Here’s an interesting one for you. Although it’s pretty rare, we occasionally have a complete set of photos from before AND after the renovation of a shopping mall, and the Woburn Mall in Woburn, Massachusetts is one of these lucky centers.
This small (237,000 square foot) neighborhood mall is one of a group of very similar malls developed around the Boston area in the late 70s and early 80s. (Others include the Billerica Mall and Mystic Mall, both already featured here, as well as Hingham’s Harbourlight Mall). Each of these malls shared some common stats: they all were in the 200,000-300,000 square foot range, all originally featured a Market Basket with an outdoor entrance as one of their original anchors, and all sported the same odd cloverleaf logo and exterior corduroy concrete design (super ’70s! It’s amazing anyone ever thought this was attractive).
Of these malls, the Woburn Mall is the only one to have survived to this day, largely due to its fantastic location just off MA-128/I-95, near the cloverleaf junction with I-93, one of the highest-traffic junctions in New England. Despite being surrounded by larger and more successful malls, the Woburn Mall has over the years tried to field alternative tenants and has been mostly successful at it. The traffic generated by lynchpins like the supermarket and a CVS Pharmacy has always kept the mall fairly busy. For many years, the Woburn Mall’s primary anchor tenant was a Lechmere store that served as one of the chain’s home locations (the Lechmere headquarters was located in the office park behind the mall). After Lechmere shut in 1997, the space was carved up for a TJMaxx N More and an AJ Wright. The Woburn Mall is also located at the foot of a large office/industrial park, and historically has had an abnormally large number of eateries (Pizzeria Uno, Papa Gino’s, Panera Bread, a sushi place, and McDonalds all call it home more, but there used to be a few additional indies).
In 2004, however, the mall’s current owner, KGI Properties, began a major renovation and repositioning that wiped out most of the interior stores, realigned the mall corridor significantly, and added a rear entrance. Unlike most renovations of malls this size–which flip them inside out entirely–the Woburn Mall miraculously kept its interior. Sadly, it also lost the old brick planters, conversation areas, and modernist angularity in favor of a distinctly more whitewashed, modern finish… but I guess this is the price of progress. AJ Wright was booted in favor of Sports Authority (who occupy an expanded space), and DSW Shoe Warehouse ultimately took some of the in-line space for themselves. Unfortunately, many of the stores that were forced out of the mall (including FYE, a Hallmark Store, DEB, and many others) have yet to be replaced with newer tenants, although some better tenants (including Talbots) have recently set up shop inside of the mall.
Take a look at the 2001 set of photos and the newer 2008 set and let us know what you think–should this tiny little mall have been saved? Is it a model of how to turn a small suburban enclosed mall into a success or just an oddity?