The New Harbour Mall is a 350,000 square foot dumbell style mall in the old industrial city of Fall River, in southeastern Massachusetts. Fall River has a population of approximately 92,000 people and is located about 15 miles east of Providence, Rhode Island, or 10 miles west of New Bedford. Technically part of the Providence metropolitan area, Fall River and its twin New Bedford are aging mill cities who saw their greatest successes during the industrial revolution in the 1800s and early 1990s, when hundreds of thousands of immigrants flooded the textile mills looking for work. For many decades now, however, Fall River has been something of an economic backwater, struggling with a lack of industry and a high unemployment rate. The city continues to welcome immigrants, however, and today has one of the largest percentages of Portuguese residents in the United States, giving it something of a unique character.
Originally named simply the “Harbour Mall,” the center opened on the south side of Fall River, just feet from the Rhode Island state line, in 1970. Bradlees and Grant City where the mall’s two original anchor stores, staring at each other from opposite ends of a small corridor housing around 30 smaller shops. Originally, the mall was fairly dark and moody, characterized by its external wood-shingle look and ’70s mod logo (which featured a captain’s wheel and the “Harbour Mall” name in a Helvetica-style font). In 1976, Grant City went out of business and was replaced by Kmart, and in 1984 a movie theatre was added to the center.
When it opened, the Harbour Mall was kind of the only game in town, but this didn’t last for long. The larger North Dartmouth Mall (now just “Dartmouth Mall”) was simultaneously under construction ten miles east, closer to Fall River’s twin New Bedford. That mall opened in 1971 but didn’t impact business all that much. The bigger blow came in 1975 when the even larger Swansea Mall opened just a few miles to the west of Fall River, strategically placed to serve both Fall River and the eastern suburbs of Providence. Although the opening of the Swansea Mall didn’t kill the Harbour Mall, it did solidify its place as the lesser “dirt” mall serving the area, an image it was never able to shake (locals call it “Harbour Hall,” even today). As the years went by, the entire commercial strip along Canning Blvd. in Fall River would become increasingly secondary in comparison to the strips surrounding the other two malls, reinforcing that this area was the least desirable of the major shopping districts around.
In 1993, perhaps recognizing the obsolescence of the mall that connected two still-popular anchors, then-owner Yale Realty Services decided to spruce up the Harbour Mall. Skylights were added to the interior and the moody hallways were redone in a queasy blend of mint and pink. Lastly, the exterior shingles were removed and replaced with green siding, and the main entrance facing route 24 was given a much grander facade to be visible to freeway traffic. Topping off this rather silly renovation was than even-sillier renaming of the mall to the “New Harbour Mall.” Because it was the NEW Harbour Mall. There is no such thing as a “new harbour.”
Nonetheless, it seemed to work alright for awhile. Business picked up a little bit and the mall continued to house a standard blend of the types of stores that frequented smaller discount-oriented malls at the time, such as Radio Shack, Fashion Bug, Rainbow, and Record Town. There was also an arcade, a McDonalds Express, and some other merchants. Unfortunately, in 2000, Bradlees announced that they were going out of business and closing all stores, including this one. That initially seemed like a bad omen for this mall–especially since Bradlees was its most popular tenant–but within a year, Wal-Mart announced their intention to fill the space. This gave the New Harbour Mall the distinction of being the first and thusfar only shopping center in the United States anchored by both Wal-Mart and Kmart, giving each other a death stare down this minty pink mall corridor. Over the years, the mall’s somewhat ill-considered renovation began to age very badly, and today there are many signs of neglect. On one 2006 visit from both members of the Labelscar crew, we found that the restrooms were bizarrely labeled “boys” and “girls,” and that they had just put bars of soap on top of the sink for anyone to use. Communal bars of soap. In a mall. Yuck.
In 2007, the movie theatres finally closed. Four years later, in 2011, Walmart announced that they would be closing their store at the New Harbour Mall to open a brand new supercenter an exit north along route 24, at Bryant Avenue. That store will replace–somewhat ironically–what used to be one of the city’s many old factories that had been converted into an enclosed outlet mall in the 1980s and 1990s. With the departure of Walmart and the somewhat unlikely nature of finding a tenant to replace them, management of the New Harbour Mall have hinted that the building may be big boxed, removing the center’s declining interior corridor for good. I hold out some hope that Kohls or Target (neither of whom have stores in the area, or to serve the Newport County RI area to the south) will take the space and the mall itself will be renovated and saved, but I’m doubtful.
This dopey little mall actually has some close ties to the Labelscar crew. I grew up about 15 miles to the south, in Newport, Rhode Island, and other than the long-since-departed Newport Mall, this was physically the closest enclosed mall to my hometown. We didn’t go here all that often because of its size, but I do have quite a few childhood memories of shopping at Bradlees for backpacks, sweaters, and Escape Club cassette tapes. Also, I wrote the deadmalls.com entry about this mall back in 2001, and it was one of the very first pieces of content that the crew over there posted from a contributor. (Admittedly, what I wrote was not my finest hour, but this whole write-about-malls thing was pretty new at the time).
The photos here were all taken on December 26, 2000, making them amongst the oldest original photos featured anywhere on the site. They’re the same set that I sent to Deadmalls, and were taken with a relatively low-res (but then seemingly pretty cool) digital camera that died within the first day I was using it. December 26 was also the exact day that Bradlees announced they were going out of business, and I was unaware of the announcement until I visited the store at the New Harbour Mall and saw all of the ominous yellow signs announcing that they weren’t accepting returns or taking checks. I was in the middle of a weird populist phase where as a broke college student I un-self-consciously did a lot of shopping at stores like Bradlees, Caldor, and Ann & Hope (the Targets of their day), who would all go out of business soon after. Pretty sad.