Perhaps the most disappointing find on my recent trip out to Albany was the current state of the Clifton Park Center, long one of my favorite malls in the area. It’s sadly fallen prey to the “lifestyleing” disease. Seriously, what does such a halfhearted, faux-Main Street set up really offer, anyway?
I first visited Clifton Park Center–then Clifton Country Mall–in March of 2000. At the time, the mall was deeply troubled with vacancies, with very few of its many storefronts occupied. The mall, which probably had around 700,000 or 800,000 square feet of floor space at the time, was sprawled out in a bizarre one-level layout. The northern, older part of the mall (constructed in 1974) was a “C” shape, connecting Steinbach and JCPenney at each end, with a Marshall’s store in the center. In 1984, a long wing was added to the south of the existing mall. This included a wing that snaked around the Marshalls, adding a food court behind the Marshalls store itself, giving an entrance to both the front and rear of the store. In addition, behind the Marshall’s was a large court with a fountain and movie theatre, and this wing continued to the rear of the center where it ended in a large court with a Caldor store. Of course, by 2000, both Caldor and Steinbach were already gone, leaving the mall with only JCPenney and Marshall’s as anchors, and it felt sad and deserted. Still, the decor and layout of the mall were golden–enough to solidify it as one of my favorites. A return visit in 2001 found it mostly unchanged, except that the Caldor store had mercifully been replaced by a large, two-level Boscov’s store, and this seemed to be breathing some new life into the mall–several mid-line chains like American Eagle, Aeropostale, and Bath & Body Works set up shop during this time. I’ve attempted to approximate the floorplan below, although I think it’s sort of confusing (which, frankly, is accurate: it was confusing):
Like many of the malls in the Albany area, Clifton Park Center seemed to have fallen prey to overmalling, as Crossgates Mall in Guilderland stole most of the area’s traffic. Even though Clifton Park Center is located in the center of a relatively modern and affluent suburban area, and is surrounded by almost every form of major box retail, it seems as though it was always somewhat secondary in the Albany area. In addition, it’s not far from the newer Wilton Mall in Saratoga, nor the older (and equally troubled) Latham Circle Mall in Latham.
Fast forward to 2007, and Clifton Park Center is changed dramatically. The oldest portion of the long-struggling mall has been demolished to make way for a boulevard and an outdoor, lifestyle portion, which is currently as empty as the mall ever was. This cut the JCPenney off from the enclosed portion of the mall entirely, along with the still-vacant (after almost a decade) Steinbach store. The remaining “mall” portion is essentially the 1984 addition, which roughly connects Marshall’s and Boscov’s and houses the food court and movie theatres.
I was there last Saturday (February 10th) and to be honest, my pictures sort of stink because there was–surprisingly–quite a few people in the mall. Sadly, they weren’t here to shop. Rather, they were here to see some tie-dyed hippie band (probably from Vermont, which is nearby) playing children’s music. The kids seemed to enjoy boppin’ along, but it encouraged me to not linger for long.
Time will tell if this incarnation of Clifton Park Center will be effective, but my gut says that the mall would’ve made more sense as a genuine mid-level mall serving the immediate area than the configuration it’s currently in. The “lifestyle” portion here is among the more laughable that I’ve encountered, not only because the faux-Main Street decor is forced, but also because it’s visibly not really designed for pedestrians, as witnessed by how difficult it was to cross from one side to the other without walking through landscaping or parking areas. There aren’t even crosswalks or curb cuts to make it easier to cross from the mall side to the area where the former Steinbach is (and where there’s currently some chainy noodle house, whose food looked pretty appetizing).