The Mall at Whitney Field is the only major enclosed shopping center in North-Central Massachusetts, serving the twin cities of Leominster and Fitchburg just off Massachusetts route 2 about 45 miles northwest of Boston. One of the oldest malls in Massachusetts, The Mall at Whitney Field opened in 1967 as the “Searstown Mall,” but it was extensively renovated and renamed in 2004. Like many malls of its vintage, it has had many changes over the years.
Initially, the Searstown Mall was a smaller center anchored by Sears (obviously!), a rare Massachusetts outpost of Hartford-based Sage-Allen Department Store, and Bradlees, but in a very different configuration than today. In the late 1980s, the Searstown Mall was expanded substantially at its southeastern end, adding a long bright wing leading to a brand new JCPenney store. In 1992, Sage-Allen closed their store at the end of the “T” side wing and were replaced by a Service Merchandise store. At about the same time, Toys R Us built a store that was attached to the mall, but was located on the outside of the Bradlees store and only had an exterior entrance.
Another big wave of changes began in 1999. Service Merchandise closed their store, and the long side wing leading to their old store emptied out. Instead of replacing the stores, the wing was big-boxed in 2000, replacing Service Merchandise with Circuit City and turning much of the side wing into an Old Navy store. Bafflingly, both of these stores (not just the Circuit City!) have exterior entrances only.
Changes accellerated with the 2001 loss of Bradlees, leaving a very large vacancy at Searstown. Bizarrely, the store was demolished in 2002, although the Toys R Us store attached to the Bradlees was left standing, leaving it as an “orphan” standalone building no longer attached to the main mall building. The former Bradlees mall entrance was then converted to an outdoor mall entrance, and Filene’s built a large new two-level store one entrance down–at a door that used to lead directly outside (isn’t that strange?) Obviously it’s a Macy’s now. By looking at the older Google satellite photo of the mall and comparing to the modern-day directory, you can see how it’s changed in the past few years. In 2004, the remainder of the tired-looking yet successful mall received a much-needed make-over, dressing it up in soft hues and retiring the quaint Searstown Mall moniker in favor of the more affected “Mall at Whitney Field” name, likely in an attempt to help endear the mall to shoppers who live in affluent northwestern I-495 belt suburbs rather than just the immediate, more blue-collar population of Leominster and Fitchburg.
This ramshackle mid-sized mall isn’t terribly exciting, but I’ve always been somewhat fond of it. It may be that even despite renovations, its age is showing, and it may be that ancient Sears store at the northwestern end of the mall.