Prologue: Like all of the enclosed shopping malls in the state where I grew up, Lincoln Mall holds a special place in my heart. It was an accidental trip there in January 1998 that began my modern fascination with malls, and–quite literally–how the “other half” lives. When I say “other half,” I’m talking about a geographic (not economic) disparity. I lived in the suburbs south of Providence, and Lincoln Mall existed in the northern suburbs. As such, I very rarely had cause to go there, and it was during one leisurely visit spent people-watching on a rainy day that the whole mall obsession really dug its claws in. This was the other side of my city, with totally different people shopping in a totally different shopping mall, yet I didn’t know it or them. From then on, I’ve always had (in every way) to know what’s around the next bend.
Rhode Island’s Lincoln Mall was built in the mid-1970s at the junction of routes 116, 146, and I-295 in Lincoln, Rhode Island. At a little over half a million square feet, the mall was mid-sized, and its design–one long hallway with a 45 degree crook in the center and anchors at each end–was relatively standard for the time. The mall was initially anchored by Zayre and Woolco, with three junior anchors: Cherry & Webb, Peerless, and a movie theatre.
Tenants would shuffle about over the years, and by the mid-1980s, Caldor would replace the Woolco and Kmart would build a rather shiny and attractive store in the former Zayre space. Despite these decidedly mid-market tenants, the Lincoln Mall did quite well and courted a large roster of standard mall tenants such as The Gap and Lerner. One long-time fixture was the Christmastime presence of “Randy the Talking Reindeer,” a Santa Claus-like attraction that was advertised heavily on Providente television every year.
The mall was also the only mall serving the relatively populous Woonsocket trade area, and is located near the sprawling CVS Pharmacy Headquarters, the Amica Insurance Headquarters, and a large Fidelity Investments office campus, all of which would bring well-paying jobs into the area for many years. There is very little other chain retail located around the mall, which likely served it well in its earlier years but hurt it in later years as it was impossible to cross-shop with other big box chains, all of which were 15 minutes away.
Like many malls of its type, Lincoln Mall took many hard hits through the years. Built as one of the first wave of enclosed malls constructed around Providence, it was the lone mall in the city’s northern suburbs until the late 1980s and had no immediate competition. In 1989, the massive Emerald Square Mall (with 170 or so stores spread across three levels) would open a few miles away just over the Massachusetts border, but the mall would be relatively unaffected by its presence, continuing its operations prosperously for another decade. In 1999, Lincoln Mall was hit with twin challenges: the even larger (and very upscale) Providence Place Mall opened up, also about ten minutes away, and the mall lost Caldor when the entire chain folded. For awhile, the mall limped a bit, but was given a major boost with an extensive (mainly exterior) renovation in 2000. Despite the loss of many of its junior anchors, the mall rebounded by replacing them: Pay/Half moved into the Cherry & Webb space, HomeGoods took the long-underused Peerless space, and the movie theatres were taken over by a medical center. The Caldor anchor was mostly demolished and replaced by a Stop & Shop, which (for obvious reasons) did not open into the mall. It did, however, drive traffic, and the mall continued on. Eventually, Marshalls took the remainder of the former Caldor space and a tiny bit of the old mall and acted as the mall’s eastern anchor. As recently as January 2003, the mall was almost fully leased.
Also, in 2002, another major contender opened just a few exits away at US-44 and I-295. Smithfield Crossing is a large outdoor shopping center that hosts many traditional mall tenants and wooed some tenants (such as The Gap) away from Lincoln Mall. It would have more of an impact on the Lincoln Mall than either Emerald Square Mall or Providence Place.
Unfortunately Kmart would close their 110,000 square foot Lincoln Mall store as part of a round of closings in 2003, and the loss would impact the mall severely. Stores began emptying out at an alarming pace and by February 2004 the mall was over 50% vacant. The still newly-opened Marshalls also shut their mall entrance, dooming the mall. The center was sold to WP Realty at about this time, and they announced plans to demolish much of the mall and replace it with an outward-facing plaza. Demolition began in mid to late 2004.
Now, the mall is an extremely strange mall and plaza hybrid. The majority of the western Kmart wing was demolished in 2004 and has been replaced by an outdoor strip plaza anchored by a Target. The eastern wing was also largely big-boxed, with Marshalls, Home Goods, and a party store having exterior entrances only.
Strangely, two pieces of the mall interior remain. The cross hallway (and eastern entrance) closest to Marshalls (former Caldor) has remained in place–and remained open–seemingly so patrons can access a nail salon hidden deep inside of the old mall. Notice that the Marshalls sign above their shuttered interior entrance actually remains! I recorded this anomaly with this picture:
Similarly, most of the center court area of the mall was not big boxed and in fact remains today exactly as it always has been. There is a mall entrance in the front to access the center court, and there remains room for about 20 stores in the mall’s interior. Many of them (well over half) are vacant. Despite having frontage with the side of the Target store, it does not open into the mall, and the other end of the mall faces Career Education Institute, a job training school that’s long been a tenant at the mall even when it was successful. They moved to this larger space, taking up much of the interior of the old hallway (and separating this part of the mall from the dead area near the Marshalls, shown above).
In addition, a rather large “Cinema World” movie theatre was added to the back of the mall as a part of this renovation. It seems that the center court of the Lincoln Mall is now acting as a de-facto movie theatre lobby, and in fact the only new tenant to open inside of the enclosed portion of the mall during this time has been a Subway.
I’m not sure why the enclosed portion of the Lincoln Mall was kept, but I’m grateful for it. It does raise some false hopes; if Target would knock down the wall separating them from the mall, and if the CEI space was removed, then about 66% of the original mall from Target to Marshalls could be reopened and could again function as the enclosed mall it always was. Will this happen? Sadly, almost certainly not. But is this one of the stranger repositionings that I’ve seen? Absolutely. It’s puzzling as to why WP Realty would keep the center court yet not have mall access to abutting anchors, such as Target. There’s enough of the mall remaining to have a substantial enclosed center still, but as it is now its doomed to be a low-rent haven with little visibility.
I took all these pictures a couple weeks ago, and in the time since that the Lincoln Mall was recently sold again.
Prangeway: I visited Lincoln Mall on August 25, 2001 and took the following pictures. It’s interesting how mostly successful the mall was when I visited and how many changes it has gone through to become the “Frankenmall” it is today. Hopefully the new owners have a long-term vision for the mall and aren’t essentially just winging it with this fragile little mall.