Jordan’s Furniture to Open Mall Store

Former Caldor/Old Navy Store at Warwick Mall

Jordan’s Furniture, a New England chain of large, destination-oriented furniture stores, is moving into the former Caldor/Old Navy store (pictured above) in the Warwick Mall in Warwick, Rhode Island.

Last spring, the Warwick Mall was heavily damaged by a flood and was closed for months. As a result of the renovations, many retailers either left the center entirely or moved to new spaces. As part of the process, Old Navy–who had occupied part of the first floor of the massive, two-level former Caldor store at the mall’s center court–decided to move to a more appropriately-sized in-line space instead of moving back into their too-large digs. The second level of the store has been unused since Caldor shuttered the store in 1999. This created a space for a new anchor to move in, and enter Jordan’s:

Furniture shopping remains a tactile experience, according to an industry spokeswoman, as American consumers still like to see and touch furniture pieces before buying them.

“It’s not unusual in midsized cities for there to be a cluster of home furnishing stores in proximity. It’s happening all over” the country, said Jaclyn C. Hirschhaut, of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, a furniture manufacturers’ trade group. “Ultimately, to the consumer, it makes the process of shopping for furniture so much easier.”

Typically, furniture stores make for sleepy mall anchors–we’ve all seen a dying mall here or there with an Ashley or Bob’s Discount Furniture store clinging on to one of the darkened anchors for cheap rent. Jordan’s, however, is a bit of an anomaly in that their stores are destinations in and of themselves, and often feature a variety of attractions and eateries (many with a local focus) to draw people to them even when they’re not looking to buy a sofa:
Jordan’s is well known for its splashy store layouts — one has an IMAX theater, another has a trapeze school. Eliot Tatelman, Jordan’s president and chief executive officer, declined to say what people will find in the Warwick store when it opens later this year.

Jordan’s stores are typically very, very large, so this will be one of the smallest stores (if not *the* smallest store) in their portfolio, and their first in Rhode Island.

In other news, it was announced only a few weeks ago that the adjacent, long ailing, and almost completely vacant Rhode Island Mall–the oldest two level mall in New England and the only one designed by Victor Gruen–will finally be put out of its misery and shuttered on April 30.


Warwick Mall; Warwick, Rhode Island

UPDATE 4/3/2010: I’m resurfacing this post from 2006 specifically because the Warwick Mall has been all over the news this week. Rhode Island’s Warwick Mall was a victim of a flood that was the worst Rhode Island has seen in 200 years, and the entire mall was buried under 2+ feet of water (and as much as 6ft in some places) and is currently closed indefinitely for a rebuilding and cleaning effort. Although the future of the mall is somewhat in question, it seems likely that the still locally-owned mall will be repaired and reopened in roughly the same state it was in before. Scroll down for some updates on the flood itself, along with photos (and links to more) of the Warwick Mall flood of 2010. Also, one unsubstantiated (and possibly strange) potential impact of this: the neighboring (and very, very dead) Rhode Island Mall has been rumored as a potential site for some short term leases for stores that were displaced in the flooding. Could this be the beginning of a return for Rhode Island’s only Gruen-designed shopping mall?

The Warwick Mall is a 1 million square foot enclosed shopping mall at the junction of interstate 295 and RI-2 in Warwick, Rhode Island. It is immediately across the freeway from the beleaguered Rhode Island Mall, which we’ve posted about before, though I wouldn’t say that the Warwick Mall was responsible for killing it.

