marketplace, especially in the face of bad press. All of the other malls on the New Jersey side of Greater Philadelphia are owned by either Simon, PREIT, or Macerich, all companies that have access to millions of dollars in assets and loans in order to keep their centers current and viable. And they have – every other center in South Jersey providing competition to Burlington Mall has undergone extensive renovations within the past few years.
So, when Burlington Mall’s manager stated the departure of Macy’s represents an opportunity, she was right. In order to remain viable, the mall needs differentiate itself from its competition. The area around the mall still has an above average household income, and the mall’s location is advantageous, so it’s become clear that laissez-faire management has become the major problem. Use the mall’s location, between two well-traveled highways, to locate a destinational store or attraction there. Invent an entertainment district. Put in a discounter or some other non-traditional entity as an anchor. Renovate and modernize the mall. There obviously has to be more of a reason to come here, since locals are bypassing this mall and going to others like Cherry Hill/Moorestown and Sagemore, which are 15 minutes away.
We visited Burlington Mall in Summer 2008 and took the pictures featured here. Leave your own suggestions, comments, and experiences about Burlington Mall.
Michael Lisicky has submitted the following pictures from 2005, before Strawbridge’s became Macy’s, and a close-up of the famous fountain:
And here are some pictures that Caldor took when in the area in November of 2006. The mall felt dusty and deserted, and the Macy’s (former Strawbridge’s) wing felt like it was in especially poor shape, with little other than empty storefronts or hip hop wear stores:
The Brunswick Square Mall is a Simon-managed, 769,000 square foot enclosed mall located along New Jersey route 18, a little southeast of New Brunswick. The mall is more or less a modified old dumbell, with JCPenney and Macy’s as the primary anchor stores and Barnes & Noble and Old Navy as junior anchor tenants.
I keep an eye on the comments, and I know there’s been a few stats junkies who’ve been paying attention to the ratio of malls-to-population that we’ve posted. I know there’s also been some (undeniably true) grousing that we haven’t posted anything about New Jersey in ages. Well here you go! The catch is, you get something boring. Sorry.
The Brunswick Square Mall is a really dull one, but I’m tired and I had a bloody mary a little bit ago, so this is what the vodka will let me bang out at this hour. The photoset here is also a bit old–taken November 2006–when I did a swing through New Jersey that got photos for a few other malls on the site, including Monmouth Mall and the Shore Mall.
The Brunswick Square Mall is a Simon-managed, 769,000 square foot enclosed mall located along New Jersey route 18, a little southeast of New Brunswick. The mall is more or less a modified old dumbell, with JCPenney and Macy’s as the primary anchor stores and Barnes & Noble and Old Navy as junior anchor tenants.
Brunswick Square was originally developed by DeBartolo in 1970 with JCPenney and Bamberger’s as anchor stores. There were plans in the late 1980s to turn the relatively undersized mall into a larger destination with a second level, but plans were ultimately scaled back significantly due to concerns over traffic and a poor economy. Instead, there was a much smaller expansion at the end of the 90s that brought Barnes & Noble into the center.
Brunswick Square is one of the smaller and less interesting malls in the glob of Jersey suburbia, but given the traffic-clogged nature of the region’s roads and the high population surrounding the mall, it seems to do okay (more major malls like Freehold Raceway Mall, the Quakerbridge Mall, or the malls in Menlo Park/Woodbridge kind of flank it on all sides but none are especially close). This particular area of Jersey’s suburbia is dense, busy, and overall pretty mid-market, having been developed primarily in the explosion of post-war suburbia around New York. But like most of New Jersey, there are isolated pockets of affluence scattered about, even if Brunswick Square is a defiantly plain-jane, middle of the road kinda place. I saw an old dude sleeping on one of the massage chairs here once, and that pretty much sums the place up. I doubt anyone goes out of their way to swing by this palace of excitement, but it’s close to home for an awful lot of people.
Hey, I said it was boring. But as They Might be Giants once sang:
New York has tall buildings, New Jersey has its malls
Pisa has a leaning tower will it ever fall
The ocean has the fishes
London has a tower
In Holland they have windmills , lots of banks and pretty flowers
Where do they make balloons?
