Harrisburg Mall; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Harrisburg Motel Phone Book and Bible

It was the fall of 2004, and I was finishing up my first day of what was then the longest trip that I’d taken alone. After a long day spent trawling across the northeast, I found myself standing in the lobby of a Red Roof Inn in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, entirely by myself in a city that I knew nothing about beyond that it was a) the capital city of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and b) home of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant.

I knew full well that I’d spend the entire evening doing what I’d done all day–exploring the city and visiting malls–but something was strangely freeing about arriving in this strange city without a plan. My first stop was the Harrisburg Mall, just about a mile from my hotel.

Harrisburg Mall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

At the time, I was going to seek out a place named the Harrisburg EAST Mall, but apparently the mall was in the middle of a major rebranding and renovation, and I stumbled into the center of it. Apparently the Harrisburg Mall (no “East” anymore), which is the largest enclosed shopping mall in metropolitan Harrisburg, hit some rocky times in the early ’00s. Anchored by Hecht’s, JCPenney, and Lord & Taylor until 2003 or so (though I think the Lord & Taylor may have once been a Hess’s), L&T pulled out of the mall as part of a larger round of closings. JCPenney and Hecht’s both announced their intention to leave soon after. The mall was sold, and management had to do something quickly to turn around the fortunes of the rapidly-emptying mall. Despite that the Harrisburg East Mall had been the area’s dominant mall quite recently, it seemed headed for a fast crash.

Thankfully, Lubert-Adler and Feldman Equities took a proactive approach to protecting the mall, which they detail in this case study. They renovated the two-level, 840,000 square-foot, 90-store center inside and out, introducing a rather Pottery Barn-esque design scheme, and convinced Hecht’s to stay on the property. The JCPenney space was quickly filled with a Boscov’s store, and the former Lord & Taylor was dramatically reworked to become a Bass Pro Shops, which today drives a large amount of traffic to the mall. In addition, a final phase of the mall’s renovation calls for the construction of a lifestyle-center-style streetscape to be built onto the front of the structure, creating space for additional outdoor retail. A movie theatre is also scheduled to be added to the rear of the mall, between Hecht’s and Boscov’s and presumably off of the food court wing.
When I visited in 2004, the mall had a surprising number of vacancies and Bass Pro Shops had not yet opened for business. As of a month ago, when I swung by again, the mall had rebounded dramatically and now boasts an 80% occupancy rate and seems to have reclaimed its role as the dominant mall for the Harrisburg area.

As you see from these pictures, Harrisburg Mall isn’t terribly exciting, bar its tall pylon or unrenovated basement court (the final picture). But it is an example of a mall that was quickly and strategically pulled out of an undeserved rapid nosedive and has been brought back to profitability. I wish all mall management companies were this stealthy.

For a vintage view, check out this 1988 shot of the mall’s parking lot! For a modern aerial view, check out this really neat-o black and white photo that shows the mall today, with the Harrisburg skyline in the background.

This is my sole photo from the 2004 trip. The fuzziness is arr-tistic, not simply a result of my old VGA-res style camera phone:

2004 image of Harrisburg Mall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

And here’s some that are a bit more current, all taken July 2006:

Harrisburg Mall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Harrisburg Mall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Harrisburg Mall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Harrisburg Mall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Harrisburg Mall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Harrisburg Mall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Harrisburg Mall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Harrisburg Mall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Harrisburg Mall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Harrisburg Mall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Harrisburg Mall basement in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

50 Responses to “Harrisburg Mall; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania”

  1. […] Fast forward to today, and this corridor has been walled-up and turned into a fairly straightforward side hallway with stores along the edges, including a shiny new Hollister. That means that much of the original “open” area of the former food court is now occupied by store slots and there’s very little evidence that the food court was ever there. The food court itself moved towards the western end of the mall, not far from Sears, and occupies a space formerly taken by a movie theatre and several smaller stores along the side of the mall. Beyond some minor cosmetic upgrades, the renovation didn’t do much else (and as you may notice, the floors haven’t been redone at all). Until 2004, all of the Harrisburg area malls were pretty dated. This renovation was almost certainly necessary for PREIT to keep this mall in line with the much more comprehensive renovation they completed in 2004 of the larger Harrisburg Mall, which is located only a few miles down the highway and is also PREIT-owned. […]

  2. Why was the Bible out? Were you learning outside of church again?

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  3. It was for necessary inspiration.

