Schuylkill Mall; Frackville, Pennsylvania

I grew up watching ’80s teen movies and sitcoms–things like Fast Times at Ridgmont High or Saved By The Bell–and they all created the impression that California was this sunny mecca of palm-tree filled mall atriums and penny fountains, that the west coast was where the mall truly came from, the rest of the country was just trying to horn in on their sun-spackled glory. Almost four years ago, I moved to California. I then realized that we not only have fewer malls than most other developed parts of the country, but that (with the notable exception of the immediate Los Angeles area) they’re a lot more secondary to American life than they are in most other places.

Weirdly, the place that got far more of these concrete palaces is the less-glamorous rust belt.Pennsylvania, in particular, has a mall, or two, or three, in nearly every community of significant size. This mall, the Schuylkill Mall in Frackville, is one of three enclosed malls along a rural stretch of PA route 61 in east-central Pennsylvania.

The Schuylkill Mall opened in 1980, developed by Crown American properties, with Kmart, Hess, Sears, and Pomeroy’s as anchor stores. With around 800,000 square feet spread across a “T” shaped pattern, the mall was extremely large, especially given its rural trade area, and initially opened with a bevy of mid-range national tenants including Gap, Deb Shops, Spencer Gifts, Record Town, Jeans West, Foxmoor, Fashion Bug, B.Moss, Waldenbooks, Claire’s Boutique, Afterthoughts, Listening Booth, Slack Shack, KB Toys, and Footlocker. In 1987, a fifth anchor–Phar-Mor–opened on the mall’s north side to complete the roster, and that same year Pomeroy’s was sold off to The Bon-Ton, and the store changed nameplates to what it is today. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, this fairly dark and brown center was the dominant retail draw in the region, far dwarfing the two smaller malls south of it along route 61.

The Schuylkill Mall was never a fancy place. This part of Pennsylvania is rustic and blue collar, known for coal mining and industry. In fact, this area’s biggest claim to fame is nearby Centralia, a ghost town sitting atop an underground coal mine fire that has been burning since 1962. Despite this, the mall has always been at least somewhat successful and never exactly dead throughout its existence, serving as a mid-range catch-all for people living miles in every direction.

Hess’ closed their store at some point–possibly 1994 when the entire chain went belly-up–and their store was replaced by the Black Diamond Antique Mall, which occupies the space until today. Much of the wing leading to it has died out, and what few stores exist are somewhat temporary/lower tier operations (including a model railroad club!) In 2003, Crown American merged with PREIT, who is the current owner and operator of the mall. I visited the Schuylkill Mall twice, in 2004 and 2007, and took this set of photos on the latter date. Although the mall’s condition was around the same during those two visits three years apart–i.e., not great, but still with a fair amount of activity and national tenants–several accounts have noted that the mall’s fortunes have declined precipitously in the last several years, with many national tenants such as Kay Jewelers, Claire’s, Chik-Fil-A and Waldenbooks (duh) closing their stores in the mall.

What’s perhaps most interesting about this odd, beat up mall is its condition. It appears like it has gotten little love or attention since its 1980 opening, with its dated, primary-color logo and triangular planters hanging on like a hawk’s talons to a rat. Or something. Do you know what’s going on with this mildewy palace on the hill?

33 Responses to “Schuylkill Mall; Frackville, Pennsylvania”

  1. Its not necessarly dying Pharmor is now Black Diamond Antiques. Which mind you is amazing also fairly busy on a regular basis mainly the weekends. My husband and I live in Selinsgrove, PA and our mall is kinda bland and dying. This one is an odd unique that we enjoy. They shouldn’t have taken the chic-fil-a out though have to go to Berkshire mall for them now. As avid mall hoppers as my husband and I are we enjoy this mall the most… and we are in our early 20s. This is our Bergen Mall (before is was renovated) nostalgia and people all the same.

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    Pseudo3D Reply:

    So, why do Black Diamond Antiques and Phar-Mor appear to have completely different facades?

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    Jack Thomas Reply:

    @Pseudo3D, Black Diamond wasn’t in the Phar-Mor space at the time these pictures were taken, but they have since relocated to that spot.

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    Funky-Rat Reply:

    @Heather,

    I wouldn’t label Susquehanna Valley Mall dead. Bland? Absolutely, but not dead.

    There’s incredibly little to keep us going to Schuylkill. In the early 90′s, it beat the pants off SV Mall, and we willingly ran to go to it, but we only stop now if we’re in the area, and that’s not often.