Warwick Mall opened in 1972, just a few years after the adjacent Rhode Island Mall (which was then called the Midland Mall). For a very long time, the two malls coexisted very peacefully. Rhode Island Mall was anchored by G. Fox and Sears, while Warwick Mall featured Rhode Island’s first outlets of Boston-based department stores Filene’s and Jordan Marsh, along with branches of downtown Providence department stores Peerless and The Outlet, as well as a Woolworth. The JCPenney building at the west end of the mall was almost certainly added later, and Caldor replaced The Outlet some time in the early 1980s. Despite that Warwick Mall was almost twice the size of the Rhode Island Mall, it houses only seventy stores. This is because it houses six anchors instead of two, and the large size of these anchors and in-line store spaces. The Jordan Marsh store alone housed more than 300,000 square feet of floor space.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Warwick area became the king of Rhode Island retail, and the route 2 corridor became a boomtown of strip malls, stretching miles to the north and south. Both malls profited and continued to thrive, but by the late 1980s, the Rhode Island Mall may have gained a slight edge via a renovation and addition of a food court, plus its ability to actually hold more tenants in spite of its smaller size. The Warwick Mall responded with a 1991 renovation, which added the arched trellis ceilings you see in these photos today, and removed many of the mall’s more vintage elements, such as the sunken sitting areas, extensive greenery, large fountains, and statues. The mall’s historic clock does remain, along with a much smaller version of the center court fountain. Prior to the renovation, the Warwick Mall’s center court featured a large penny fountain with a large, vaguely Grecian statue. I wish I had some vintage photos of this mall, because the way I remember it as a child was truly stunning–very much the model of a “classic” shopping mall. One of my favorite features was a sunken sitting area in the center of the mall which housed an Orange Julius (the kind with the “wall of oranges” facade).

In addition, the renovation replaced the departed Peerless anchor with a large food court. Around this time (I’m not sure of the exact date), Woolworth’s also departed the mall and was replaced with an extremely large Express/Bath and Body Works/Structure combination store, which still has its own exterior entrance.

Warwick Mall in Warwick, RIThis 1991 renovation repositioned Warwick Mall as the dominant mall for the southern Providence suburbs, which is the status it retains today. Rhode Island Mall’s influence began to decline a few short years after the renovation when the May company acquired Filenes, and ultimately decided to shut their G. Fox store at Rhode Island Mall while expanding the Filene’s store at the Warwick Mall, adding to this mall’s overall square footage. The 1999 bankruptcy of Caldor didn’t phase the mall, as the space was filled relatively quickly with a large Old Navy store. Interestingly, however, the Caldor was a two-level anchor store, and the existing Old Navy is only one level, so the second level of the Caldor is not in use and could potentially even be something of a time capsule. Similarly, the 1999 opening of the massive and upscale Providence Place Mall had no measurable impact on the Warwick Mall, which has remained successful. A large Showcase Cinemas also opened on the mall’s outlots in 2000 or 2001.

In a strange twist, the Warwick Mall has remained privately owned throughout its entire history. Developed by Bliss Properties, Lloyd Bliss sold the mall to his son-in-law, Cranston City Councilman Aram Garabedian, the mall’s owner today. Today, the May/Federated merger has created the mall’s largest vacancy ever, with the 300,000 square foot former Macy’s/Jordan Marsh sitting dark. Garabedian has purchased the site from Federated and said he is exploring demolishing the structure (which, given its size, seems almost inevitable) and replacing it with a lifestyle component to anchor the southern end of the mall. While I agree that what the mall needs most is more in-line space (70 stores is tiny for such a dominant, super-regional mall), I’m not so jazzed about the lifestyle concept in general because I fear it will look tacked on. I’d rather see the mall receive a second level addition with a collection of alternative anchors at its southern end, but one challenge facing the Warwick Mall is that the success of its surrounding shopping district means that there are very few chains not already present. We’ll see. UPDATE 4/3/2010: Actually, the massive Jordan Marsh store was replaced with a Target store on the ground level, and a Sports Authority on the second level, as seen in many of the 2010 flood photos. At least one of my original 2006 predictions was correct!

Historic Jordan Marsh photos courtesy Michael Lisicky
Vintage Jordan Marsh photos courtesy Michael Lisicky

In the photos, be careful to notice the distinctive copper-green awnings of the former Jordan Marsh/Macy’s, and the unusually large facade that Old Navy has inherited by occupying just one level of a two-level store. And if you want more, check out the virtual tour on the official website!

UPDATE 3/31/2010: Massive flooding due to storms in New England caused the Warwick Mall to be completely flooded with over 2-3 feet of water inside the mall and more in the parking lot. At the moment, it remains to be seen when the mall will reopen. Initially it seemed the severity of the flood in the area of the mall was comparable to many of the malls around New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina that never reopened, but on closer inspection it appeared that the mall was not as heavily damaged as originally suspected. Mall owner Aram Garabedian has stated that the mall should reopen in a matter of weeks or months at most, though it will remain closed indefinitely. A security guard at the mall had to be rescued by boat, and some bunnies being used in Easter photo shoots at a photography studio were drowned in the flood. More pictures and story here, via the Huffington Post. Photo below via the Providence Journal.

