The Capital Region of New York, with a metropolitan area population of around 800,000, has an awful lot of enclosed shopping malls. There was 11 at one point, but there’s fewer than that now. It also has a big Pyramid mall that brought on the decline or closure of several of them. Let me explain.
Back in October, we offered a similar study of Syracuse malls, which painted a portrait of another upstate New York city where a very large mall developed by the Pyramid Companies–in that case, Carousel Center–caused nearly every other mall within the metropolitan area to shut or go into decline. Syracuse-based Pyramid has employed similar strategies in other cities in New York, including Buffalo, Poughkeepsie, Middletown, and Springfield, Mass.; where a shiny, new, too-large mall opened near perfectly fine existing malls and wiped them away.
Of course, Pyramid can’t exactly be blamed either. From my own experience, trends favor of a move towards these larger, destinational, super-regional malls, and away from older and smaller malls in the first place, so they were merely riding the wave. Still, it’s sad to see the carnage.
Even with the 1.7 million square foot Crossgates Mall, the Capital Region has quite a few remaining enclosed malls, and interesting ones at that. We’ll be posting about these in much more detail in the coming weeks, but I wanted to offer a bit of an introduction:
- Colonie Center – The second-largest mall in the region, the 1.3 million square foot Colonie Center has managed to mostly hold its own over the years, despite its proximity to Crossgates (which may corroborate the seemingly-counterintuitive Freakonomics theory that things like this do better when clustered together to create destinations, versus spread widely to offer convenience). Opening in 1966 and expanded in 1991, Colonie Center is the oldest mall in the region and hosts Macy’s, Sears, and Boscov’s (formerly Steinbach) as primary anchors, with Christmas Tree Shops and Steve & Barry’s as junior tenants. Mall owner Feldman Retail Properties is currently in the middle of an extensive renovation and repositioning of the center that will add Barnes & Noble, L.L. Bean, and Regal Cinemas as additional anchors while adding more dining and lifestyle options.
- Latham Circle Mall - This older mall (which was originally constructed as a plaza in the 1950s and enclosed in the early 1970s) is struggling against its larger competition, and was partially big-boxed with the addition of a Lowe’s store in 2003. Current anchors are JCPenney, Burlington Coat Factory, and Lowe’s.
- Mohawk Mall - This shockingly ugly mid-sized mall opened in the 1970s to serve the eastern suburbs of Schenectady. Upon my first visit in late 1999, it had only two tenants remaining: a Media Play and a Marshalls both located at the mall’s center court. The remainder of the long, carpeted concourse was completely barren, and the mall would be demolished completely in 2001 to be replaced by a big box center. Mohawk Mall was once home to Bradlees and Montgomery Ward, and Deadmalls has a rather complete photo set of it pre-demolition. Go see the photos there, because I don’t have any.
- Rotterdam Square – A mildly dated but successful mid-sized, mid-tier mall directly serving the Schenectady area and points west, Rotterdam Square is isolated enough from the area’s main retail centers that it is able to survive. It counts Sears, Macy’s, Kmart, and a movie theatre as anchor tenants.
- Amsterdam Mall – While this 300,000 sqft mall may have at one point functioned as an actual shopping mall, it now houses almost nothing but offices. I’m guessing it was built in the early 1970s, as part of a horrific urban renewal project that demolished most of downtown Amsterdam and replaced it with this unloveable two-story center, which once housed local merchants Carl Company and Present Company as anchors. Amsterdam is an old industrial city along the Erie Canal corridor that functions quite separately from the Capital Region itself, and it seems unlikely this mall ever had any serious chance of being a major retail destination. I wasn’t able to make a visit this time around (I wasn’t even sure it’d be open on the weekends, and it’s somewhat off the way) but Deadmalls also has a few photos of this one.
