Penn-Can Mall; Cicero, New York

Drivers Village/Penn-Can Mall sign in Cicero, NYThe most tragic victim of Carousel Center’s wrath is the Penn-Can Mall, located in the Syracuse suburb of Cicero. Once one of the largest and most successful malls in New York, the Penn-Can Mall opened in 1976 as the first enclosed mall in Syracuse’s northern suburbs. Named for its location halfway between Pennsylvania and Canada along I-81, the mall named Sears and 86 small stores as initial tenants. Over the years, the mall was expanded, with Hill’s and Chappell’s added onto new wings during the 1980s. At its peak in 1989, Penn-Can had 121 stores.

The one-two punch of the opening of the Great Northern and Carousel Center Malls in 1988 and 1990, respectively, was the blow that did this mall in. It also had to trade down in anchor stores, losing locally-based Chappell’s in favor of Caldor and Sears in favor of Burlington Coat Factory and Office Max. I’ve noticed that one strange, somewhat counter-intuitive factor for determining a mall’s continued success is how easy it is to reach the mall from the other major malls in the area. This is merely anecdotal, but the thought is generally that a mall will survive if it’s closer to the homes that need shopping. However, I suspect that if it’s easy to reach multiple OTHER points of shopping from the mall itself, then it is less likely to survive. Look at the below graphic to see what I mean: while Penn-Can seems well-located, its central location means that it is vulnerable on all sides, so residents of the surrounding suburbs were given too many other, stronger options for shopping and they fled towards them.

Note the commuting routes towards Penn-Can Mall

Despite a minor renovation in 1992 that gave the mall a new “old movie” theme, the center couldn’t recover from its downward spiral and was shuttered in 1994. The Caldor store closed around this time, and before long the only remaining stores were Burlington Coat Factory and Hill’s at opposite ends of the mall. Hill’s was acquired by Ames in 1999, but was shut three years later with the closing of the chain.

Modern aerial view of Penn-Can Mall with outline of old mall

After eight years of near-total abandonment, the Penn-Can Mall began a metamorphosis into a large auto mall in 2002. The Burlington Coat Factory and Hill’s wings were demolished apart from the anchor stores themselves, but the rest of the mall was preserved, restored, and re-opened, and much of it is today–shockingly–open for business and maintaining much of its original look and layout. This is a rare case of a mall coming back from the dead, and mall fanatics will want to make sure to check this place out, since you can freely wander the hallways and much of the center is even set up as a “mall,” with a variety of stores ranging from restaurants to auto-finance stores to a large train set display.

Thankfully, there’s a great website devoted entirely to the history of Penn-Can. I wish that EVERY mall had a historical website this meticulously detailed and with so many great photos (seriously, you NEED to check it out!) Sadly, my camera ate my own two best photos (of the center court!) in the mall, but thankfully those guys have tons more anyway.
Former Caldor at Penn-Can Mall in Cicero, NY Penn-Can Mall in Cicero, NY Penn-Can Mall in Cicero, NY

Penn-Can Mall in Cicero, NY Penn-Can Mall in Cicero, NY Penn-Can Mall in Cicero, NY

Penn-Can Mall in Cicero, NY Penn-Can Mall in Cicero, NY Penn-Can Mall in Cicero, NY Penn-Can Mall in Cicero, NY

Penn-Can Mall in Cicero, NY

12 Responses to “Penn-Can Mall; Cicero, New York”

  1. The first word that came to my mind was “Surreal”.


  2. I almost made it here too, actually we were on our way to go see Driver’s Village *the day* my camera dropped. Because of this article, It would seem I missed more than I was expecting – someone told me the mall areas were closed off (including the infamous clock meet place).

    I’d say it’s almost like this mall has lost it’s memory – it’s almost unrecognizable from the mammoth it once was. There’s no other mall story quite like Penn-Can in the history of American malls.


  3. That has got to win the award for most interesting re-use. An auto-mall in a real mall. Seems just weird… I hope they succeed.


  4. Brings a new meaning to the phrase “auto mall” BTW that clock near the elevator looks awesome!

    A new trend perhaps? 🙂


  5. doh! I meant ESCALATOR NOT elevator!


  6. Hey, if Ames was closed in 2002, what’s there now?


  7. I think Ames is still empty.


  8. I visited this unusual site months back upon all the rage garnered by Ames Fan Club and a website that has early years chronicled very well. I’ve got a bunch of photos on Flickr. My how they’ve changed the center concourse over the years!

    Looks like we both missed the huge Caldor-era “Welcome” decal at the front of the former Caldor. This was the first area I poked around and some salespeople were sitting in the frontal area so I kind of chickened out (or didn’t want to be asked to leave so I abstained). I should’ve gone back for it on my out but I wanted to avoid any questioning. You know those car salespeople…

    I was further an idiot for not going around back to see if the Ames was still vacant.

    An intruging place. Wish I had more time to explore it though.


  9. The Ames building is still there, but it’s like a used car warehouse or something. It’s definitely a part of the dealership now.


  10. Somehow, this comment got deleted, but normally you put a link to the mall’s DeadMalls page.

    One question I have, though, was the Hills/Ames one story or two?


  11. Thanks for this delightful trip down memory lane. From the dates on the other responses I may be just dropping this note into a “time capsule.” I was the Sales Promotion Manager for Chappell’s stores throughout the CNY and Upstate NY area. We succumbed to web and flow of retail habits along with others during this period of time. Penn Can Mall, Northern Lights, Shop City Mall, Eastwood even downtown Syracuse each made their appearance, shown brightly and then faded like lovely stars and now from time to time are brought back to mind in simple ways like accidently falling on this blog. It’s a shame there’s no place to upload a pic. I have a delightful shot of “me” in a Chappell’s “Chappy the Clown” costume at Penn Can Mall. If you’re curious go to life — Thanks again for a few minutes of fun.


  12. One of the dead malls I’ve always wanted to check off my list. The Auto Mall concept is really cool. Too bad there were no relics of the old mall or labelscars other than the old sign structure outside. Some photos: (sorry about resolution, I took them with my phone)

    Also, a really cool website on the mall, I found it fascinating! (originally found on the site)


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