Syracuse: An Interesting Case Study

Map of Syracuse-area malls

I’ve been a bit slow on the posting lately, in part because of a road trip this weekend to central New York.

Syracuse is one of the closest metropolitan areas to Boston that I hadn’t yet visited (it’s about a five hour drive) and it was the only major metropolitan area in New York State I hadn’t visited yet either. I was somewhat eager to make the trip because Syracuse is a relatively big market for malls. The Syracuse metropolitan area, with 750,000 people, has at one point or another been home to no less than eight enclosed shopping malls. Today, most of them are dead.

The major event in this area’s retail shift was the 1990 opening of the Carousel Center on the city’s waterfront. The 1.5 million-square-foot, seven-level shopping mall is one of the largest in New York State, and has become the Syracuse area’s primary tourist attraction, drawing visitors from as far north as Ontario and as far south as Pennsylvania.

The Carousel Center’s ascendancy unleashed carnage on the malls surrounding Syracuse, and today only three others: Shoppingtown (the largest mall pre-Carousel), Great Northern, and Tri-County (a tiny, anchorless mall that is open but floundering) still exist. On the map above, existing malls are noted with green circles while dead/converted malls are noted with red circles. Thankfully, Syracuse was also for a time home of Pete Blackbird of, and as a result his site contains quite a bit of history of most of these malls. Here’s a brief recap, but they have much more:

  • Fayetteville Mall – Opened in 1974, this mid-sized mall was home to Sears and later Burlington Coat Factory. Expanded in 1992 to house Caldor and Cohoes, the mall declined through the 1990s due to its proximity to the large Shoppingtown Mall. Today it is a “community themed” big box center anchored by P&C Supermarket, Kohl’s, Target, TJMaxx, and others.
  • Penn-Can Mall – Once one of the area’s largest malls, this “T” shaped mall in the northern suburbs died a complete death in 1994, placing it well ahead of the curve of most American malls that died and were surpassed by others. Anchors included Hills, Caldor, and Sears/Burlington Coat Factory. After sitting idly for nearly a decade, portions of the mall were demolished and the remainder was redeveloped as a large auto mall.
  • Marketplace Mall – At one point, Penn-Can Mall was so successful there was a market for its spillover, hence the construction of the Marketplace Mall in its outlots in 1984. Anchored by Service Merchandise, Price Chopper, and Silo (an electronics retailer from the pre-Best Buy/Circuit City era, I believe), this small mall was never a major contender and closed sometime in the late 1990s. Demolition began on 2002 and today it’s a power center, anchored by Price Chopper and Lowe’s.
  • Camillus Mall – Built as a plaza in the 1960s and enclosed in 1980, this mid-sized mall was home to JCPenney, Sears, Hess’s, Chapell’s, Kmart, The Bon Ton, and Hills at various points in its life. JCPenney immediately jumped ship for Carousel Center, and began a downward slide from which the mall never recovered. The Camillus Mall was shuttered in 2003 and demolished in 2004, save for The Bon Ton store which remains open.
  • Fairmount Fair – A visibly older mall, disenclosed in 1994, and today is home to Dick’s Sporting Goods, Wal-Mart, and Price Chopper. I wasn’t able to find much about its history.

Look for detailed posts soon on the surviving malls, and also on Penn-Can, which has been converted to an auto mall and is (at least in part) open again, even after sitting vacant for eight years.

Author: Caldor

Jason Damas is a search engine marketing analyst and consultant, and a freelance journalist. Jason graduated magna cum laude from Northeastern University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and a minor in Music Industry. He has regularly contributed to The Boston Globe,, Amplifier Magazine, All Music Guide, and 168 Magazine. In addition, he was a manager for a record store for over two years. Currently, he focuses on helping companies optimize their web sites to maximize search engine visibility, and is responsible for website conversion analysis, which aims to improve conversion rates by making e-commerce websites more user-friendly. He lives in suburban Boston.

34 thoughts on “Syracuse: An Interesting Case Study”

  1. I don’t think there was a Caldor at Penn-Can; there was a Chappell’s though. At one point they also had Addis & Dey and Denby’s in junior anchors.

  2. There was definitely a Caldor, but I think it was in the Chappell’s space. I was being overly simplistic above (there will be a full post on Penn-Can anyway; it’s fascinating). The car dealership that’s there now has rehabbed the building, but the Caldor space is *distinctively* a former Caldor shell, with the same-shaped facade as they were using during the 1990s.