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  2. Pretty sad that they misspelled the name of the mall on the marquee.

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  3. This is one of my favorite malls because of its old school charm and it’s willingness to survive. I too have always been surprised at the size of this mall compared to the area it serves, but I enjoy the place. I’ve been there about three times. I even have coupons for the now closed Chick Fil-A. And I always assumed The Bon Ton was Hess’s, because the interior reminds me alot of the old Hess’s in my local mall, right down the the wood floors. Although I suppose it could be a coincidence.

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  4. Way to go for neutrality, Labelscar. :/

    For the record, that particular Chick-fil-A franchise donated money, and it’s not particularly clear if the link you linked to was related to the closing at this mall.

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  5. ‘Schuylkill’, what a funny name! Shame they closed Chick-Fil-A oh well; I kind of like the interiors of the mall, they look so outdated and old it feels like a timewarp! It will be a shame if Gap closes their store in this mall as part of their nationwide closures that were announced.

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    J-Man Reply:

    @Nordrike Field, Schuylkill is the name of a river that flows through southeastern Pennsylvania, ultimately ending in Philadelphia.

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  6. When the Chick-fil-A closes, that’s often a sign that it’s the end for the mall. Now I cannot wait for my next Chick-fil-A fix- man, it’s the best fast food!

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    Nordrike Field Reply:

    @Chris, Totally!!!!

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  7. Just one correction…. If I am not mistaken,as of August of this year, the mall is now owned by an investment company, Empire Reality Investments and managed by Fameco according to the mall’s website.

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  8. PREIT sold Schuylkill Mall a few years ago. I am a shareholder of PREIT stock (which lost 50% of its value in the past year. Yay…) and I remember that Schuylkill was one of the former Crown American properties that PREIT couldn’t wait to unload. According to its Wikipedia page, Empire Realty now owns the mall.

    Schuylkill is a Dutch word, possibly meaning “hidden river”. The mall is named after the county it’s in and the Schuylkill River starts there. It ends up in Philadelphia where the infamous Schuylkill Expressway runs alongside it.

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    SEAN Reply:

    @Bruce, What a strange mall considering it’s size vs it’s market segment. Not to go off topic, but do you own shares of Simon or Macerich? Both of those companies have stronger portfolios then PREIT.

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  9. @Sean, I’m not a big investor. My stock was originially in Crown American and it converted to PREIT stock after the merger. I don’t have any other direct retail stock.

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    SEAN Reply:

    @Bruce, Oh I see. Didn’t mean to get personal, just was curious. Just hang in there for now, but if your gut says sell then do so. At least they pay a dividend.

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  10. I grew up in the region but moved away about two years after the mall was open. It was the biggest mall in Schuylkill County but didnt have many stores to cater to the teens and the twenties somethings. My friends and I drove to Allentown or Reading to find the hip stores that cater to us and this is still happening today. Schuylkill Mall had to be ninty percent full at its prime with names like Jean Nicole,Jo ann Fabrics, Walden Books, Fashion Bug, Footlocker, Claires,Lerner, Spencer Gifts, Kay Jewlers, Chick fil a and an indoor Mcdonalds which have all closed The Fairlane mall open in the early to mid seventies with Woolco and Boscovs and around forty to fifty stores. Woolco became a Gee Bee and then a Value City. Both stores had amazing bargains. When I visit my home town, I always went to the smaller mall, because to me, it had more to chose from with half the stores. Schuylkill Mall is in a dire need to spruce up their interior and stop filling storefronts with non merchandise tenants. Other than different stores the mall hasn’t change, since I first set foot in it thirty years ago. The smaller mall might have empty store fronts but its well maintain and had a few makeovers over thirty years. I still think the Schuylkill Mall is a beautiful nostalgic shopping center but with major chains leaving in droves, I cant see any makeovers soon. With Kohls coming to Fairlane and the Schuylkill management leasing non traditional tenants, I see a bleak future for the Schuylkill Mall. BTW I love this web site thanks Labelscar

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  11. Judging from the website, http://www.shopschuylkillmall.com/ (it’s written on a sign in one of the pictures), they’re still holding events for the public like mall walking, trick-or-treating and the like. Can’t quite find anything about what we need to “keep our eyes open” for, though.