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  4. Back when it was Harrisburg East, the mall was anchored by Hess’s, John Wannamaker and JCPenney. Lord & Taylor replaced Hess’s and Hecht’s replaced John Wannmaker.

    I’m kind of disapointed thatt here are no pictures of the Boscov’s. They have a tendency not to change the exterior architecture of aquired stores much, and I’m sure there was a vintage Penneys facade here

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  5. I totally forgot to even drive around back and grab some shots when I was there a few weeks ago! I can’t speak with much specificity about the Boscov’s facade, but if you look at the “neat-o black and white aerial photo” that I link to towards the end of the post, you can see the Boscov’s store at left. From what I remember of it, the facade was pretty typical of what I expect to find at a Boscov’s, so maybe they did renovate it. But again, the only time I got up close to the exterior of this store was on my visit in 2004 and it was actually dark at the time. I could’ve easily missed some details.

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  6. Yep, Boscov’s been renovated. Shoot.

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  7. Wanted to correct some misinformation from earlier posts. It was the former Hechts location that was previously Hess’s, and even before that, Gimbels. The Lord and Taylor store was in the former John Wannamaker location in the mall. Now that I have set that straight, I wanted to share some of the other stores that used to be located at the Harrisburg “East” Mall. Back in the old days, in the Gimbels end (later Hess’s, and then Hechts) there used to be a Woolworth’s, adjacent to that was a Harvest House Cafeteria, and a G.C. Murphy store that was two floors (the 2nd floor is now the food court). Also in the mall was a place restaurant/bar called Mother’s Subs (that later became a Swatara Twp. Police Substation), a Pizza place that I believe was called Lucas Pizza (located off the center court), which was linked to serious drug related problems and drug related violence that began to plague the mall in the early to mid 1980s (even leading to the mall being “locked down” when gun related violence broke out. At one time there was also a Friendlys Restaurant, a Lerner’s Store, a Bakers Shoe Store, A Rea & Derrick Drugstore (Later People’s Drugstore & then CVS). There was also a basement area (off from center court) that had restrooms & an arcade, which was later a WHTM-27 annex studio briefly. It seems to me that prior to being an arcade, that space may have housed a skating rink (either ice or roller), but I don’t actually remember this being the case. There also was an annex a little distance from the Gimbels (et.al.) end. The annex included a movie theatre, a bar (forget the name), a State Store (State owned/operated liquor store) and a Greyhound (bus) substation. The Theatre end is now a Toys R Us. While building the Toys R Us (a redevelopment of the annex), the toy store giant expressed its displeasure with the proximity of the State Store to its location & expressed its desire to get the State to not return its liquor store to the annex once the redevelopment was completed. They felt it was bad for business given the fact that they catered to kids and the perception(s) of who frequented liquor stores. The State of PA was not swayed and promised that they would be returning to the annex. For some reason, the State Store (nor its rebranded “Wine & Spirits Shop”) did not return. Just behind (literally) the annex is Dauphin County Prison.I always found it funny that the mall was right near the prison & if that wasn’t bad enough, there was also a Greyhound location. I always figured one could break out of prison…hit the mall to steal some new clothes…then hop on a bus to get out of town (LOL). The Greyhound Substation did not return following the redevelopment of the annex. I guess Toys R Us was cool with being right in front of a County Prison, but not several spaces from a liquor store. Without getting into a political debate about the corrections system of the US, or the socio-economic problems that plague Harrisburg (as well as many US cities), anyone familiar with Harrisburg’s ills might easily figure that Toys R Us might have figured that being in front of the County Prison might actually be good for business for reasons that shall go unmentioned by me.
    The Harrisburg “East” Mall also hosted the local portion of the March of Dimes Telethon each year at its center court. Celebrities who hosted the local portion at the mall included: Soupy Sales, Bob Ewbanks, Mary Ann Mobley, her husband Gary Collins, just to name a few that I can remember.