Warwick Mall JCPenney in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall Macy's (Former Filene's) in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall JCPenney in Warwick, RI

Warwick Mall entrance in Warwick, RI Former Macy's (previously Jordan Marsh) at Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI Food court entrance to Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI

Old Navy (Former Caldor) at Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI

Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI

Warwick Mall food court in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall carousel in Warwick, RI Vacant Macy's/Jordan Marsh at Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI

Prangeway: Here are some more pictures of Warwick Mall from August 25, 2001.

Warwick Mall food court in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI

Warwick Mall JCPenney in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI

Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI

Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI Warwick Mall in Warwick, RI

Lincoln Mall; Lincoln, Rhode Island

Lincoln Mall pylon in Lincoln, Rhode Island

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.

Old Lincoln Mall Site Plan

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:

Orphan Lincoln Mall wing, Lincoln, RI

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.

Former Caldor, current Marshalls and Stop & Shop at Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI Former Caldor, current Marshalls and Stop & Shop at Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI Main entrance at Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI

Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI Target at Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI

Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI Main entrance at Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI

Lincoln Mall interior in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall center court interior in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall CEI wing in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall theatres in Lincoln, RI

Lincoln Mall Papa Gino's in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall interior in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall interior in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall interior in Lincoln, RI

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.

Lincoln Mall Pay/Half in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI

Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI

Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI

Lincoln Mall in Lincoln, RI


Wakefield Mall; South Kingstown, Rhode Island

Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI

At Labelscar, we love tiny malls. Maybe it’s because there’s a thrill in hunting them; they’re stealthy and low-profile, hard to catch and rarely documented on the internet. The International Council of Shopping Centers generally ignores them. They’re fun little surprises, and some of them go undetected by us for years even in well-worn territories. The Wakefield Mall is a bit different because it’s in my home state, which is also really tiny. What a perfect pair!

Wakefield Mall is a really tiny–under 200,000 square feet by some measure–enclosed mall in southern Rhode Island. But more interesting than its size is the sheer awesomeness of that logo and facade! Located in the middle of the suburban shopping district of Wakefield, itself just a village located in the larger town of South Kingstown, this aging and tiny center serves the upmarket farthest-south Providence suburbs.

If you want to say serving, anyway. The Wakefield Mall is one of the smallest traditional enclosed malls I’ve visited, with only 15 stores or so. Years ago, the mall was anchored by NHD (a hardware chain that was acquired by Ace Hardware in the mid-late 1990s) and a rather large and modern Woolworth store (it had the blue logo scheme if that is at all indicative of its vintage). The Woolworth closed several years before the remainder of the chain and became a Rich’s Department Store (not the Georgia kind, the New England kind: they were more in the Wal-Mart vein). That was short-lived; it closed in 1996 or 1997. The space was then drastically re-worked and its mall entrance was removed to create room for a modern Shaw’s Supermarket. The NHD (which may or may not have stayed in the mall long enough to ever be bannered as Rocky’s Ace Hardware) would become a Staples sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Staples also removed their mall access.

Despite being unfairly shunned by both anchors, the tiny Wakefield Mall holds its own, with a near 100% occupancy rate. Long-time tenants include Fashion Bug, FYE, Waldenbooks, Hallmark, a local jeweler, KB Toys, and Olympia Sports. At various points, the mall hosted a relatively small Cherry & Webb store, Poore Simon’s, Weathervane, and (as reported by Deadmalls Dot Com) a Papa Gino’s location that closed ages ago. The Wakefield Mall is incredibly small and dated, and the kind of mall that would’ve generally been big-boxed. It’s probably survived because it is located in a popular suburban area that’s been growing and is a popular tourist destination. South Kingstown is also the home of the University of Rhode Island, so there’s a constant supply of young people moving in and out of the area. These photos are all from June 2006.
Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI

Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI

Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI

Prangeway: Here are some photos I took of Wakefield Mall the night of August 23, 2001.  The mall hasn’t changed much at all since then; however, I thought the mall’s classroom motif advertisement was hilarious.  Not only were the cursive letters of the alphabet written in chalk at the top with “Good morning class!” scrawled underneath in chalk, but the mall’s 15 stores were used in a “Spelling List” and a geography lesson, complete with a chalk outline of the state of Rhode Island, featured the towns in the mall’s immediate area.  It was great.

Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI

Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown, RI

Apex Department Store; Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Apex Department Stores are a small chain of department stores in the Providence metropolitan area that were mostly shuttered in 2001. They had only three locations: this one, in Pawtucket; a similar but slightly less-remarkable store on Route 5 in Warwick; and a more standard boxy store at the Swansea Mall in Swansea, Massachusetts. Beginning as a tire retailer and growing into a Sears-styled mid-range department store in the true, old-fashioned sense, they downsized aggressively at the same time as Ann & Hope, Bradlees, and Caldor were all closing or downsizing. While the Warwick and Swansea stores closed in 2001 (and the Warwick store was demolished recently), the bare-bones version of Apex continues to operate both online and in a portion of their Pawtucket store.

Apex in Pawtucket, Rhode Island aerial view

The “Apex Mall,” as it is sometimes referred, was built in downtown Pawtucket in 1969. Designed by famed architect Andrew Geller, its pyramid-shaped roof is visible just off I-95, and it sits perched along the Blackstone River directly in front of downtown Pawtucket. Pawtucket is a historic mill city with a rich heritage, and this–in my view, historic–structure is directly across the river from the Slater Mill, the birthplace of the industrial revolution in America. Interestingly, these two photos were taken from almost the same place, and they exhibit the vivid architectural juxtaposition you can find in New England:

Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island Slater Mill Historic Site, across from the Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Today, Apex occupies only a portion of the original building, while the Department of Motor Vehicles is leasing much of the remainder. Because of the size and crucial location of the property, it’s widely speculated that it may be demolished in the not so distant future, especially if rumors are true that the DMV is planning a move to Cranston. While it may be difficult to repurpose such an odd building easily, it would make for an ideal marketplace for a variety of merchants, especially if more of the building was opened up towards the river. In addition, there’s a particularly inspiring (if far-fetched) proposal to turn the building into a museum of Industrial Design. The Providence Phoenix wrote in 2004:

Matt Kierstead, a Pawtucket architectural historian and preservationist who is a fan of the building, suggests that not just the structure’s exterior, but also its conception as “an entire landscape,” and its unbroken interior space, make Apex significant. Kierstead places Apex in the context of a mid-century American design ethos that celebrated mobility and expansiveness. Not coincidentally, the building was conceived and built during the age of the convertible, the drive-in, and the space program, and it reflects the optimism of that era. Less well known is how it was devised by Andrew Geller, a key associate of Raymond Loewy, the man considered the father of American industrial design.

The entire Phoenix article, along with many more photos of the Apex building that are somewhat artier than my own, are available at the excellent Art in Ruins website, which chronicles historic structures (including modern ones) in Rhode Island.

Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island Andrew Gellar's rendering of Apex in Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Rhode Island Mall; Warwick, Rhode Island

Rhode Island Mall pylon along East Avenue (RI-113)
This is a tragic one.

When I was a kid, Rhode Island Mall was the mall. I always derisively labeled the neighboring Warwick Mall–the successful one today–as the “clothes mall.” Rhode Island Mall was the fun mall. It had the Aladdin’s Castle arcade, it had video game stores, toy stores, and everything else a kid would want. Now it has next to nothing: it’s one of the most notorious dead malls in New England.

What’s especially sad is that it didn’t have to be this way. The Rhode Island Mall had a long, long run as a big and successful center, and it died mostly due to a set of circumstances it couldn’t control and a few questionable management decisions.

