Atrium Mall; Newton, Massachusetts

Atrium Mall in Newton, Massachusetts

In general, most of the enclosed malls that survive in today’s marketplace are the big boys, the million-square-foot plus behemoths that can squeeze every retailer under the sun into a single building.

I’ve noticed one very notable exception to this, however. There seems to be a number of small, upscale, niche-oriented enclosed malls that thrive in upscale suburbs of large cities. Marketfair in Princeton, New Jersey; The Galleria at Mt. Lebanon outside Pittsburgh, PA, and this mall, Newton’s Atrium Mall, all fit that bill. I wrote about Atrium’s sister mall, The Mall at Chestnut Hill, a few days ago. This one, which opened much more recently (late ’80s or early ’90s) is right across the street, wedged into a triangular lot at the corner of Boylston St. and Florence St.

One thing that’s really strange about the Atrium Mall is that it’s essentially anchorless beyond an oddly-shaped Borders store, and that makes it feel far larger than its 205,000 square feet. It also stands four full levels, and is situated on such a small parcel of land that the entirety of the parking is tucked underneath the building in a very deep parking garage. As this is a pretty upscale center, they do offer valet parking, and there’s even a carwash located down on the valet level of the parking garage.

Beyond Borders, Atrium Mall is tenanted by the kinds of mid-to-high-end tenants you might expect to find, such as Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Gap, and Anthropologie. There are also several sit-down restaurants, including local Vietnamese kitchen Pho Pasteur along with Bertucci’s and the Cheesecake Factory.

Because the mall is so small and vertical, there are no hallways, per se; instead the entire mall is organized around one large, central atrium (which makes sense) that’s shaped roughly like a grand piano. The architecture of the building (which is very unusual for a suburban mall) along with its relatively short sight lines make the Atrium Mall feel far larger and grander than you might expect. The drawbacks are the hassles involved with such an arrangement: having to park 4 levels deep and not being able to browse on a single level make browsing at the ol’ Atrium into a time consuming task. Still, I think part of this mall’s appeal, for many people living in the Chestnut Hill area, is that it’s always a bit less frantic and underpopulated than the large Natick Mall about eight miles to the west.

Perhaps the most interesting design element (and really, there are many) is the way the different levels don’t stack over one another exactly, allowing a scene like the one below, where Borders actually scoots out from under a mall level, allowing a view directly INTO the store:

Atrium Mall in Newton, Massachusetts

Atrium Mall in Newton, Massachusetts Atrium Mall in Newton, Massachusetts Atrium Mall in Newton, Massachusetts Atrium Mall in Newton, Massachusetts

Atrium Mall in Newton, Massachusetts Atrium Mall in Newton, Massachusetts Atrium Mall in Newton, Massachusetts Atrium Mall in Newton, Massachusetts

17 Responses to “Atrium Mall; Newton, Massachusetts”

  1. This place has a very glamourous, ’80s feel to it like the shopping centers at Tysons Corner outside Washington. It was a beautiful time for retail design, I thought, when malls like this came on the scene, and this place still seems quite opulent, if somewhat dated.

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  2. Not full of empty stores…. nice! It is elegant, few places can pull that off these days. Besides Tysons, Phipps in Atlanta has that feel.

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  3. This mall surprisingly was the location of the first Lids hat store. When I worked at the Lids at Emerald Square (store #3) we used to be surprised to see store #1’s sales were so low – I guess an athletic hat store wouldn’t fit in here. I had been told the store sat in a space that used to be a Record Town, which explained the extremely large area it had. The store was closed later on.

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  4. On the decline. The fourth floor now has a consignment shop.

    Curious what Chestnut Hill Square will do to the Atrium. Chestnut Hill Square will have a bit less retail, not including a “lifestyle” grocery — read Whole Foods. A more modern complex would seem like competition.

    But, a properly designed pedestrian promenade could pull the whole south side of Boylston Street (Route 9) together into a single commercial/residential district. That might have a positive effect on the Atrium.

    Curiously, Chestnut Hill Square will be developed by New England Development, the same company that built — and later sold — the Atrium.

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  5. I haven’t been to this one yet! Gona have to put it on my schedule to visit. Can’t believe something this great looking is so close to me and I have missed it all this time.

    They certainly went all out for opulence and such. I wonder what the overhead is like in this place.

    George

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  6. There may be a consignment store on the fourth floor, Second Time Around, but its website lists a location in Greenwich Connecticut. I doubt this is your everyday consignment store – it’s probably has upscale designer clothes.

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  7. The Boston Globe reported on 16JUN, 2010 that Simon is planning on selling this mall. The Atrium Mall, has seen increasing competition in recent years with the expansion of the Natick Mall and the opening of the Lagacy Place “life-style” center in Dedham.

    Moreover, one of the Atrium’s prime anchors, Borders, is not expected to renew its lease when it expires, according to some sources.