  3. I took a trip to Syracuse for the first time last Summer (2006). Due to my camera “breaking” (dropped it, sort of fixed it when I finally got home… 4 hours later) I had to cut the trip short. I made it to the Great Northern Mall, and the inspiration for the trip was this Toys “R” Us across the mall stuck in the 1980s. It’s historic!

    I made the trip with my inspired girlfriend, she found the trip so much “fun” we decided to make it a note to come back in full force next year (because Winter is just toooo brutal for upstate NY).

    The pictures are up here:

  4. Forgot to mention; the Great Northern Mall is not exactly distressed, but one of the lamest (one-level) malls especially in contrast to the grandiose Carousel Center in the downtown area. It’s definitely worth it to see the “Great Northern Mall” tower (took my picture with it! not pictured on that site) on the Toys “R” Us property.

  5. Oh, I definitely agree. It was doing fine but it was one of the more boring malls that I’ve seen in awhile (and definitely the blandest of the weekend).

  6. There are a couple of others that you might want to look at in the area. First, Northern Lights (Mostly a strip center near the airport, but at one point had a mall section in it). Also, if you are up for driving a little bit out of the way, the Fingerlakes Mall is a good example of a mall that was near death, but due to the right anchor (Bass Pro Shops) inexplicably choosing to relocate to their mall, has shown signs of revival, even thought the mall decor is stuck in the late 70’s/early 80’s.

  7. Oh, thanks for that tidbit about Northern Lights! It was one of the sites that I drove by and it had an unusual design but I couldn’t tell if it had ever been enclosed. Was the enclosed portion in the back near Media Play, or has it changed substantially since it was enclosed?

    Due to timing, I missed out on the Fingerlakes Mall (I took a long swing down through Ithaca, Elmira, and Binghamton on Sunday, so I didn’t have time to go over to Auburn). It sounds like I missed quite a bit! Thankfully, I was a bit strategic when I left it since it’s at least relatively close to the thruway so I’ll hit it the next time I go out that way.

  8. From the sounds of it you drove through Cortland. On the outskirts of town was Cortlandville Crossing, which was the former Cortlandville Mall until it was converted into a strip center in 1990-1991 due to it being empty except for its two anchors (K-Mart) and at the time a Chappells .

  9. As far as Northern Lights, as I recall (it’s been about 20 or so years since I’ve been there) that would be about right. It had pretty much converted by the mid 1980’s., except for that section.

  10. A couple of other things:

    First you didn’t mention Shoppingtown Mall which is shaping up to be the next distressed mall. In the past year it has lost Bon Ton, Media Play, and Old Navy as major stores and smaller stores are beginning to move out. Interestingly enough, it dates back to 1954 as a strip center with stores such as Grant’s, Woolworth, Edwards, Dey’s, and the Addis Co. It was enclosed in 1975 when Penney’s opened and it was renovated in 1991 to what it is today when a hybridized Addis & Dey’s store and Steinbach were added as well as a new wing of stores. However, with the exception of a new movie theater, Sears, and a Kaufmann’s/Macy’s not much else has gone on. There was talk about adding a ‘lifestyle component to the Sears/Media Play wing which is greatly vacant but so far nothing has happened. It is an interesting place though as some parts look very old and some look very modern.

    Penn Can Mall has a great memories site: tells you all you would ever want to know

    Fayetteville Mall- Originally it had Sibley’s and Sears as its anchors. Hess’s was added in 1984 and the mall felt it had the market to warrant an expansion in 1990 to include a large wing of stores and a Addis & Dey’s store. However with the development of Carousel and renovation of Shoppingtown, this mall turned over quite rapidly. Sibley’s (became Kaufmann’s) and Sears left for Shoppingtown and Addis & Dey’s and Hess’s went out of business in the 1990s. The mall tried to take on a discount format by adding stores such as Cohoes, Caldor, and T.J. Maxx but it could not save the site. It has since been demalled and is doing quite well.

    Fairmount Fair-from what I know was opened in the late 1960s and was anchored by Dey Bros and Sears with about 40 stores in between. Sears left in 1987 for Camillus Mall when it expanded and was replaced by Zayre’s. Its owners proposed plans to add a whole new wing for the Zayre/Ames store including a Marshalls. However after a while the mall had become mostly vacant so it was converted into a power center quite a bit earlier than some of the others.