    Now that you probably know more about the Harrisburg “East” Mall than you did before (or probably cared to know), I will wrap this post up. Hope someone enjoys the info though.

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    norman St. Amour Reply:

    @J.B. Smith, That’s nothing. In Lebanon County, their license plate academy is located next to a retirement home. How’s that for neighbors!

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    Greg English Reply:

    @J.B. Smith, I’m glad you had a memory of Mother’s Subs being in the mall at that time. While it was there, I worked as a bartender and sandwich maker . . . . . some of the best subs I remember. Also during the 70’s, Mother’s had several other sandwich shops in various locations around Harrisburg in which I also painted some of their signs and window lettering. Thanks for the memory.

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    Marie Reply:

    @Greg English,
    I too worked at Mother’s Subs at the Mall for a short period of time. I worked as a bartender( wine and beer). I also played on the girls Softball team…broke my wrist. Best subs around!

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    Fred Chestnut Reply:

    @Greg English, I worked at Mother’s subs at the mall and it’s original store on Third street.

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    Fred Chestnut Reply:

    @Greg English, I remember you, Greg. You had a beard and imitated Monty Python sketches with me.

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    Mothers Subs Reply:

    @Greg English, Mother’s Subs can be traced back to 70’s what Harrisburg knew as beloved Mother’s Subs and Sandwich, Back Again , Opening 10/05

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    Mothers Subs Reply:

    @Greg English,Mother’s Subs can be traced back to 70’s what Harrisburg knew as beloved Mother’s Subs and Sandwich, Back Again , Opening 10/05

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    Betsy Reply:

    @Greg English, Mother’s Subs is back in the ‘burg. just opened a few stands in early October 2015 to test the market. One is at Saturday’s Market in Middletown; the other is inside an Exxon Station on Eisenhauer Boulevard. Open daily from 10-8; 7 bucks for a 10 inch, and yes, they are as excellent as ever. Said the dad flew up from Florida to taste test. Spot on!!

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    John Mione Reply:

    @Greg English, in the late 70’s I helped someone cut round holes in wooden planks that would become the lights outside of the Palmyra location. The light bulbs were synchronized so they would circle the building. I also painted some of the boards(green I believe). I was only 12 or 13 years old and was paid under the table. I wonder if I had worked with you? Once open, I made subs in the back also.

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    Rubydoo Reply:

    @J.B. Smith, Don’t know if you’ll get to read this since your post was a few years ago, but I need to mention something……..the Harvest House Cafeteria that I remember was at the “old, old” Colonial Park Mall…..before when it wasn’t enclosed. I remember G.C. Murphy’s/Woolworth’s having a little restaurant downstairs on the first floor but not called Harvest House. The Colonial Park Mall also had “Alaska Land” the ice cream place with the huge “Mount McKinley” dessert and every time someone would order it there would be bells and whistles going off in the entire place.

    Anyway, I was about 12 years old when the Harrisburg East Mall was being built and I remember hanging out at the mall when it was only Wanamakers and Gimbles. There was also an ice cream shop near the National Central Bank called “The Purple Cow”………back then we used to actually get dressed up in “good” clothes to go hang out at the mall, haha! I terribly miss Mothers Subs…..those still to this day were the best I’ve ever eaten!

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    Janine Reply:

    @J.B. Smith, Paradise Alley was the annex bar!!! Do you remember the name of the fragrance store that was on the second floor toward center court? Thanks for the great remembrances 😊

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  8. Just a note, there is now a bus tour company that runs out of the old greyhound substation… “Go Tours” or something like that. The local opinion of the location is still pretty poor, as the mall has been the location of a few highly publicised rape cases… Most people prefer the Colonial Park Mall in, you guessed it, Colonial Park, or Park City Mall in Lancaster.