Built in 1968 as the “Midland Mall,” this was the first suburban enclosed shopping mall in Rhode Island, and the first two level shopping mall in New England. Built on what was then remote swamplands, it was located next to I-95 and later I-295, and would be the catalyst for a massive amount of retail development that would turn this stretch of route 2 into “Rhode Island’s Main Street.” Providence experienced the greatest proportionate outmigration of any major American city in the post-war era, and Warwick, a suburb about 10 minutes south of the city, absorbed many of these residents, balooning to 85,000 people. To this day, Warwick is the second most populous city in Rhode Island, and many other suburbs in the area (such as neighboring Cranston, with a population of 75,000) are uncharacteristically large.

The Rhode Island Mall is a simple, two level dumbell style mall. It was built with a Sears store anchoring the mall’s west end. As far back as I can remember, the mall’s eastern anchor was a location of Hartford’s G. Fox chain, but it may not have been original to the mall. Despite a seemingly uninspiring layout, the mall is one of the widest and most open malls of its style that I’ve visited, lending the central common areas a certain grandiosity.

In 1972, the larger Warwick Mall opened just to the north of the then-still-Midland Mall. If you look at this satellite photo, you can see how the smaller Rhode Island Mall (at the bottom of the frame) is within a stone’s throw of the Warwick Mall. Warwick was more fashion-oriented from the start, and included Rhode Island’s first outlets of Boston mainstay department stores Filene’s and Jordan Marsh, so this presented a considerable challenge. However, because neither mall was terribly large and there was room for both to house stores without much overlap, they co-existed very peacefully for a long time. The presence of both malls made Warwick into one of the most major retail destinations in New England, and many of the shopping centers that line route 2 for miles in each direction sprung up during the era when both malls were thriving.

In 1984, The Midland Mall underwent an extensive renovation and rebranding, and this was when the Rhode Island Mall name was born. This was still relatively early for a mall to renovate since most of them were still in their infancy, and as such the mall received a substantial shot in the arm as a result. Mall owners added the glass elevator that’s present today, as well as a large food court on the second level outside G. Fox called the Greenhouse Cafes, which was the very first mall food court in the entire Providence metropolitan area. By the late 1980s, the Rhode Island Mall was so popular that management attempted to make room for more tenants by constructing temporary, cubicle-style spaces in the center of the mall’s wide first floor corridor.
Despite the opening of the 3-level, gargantuan Emerald Square Mall in North Attleboro, Massachusetts in 1989 (the first of the larger, more modern enclosed malls in metro Providence), the Rhode Island Mall didn’t suffer–the bigger mall was just a bit too far away, and the two malls combined were still larger than it. Even when Warwick Mall finally renovated in 1991, adding an even larger food court than the Rhode Island Mall, it didn’t seem to have an impact.

The beginning of the end came around 1994, when the G. Fox chain, which was owned by The May Companies, acquired Filene’s. Because Filene’s was the stronger regional nameplate, the G. Fox stores were converted to Filene’s. For a time, this G. Fox store (which was relatively small) was converted to Filene’s, but as there was already a larger Filene’s at the Warwick Mall next door this was extremely redundant and it was closed within a year or two of the rebranding.

That began the long and very slow death of the Rhode Island Mall. Despite that Sears was the lone anchor remaining, most of the stores remained in the mall despite dwindling business, holding on to the hope that the G. Fox store would be filled, but nothing came. By 1997, the vacancies began piling up, and by 1998 there were rumors that the mall would be torn down and converted to another use despite a still-healthy occupancy rate.

In 1999 or 2000, it was announced that the G. Fox store and approximately 1/3 of the mall (including the Greenhouse Cafes food court area, which was now completely vacant) would be demolished to make room for two new anchors. A Wal-Mart would open on the first level, and the tenant for the second level was unannounced. Wal-Mart constructed a store in 2000, but it did not open into the mall, leaving a temporary construction wall to greet patrons inside of the mall. Many speculated that construction could not be completed until a second anchor built a store atop the new Wal-Mart. In 2002, Kohl’s announced that they would be the Rhode Island Mall’s third anchor, and many expected this strong trio of mid-market anchors to bring the mall back to prosperity.

Unfortunately, when Kohl’s was completed, it too did not open into the mall and it became obvious that both had every intention of turning their backs on the mall–permanently. Convinced that the mall would never be anything more than a dead mall again without more anchors, nearly all of the remaining tenants cleared out, leaving the mall extremely barren and empty. Miraculously, the Rhode Island Mall remains open but today there are only about ten stores (out of a high in the late 1980s of close to a hundred) still operating inside of the mall.