    This isn’t the first time the mall has been without a major anchor. When the Atrium first opened, it was home to a three-level outpost of Henri Bendel, the swanky department store on 5th Avenue in NYC. When bendel’s closed, its spaces was carved up into smaller retail outlets. (I think the Cheesecake Factory took over Bendle’s former first floor.)

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  8. On 05DEC10, The Boston Globe had an article in its Business section stating the mall’s owners/management are in the midst of a “remerchandisig” plan due to the fact that several high-profile retailers, including Williams-Sonoma, Abercrombie & Fitch have left and now the 25000 sq foot Borders bookstore will be closing on 07JAN11.

    The mall has been issuing short-term leases to vatious seasonal pop-up stores. A travelling exhibition of “Bodies: Human” – the controversial show exhiniting human cadavers has taken up residence in the former A&F space. NOT the sort of thing an “upscale” family-oriented mall really needs to attract shoppers.

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    Timatov Reply:

    Yikes! Now even “Bodies Human” has cut-short their stay. They were supposed to be in residence through the end of March, but left the mall as of 31DEC.

    Add that to the fact that one of their anchor tenants (Borders) is closing as of this week, and the recent high-profile departures of Williams-Sonoma and Abercrombie & Fitch and one wonders what is to become of this mall.

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  9. It is amazing to see how much this mall has changed since it opened in 1989, but it has always struggled to fit in.

    I remember going there with my mother when it first opened (before they had Henri Bendel or even a restaurant !) and the atrium on Route 9 was open space. The mall was anchored by the primary divisions of The Limited (Express/Structure, Limited, Limited Too & Cacique) stacked on top of each other in the back corner with their other brands (Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie and finally Henri Bendel) in the front corner. It was never to me the place to hang out with your friends because it felt very exclusive and there was not enough to keep us interested. What set it apart from the Mall at Chestnut Hill were the national chains that were not anywhere else in the local area. Once Natick Mall reopened in 1994 with many of the same places, and an easier to navigate layout, the appeal to visit was diminished. Every time I go here now, I think of how really different the whole mall used to be.

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  10. Another high-profile departure: Tiffany & Company, one of the mall’s original tenants announced they would be departing the Atrium this September and relocating across Route 9 to the Mall at Chestnut Hill. The Boston Business Journal reported on 08APR that the mall’s occupancy rate has plunged to 65%, and that operating income plunged 20% in the last year alone.

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  11. The ailing Atrium mall is losing two more tenants; Pottery Barn Kids and Creatoyvity are shutting their doors. Ross-Simons and J. Crew are expected to relocate their stores to the Chestnut Hill Mall in the spring.

    http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/real_estate/2012/01/more-stores-to-close-at-atrium-mall.html

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  12. the original incarnation of this mall was nothing like its current humble, nearly asunder appearance. in the late eighties upon opening, this was the mall. nothing but primo boutiques and indeed, zen flowing space. even their anchor stores were tightly situated. however, as the little guys fell, the only way to keep traffic in the place was to retrofit the aforementioned cubbies into larger chunks … and so on until two decades later, your had a borders taking up what was formerly seven retail shoppes. funny enough, the back of the house is far more daunting – within the structure there are now phantom staircases and elevators that literally terminate into brick walls or deadly drop-offs. seriously. but they did what they had to do to keep the lights on in the place. unfortunately at this phase there is very little, probably nothing they can do to salvage the old girl. the numbers suggest that all current tenants will ride-out their leases and shuffle along. given its location, the likelihood is the building will be gutted and turned into condos or something less risky. it would be nice if there was an official history of store listings from day one through its current doldrums. – signed, to better days.

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  13. I think this mall is officially on a death-watch. The Boston Globe reported on 25FEB that both the Gap and Gap Kids stores in the Atrium were shuttering their doors that same day. The article mentioned that after the Gap stores close there will only be 14 stores left in the mall.

    But the prognosis goes from bad to worse. The article also states that the jewelery store, Ross-Simons and J. Crew (one of the mall’s original stores) were both relocating to the Mall at Chestnit Hill across the street. Ross-Simons moves on 23MAR and J.Crew is still finalizing its lease.

    Simon is trying to sell this property but company officials have been tight-lipped about their plans beyond that.

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  14. I recently read (Boston Globe, I think) that the Atrium
    would be converted into a medical complex of sorts. Doctor’s offices, a vision retailer, and a franchise dental site. Also a major brand pharmacy such as a CVS or Walgreens would be included. Mini-foodcourt is also
    on the table. I don’t know if this a Simon project or a potential buyer’s intention. Land is a high-priced commodity on this section of MA Rt.9. Actually I feel it’s great idea.

    River

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    Riverledge Reply:

    @Riverledge, The Atrium Mall has been purchased by The Bulfinch Cos.(Needham MA) from Mayflower Atrium LLC.
    No price disclosed. Proposed medical center.

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  15. I stopped at Chestnut Hill Mall Sunday, and spotted a banner on the Atrium advertising medical and office space for lease.

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