    Camillus Mall’s death was a little slower. The JCPenney and K-Mart stores did not close until about 1997 leaving only a Bon Ton and a Sears inside the mall and a Hills store outside which would close in 1999. Interestingly enough, when Silo closed, Hoyts Cinemas opened a brand new theater there in 1995. The Bon Ton which was also Chappell’s and Hess’s at various points still stands today

    That’s about it for me.

  11. There’s an entry on Wikipedia for Shoppingtown Mall. It sure looks interesting.

  12. Loveminuszero:

    Thanks for the info on Shoppingtown! I didn’t mention it because I will be doing a full post on that (as well as Great Northern, Carousel, and Penn-Can) in the upcoming weeks. It sure is an interesting mall, and I appreciate the historical info that I can incorporate!

  13. Well done. I love this kind of posting… Everything you wanted to know about Syracuse malls!

  14. You also left out Northern Lights Mall, an enclosed strip mall in northern Syracuse. At one point it had Chappell’s and WT Grant. Grant’s is now a TJ Maxx, and Chappell’s was later Media Play. At some point Builders Square was also added. Current anchors include Ashley Furniture, Christmas Tree Shops, and Michaels as well as TJ Maxx. The enclosed part has been disenclosed. That’s all I’ve got.

  15. Fairmount Fair opened in 1959, having been in the planning stages since 1956. The original tenants were Addison’s, G.C. Murphy, Dey Bros, Flah’s among others. It was Syracuse’s second mall (after Shoppingtown) and became fully enclosed in the early 1960s. It is now undergoing some redevlopment from the Benderson Corp. – a new Target is being built (the Wal-Mart was demolished) and it is probably going to somewhat resemble a (much) smaller version of the new Fayetteville Towne Center in terms of what shops will be coming.

  16. I have a newspaper clipping from 1/20/02 containing information and opening dates of some of the major shopping malls in central NewYork. This can be found on page 3 of this photo album website.

  17. You never put up the promised Penn Can Mall post!

    Also, in Penn Can Mall, it was an OfficeMax/Burlington Coat Factory AFTER Sears left.

  18. For some reason, I thought the Labelscar crew visited Driver’s Village (former Penn Can Mall). There’s a spectacular Penn Can Mall tribute page with photos from the 70s, 80s and 90s. It’s an outstanding compendium! (

    I just visited the former Penn Can Mall myself a few months back. Posted a few of my shots on my Flickr. Not posted there (but some of which I have) is *the* clock that’s been there in the center court for ages. It’s still there! The first three are my shots. Check Ames Fan Club forums for more recent ones.

  19. One thing that I’m kind of stuck on-I hope somebody can help. Does anyone know anything about the North Country Plaza on Route 11 in Central Square. It is a sight for sore eyes to say the least. It is a retail plaza with at least 3 large storefronts and it looks like it has been abandoned for quite some time. I cannot find any information on it or what stores were once in it. None stood out to me as recognizable. Does anyone know anything about it?

  20. North Country Plaza had an IGA, a liquor store and North Country ( a very low end department store). Its. been 25years since I lived in the area but I remember buying some stuff there. The North Country store had a huge variety of low end merchandise.

  21. If I may say something else about Fairmount Fair, it was different in many ways from the other malls in Syracuse. It had fountains, like Camillus, and was carpeted like many of the older malls, but it has something I’ve never seen in another mall: inclines. The relatively rough terrain (for a mall) made it a favorite of power-walkers (and skateboarders) in its later years, before suffering the humiliation of being disenclosed.

    If anybody has older picture of Fairmount Fair, I would love to have them, especially of the old sign (which has been replaced with a similar but uninspiring new version), please email me at ian (at) fairmountfair (dot) com. Yes, I totally have the domain name.


  23. Ah. I am glad there are more to add since the website owner did not know about Fairmount Fair, Northern Lights. You know that Syracuse at one time counted 16 shopping malls in the area? In Onondaga County only!

    I still have a book that was published in 1979 about Syracuse activities, stores, etc.. it listed quite a bit of malls.

    Do not forget Marshall Square Mall upon the University Hill area behind the most hospitals. This mall is supposed to be the place for Syracuse University students to hang out.. Orange bookstore, a copy center, even post office, a deli, and among other stores came and went. It was rather bit dark with brick and orange colors. It was, literally, a square shaped mall to walk around with stairs in the middle along with brick walls supporting it!!

