Skokie Turn/Style

Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, Ill, 1964

Someone on the Remembering_Retail list brought this great photo to our attention recently. I love vintage shots of strip roadways, and my dining room wall is even adorned with a large photo of Route 66 in Albequerque, New Mexico in 1969, purchased from IKEA (of all places!)

What’s worth noting here is the large Turn/Style (or is just Turnstyle?) store in the upper right hand corner of this photo. Turn/Style is a long-forgotten chain of discount department stores from the Chicagoland area. They never had many locations, and the most notorious one was the large (something like 100,000 square feet) outlet at the Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, which Prangeway blogged about a few days ago. Someone on Remembering_Retail hinted that their downfall may have been their locations–many of which were in areas that began to go into decline during the 1960s and 1970s–though we don’t know how true this is. Turn/Style was eventually sold to Venture, then the discount department store division of the May Co., before Venture themselves went through other owners and tanked completely in 1998.

Venture Stores Logo

When I arrived for my brief tenure in the midwest in late 1998, Venture had only just recently departed and I was really fascinated by their large, angular, zebra-striped storefronts and their modern (if basic) Impact logo. It’s too bad I never got to see one from the inside!

EDIT 6/1/2006: Prangeway had this to add: “This appears to be looking north along Skokie Blvd (US 41). The intersecting diagonal street in the foreground is Gross Point Rd. The next intersection with Turn Style is Emerson St.”

Gursky and Wolf: Beauty in Repetition

Andreas Gursky 99 Cent

A huge part of the mission of Labelscar is to catalog artistry in everyday things. In particular, we feel that most contemporary commercial architecture, especially suburban retail development of the late 20th century, is undervalued and underappreciated, and likely won't attract the attention it deserves until too late.

This whole championing-an-obscure-cause thing means that I know how to spot a kindred spirit when I see one, and photographer Andreas Gursky is one of my favorites. By and large, his photography isn't exactly retail-oriented, though his famous piece "99 Cent"–pictured above–certainly is. Most of what Gursky does tries to capture the beauty in modern (or post-modern) repetition, and in a scene like the one above captures it pretty marvelously.

Andreas Gursky Atlanta
I also enjoy Michael Wolf, a peer of Gursky's, who's taken this set of striking photos from Hong Kong, though something about Wolf's photography seems to push the envelope to a point where I wonder if Photoshop was somehow involved. The image below is actually my desktop wallpaper at work–Do you think my coworkers find me strange? Nah…

Michael Wolf Hong Kong

River Roads Mall; Jennings, Missouri

River Roads Mall in Jennings, MO

I’m not really sure I knew of the “dead mall” phenomenon until 1998 or 1999, which seems to be when the first generation of these retail elephants started to drop. That was also around the time that I lived in the midwest, and my blogging pal Prangeway and I would troll around a seven-state area looking at all kinds of malls and shopping centers. At the time, we were technically more interested in finding the good malls–you know, the ones with 5 anchors and 200 stores and all the “cool” places to shop. We found something entirely different than what we’d expected, and those trips really opened our eyes to the phenomenon of dying malls, making us realize that many of these centers (and perhaps the enclosed mall in general) is in the twilight of its life. It was a far more dramatic revelation than any Abercrombie-kid packed malls could offer.

As a result of a ridiculously wrong turn, we found this gem, tucked away in the suburbs north of St. Louis. Somewhat hilariously, we parked outside of a wig store that had occupied one of the store shells at the time, hoping to cut through the wig store (seen here, in much worse shape than in 1999) into the then-long-dead River Roads Mall. I can’t believe we actually expected it to be open–it pretty much looked like this when we were there seven years ago.

1988 photo of Woolworth’s store inside of River Roads Mall:

Former Woolworth's store at River Roads Mall in October 1988

I guess River Roads Mall bit it sometime in the mid-1990s, and has long been scheduled to be redeveloped into a mixed-use complex with a heavy residential component. If it ever gets off the ground, it’ll hopefully help the area a bit. It seemed like it had fallen into pretty severe decline (at least in 1999…). Apparently demolition began very recently, and this blog has some great River Roads Mall demolition photos up from just this past week.

