Say goodbye to the Wayne Towne Center.
A few days ago, I posted about the mammoth Willowbrook Mall at the junction of US46 and route 23 in Wayne, New Jersey. The mall is so large that it has an annex mall in its parking lot–the younger Wayne Towne Center, which had been known as the West Belt Mall until sometime in the late 1980s. The 653,000 square-foot enclosed mall is anchored by large JCPenney and Fortunoff stores, as well as junior anchors such as Borders, Old Navy, Daffy’s, and Loehmann’s. Unfortunately, as of my visit two weeks ago, there was quite little else. The food court, in particular, had emptied out completely and was boarded up and isolated from the remainder of the mall.
As you’ll see from the pictures, Wayne Towne Center isn’t an unattractive mall, but its interior space is quite small, with most of its square footage belonging to one of its two behemoth anchor stores. Similarly, unlike some successful annex malls like the Court at King of Prussia in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, Wayne Towne Center was not designed in such a way that it’s easy to walk between it and Willowbrook. There are no adjacent entrances and no pedestrian promenade, so it’s necessary to drive between the two centers. This undoubtedly hurt Wayne Towne Center, and I would say they should change it by connecting the two with an outdoor “lifestyle” promenade, if…
…It wasn’t for the fact that the mall is going to be torn down to be turned into a lifestyle center.
That is, if you’d call these plans a lifestyle center. It seems that developer RKF’s plan, according to this PDF, is really just to demolish the interior portion of the mall and replace it with parking, and add little else beyond a small decor refresh. The place doesn’t really need more parking, to be honest, and the plans seem to involve tearing down the vacant yet immaculate (and salvageable) interior space in favor of an unnecessary parking expansion. It is, of course, a national trend to disenclose struggling, smaller centers like this one, but Wayne Towne Center could’ve been revived through an improved connection to its neighbor. A pedestrian connection also could’ve delivered a far trendier and more marketable lifestyle component, while positioning the two malls even more strongly against their siblings in the crowded North Jersey market. The big-boxing planned for Wayne Towne Center seems disappointingly uninspired.
Still, there’s no denying that this little mall isn’t pulling its weight. Even during my first visit in 2000, it seemed surprisingly sleepy, though given the size of its neighbor it wasn’t all that shocking. Fast forward to 2006, however, and there’s little to draw patrons beyond the anchor stores. If you’re in the area, visit both malls–before it’s too late for this one.
As an aside, Fortunoff is a retail artifact that’s unique to the New York area. The large department store seems to traffic in some of the same goods that Service Merchandise once did–heavy on housewares and jewelry, no apparel–yet unlike Service Merchandise Fortunoff employs the look and feel of a full-line, classic department store. Their Wayne Towne Center store is quite large, possibly in excess of 200,000 square feet. Sadly, it’s a rare treat nowadays to visit a mall and find a unique department store that’s not available everywhere, and Fortunoff’s presence is part of what makes Wayne Towne Center interesting.