    Northern Lights had a mall once.. Yes. i went there once when it was dying.

    Yes, check out for interesting information regarding that mall. There is a site made by Ham who did the Penn Can Mall website.

    Fairmount Fair Mall interior at the remodel in the 70s had ShoppingTown Mall interior. Brick, dark, carpet, etc. Yes, it had Chappell’s, Sears, Friendly’s Ice Cream Restaurant, Cavage Music, etc.

    Prior Egan remodelled Fairmount, the interior was a classic 1950ish 1960’s interior.. Even Chappell’s had that reanglaur slate for a canopy in front of the store INSIDE the mall. Typical for exterior. Likely it was exterior but they enclosed it and it was still showing that classic 50s look.

    Do not forget two more malls I recalled. Shop City Plaza and Mall. It was originally a plaza but they enclosed part of it.. Just maybe 25 yards long when you face the front. The rest as plaza on either ends. They enclosed in early to mid-1970s.. Likely 1973 or 74. I recalled because my mother and I and my brother went to the grand reopening of that place. The mall people had money drop into the parking lot.. I mean REAL money. And no, it was not DB Cooper dropping money. No way he was doing this! Hahha. It was a mess that day with people fighting for money and shoving and grabbing.

    Anyway, the interior of Shop City housed a bank, Fay’s Drug Store, a hair salon, Chappell’s, a small newsstand, Radio Shack, and at least 3 more stores. That was all inside the mall.

    There was another similar type of mini-mall-plaza. It was on Route 57 in Liverpool, NY. That was a mall at one time. I never went there! Now it houses Kmart, (was Ames), Big Lot, JoAnn, OCC Liverpool Center, a furniture store and the facade of Price Chopper (They moved to Route 31 near Great Northern Mall).

    Seneca Mall was never a technical shopping mall. It was merely a plaza but for some reason owner or owners liked that name. It has 2 strips full of stores. At one time, they had Ames, Empire Skates West, and a few other stores. Currently, it is a P&C grocery store (Now is owned by TOPS food chain), a liquer store, a dollar store, another 2 more dollar stores, a chinese take out, an empty space, a bottle return center, and Mr. 2nd Bargin Outlet (Grossman) hardware store. It also has out parcels including Pizza Hut, a credit union, a video store, and just closed Rite-Aid store (they had to because they have another Rite-Aid merely the next block where the now closed Tri-County Mall used to stand. Tri-County now only has the Rite-Aid store and a national budget motel franchise sits on the lot while the remainder of the mall stands half torn down.

  24. Fairmount Fair seems to be doing pretty well as a power center now. Unlike Shoppingtown, which is languishing.

    Fairmount Fair has a small, unexpandable footprint, which probably as much as anything has contributed to its relative ongoing success as a retail space. No room for overexpansion.

    Marshall Square Mall still exists, but there never seems to be much going on there. About 50% vacant every time I’ve been in there.

  25. Northern Lights started out as a shopping plaza with Grants, Chappells and an Acme grocery store. Grants gave way to Two Guys and in the late 1970s or very early 80s, from Two Guys to the old Acme store at the other end it was all enclosed. They added a Freddy’s drug store between Two Guys and Chappells. Chappells became a Burlington Coat factory and then later it became Media Play when the mall was disenclosed. The Media Play entrance was the “main court” of the mall. When it was enclosed it had many of the same stores as Penn Can, including a Cavages or Gerber Music (can’t remember which).

    I always liked the Kmart across from Northern Lights. They had the best popcorn.

    Two Guys gave way to Zayre, which becames Ames and then the whole thing was split up to become Staples and something else.

    One other thing about Grants – the Grants sign from Shoppingtown is on the outside of the barn at Grants’ Farm Market on Route 31 between Bridgeport and Sylvan Beach.

  26. Does anyone remember Syracuse Mall? A short lived mall downtown I believe in late70’s?

  27. @Mark Falso,

    That bit about Seneca Mall is not actually accurate. It used to be a walk-in mall with several stores. My grandparents owned a salon inside of the mall called Dina’s Salon throughout the 70’s and 80’s. It wasn’t until the 90’s that they made it a strip mall.

  28. @Mark Falso,
    Actually you have Seneca Mall confused with the River Mall. Seneca Mall in Liverpool had Chappells, K-Mart, Price-Chopper, Addis Co, Love of Pete and was partially enclosed. River Mall

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