I didn’t carry a camera back then, but I found these dramatic photos of River Roads Mall online. They’re really cool because it’s quite a rarity to find interior shots of a mall that’s been closed up for so long. They were taken in 2004 by Michael Allen for his website, Ecology of Absence, which chronicles all kinds of structural dead things (including tons of non-retail stuff) and is well worth checking out if you’re curious about urban decay, especially in the St. Louis area. Also check out Toby Weiss’ fantastic site, which includes a lot of great, black and white, artsy shots of forlorn retail establishments, and really captures the sadness in the buildings. There are also more pictures where these came from. And as usual, for more history from people who have some familiarity with the place, check out dead malls.

Despite the sadly advanced state of decay that’s evident in these shots, it seemed that one point in time this mall might’ve had some really snazzy mid-60s decor: check out that blue-tiled wall just barely visible at the left side of the photo above, or the groovy, greenish blue exterior of that one anchor store (the former Stix Bar & Fuller.)

Former Stix Bar & Fuller, in October 1988:

Former Stix, Baer, & Fuller store at River Roads Mall in October 1988

2004 Michael Allen photos:

River Roads Mall in Jennings, MO River Roads Mall in Jennings, MO River Roads Mall in Jennings, MO

River Roads Mall in Jennings, MO River Roads Mall in Jennings, MO River Roads Mall in Jennings, MO

River Roads Mall in Jennings, MO River Roads Mall in Jennings, MO River Roads Mall in Jennings, MO

Echelon Mall: Not in the Upper Echelon; Voorhees, New Jersey

Echelon Mall Sign/Pylon

When malls first became big, one of their major selling points was that they offered shopping in a “climate-controlled” environment. Strangely, as they now pass out of favor, we’re confused by how often they’re replaced by centers that do the exact opposite, turning the common areas back to the elements and (often quite literally) ripping the roof right off the building. I guess it’s all that “new authenticity” we keep hearing about, but I’ll take the air conditioning, thanks.

While this makes sense in nicer climates, I’ve never really understood why developers want to try this in places like the Northeast. While we have our nice days, we have plenty of a) snow b) cold c) rain or d) humidity that, on most days when I want to be shopping, it’s probably due in part to the fact that one of the above describes the weather. I mean, geez, just look at the clouds in the above picture! Who wants to strut around in capri pants, swinging a Chico’s bag in that? Still, when done right, I much prefer these lifestyle centers to big box centers because they at least attempt to create dense, pedestrian-friendly development that fosters a sense of community, albeit a somewhat sterile, pre-fabricated community. Whether or not they become the band-aid-du-jour (much like neon accent lighting in the Saved By the Bell era) for retail centers of the mid-auts remains to be seen.
Needless to say, the somewhat unfortunately-named Echelon Mall, which sits buried deep in the Jersey-side suburbs of Philadelphia, is slated to be one of the next malls in the northeast to have its skin peeled back to expose it to the elements. The plan is actually to keep about half of this large, flagging mall–everything in the two level space between Boscov’s and the Strawbridge’s (now Macy’s) featured in these pictures–while tearing down the long wing at the other end of the building that extends to defunct Sears and JCPenney spaces. That area will be replaced by an outdoor, Main Street-styled promenade with shops, restaurants, and housing. Could be cool, I suppose, especially since they’re (somewhat improbably) saving about half of the mall. Here’s what they’re going to do to it (Note the presence of half of the existing mall, towards the far side of this view):

Plan for Voorhees Town Center, to replace Echelon Mall in Voorhees, NJ
I visited Echelon Mall in October of 2005, and could definitely note some signs of a struggle. While it may be a stretch to call it a dead mall, Echelon seems to be losing its battle against larger nearby competitors like the Cherry Hill, Deptford, and Moorestown Malls. For one, the location is horrendous. It’s located miles off of major highways, tucked away on Somerdale Road, near the intersection of Camden County highways 673 and 561. Despite being the second largest mall in the Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia–trailing only the gargantuan, impressive Cherry Hill–it is suffering from a swath of vacancies. This large, two level mall appears to have been built at two drastically different times. The southwestern, more successful end of the mall (between Boscov’s and Strawbridge’s) sports a distinctly 70s/early 80s decor with that era’s ubiquitous track-lightbulb fixtures. While that end is is reasonably well-tenanted, the long, northeastern end of the mall (which is full of filtered sunlight thanks to a skylight, and has palms and other flora that date this expansion to the later 80s to mid 90s) is a veritable ghost town, with very few tenants and almost no foot traffic. Despite being the newer and nicer end of the mall, it’s little wonder the plans call for it to be demolished. Per usual (and I’m already tired of saying it, but…) Dead Malls has some good historic info up.

The Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) Website includes some cool information, including a site plan that gives a good idea of the layout, but doesn’t mention much about the planned redevelopment. We also found a cool picture of the mall at sunset, and this neat painting of the mall’s escalators by artist William Mammarella, who must share our appreciation of the artistry inherent in such spaces. Lastly, includes a huge cache of articles about the mall’s redevelopment plans.

Echelon Mall in Voorhees, NJ Echelon Mall Food Court in Voorhees, NJ Echelon Mall Boscov's in Voorhees, NJ

Echelon Mall in Voorhees, NJ Echelon Mall in Voorhees, NJ Newer wing of Echelon Mall in Voorhees, NJ

Strawbridge's Entrance at Echelon Mall in Voorhees, NJ Exterior shot of Strawbridge's at Echelon Mall in Voorhees, NJ

Chapel Square Mall; New Haven, Connecticut

Another exterior shot of Chapel Square Mall in New Haven, Connecticut Street frontage of Chapel Square Mall in New Haven, Connecticut

New Haven has long had a bad reputation as a rough and dowdy city. Truth be told, this characterization has always reeked of sour grapes to me–it seemed like the only people talking about how “awful” New Haven is are those Yale students who are maybe just a bit bitter they didn’t get into Harvard. Sure, playing chess in Harvard Square while listening to a hippie blow on a didgeridoo may help get you in an academic mindset, but wouldn’t we all prefer to live in a “real” city where we’re part of the re-urbanization movement? No? Well, forget you then.

Truth be told, poor ‘lil New Haven’s feelings have been hurt numerous times over the years by those sneering Yaleys. During the 1960s and 1970s, which were a truly dreadful era for urban renewal ideas, the city threw its weight behind nearly every failed concept–a civic center! huge parking garages! a massive, concrete bunker-styled mall! a suburban-style office park!–all in the name of making itself just a bit more loveable. Today, these buildings–including the Coliseum, which is currently being demolished–help form a downtown graveyard of concrete tackiness. All those Yale kids didn’t realize that words hurt, man.

One of the most notable projects of that era was the Chapel Square Mall, built right on the edge of the city’s common near the intersection of Chapel and Church Streets. As usual, those scamps over at Deadmalls have a more complete history than I could offer, but this mall had a very strange configuration wherein the anchor stores (a large Macy’s and an Edw. Malley Co.) were each on the two southern blocks (on either side of George Street, along Church St.), and the mall was on the northern block closest to the common. Because the mall spanned three city blocks, it meant that each building had to be skywalked together, but since Macy’s was on the center block, both anchors were at the same end of the mall and it was necessary for Malley’s shoppers to walk through Macy’s to reach the mall.

When I first visited Chapel Square Mall in fall of 1999, it was already in a pretty severe state of decline, and Macy’s was already long gone. The mall itself still hosted a few national chains as well as a bevy of local stores (as detailed in this snarky Yale Herald piece) appealing mainly to an urban clientele, including a large (and seemingly very successful) independent record store focusing on R&B and Hip-Hop. The main mall area was a large, bright, wide two level corridor, with terracotta tiled floors and glass railings around the upper level. There was also a large fountain on the first floor near the common entrance. Still, it was showing severe signs of wear–I distinctly recall a lot of the metal portions of the railings to be rusting, and it was the last time I can remember witnessing a shell of a former Marianne’s/Petrie’s store.

Beginning around 2000, New Haven began to change. Yale University, apparently growing tired of cries from their student body that they didn’t have a convenient Starbucks or J. Crew, decided to take matters into their own hands. They bought many derelict buildings clustered around many of downtown’s boulevards, fixed them up, leased them, and resold them. While gentrification is definitely banging on the door now, New Haven is rapidly reclaiming its place as a destination city, with lots of nightlife and shopping and restaurants. Thusfar, it hasn’t gotten the same attention as other northeastern Renaissance cities like Providence, but it’s only a matter of time.