And you guys sure DO love them Jersey malls. Fill us in.
A few months back, I proudly proclaimed that I thought I’d seen all of the malls in New Jersey. Of course I hadn’t; New Jersey has tons of hidden malls, including this (sort of) departed gem, Cape May’s Rio Mall. Michael Lisicky sent us a great set of old photos from when the mall still had a smidge of glamour, as well as a sad set that shows what’s become of her. Check it out:
“With all of the attention on Labelscar that the mega-mall Mall of America has created I decided to pay homage to one of the smaller malls that I have ever known. Arguably New Jersey, for a state its size, is the King of Shopping Malls. Besides its hundreds of shopping centers everywhere New Jersey is home to such showplaces as the Garden State Plaza and the Cherry Hill Mall. However southern New Jersey was also home to many “mini-malls”, malls that were anchored by a junior department or discount store and/or a supermarket. These malls contained about a dozen stores located between the anchors where shoppers could support these businesses where “every day is like Springtime” (from an old Cherry Hill Mall advertisement). Centers like the Cinnaminson Mall, the Tri-Towne Mall in Marlton, and the Village Mall in Willingboro are now a distant memory for many as the novelty quickly wore off. But nobody pulled off the “mini-mall” better than the Rio Mall.
The Rio Mall is (was) located in the southern tip of New Jersey four miles north of Cape May. Cape May County in the early 1970s was still quite seasonal and, besides a few small centers, serious shopping was still a half hour north near Atlantic City. In came the Rio Mall. The Rio Mall was built in 1973 in Rio Grande, NJ. It was a novelty for its time. The closest indoor mall, the Shore Mall 30 miles north, would actually not complete its final construction with its new glitzy Steinbach store until 1974. The Rio Mall had no big department store. It was anchored by a Grant City, an A&P, a movie theatre, and about 15 other stores. Each store in the mall basically served one of every type of need. From the start, the Rio Mall was a success. It was constantly occupied but not just by local fly-by-night storefronts. The mall, unlike most “mini-malls,” had a full Deb Shop, JS Raub shoe store, Thrift Drug and the upper-end branch of Atlantic City’s famous Palley’s Jewellers. With little competition and the fascination of indoor shopping Cape May County was happy.
The Rio Mall wasn’t necessarily a mall where you could browse all day. But if you wanted a new pair of shoes, wanted to fix your watch, needed to buy some cards and catch a movie it was “one stop shopping”. Even when Grants closed their doors with the rest of the chain in 1976 the anchor store did not stay dark for long. In came K-mart. Even Atlantic City didn’t have a K-mart until after Woolco closed its store in 1982. For years the Rio Mall served the county well. Along the way it lost some stores but they were quickly replaced by such chains as Rafters, a NJ woman’s clothing store and a (small) Reynolds junior department store.
But then the area became more year-round. Demand for shopping grew. Soon some of the earliest power centers would invade its territory. JCPenney built a new store down the street along with Peebles. Thrift Drug merged with Eckerd and left to a store next to Starn’s Shop-Rite. Reynolds moved into a “real” storefront across the street. Palley’s closed all of their stores. By the mid 90s the exodus was in full swing. Slowly the mall began to die. It tried to survive but for many it was time to move on.
So what’s left of Rio Mall? Not much anymore. Kmart still is going strong but the mall was “removed”. Kmart took over much of the mall’s space as it braced for a hit from the area’s first Wal-Mart down the road. The theaters are there but they’ve moved. (Actually the theater company, Frank’s, had purchased the mall not long ago from mall owner PREIT but is now looking to unload it.) There is a strange corrider that is still left from the old mall. It’s almost like a hurricane came through; part of the mall is still there, but now it’s open to the elements. The ceiling tiles are still there. The framework to Thrift Drug is still there. But it’s all filled with trash. But what does remain is perhaps one of the perfect “labelscar”s of all malls. The Rio Mall sign still peeks from its bricks hoping that someone still remembers the role it once played in the growth of Cape May County.”
From the look of Michael’s photos, I really didn’t miss anything–at least not nowadays, anyway. I’m am, however, glad for the chance to see what it was like–thanks Michael!
