Utica, New York is a city along the historic Erie Canal corridor in upstate New York, between Albany and Syracuse. Utica’s population exploded during the Industrial Revolution and the first half of the 20th century as a manufacturing center for Textiles (and later radios) and a shipping center for coal. Like many rust belt cities, Utica went into steep decline in the latter half of the 20th century, seeing its population dwindle from a peak of just over 100,000 in 1960 to an estimated 58,000 today. In the last few decades, many locals have dubbed Utica “The City that God Forgot,” and for a time in the 1980s and early 1990s bumper stickers reading “Last One Out of Utica, Please Turn Out The Lights” became quite popular with local residents. Today Utica is one of the more forlorn of the cities in upstate or western New York, and suffers from a lack of industry, a harsh climate, and a poverty rate of nearly 25%.
In the meantime, many surrounding suburbs of Utica were experiencing population growth even as the population of the region was stagnant and the population of Utica was falling dramatically. During this time, there were two suburban shopping malls developed in the Utica area: On the north side was the now-demolished Riverside Mall (a smaller mall with about 400,000 square feet of space, anchored by Bradlees and Montgomery Ward), and the larger Sangertown Square in suburban New Hartford.
From the 70s through the 90s, the Pyramid Companies developed a string of malls in upstate New York, Massachusetts, and adjacent regions. Many of them bore strong similarities to one another in design and decor, depending on when they were opened. Sangertown Square was one of these malls. The center opened in 1980 and today has around 70 stores and five anchor stores spread across 880,000 square feet, but it still sports a fair amount of its original late ’70s/early ’80s glory.
Sangertown Square is primarily organized in a “+” shape, with anchors at the ends of each hallway. The mall’s center court is probably its most unique feature; designed to mirror the look and feel of a traditional “main street,” the large plaza is designed with fake two-level facades and upper floor windows. Since Pyramid tended to “re-use” their mall designs a few times before moving on, the closest cousin to this “Main Street” configuration is in the Hampshire Mall in Hadley, Massachusetts, which was given the same treatment (and is similarly still intact today).
Sears, JCPenney, Hess’s, and Bradlees were the mall’s original four tenants upon opening in 1980. Hess’s closed in 1994 and their store was demolished to make room for a Kaufmann’s store (which became Macy’s in 2006). Bradlees shut their store with the entire chain in 2001, and that store was also demolished to make room for a new Target store. These four anchors, along with more recent addition Dick’s Sporting Goods, make up the complete anchor roster today.
All the pictures here were taken October 2006. I’ve heard that since my visit, the great fountain and blocky lanterns in front of JCPenney were removed and replaced with significantly blander (though perhaps more contemporary) ornamentation.