The renaissance of the Chapel Square Mall is part of this. The mall was shuttered in the early-auts and very slowly redeveloped as a mixed-use center that faces outward, instead of inward, and hosted foofier stores like Ann Taylor Loft and Cold Stone Creamery (and I bet those Yaleys love tormenting those creamery kids by making them sing!). We haven’t gotten to see the interior yet, but from what we understand the developers ripped the roof right off the original mall and turned it into an outdoor courtyard, with some retail, offices, and residential all facing a lush green corridor. For now, these construction pictures will have to suffice, but it’s likely due for a visit by the Labelscar crew.

Chapel Square Mall interior renovations Chapel Square Mall interior renovations Chapel Square Mall in better days

I also swung by to take some fasincating pictures from the nearby IKEA store, which opened to much fanfare in 2004. Built on the site of a former Pirelli Tire office building, it replaces a failed proposal for the Long Wharf Galleria, which would’ve brought yet another large (and more upscale than Chapel Square) mall right downtown. Surprisingly, given that Chapel Square’s been dead for years, New Haven is one of the only cities in the northeast corridor that could be considered “undermalled.” The closest enclosed mall, the gargantuan Connecticut Post Mall in Milford, is over ten miles to the southwest and there are no others serving the city or suburbs. There was a much-ballyhooed controversy surrounding the construction of Long Wharf wherein some potential anchor tenants were strong-armed by mall magnate Westfield (the owner of most major malls in Connecticut) to abandon the project, and they did. Instead, the city got New England’s first IKEA, but because it was too costly to demolish the strange, floating Pirelli Tire structure, it remains today–completely vacant.

Former Pirelli Tire Building in New Haven, Connecticut IKEA in New Haven, Connecticut

Like many older cities, New Haven is working towards reinventing itself and it’s nice to see it succeed.

Shoppers World in the Era Before Big Box; Framingham and Natick, Massachusetts

Jordan Marsh's old Framingham Store

The golden triangle area of Framingham and Natick Massachusetts is one of the most active retail districts in the northeastern portion of the United States, and while today it’s dominated by only one enclosed shopping mall, it used to be home to 5 “malls” of various size and design. One of those was Shoppers World, which was demolished and reconfigured as a big box center in 1994. We just found a great page including some photos of the old Shoppers World in the days before it was demolished, and we’re quite impressed. I do remember seeing the domed Jordan Marsh landmark once, right before it was torn down, but I never got to see the insides of this outdoor mall. Also make sure to note the presence of another retail relic: Herman’s Sporting Goods.

Today, Shoppers World is a large big box center with stores like Best Buy, Bob’s Stores, Barnes & Noble, and Toys ‘R Us. Its smaller neighbor, the one-story Natick Mall, was expanded and renovated in 1994–the same time that the original Shoppers World met its fate–to be the dominant mall for that area, and it’s about to be renovated again to include a whole new wing that will house Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus, two condominium towers and almost 100 new stores, making it New England’s largest enclosed mall.

There were also 3 other enclosed malls huddled around these two behemoths: the smaller Framingham Mall, which was demolished in 2000, was home to Filene’s Basement, Lechmere (a Labelscar favorite), and about 30 other stores. The Cloverleaf Mall is smaller, and we were less certain of its history before reading the article at that link, but today it hosts a Guitar Center and Burlington Coat Factory, and had a Service Merchandise until 2001. There’s a fifth mall near the corner of Route 30 and Caldor Road (tee-hee) that is really strange. So far as we can tell, it is referred to only by the unglamorous name “Route 30 Mall,” and none of the stores in the center even open into the mall corridor anymore, yet it remains open. It’s really just a glorified strip mall, anchored by Filene’s Basement, with a long hallway running behind the stores so visitors can walk to the back, home of “Lotus Flower,” an excellent local Chinese place.

Shoppers World Framingham Shoppers World Framingham Shoppers World Framingham

Billerica Mall; Billerica, Massachusetts

The long-ailing Billerica Mall in Billerica, Massachusetts seems destined to be facing the wrecking ball soon.