All of this Steinbach posting has put me in a New Jersey mood lately. Malls are as synonymous with New Jersey as Bruce Springsteen, so there’s plenty of neat ones to pick from, and the 1.5 million-square-foot Monmouth Mall on the Jersey Shore is one of the cooler ones that I visited for the first time in November of 2006.
The Monmouth Mall is visibly old, and originally began its life as an open air center built on the site of a former farm in 1960. A 1975 expansion brought it to its current, massive size, and renovations in 1987 and 1996 added a food court and movie theatre. Like many old malls, Monmouth Mall has had many anchor stores rotate in and out over the years:
Alexander’s became Caldor, which in turn became Nobody Beats the Wiz, which then became Burlington Coat Factory. While I have no firsthand experience, the mall directory makes it appear that the Loew’s Cinemas were carved out of this area as well.
Hahne & Company became Lord & Taylor.
There’s also a JCPenney. No idea what that might’ve been, if it was ever anything else.
The Vornado Realty Trust-owned center is one of the most successful malls on the Jersey shore today, despite a location that’s relatively close to the Freehold Raceway Mall, one of the state’s largest and newest enclosed shopping malls. I think Monmouth Mall is cool because of its bizarre floorplan and changing decor–if you look at the directory below, you can tell that there is one long wing that begins as a grand, one-level atrium in front of Macy’s before splintering into two levels (much like the Cherry Hill Mall) and continuing a long ways to the modern-day Boscov’s anchor store. In the other direction, at the Macy’s store, the mall takes a 90 degree turn and narrows substantially enroute to the large food court and Burlington Coat Factory store.
And if the floorplan itself doesn’t excite you, then look at the facade of the Macy’s (which is, again, a former Bamberger’s store): check out the wood paneling! It’s pretty vintage and fun.
EDIT 4/29/2007 10:11AM EST: Silly me, I forgot to finish my research when I posted this article. Want to see a vintage advertisement of the Easter Bunny at Monmouth Mall? Because you can.
Michael, one of our readers, sent us some historic 1986 and 1994 photos of the soon-to-be-demolished Shore Mall in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, just outside of Atlantic City, (as well as two shots of the now-horrifying River Roads Mall in Jennings, MO). All three shots are pretty cool, but I’m especially excited about the unearthing of the photo above–a shot of the departed Asbury Park-based department store chain Steinbach, memories of which seem to have disappeared almost completely right along with the chain in 1999. I never even got to go inside of one of these, but I remember they had some very mysterious New England locations (like Concord, NH, South Burlington, VT and Waterford, CT) that mystefied me even then.
This actually is a good time to share a photo set that I took of the former Steinbach store in Waterford, CT, just over the border from neighboring New London on US1. These shots were taken in early March 2007, and are of the former “Waterfall Place,” a very strange old strip mall-enclosed mall hybrid that once hosted Steinbach as its main anchor, along with a very small enclosed mall on its second level. Today, the long-vacant Steinbach has been redeveloped with a Sav-A-Lot food store on the first level and a Planet Fitness on the second floor, although its plaza is as curious as ever despite attempts to renovate. The second level of the Steinbach building, which once housed a small enclosed mall connecting from the strip mall, over the Steinbach store, and then down a set of stairs into the back/side entrance of Steinbach, has been cleaned up and reopened to the public, so today it’s possible to get inside and witness a truly strange piece of retail. It also sports a location of Rhode Island-based Benny’s Home & Auto Stores, whose survival continues to beat the odds, and which we wrote about last August. Check it out:
Sometimes there’s so much to say about a particular mall, that it’s hard to know where to begin, and that’s certainly the case with New Jersey’s Cherry Hill Mall, a classic Victor Gruen-designed mall in the Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia. It’s one of my favorites, and one of the truly classic vintage malls on the northeast seaboard. Cherry Hill’s past has been documented somewhat better than most other malls–if only the same were true of most malls that were this interesting!