- Clifton Park Center (formerly Clifton Country Mall) – At one point, Clifton Park Center was one of my favorite malls in the area, with its unusual layout and dated mid-80s decor. The mall opened in phases, with the northern, “C” shaped part of the center opening in the 1970s, and the long southern “tail” wing opening in the middle 1980s. At various points the mall hosted Caldor, Steinbach, JCPenney, Marshalls, and Regal Cinemas as anchors. Despite anchoring a major retail area in a large and somewhat affluent suburb, the mall reportedly never did terribly well. An unfortunate 2006 renovation tore down half of the mall (the original mall, minus the mid-80s expansion which remains) and replaced it with a rather cheap-looking lifestyle portion that is currently more vacant than the mall ever was. Current anchors are Boscov’s, JCPenney, Marshalls, and Regal Cinemas.
- Wilton Mall – This large and somewhat bland 1-level mall opened in 1990 to serve the affluent Saratoga Springs area. Current anchors are the Bon Ton, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sears, and JCPenney.
- Saratoga Mall - The original enclosed mall serving the Saratoga Springs area, this two-level center was completely demolished in 1999. Immediately adjacent to the large Wilton Mall, the center stood very little chance once its neighbor opened. One of two malls in the area I never got to see firsthand, it opened in 1974 and was anchored by Montgomery Ward, Barker’s (later King’s, and then Jamesway), Carl Company, and Service Merchandise. There’s a bit more about it at Deadmalls.
- Aviation Mall – A mid-sized, Pyramid-owned mall serving the Glens Falls/Lake George area. It’s relatively non-descript but successful. Current anchors include Sears, Target, JCPenney, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and The Bon Ton (replacing a former Caldor).
- Crossgates Mall – The regional behemoth, this 1.7 million square-foot center originally opened in 1984 and was more than doubled in size in 1994. Located at the crux of I-87 and I-90, the center pulls shoppers from most of the eastern half of upstate NY as well as western Massachusetts and southern Vermont. The third largest mall in New York, it is today anchored by Best Buy, Cohoes, Borders, Dick’s Sporting goods, DSW, H&M, JCPenney, Macy’s, and Old Navy, but also hosts several anchor vacancies, most notably the former Lord & Taylor and Jordan Marsh/Macy’s spaces.
- Northway Mall – Upon my first visit in 1999, this mall was already gone. Located directly across US5 from Colonie Center and only a few miles from Crossgates, this small mall was likely far more valuable as a site for big box, which is what it does today (as you’ll see in the below pictures). Beyond Montgomery Ward, I’m not even sure what the original anchors were. However, behind the mall is the remains of a large (and now heavily-vandalized) Lechmere store that closed when the chain folded in 1997, and was never replaced. I really miss Lechmere, who had a heck of a lot more personality (and much wider offerings) than contemporary superstore chains like Best Buy. There is also an abandoned cinema complex near the Lechmere, which is equally heavily vandalized. Bizarrely, the original Northway Mall pylon still remains, a decade or so after the mall closed, reportedly due to some skirmishes with the Colonie Planning Board. The big box center that replaced the Northway Mall still has no signage of its own!
And if you want even more, the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce has written a history of Crossgates and Colonie Center with some more details.
And here’s a fun bonus: Some photos from the former Cohoes Commons located in downtown Cohoes, NY, near Troy and Latham. Cohoes is an off-price department store very similar to Kohl’s in format, and the historic building seen here is their original flagship store, which shut sometime in the early 2000s. For a period, Cohoes liked to build small enclosed malls attached to their sporadic locations, and I even remember a similar mall to this one attached to their Cranston, RI store in the Garden City Center (I believe it was called Post Office Square, and I can remember almost nothing about it–can you?). This downtown Cohoes location was dictated by history moreso than strategy, and as a result was terrible for retail; it’s located away from through roads and in the middle of a Hudson Valley town whose best years appear to be behind it. It couldn’t have helped that Cohoes also opened a store at Crossgates, and that malls of this size (probably less than 100,000 square feet) never seem to fare well. It’s still an interesting artifact, even though it now houses state offices and appears to have been reconfigured.