Billerica Mall Main Entrance

This classic dead mall has been in roughly the same condition since 1999, which is when we at Labelscar first visited it. Built sometime in the early 1970s as part of a quartet of malls constructed around the Boston area, it was–initially–nearly identical to the other three. Of those, only one–the appropriately-named Woburn Mall in Woburn, Massachusetts–is still operating, and it was renovated pretty extensively in 2004. Weymouth’s Harbourlight Mall was demolished in 2000 and Chelsea’s Mystic Mall was unexpectedly shuttered in 2002, and sits mostly unchanged today. None of these malls were terribly entertaining. Each was designed as a community-oriented center with about 250,000 square feet of selling space. In all cases, they had a Market Basket grocery store that had an exterior entrance only, and most (if not all) of the malls were originally built with Kmart as the opposing anchor. Billerica is the only one that’s hung on to Kmart, which is the chief reason anyone enters the mall itself anymore. Beyond a newsstand, a formalwear shop, a Papa Ginos restaurant, and a golf training school (which–OMG–so visibly occupies a former Deb Shops location), there’s nothing but shuttered storefronts. And boy, does the Billerica Mall ever have some great shuttered storefronts!–Just look at our pictures, which were all taken in April 2005. I particularly like the “gnashing teeth” facade on that one storefront. The entire parcel is shaped like an “L,” with the mall extending between Kmart and Burlington Coat Factory (which sealed its entrance in late 2005), and an outdoor plaza extending from Burlington Coat Factory to Market Basket.

Rumor has it that the enclosed portion of this long-dead mall will soon be demolished to make room for a Home Depot to sandwich itself between the two anchors. (You can see a site plan if you want, but I warn you that it’s a PDF!) While it’s always sad to see a mall go–especially a gem like this right in my own backyard–it’s hard to feel much sympathy for a property that’s been blighted for close to a decade, if not more. The Billerica Mall is located on route 3a, pretty far off of major highways, and is not located in a major retail area. It was clearly built just to serve residents of Billerica and nearby Burlington, Tewksbury, and Lowell. Labelscar would’ve loved to see it be successful as an enclosed mall again, but it would require some major cosmetic upgrades and repositioning as a leisurely convenience-oriented mall, with a lot of the kinds of stores that appeal to soccer moms (love ya, TJX!). That wide center court would’ve made a nice place for a Starbucks or a similar coffee shop, too, and it would’ve really made for a cool gathering place in this large and sprawling blue collar suburb. Unfortunately, the Billerica Mall seems destined to go the way that many other enclosed malls have gone in the past few years.

Wide Exterior Shot of Billerica Mall Entrance View of Billerica Mall from Kmart Kmart mall entrance at Billerica Mall

Gnashing Teeth at Billerica Mall in Billerica, Massachusetts Flea Market takes over Billerica Mall Funtime at Billerica Mall

Center Court at Billerica Mall Golf School at Billerica Mall Plaza Portion of Billerica Mall

Wide Shot of Billerica Mall Kmart at Billerica Mall

What’s a Labelscar?

This is a labelscar

If you’ve ever seen a store go out of business and remove the signage from their old building, then you’ve seen a labelscar. It’s more or less the equivalent of a watch tan; it’s the mark left on a building, where weather and the elements didn’t take their toll on the facade because it was once covered by signage for the occupants of the building, but is no more.

It’s a fitting title for this blog. Labelscar seeks to be the culmination of years of research for myself, Jason Damas and Ross Schendel. Since the mid-1990s we have intently researched American and Canadian retail development, visiting hundreds of shopping malls and thousands of shopping centers each, across nearly every state. We’ve been to stunning, thriving, modern shopping malls and lifestyle centers and we’ve been to some of the most derelict “dead malls” in the country.

Our mission has been to study these centers, and attempt to preserve something of their presence. The enclosed shopping mall, despite still often being considered a dominant scourge that kills our downtowns, is now in its own slow, drawn-out death spiral, giving way to big box centers and an increasingly diminishing pool of major, category-killer retailers. Yet, despite all the controversy that’s always surrounded malls, they stand as one of the most significant styles of urban development in 20th century America. In many suburbs, they were the de-facto “town center,” a meeting place and local focal point, and for many of us they served as a crucial part of our formative years. Unlike downtowns–which can thrive or die but rarely go away–malls are private property, and can be fully redeveloped or removed from the landscape with the whim of an individual. As such, many of these places that were crucial to many people’s lives are now gone. Similarly, because these suburban white elephants have so long gone unloved, few have bothered to document (in photos or in words) their existence. It’s time for that to change.