The Cherry Hill Mall is owned by the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), and opened in 1961 as one of the very first major indoor, climate-controlled shopping malls on the east coast of the United States. With nearly 1.3 million square feet of space, the mall is one of the largest malls in the state of New Jersey, and currently features JCPenney and Macy’s as anchors; The vacant (and recently-demolished) Strawbridge’s space will be replaced by a Nordstrom in 2009 as part of a redevelopment that will also add 120,000 square feet of in-line space and dramatically reconfigure the center of the mall while adding a “Bistro Row” along route 38, containing a variety of new restaurants. Despite the mall’s gargantuan size, it operates somewhat harmoniously with the Moorestown Mall, 3 miles to the east, which opened only two years after Cherry Hill.
The Cherry Hill Mall is the largest, most dominant mall in the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia, and even predates the town of Cherry Hill itself, which was carved from the Delaware Township and named for the mall itself.
Because the mall dates from the era in which enclosed malls were grandiose showplaces, and because Cherry Hill was designed by Victor Gruen, the most famous of mall architects, there is a better collection of historical material available about it than about most of its breathren. In particular, there is a rather famous collection of postcards that were issued not long after the mall opened, that Keith Milford has collected over at his site, MallsofAmerica. Here are links to the various Cherry Hill-related shots, all of which are worth visiting:
The layout of Cherry Hill Mall is also fairly unorthodox, and it appears that it was possibly built out at different times. I’ve attempted to order the following pictures (all taken November 2006, before the redevelopment began) in a way that makes some logical sense:
The Macys – Strawbridge’s wing:
This long, one level wing with wide corridors and excessive greenery also contains the Woolworths “Cherry Hill Grill,” the space of which is still in operation today as the “Bistro at Cherry Hill:”
This large center court is extremely impressive in its sheer magnitude. Due to the crowds and thick shrubbery, it was tough to try and find a place to get a great shot, so all of these really only suggest the enormity of the room, which is probably close to 40 or 50 feet tall. There are even a set of escalators that used to go straight into the second level of the Strawbridge’s store.
Just north of Cherry Court, the food court has its own wing that is somewhat different in decor from the remainder of the mall.
Just past the food court, the mall splits into two levels, with the first floor half a level down from the main mall, and the second level half a level up from the main level. This wing seems somewhat more modern inside and out (possibly built in the 1980s?), and is currently the only portion of the mall that seems troubled, with a fair share of low-rent tenants and vacancies. The mall’s distinctive office tower is also located near this wing, just outside of the mall where the “split” occurs.
And, as an added bonus, note this TJMaxx located behind the mall, in what is clearly a former JM Fields store:
UPDATE 8/12/2007: Jonah of Two Way Roads submitted the following photos, all taken in early summer 2007, which show the progress of construction at the Cherry Hill Mall (or, in some cases, just new angles on the same old mall). There are some nice shots of the former Strawbridge’s building, too, and that space has since been demolished to make way for a new Nordstrom and a two-level expansion of the mall. Thanks Jonah! Check them out:
Smaller, ancillary malls have long been a favorite of mine, in a large part because they seem to be at far greater risk of redevelopment than larger malls, and also because many of them have not been substantially updated.
Another major reason is that I like the idea of a “community mall,” and am not sure why it hasn’t worked better in the United States. Suburban areas without a traditional downtown are ripe for a smaller enclosed mall that contains a mixture of stores selling essentials, such as a discount department store, an off-price fashion retailer, several restaurants, a pharmacy, service businesses (haircut places, cell phone dealers), as well as community gathering spaces like bookstores or coffee shops. When I find a mall that seems to actually achieve this balance, it’s a cause for celebration.
When I first visited the Mall at Mill Creek in Secaucus, New Jersey, in the center of the Meadowlands just 5 miles west of Manhattan, it was the summer of 2000 and the mall seemed to be doing marvelously as a smaller, community-oriented center. With about 400,000 square feet of space, it was no monster, but with anchors like Kohl’s and Stop & Shop, it drew a rather large local clientele from the geographically-isolated, inner-ring city of Secaucus and was almost completely tenanted.
Fast forward to November, when I finally went back, and see for yourself the state in which I found the mall. I wasn’t actually surprised to see it so sparse, and what seemed to be charmingly unrenovated in 2000 seems somewhat bleak and brutal in 2006. If anything, I expected this, because this is the fate that has befallen almost all enclosed malls of this size and type in the past six years. Clearly The Mall at Mill Creek is no exception: it’s pretty safe to call it a dead mall now.