    There is also a truly dead mall in downtown lancaster, but I can’t recall the name of it right now…

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    norman St. Amour Reply:

    @nick, Are you talking about Watt and Shand? That is currently being rebuilt into a convention center.

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  9. Lord & Taylor replaced Wannamaker’s in 1997. Hecht’s opened in 1995 and was Hess’s before that it was Gimbel’s.

    The mall had it’s fair share of crime with a shooting or two in the the 1980’s and even a carjacking/abduction a few years ago outside of then Lord & Taylor.

    It was a popular place to go in the 1980’s. Most of the malls in the Harrisburg area declined in the 1990’s, both Lord & Taylor and Hecht’s had nice stores though.

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  10. The “bar” in the annex was Paradise Alley. There was also an auto parts store that had a name that started with Uncle…spent a lot of time and $$ at that mall in the 70s and 80s.

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  11. And the Hechts is now a Macy’s.

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  12. Does anyone remember the Patio Restaurant inside the Hess store, circa 1978? Height of disco fabulousness in a sit-down restaurant — with mirrored walls, nightclub lighting, and (for some reason) huge portions of typical anchor-store-in-a-mall cafe type food. And really cool bowls of multi-colored sugar on every table — FANCY.

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  13. The “bar” in the annex was Paradise Alley. There was also an auto parts store that had a name that started with Uncle…spent a lot of time and $$ at that mall in the 70s and 80s.

    The auto store was called Miller’s. They sponsored my baseball team I played on in the late 1970’s.

    I used to get all my haircuts at Headhunters which was right near Friendly’s. Lucas had the first Sicilian style pizza I ever had. It went very well with the Orang Julius.

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  14. Whoa. That would be kind of awkward. Having a bus station near a prison is very uncommon. In fact, my 7th grade history teacher made the misfortune of parking a car between a bus station and a prison. When the prisoners were released, they ignored her and ran for the bus. The lesson here is that prisons near malls don’t directly affect crime. Granted, it’s certainly NIMBY, but hey, malls had things to worry about on their own.

    Shame you didn’t snap a picture of the mall directory…

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  15. I didn’t see it mentioned, but back in the days when Hess’s was still there, Toys R Us occupied the basement (there was an outside entrance). Only when Hecht’s took over the building did TRU build the new location outside the mall building.

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  16. I remember we did most of our shopping at the Capitol City mall and the Camp Hill mall. I guess a lot of folks on the west shore associated The East Mall with crime and such and just avoided it. And The Colonial Mall was getting pretty long in the tooth even in the 80’s and it was a pain to get to.

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  17. I was just at Harrisburg Mall yesterday- Boscov’s is now gone as part of the bankruptcy reorganization of the department store, and does it show. The food court was down to five eateries: McDonald’s, Subway, Orange Julius, China Max, and Big Star Pizza. In addition, there is no book store and the former Disney Store is now a Xmas store. The mall better not be heading back towards death- they are now building a Barnes and Noble there which will have a mall entarance, but I fear if that will happen, the mall will become just like Camp Hill Mall across the river.

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  18. In paradise alley worked a really hot guy by the name of Gregg or Craig. I wonder how life has treated him….

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  19. Part of the reason the food court lost spots was to build the mall access to the movie theater.
    JC Penney ended up returning to Harrisburg, practically a stone’s throw away in the High Pointe Commons (big box) shopping center) a few years later.
    Barnes and Noble pushed back their opening date to 2009.
    Panera Bread had a location built for them with “streetscape” access in between Bass Pro and B&N – but they decided not to move in.

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  20. What? Who said JCPenney was returning to Harrisburg? So, it becomes a JCPenney, then Boscov’s, then Penney’s again? And no citations on the internet anywhere? BS.