I firmly believe that if Kohl’s and Wal-Mart had opened into the mall then the Rhode Island Mall would still be successful today. The neighboring Warwick Mall, despite its size (about a million square feet) has room for only about 70 stores and Rhode Island could still house an additional 50 or so. There is plenty of market demand in the area for such purposes, and the roster of Sears, Wal-Mart, and Kohl’s is relatively strong for a value-oriented mall.

I’ve heard that Royal Ahold (the parent company of Stop and Shop Supermarkets) has leased much of the interior of the mall with the intention of blocking Wal-Mart from being able to expand their store into a supercenter should the mall itself close. I’m not sure if this is true, but if so, I would hope that Ahold would find it in their interest to try and sub-lease that space to tenants, even if they’re charity cases like local retailers or public interest groups.

The following is a 1970 photo of the Midland Mall that I found on Keith Milford’s excellent (in fact, it’s a must-see) Malls of America blog. I’ve also tried to repeat the same shot today, though the mezzanine level of the staircase visible at left was removed in the 1984 renovation:

Midland Mall (Rhode Island Mall) in 1970 This shot mirrors the historic photo of the Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI

There are more pictures below, all taken June 11, 2006. A decade after the beginning of its agonizing, slow decline, the Rhode Island Mall is in sadder shape than ever. There are a few things to note. One photo shows the strange way in which Kohl’s is stacked above Wal-Mart, as visible from I-295. Also be sure to pay attention to the shots of the “temporary” construction wall that blocks the mall from Wal-Mart and Kohl’s. That wall has been in place since at least 2000.
East Avenue facing side of Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI East Avenue facing side of Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI North side of Sears at Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI

North facing side of Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI North facing Wal-Mart and Kohl's stores at Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI Rhode Island Mall interior in Warwick, RI

Rhode Island Mall interior in Warwick, RI Interior of the dead mall Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI Rhode Island Mall directory in Warwick, RI Dead Mall: Rhode Island Mall interior in Warwick, RI

Dead Cherry & Webb inside Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI Glass elevator and fountain inside of Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI Rhode Island Mall interior in Warwick, RI Note the way that the mall was rather haphazardly demolished at its eastern end to make room for Kohl's and Wal-Mart

Another shot of the way the mall was haphazardly carved up to make room for Kohl's and Wal-Mart Rhode Island Mall interior in Warwick, RI

Prangeway: I visited Rhode Island Mall on August 25, 2001 and took the pictures below.  Note the Tape World store still in operation, the Thom McAn labelscar, and the fact that the Kohls and Wal-Mart “anchors” were under construction with a glimmer of hope that they may open up to the mall.  Unfortunately they didn’t, and as a result most of the stores open in the photographs below have closed since then and the mall is currently on life support.

Rhode Island Mall Sears in Warwick, RI Rhode Island Mall exterior in Warwick, RI Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI

Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI

Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI Rhode Island Mall directory in Warwick, RI

Rhode Island Mall Tape World in Warwick, RI Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI

Rhode Island Mall exterior in Warwick, RI Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, RI

Newport Mall; Newport, Rhode Island

RK Newport Towne Center, the former Newport Mall, today.

When we created this blog, the main purpose was to study retail history–to document the way shopping centers are now or were in the past, so that people in the future could have some record of them. Unfortunately, we’ve arrived a bit late–hundreds of malls throughout the United States have already been shuttered, and we don’t have pictures to remember all of them. The Newport Mall is one.

I need to preface my entry about the Newport Mall with a personal anecdote: I was born and raised in the Aquidneck Island town of Middletown, Rhode Island, in a house about three miles from this particular mall. Growing up, the Newport Mall was never particularly successful, and any serious shopping trip demanded a trek off of the island. Since this was the ’80s, malls seemed like a true cultural emblem. I learned about them through TV sitcoms, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and, later, Saved By the Bell, and always felt that we were somehow missing out on this cultural epicentre because our own mall was never able to ascend past being “dead.”