There are a few interesting things I want to point out about The Mall at Mill Creek:
One of its anchors is a Stop & Shop grocery store, with its lone entrance facing into the interior of the mall. Note all of the senior citizens lined up in the mall with their shopping carts in one of these photos.
The mall is part of a larger complex owned by Hartz Retail, called Harmon Meadow. Across the highway from the mall (but linked via internal roadways) is a large, outdoor mixed use complex that includes several hotels, a movie theatre, restaurants, more stores, and several office buildings. This center appears to have been developed in the 1980s (or even the 1970s), long before the current “lifestyle center” craze, and at the moment appears to be faring far better than the mall itself.
The demographics of both the mall and the area appear to skew somewhat older than is typical, which may have contributed to the mall’s downfall. These pictures were taken on a Saturday afternoon, and a large portion of the patrons in the mall at the time were senior citizens. Similarly, Secaucus is a classic example of one of New York City’s older suburbs, densely packed with street after street of brick row houses adorned with shiny metal awnings. It’s charming, but also very mature, and it’s possible (and even likely) that a large portion of the population is no longer the mall-going crowd.
I don’t know much about the history of the mall, so if you can fill us in, please comment away.
While it’s not necessarily the best time to take pictures of malls (too busy; people get in the way), the Christmas season can be one of the most fun times to go shopping. Even when I worked in retail management, and found this to be the most stressful time of the year, I kind of enjoyed the hustle and bustle and the way that so many people (bar the miserable crankies of course) were in such a good mood.
That’s why I figured I’d share this set of photos taken the weekend before Thanksgiving at the Freehold Raceway Mall in Freehold, New Jersey. This huge, cavernous, super-regional mall (truly the most dominant player for all of the Jersey shore and the southeasternmost New York suburbs) was completely decked out for the holidays and packed to the gill with shoppers.
The 1.6 million square foot Freehold Raceway Mall is anchored by Macy’s, JCPenney, Sears, Lord & Taylor, and Nordstrom and is managed by the Macerich Company. The mall opened in 1990 on the site of former stables for the Freehold Raceway, located directly across the street. According to Wikipedia, the JCPenney store was originally supposed to be a Hahne’s location, but the chain went out of business during the mall’s construction. The mall was built in phases, with its final anchor, Macy’s, opening in 1998. Also according to Wikipedia (which is of course not always the most reliable of sources, since someone could just as easily write that Freehold Raceway is anchored by the CarrotTop All-For-a-Dollar Bonanza), there are two current proposed expansions for the mall: one would add a sixth anchor and a parking deck between Macy’s and Nordstrom, along with a hotel, and the other would add an outdoor “lifestyle portion” (wow, how 2006 of them) with restaurants, a major bookstore (gee, which one?), and space for 15 other tenants.
The Freehold Raceway Mall also laid waste to a far smaller mall several miles to the north. The Manalapan Mall was a small mall that housed a Steinbach’s store and 25 other small stores. Plans originally called for a second expansion to hold a total of 100 stores, including JCPenney and Macy’s locations, but the mall was never completed due to financial problems. Steinbach went out of business in the mid-late 1990s, and was replaced by Value City, but the remainder of the mall was later cleared in favor of Target, Wegman’s, Marshalls, and other big box retailers.
To me, Freehold is more than a bit reminiscent of the similarly expansive Danbury Fair Mall in Danbury, Connecticut, with its long corridors and high ceilings. Due to its relatively recent vintage, it’s not a terribly unique mall, but it certainly does well, and these are definitely pleasant pictures to fetch your eyes upon. The Christmas-y photos were taken by me in 2006, the others were taken by Prangeway in 2001. Enjoy!
If you’ve been following along, you know that about three weeks ago I took a big trip down to New Jersey for the weekend to try and see the last of the malls that I hadn’t yet visited. The last one I grabbed before coming home was this one, and it was somewhat on a hunch: I didn’t even know for sure that it was enclosed.