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  21. In case anyone is interested (or cares for) an update, Barnes and Noble seems to have bailed out of the project entirely, joining both Panera and Sega in vacating stores that hadn’t even opened yet (the B&N letters on the store have recently been removed but remain on the mall’s outside pylon). For Jonah, JCPenney built a new location several years ago at the nearby “Highpointe Commons” (off of Lindle Road, on the east side of I-283), along with Target and a bunch of other specialty stores.

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  22. Does anyone remember a record shop called “Music Scene?”

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  23. Does anyone remember a bakery that was in the Harrisburg East Mall and the Park City Center back in the 70s? Cheesecakes and buns were baked on the premises and sold. There was an almost cave like feel about the place, as the entire back was this huge oven, almost like a pizza oven. I have no idea if this was a chain, as the only two locations I remember were these two.

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    Ginny C Reply:

    @Bev Kalucki,

    I remember that bakery…we used to get delicious shortbread sugar cookies there. Thanks for the memory.

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  24. I work in this field and am very familar with all the centers in central PA. The impression that Harrisburg was the desirable mall of the market anytime since the very early 90s is crazy! In the 90s Harrisburg did a reno that for a short time did give them the title of Top Dog, however with some changes at Capital City that changed around 95-96. Since then Capital City has out performed all the other malls in the market.

    The purchase of the center by Feldman was nothing short of a disaster. The vacancy rate is higher now than ever, the sales are steadily declining.
    Many of the current tenants are on a % rent structure and kept to simply keep lights on in stores.
    Macy’s is eyeing that store up for closing, and if it does Bass Pro will have a kick out allowing them to leave.
    The mall recently was foreclosed upon and now under new management. Nothing short of a bottomless credit line and a miracle will save this place

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  25. I was manager at Kid’s Toys for a year. I believe Payless Shoes now occupies the spot accross from Macy’s.

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  26. No mention of the Marriot Hot Shoppe Cafeteria here. It was located on the first floor just outside of Wannamaker’s. Located nearby ,there was a large circular water fountain with a sizable eagle statue for that ’70s decor. Can’t remember at the moment if it was made of bronze or concrete. Hanover shoes and Matango’s candy were close neighbors as well. Walden’s Books was originally on the 2nd floor above center court. Used to watch Soupy Sales from that vantage point during the March of Dimes telethon. Remember the original dark wood trim and planted vegetation along with water ponds and smaller fountains along the center run of the first floor? Talk about a memorable ambience long gone. Today, the place harbors tumble weeds with an auro of baron sterile vacated malaise. So much of the burg has degenerated much the same way. I’m grateful for the past and its better memories. Everytime I return for an out of town visit, I can’t believe I ever grew up in this place that has long since lost it’s identity and turned into one more geography of nowhere. Shame…

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  27. My best friend currently works there at the T-Mobile store. If you go there for a phone plan his name is David.

    anyway, because of him working there he has heard a few things, and has said that Sega is thinking of opening up there again, now I have no idea on where he heard it, or how much of it is truth and lie, but it’s still some type of news.

    the Great Escape Movie Theatre is actually a rather nice theatre, when it isn’t being over crowded. The prices I have heard complaints about, but they aren’t any different than any other multiplex.

    One of the stores I miss in that mall was Suncoast, easily one of my favorite stores and a reason for going there. Anyone remember the Kay Bee Toys that was there as well?

    one more thing, anyone remember the pet store that was at the mall? My wife almost had her dad arrest there when she was three, because he wanted to leave, went to pick her up, and she yelled that he wasn’t her dad, hate to see what would happen today if a kid did that

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  28. Anyone know whatever happened to the giant eagle statute that was in front of Wanamaker’s? (See GoneFromTheBurg’s post above from 11/8) It must have been in the news at the time but I can’t remember what happened to it.

