Strangely, the malls that we have some degree of personal attachment to seem like the hardest ones to post. Neither Prangeway nor I have posted the ones closest to our houses yet, for example, and although I have a cache of photos of malls all over the country, I don’t have a lot of the ones in the Bay Area (where I actually live) yet.
Possibly that’s why it took so long to get around to posting the Northshore Mall, a massive super-regional mall on the north shore of Massachusetts, approximately 25 miles northeast of Boston. For about four years from 2001 to 2005, I worked in a Newbury Comics record store just a quarter of a mile down the street from this mall, so I was here all the time, whether it was to scarf down some Umi from the food court to lunch, or just to pick up some new shirts after work. To this day, I can’t go to this mall without spotting a bunch of familiar faces–maybe not necessarily people I know personally, but people I remember as customers at my record store. I was way into malls well before my stint working in the shadows of one, but I was never as immersed in mall culture as much as I was during that era. As a result, I still have some pretty warm, fuzzy feelings about the people in that area.
In addition to all of this, the Northshore Mall is one of the oldest malls in New England. At 1,684,718 square feet, it’s also one of the largest malls in New England. At a time, when the mall still had its gargantuan old Jordan Marsh store, it was even larger. For a brief time, it was the largest overall mall in New England, even, which is strange since (aside from anchor stores) the mall exists primarily on a single level and only has around 120 stores. But like many old behemoth malls built in the northeast, Northshore had so many hulking anchor stores that the total square footage was very significant. In short, though, this mall has been through so many changes over the years, it’ll make your head spin. And it just recently changed significantly all over again. Let’s dig into the details.
Peabody, Massachusetts is a large suburb about a half an hour north of Boston, centrally located amongst a cluster of densely populated cities and suburbs that date to colonial times. Salem, made famous for its witch trials, is located only a few miles from the mall, and other storied New England seaside cities such as Gloucester, Rockport, Beverly, and Newburyport are all in this economically diverse, somewhat-suburban, somewhat self-contained region north of Boston. In the post-war era, the area began to change, with increased suburbanization in all directions, due in large part to the recently-constructed route 128 beltway and Interstate 95. Although the region has gone through many changes over the years, much of the area today would still be recognizable to a resident from 50 years ago due to the historicity/preservation of the cities, and zoning policies that have mostly preserved the rural character of the less-developed (and subsequently, fairly affluent) towns in the area.
The Northshore Mall was originally developed on route 114 in Peabody, Massachusetts, by Allied Stores (then parent of Jordan Marsh) as a completely outdoor shopping center in 1958, replacing an old estate with gardens, fountains, and a farm. The center had actually been planned as early as the late 1940s for a different site in nearby Beverly (and some books on retail history, including at least one Victor Gruen book, have renderings of this original proposal), but this site was later chosen for unknown reasons. It’s likely that developers knew even then that the site was very strategic: it offers great access to freeways and both the long-established, dense cities clustered along the north shore but also to the many then-burgeoning suburban areas further inland to the west. Originally, the center was anchored by a large, four-story Jordan Marsh store, as well as a smaller (adjoining) Filene’s store, along with Kresge, J.J. Newberry, RH Stearns, and Stop & Shop. The center was truly multi-purpose, also featuring a small amusement park, a cinema, and a bowling alley. The mall was also developed with a then-unique underground delivery tunnel running the length of the mall. At the time, snow removal for the main concourse of the outdoor mall was performed by dropping snow onto trucks in the tunnel and trucking it out of the center.
In 1960, the St. Therese Society of Mt. Carmel Chapel opened in the mall’s basement, becoming the first chapel in a shopping mall (and paving the way for another Carmelite chapel to be opened later, in New Jersey’s Bergen Mall). Sometime during the 1970s, a Sears anchor was added to the front of the center.
In 1972, New England Development constructed the Liberty Tree Mall, a fully-enclosed 1 million square foot center, only a half a mile away from Northshore Mall. The new enclosed mall made an immediate splash and became a major shopping destination, despite not having a similar roster of old-line department stores like Jordan Marsh and Filene’s (Liberty Tree sported a far more middle-tier blend of stores like Ann & Hope and Lechmere). In response, the Northshore Mall slowly began to enclose, beginning with a small section near Sears and ultimately enclosing the entire center.
In 1986, Allied sold the Northshore Mall to Edward J. DeBartolo Sr., who in turn sold it to New England Development in 1992. As New England Development now owned both of the large, competing malls, they began a major expansion and renovation of the Northshore Mall that increased the size of the mall considerably. Filene’s moved their store to a new location at the western end of the mall, and a new Lord & Taylor store was added to that side of the mall as well. The original Filene’s space was filled with JCPenney–still somewhat of a rarity in the Boston area, even today–and the entire center was given a modern refresh with skylights and a food court. Other than a sale of both malls to Simon in 1999, the only change at Northshore until the mid-2000s was the re-bannering of Jordan Marsh to Macy’s in 1996.
In 2005, after the Federated-May merger, things began to get very interesting again. Post-merger, May had three stores at the Northshore Mall, occupying nearly half of the square footage of the entire mall. Especially troubling was the large, four story Macy’s store, which was one of the last remaining portions of the original 1958 structure. Impractically large for a one-level mall, Federated made the decision to close the store and move Macy’s to the former Filene’s space. At about the same time, they decided to shut the mall’s Lord & Taylor store, leaving two anchors at the mall completely dark. This would be somewhat temporary, however, as Federated soon split out the Macy’s store into two locations, with Mens & Home moving into the former Lord & Taylor.
The former Macy’s, however, was an entirely different story. Simon landed Nordstrom as a replacement tenant, but rather than trying to occupy part of the over-large old Jordan Marsh space, the 50 year old anchor was demolished entirely. Simon built an entire new two-level wing (in contrast to the mall’s single-level orientation) with soaring skylights and new tenants including Zara and Forever 21 to lead to the new Nordstrom store, and the expansion opened in November 2009.
Interestingly, disconnected portions of the basement have had stores at various times in the mall’s history. There’s a small, abandoned space that once housed a Kitchen Etc (and was accessible only from outside or by elevator), tucked next to the former Lord & Taylor. The Carmelite Chapel still operates in a small portion of the basement towards the front of the mall, and there is a small basement area underneath the food court with Filene’s Basement and a golf store. At the center court, there is a small basement level that once housed Sam Goody; today it has access to both Forever 21 and H&M. The first level of the new two level wing is also at the basement level of the mall, but does not connect directly with other portions of the basement.
Are you confused? You should be. Although I always thought of the Northshore Mall as pretty straightforward (and I went to the place often enough that I got pretty darn bored of it), a lot of the recent expansions have transformed the floorplan into something of an oddity. We have something of a soft spot for malls that randomly sprout new levels (*cough* Merle Hay) and the way the new wing opens dramatically and unexpectedly from the narrow, twisty main corridor is kind of a fun surprise.
There are a lot of random photos of this mall. Most date from two trips: the first ten are from one in summer 2001, and most of the rest from another in December 2009 after the most recent expansion. There are also several old shots taken from old postcards of the mall, one aerial shot (from Bing Bird’s Eye view), and one shot of the old Jordan Marsh store mid-demolition in September 2007.