Hidden in the hills northwest of Paterson, the Wayne Hills Mall is a small enclosed shopping center in a shopping district located amidst a densely populated and largely residential section of suburban Wayne, New Jersey. Unlike Wayne’s other malls, the Wayne Hills Mall is far from major highways and was clearly always intended as a smaller, more convenient mall to serve residents in the immediate surrounding area. Together with the neighboring Preakness Shopping Center–which hosts a standalone Macy’s (former Stern’s), amongst much else–it provides a decent amount of retail space to residents of the area without trekking to the larger malls to the south.
This little, T-shaped mall was anchored by Meyer Brothers, a small local chain department store described as being like Stern’s (and which is now occupied by a Burlington Coat Factory), and a Kmart that is accessible only via an external promenade across the parking lot. The mall also counted Child World (closed 1992) and a Pathmark Supermarket (closed 2001) as anchors in the past. The floorplan at Wayne Hills Mall is strange, essentially there is a small enclosed mall that, at the center’s eastern end, leads to an outdoor promenade that crosses to a strip mall with a Kmart and a gym. It’s very strange (you can see it in the pictures) but pretty neat, and a good example of how to integrate strip-center uses and an enclosed mall.
…or at least it would be, if the mall had any stores. As you can tell from these photos, there isn’t much going on at the Wayne Hills Mall anymore (I’d say it qualifies as a “dead mall“). While the mall is in good shape, due to a (seemingly recent) renovation, there are very few stores still operating in the mall’s interior, and almost no patrons walking around. See these photos? They weren’t taken at 10 at night; it was seven, and during the Christmas shopping season. Ouch.
One of our readers, who often posts here with the moniker “DayGlo!,” was helpful in piecing together some of the history of the Wayne Hills Mall, and sent me some great stories about the way it used to be. I want to include some of her email below:
The weird thing about Wayne Hills Mall, to me, was that the dead mall aura hung over it long before it actually died. Neighboring Preakness Shopping Center, a leviathan in the days before big box centers came into vogue, always seemed much busier despite being open-air. Still, the mall was well-situated enough that it did okay. I don’t remember the names of a lot of the smaller stores simply because it’s been a looooooooong time since I’ve been to that mall, but even when businesses left, they were replaced pretty quickly. At one point, there was a sit-down restaurant/coffee shop whose name evades me, but one of my mom’s friends worked there as a waitress, so trips there usually meant free ice cream. Pretty sure it was gone by the time I started high school. There was a store called Peacock Fashions, which was like Hot Topic before there was a Hot Topic. It was the place to go for band shirts, posters, and other “head shop”-type stuff the chain music stores wouldn’t touch. That closed when I was in high school. There was also a Select-a-Ticket outlet, which got my patronage in high school; there were no Ticketron or (later) TicketMaster outlets where I lived, and Select-a-Ticket always scored the good seats anyway, albeit at a price. Other than that, lots of mall basics. I’m nearly positive that the Foxmoor where I got my Michael Jackson jacket back in the day was in that mall. I remember a Sam Goody moving in at some point when I was in late grade school or high school, and I’m pretty sure there was a Kinney Shoes. Meyer Brothers was the anchor. A small local chain, it was comparable to Stern’s (which was in the Preakness Shopping Center before the rebranding) or Hahne’s (which Rockaway’s Lord and Taylor was in its previous incarnation) — not quite on the same level as Macy’s, but more upscale than Sears and J.C. Penney. At one point, there were three stores listed on the bags — Wayne Hills, Paterson, and somewhere else I don’t remember. The downtown Paterson store remained the flagship even after the Wayne Hills store opened. It stayed open long past the point where the other big department stores pulled out of the inner cities, but was destroyed in a fire in 1991. The Wayne Hills store closed maybe a couple years after that. I was kinda surprised that none of the retail juggernauts offered to buy out the store, as the surrounding area is very well-off and has the purchasing power to support more upscale retail, but that didn’t happen. The outlot stores included Fayva Shoes, KMart (which the store locator indicates is still there), and Child World (which is a Toys R Us now, even though the Totowa store is only 5 or 6 miles away and huge in comparison). What always struck me as odd was that there was a Kmart by Wayne Hills and a comparably sized S.S. Kresge in Preakness well into the ’80s, if not the ’90s. I thought all of the latter stores were rebranded to the former long before.