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  29. Correction to John of Aug’06… Woolworth’s and the adjacent Harvest House Cafeteria were located in the west end of the old (and outdoor) Colonial Park Plaza…later enclosed and renamed Colonial Park Mall. The Colonial Park Mall is a few miles north, also right off I-83, from the Harrisburg East Mall (now Harrisburg Mall)…

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  30. This mall needs another look. I worked there at what used to be the Hecht’s and is now Macy’s. Since this post, the mall has hit hard times again. Not sure of the change in management/ownership, but someone decided to re-do the mallfront. Three large structures were built (well, two comeplete and one that still sits unfinished) that were intended to be a Barnes and Noble, a Panera Bread and an un-named restaraunt. Everything has stalled and Barnes and Noble (who’d even had their name on the storefront) and Panera Bread never moved in and the restaraunt sits unfinished. It’s a really sad sight for what could have been a huge improvement for the mall. I think one issue that the mall is struggling with is that it is not easy to access from the eastboung highway. There is a main exit for the westbound traffic though, but for out-of-towners who don’t know the area, they are more likely to visit a mall with easier access. Since this article was posted, the movie theater was built and continues to thrive as a life support for the mall, but the Boscovs closed and has been transformed into a temorary structure for a local Playhouse. Again, it’s very sad to see a mall with such potential that seems to sit stagnant. It’s almost as if it is in mall pergatory as a host of privately owned shops continue to cycle through with little or no permanancy. Again, I think if you happen to be in the area again, it’s worth another look.

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  31. . John Properties, Petrie Ross Joint Venture Buys Harrisburg Mall

    A joint venture of St. John Properties Inc. and Petrie Ross Ventures acquired Harrisburg Mall, a 1-million-sq.-ft. regional mall in Harrisburg, Pa., from TD Bank.

    The property is currently 70 percent leased. Macy’s, Bass Pro Shops and Great Escape Theatre anchor the center. Inline tenants include Aeropostale, Bath & Body Works, Claire’s, Victoria’s Secret and Radio Shack, among others.

    Harrisburg Mall was completed in 1969. It underwent a $60 million renovation five years ago.

    “This purchase increases the retail share of St. John Properties’ portfolio,” said St. John Properties Chairman and Founder Ed St. John in a statement. “We previously focused on providing necessity and convenience retail that supported our existing business communities, but this acquisition brings our company into the regional mall arena. We are adding staff to ensure the success of this project and we continue to seek retail opportunities across the country.”

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  32. I LOOOVVVVEEEEDDDD the East Mall as a kid growing up in nearby Steelton until 5th grade (1988-1998ish). This was my favorite mall althouh it was in close competition with The Colonial Park Mall and its stairs-and-ramps from its open-air past, and it’s bargain theater. I loved going to Toy-R-Us in the basement of Hess prior to its departure, and the strange metal frame outside JCPenneys from their old garden(?) center.

    After my family moved up to the Altoona area I only visited this mall a handful of times before its decline and death as the mall of my childhood. One of my last memories of the good-old-days came near their end when I bought a gumball machine on sale at JCPenney during their going out of business sale.

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  33. I LOVED Lucas pizza as a kid. Best pizza that I ever had. Nothing compares to it…trust me, I’ve been looking…lol!

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  34. I worked at Wanamaker from 1970- 1979. I remember what a great mall was there. It is really a shame to let the mall get to the point it is today. I live out of state now, but keep up with what is going on in Harrisburg. It will always be my home.

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  35. Eighties club goers what was the clothing store on the lower level across from the drugstore

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    Janine Reply:

    @lisa ward, was it Ormond?

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  36. In the 70s as a teen I would walk in the Gimble’s end of the mall and breathe in deeply. TEXTILES! The smell of leather and fabric dye was intoxicating. First stop: Foxmoore, then Music Scene, a sub at Mother’s, then upstairs to Susan Ives Ups ‘N Downs, Capezio, and into Spencer’s Gifts to look at the blacklight posters and lava lamps and check out cute guys in Chess King. Loved that mall in the 70s. So sad for its decline.

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