Smaller, ancillary malls have long been a favorite of mine, in a large part because they seem to be at far greater risk of redevelopment than larger malls, and also because many of them have not been substantially updated.
Another major reason is that I like the idea of a “community mall,” and am not sure why it hasn’t worked better in the United States. Suburban areas without a traditional downtown are ripe for a smaller enclosed mall that contains a mixture of stores selling essentials, such as a discount department store, an off-price fashion retailer, several restaurants, a pharmacy, service businesses (haircut places, cell phone dealers), as well as community gathering spaces like bookstores or coffee shops. When I find a mall that seems to actually achieve this balance, it’s a cause for celebration.
When I first visited the Mall at Mill Creek in Secaucus, New Jersey, in the center of the Meadowlands just 5 miles west of Manhattan, it was the summer of 2000 and the mall seemed to be doing marvelously as a smaller, community-oriented center. With about 400,000 square feet of space, it was no monster, but with anchors like Kohl’s and Stop & Shop, it drew a rather large local clientele from the geographically-isolated, inner-ring city of Secaucus and was almost completely tenanted.
Fast forward to November, when I finally went back, and see for yourself the state in which I found the mall. I wasn’t actually surprised to see it so sparse, and what seemed to be charmingly unrenovated in 2000 seems somewhat bleak and brutal in 2006. If anything, I expected this, because this is the fate that has befallen almost all enclosed malls of this size and type in the past six years. Clearly The Mall at Mill Creek is no exception: it’s pretty safe to call it a dead mall now.
There are a few interesting things I want to point out about The Mall at Mill Creek:
- One of its anchors is a Stop & Shop grocery store, with its lone entrance facing into the interior of the mall. Note all of the senior citizens lined up in the mall with their shopping carts in one of these photos.
- The mall is part of a larger complex owned by Hartz Retail, called Harmon Meadow. Across the highway from the mall (but linked via internal roadways) is a large, outdoor mixed use complex that includes several hotels, a movie theatre, restaurants, more stores, and several office buildings. This center appears to have been developed in the 1980s (or even the 1970s), long before the current “lifestyle center” craze, and at the moment appears to be faring far better than the mall itself.
- The demographics of both the mall and the area appear to skew somewhat older than is typical, which may have contributed to the mall’s downfall. These pictures were taken on a Saturday afternoon, and a large portion of the patrons in the mall at the time were senior citizens. Similarly, Secaucus is a classic example of one of New York City’s older suburbs, densely packed with street after street of brick row houses adorned with shiny metal awnings. It’s charming, but also very mature, and it’s possible (and even likely) that a large portion of the population is no longer the mall-going crowd.
I don’t know much about the history of the mall, so if you can fill us in, please comment away.