These small malls always seem to be a big hit on Labelscar, so here’s your notice: This is one dead mall that’s about to go away. The Bedford Mall, in the affluent Manchester, New Hampshire suburb of Bedford, is not long for this world.
Manchester, New Hampshire, with a population of around 110,000, is the largest city in the state of New Hampshire and also the largest single municipality in Northern New England. Although Manchester’s heyday was during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s–when its brick mills along the Merrimack River made this city one of the most productive in America–the city has grown in recent years due to its proximity (50 miles or so) to the Boston area. The Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, located near the Bedford Mall, is one of New England’s busiest airports.
The Bedford Mall opened along Daniel Webster Highway (US3), just three miles southwest of downtown Manchester, sometime in the 1970s. The mall was originally anchored by Purity supermarket at the northern end and WT Grant’s at the southern end, these would be replaced by–respectively–Alexander’s Supermarket and Montgomery Ward in the coming years. The mall itself was, in those days, mostly a fairly straightforward dumbell between the two anchors with room for 20-30 stores.
Interestingly, there was also a large standalone Jordan Marsh store constructed just south of–but not attached to–the Bedford Mall sometime in the early to mid 1970s. This store sports the standard Jordan Marsh architecure of its time, with signature sweeping copper awnings. The Jordan Marsh was separated from the Bedford Mall by a hotel and convention center, so it’s obvious that the department store and the mall were never meant to connect although they clearly did have a symbiotic relationship. The Jordan Marsh store converted to Macy’s when the brand was retired in 1996, and until the Federated/May merger of 2006 remained the only Macy’s in the immediate Manchester area.
In 1991, the Alexander’s left the mall after being acquired by Hannaford, and it was soon replaced by MVP Sports, a New England-based big box sporting goods retailer. Sometime in the 1990s, property management added a large extension to the front of the mall that included room for two additional anchors–filled by Marshalls and Paperama (which was a strange hybrid of a party store, a large drugstore, and a general merchandiser). Although the entire Paperama chain would close in 1994, the store would be quickly filled with a new Staples. In 1997, Montgomery Ward shut their store here (including most/all of their New England stores). Their store was split in half between Linens N Things and Bob’s Stores, effectively repositioning the mall as a mid-priced, big-box anchored alternative to the larger, more mainstream Mall of New Hampshire a few miles away in Manchester.
MVP Sports was acquired by the French chain Decathlon Sports sometime around 2000 (I’ve read 1999, but I seem to recall it being somewhat later). Decathlon managed the rebranding of the MVP Sports stores very strangely, leaving the branding up entirely at some or forgetting to replace signage at others. Or–as you see above–neglecting to clear off the MVP Sports labelscar! If you look at the photos above and below this paragraph, you’ll notice that although they updated the signage on the outside of the building, they never updated the signage facing the interior of the mall. Their rather shaky mastery of concepts like “marketing” would foreshadow things to come: in 2003, Decathlon closed all but 4 of their US stores, including this one. The company soldiered on a few more years with just four locations. In 2006, Decathlon purchased–and cleared–the former site of the WR Grace facility in Woburn, Massachusetts–most famous for its part in the movie A Civil Action–to build a destinational superstore. Soon after, and before they would ever break ground, the entire American division of the chain folded.
Unfortunately, this roster of tenants never did much to drive traffic to the interior of the Bedford Mall. I visited many times from 1999 to 2008, and the center seemed to be very slowly and gradually emptying, ultimately reaching a low of only 9 tenants out of space for 26. Increasingly, the mall has felt like a relic from “simpler times” (ha ha) and many of the interior storefronts, such as the CVS and Papa Gino’s facades, were neglected for a considerable amount of time. One of the best signs of the mall’s neglect is this sticker vending machine, which clearly has not been re-stocked since the late 1990s:
One faint glimmer of home arose in late 2007 or early 2008. The large Macy’s store located just south of the mall became involved in a redevelopment proposal that would wipe out the Quality Inn that separates the mall from Macy’s, and it was rumored that a new lifestyle center anchored by Whole Foods would span much of the distance separating Macy’s and the present day Bedford Mall. Although I don’t think anyone truly expected this to save the enclosed mall, there was at least some new retail activity happening around the site. Of course, the loss of Linens N Things to bankruptcy, along with the shaky financial situation of Bob’s Stores, didn’t necessarily bode well for the long term prospects of the center.
The final nail in the Bedford Mall’s coffin came in February 2009. Management announced that the entire enclosed portion of the mall would be demolished to be replaced with a Kohl’s department store, and much of the rest of the center would be reconfigured to appropriately hold all of the other existing big box tenants.