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  12. I’ve passed this blighted mall on my way on 81 plenty of times and stopped in a couple times. Very distressed and tired, the mall is a classic gem just hangin’ in there. There’s plenty of bygone area treats here including “the movies” which is likely unchanged from the early 80s. “the movies” was a miniplex once apart of United Artists brand theaters who had many outlets in malls including my local Westfarms. Interesting to see what it might’ve looked like at others malls seeing as it’s been “preserved” or forgotten by time in the warpzone Schuykill Mall.

    Here’s a shot I took of it back in 2009: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3495/3744496393_a6280a1323.jpg

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    Pseudo3D Reply:

    @The Caldor Rainbow, is that really you? Will the website ever update again?

    Thanks

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    Funky-Rat Reply:

    @The Caldor Rainbow,

    I took these starting in 2006, and have updated them over the years. This set covers all 3 enclosed malls on that stretch of Route 61.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/24629643@N04/sets/72157613374049160/

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  13. One new interesting thing at the Schuylkill Mall: the current owner of the 4-screen movie theater opened a digital 2-screen drive-in. Located in the parking lots, north-east corner of the former Hess’s location, it opened in August. They’re even showing sporting events and concerts on these screens (and inside as well).

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  14. For quite some time, that Chik-fil-A was the northernmost location in the chain.

    I live about 90 minutes away from the Schuylkill Mall – I haven’t been there in about 4 years. I’ll have to stop by and get some recent pics. It’s a pretty unique place in that it never has gotten any serious remodeling.

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  15. And what do you know? This Sears is on the list of the stores to be closed in 2012.

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    dan-onymous Reply:

    @Caldor, According to the published list, the closing Sears is in Pottstown (Coventry Mall), not Schuylkill Mall: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2011/12/list-of-sears-kmart-stores-closing/1

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    Caldor Reply:

    @dan-onymous, you’re right, good catch! I always get confused in PA with the two potts-towns that both have malls

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    Funky-Rat Reply:

    @Caldor,

    There’s only one Pottstown. This mall is in Frackville, which is above Pottsville. No biggie, but the two are a good distance apart, just in case anyone was going to try to find this mall in Pottstown.

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  16. Wow, Schuylkill Mall is lucky, their Sears and Kmart were spared, but for how long? I can’t belive Sears and Kmart are closing so many stores, sad to say but they aren’t what they once were!

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    SEAN Reply:

    @Nordrike Field, This doesn’t shock me in the least. The healthy malls that currently have Sears stores will hold on to them, but marginal malls like this one may lose there Sears anchors as the company needs to shrink to survive. JC Penny, Macy’s & Dillard’s may end up following suit as it becomes harder to justify paying high rents in weaker or dieing malls. Even Sacks Fith Avenue is going through this process in some of the top tier centers in this country.

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  17. My Grandpa grew up in Frackville, PA (the town right by this mall) and the house he grew up in still stands today. I have fond memories of my parents bringing me and my siblings to this mall. My siblings and I playing in the arcade that is still there, going to the movies, and buying clothes from the stores. I enjoyed meeting my Aunt and Uncle there and they would treat my siblings and I to the little rides there in front of K Mart. I remember thinking that that K Mart was the only K Mart in the world since there never was one around me until I got older and found them in NJ (lol). I got my first ear pieced there when I was in 4th grade during Winter break in one of the kiosks called Piercing Pagoda. I remember playing in the open area in front of The Bon-Ton with my younger siblings. I’m now 24, and just recently, I brought my boyfriend over here to show him my childhood memories. (I’m from NJ). Yes there is a section where the mall seems dead, and I remember when the mall had more opened stores, but I still love it there. I really do hope they stay open through these rough times. I want to bring my future children up here and show them what I had as a child. :)

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  18. Schuylkill Mall just lost a big tenant in Nirvana’s Closet. They were selling illegal substances (I can’t find the article link right now, but if you google for it, you’ll find it).

    They took up a lot of real estate down near K-mart. Sad.

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  19. They just totally re-vamped the movie theater :) it has a bar in its vip lounge that goes into 3d screenings, then they made an out door drive in theater that’s huge and just behind the mall. A lot of stores are still closed in it but some are new lol its a cute mall, my kids love it.

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  20. Does anybody have any old pictures of this place circa 80′s or any knowledge of former stores in specific locations? For example, where the Listening Booth, Chess King, and Anderson Little stores were? I know for a fact these were here but don’t know their exact locations in the mall today.

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