Of course, this isn’t entirely true: Newport is a thriving coastal tourist city, and courts millions of visitors a year. A stretch of Thames Street a little over a mile long in downtown Newport houses hundreds of stores and restaurants ranging from national chains to local institutions, and it is (and always has been) the true cultural and retail center of this area. Apart from the restrictive geography of the island, this is truly why the mall didn’t make it, especially since downtown Newport was the location of choice for most of the better chains that would’ve made their home in an enclosed mall elsewhere.

Still, the allure of the elusive “mall” was probably a big part of why I became so enamored with them, and the fact that my own hometown mall was a “dead mall” likely has something to do with why I became so fascinated with the failure of shopping centers in general.
Labelled 1995 satellite view of Newport Mall in Newport, RI
The Newport Mall opened in 1984. From its birth, it was kind of a hack-job; the developers merely enclosed an existing 1950s (or 60s?) vintage shopping center on J.T. Connell Road (Connell Highway to the locals) and added some extra sales space. The center’s original main anchor, WT Grant’s, had folded and was replaced with a JCPenney store (complete with a sit-down restaurant that had a separate mall entrance, a true rarity), and Peerless (one of the many local Providence downtown department store chains) opened a small outlet at the far end of the center. The center of the mall had been anchored by a Food Mart store with a garish lemon-and-lime color scheme that was distinctly of its era. When the mall was enclosed, Food Mart shoppers were forced to somewhat awkwardly wheel carts of groceries through the mall to get to their cars as the supermarket only had access into the mall. It would be replaced by a TJMaxx not long after the mall opened.

Consisting of about 300,000 square feet and with room for around 40 stores, the mall was not large but was relatively spread out. The decor was decidedly spartan, consisting of exposed steel beams in the ceiling, a large glass atrium at center court in front of TJMaxx, and relatively standard-issue planters and benches throughout the mall. The Newport Mall was also not located in one of the better parts of the city, surrounded on all sides by big city-style decaying public housing projects, and shoplifting was a terminal problem. During the peak of its life (around 1990 or 1991), the center housed about 30 stores, including Record Town, Waldenbooks, Foot Locker, Afterthoughts, Hallmark, Fashion Bug, and other stores that tended to flock to smaller malls. Unfortunately, throughout the center’s life, nearly every store that did open in the mall was located on the wing between JCPenney and TJMaxx. Bar longtime tenant Fashion Bug, no tenants were ever located between TJMaxx and Peerless, and at its best the mall reached about 60% occupancy. The Peerless store itself would not last long, closing a few short years after the mall opened and being replaced in the early ’90s by a West Marine that shunned the enclosed portion of the mall entirely, opening only into the parking lot.

The mall was barely able to survive throughout its entire 14-year existence. The fatal blow came in 1997 when JCPenney announced they were going to close their store at the mall on December 24, 1997. When the Christmas sales were completed, the store went dark and nearly every mall tenant followed shortly thereafter. By the following summer, only Foot Locker, Waldenbooks, TJMaxx, West Marine, and Fashion Bug remained. In fall of 1998, the enclosed portion of the mall (ironically the exact area that was added in the 1984 expansion) was demolished and the plaza was opened back up to the parking lot. The southern end of the mall was also expanded and reconfigured, and an entrance was added to Admiral Kalbfus Road (RI-138).

Because the mall began its life as an outdoor shopping center and is now again a strip mall (titled RK Newport Towne Center), anyone who visited the site today would find no trace of the center’s era as an enclosed mall. Anchored by Wal-Mart (who filled the former JCPenney), Super Stop and Shop (who demolished most of the always-empty southern wing), West Marine, Old Navy, a 99 Restaurant, and a slate of smaller tenants, it has been relatively successful in the past half-decade. Interestingly, TJMaxx and Foot Locker are the only two tenants who continue to operate in the exact same place they were located when the center was still enclosed.

Because the Newport Mall closed seven years ago and was never well-loved, I don’t have any photographs of the inside or outside. The best I can find is the black and white satellite view below, which shows how the enclosed addition (with the gray roofline with the white border) was grafted onto the existing shopping center (much of which has the black or white roofline). If you happen to know of some, I would greatly appreciate if you would email me and let me know.

1995 satellite view of Newport Mall in Newport, RI