Watertown Mall; Watertown, Massachusetts

Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA

The Watertown Mall is a small, 250,000 square foot mall located on Arsenal Street in Watertown, Massachusetts. A week or so ago, I posted about the Arsenal Mall, which was built directly across the street in the early 1980s. The Watertown Mall is its older and smaller sibling, typical of the tiny dumbell-style malls built around New England in the 1970s. This particular mall opened in October 1975 with much fanfare, anchored by a Bradlees Department Store and a Stop & Shop Supermarket. The small enclosed mall between–which is shaped like an “L”–was considered state of the art for the time.

Over the years, there have been many changes at the Watertown Mall, and it’s perhaps surprising that it even remains enclosed. Stop & Shop left the mall eons ago to be replaced by one of the few Omni Foods locations, which closed in 1999. Omni Foods was replaced by a Best Buy (one of the earlier Boston-area locations) in 2000, only to have the mall’s other anchor, Bradlees, die in early 2001. That space would be filled by Target in 2002, and this relatively compatible pair of anchor tenants has kept the small mall space alive. The fact that the mall is literally across the street from (and thus well within walking distance of) the slightly larger Arsenal Mall has undoubtedly helped it survive.

Watertown Mall in Watertown, MABeyond its anchor stores, most of the tenants in the Watertown Mall have been relatively typical of smaller enclosed malls. There’s an Old Country Buffet and a Registry of Motor Vehicles–both of which are significant draws–and until 2006 there was a location of New England’s once-venerable Strawberries’ Records and Tapes chain, which was a pretty cool place before being acquired by TransWorld and turned into FYE with a different name (later they would just be FYE in every way). Also until 2006, the Watertown Mall was the location of the only Gap Outlet in the immediate Boston area, but that recently moved across the street to the Arsenal Mall. There’s a Papa Gino’s location and some smaller shoe or clothing stores sprinkled throughout the mall.

On its own, the Watertown Mall isn’t a terribly interesting mall, but because its located across from the unusual Arsenal Mall, it’s kind of an interesting place. Truthfully, the Watertown Mall would easily lend itself to big boxing, so it’s shocking (and neat) that it even exists, even if it’s too small to make much impact.

In March 2007, the Boston Globe ran a piece about the mall’s history, continued existence, and (marginal, given its size) malaise, and it’s well worth reading. Like with the Arsenal Mall, we have a limited number of 2001 photos (most of whom look the same as today, except Strawberries is still operational), and we also have a few photos taken in 2006 before The Gap Outlet moved across the street.


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Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA in 2006, with Gap Outlet Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA in 2006, with Gap Outlet Old Papa Gino's signage in Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA, 2006


Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA

Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA

Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA

Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA Watertown Mall in Watertown, MA

Author: Caldor

Jason Damas is a search engine marketing analyst and consultant, and a freelance journalist. Jason graduated magna cum laude from Northeastern University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and a minor in Music Industry. He has regularly contributed to The Boston Globe, PopMatters.com, Amplifier Magazine, All Music Guide, and 168 Magazine. In addition, he was a manager for a record store for over two years. Currently, he focuses on helping companies optimize their web sites to maximize search engine visibility, and is responsible for website conversion analysis, which aims to improve conversion rates by making e-commerce websites more user-friendly. He lives in suburban Boston.

34 thoughts on “Watertown Mall; Watertown, Massachusetts”

  1. In the new pics, the 3rd pic in row 3 doeesn’t work.

  2. I wonder if Stop & Shop once owned this mall, given the fact that the mall was anchored by both Stop & Shop and Bradlees (which was owned by Stop & Shop at the time). Also, was Stop & Shop responsible for this mall’s construction, and did Stop & Shop leave the mall prior to its divesture of Bradlees? (I do know that Stop & Shop would often construct many malls or shopping centers that were anchored by both Stop & Shop and Bradlees.)

    Additionally, I think that Papa Gino’s is one of the very best fast-food chains out there. It’s ashame that they are only located in New England and New York State, since they are superior to Sbarro (which is the only other Italian fast food chain that I can think of ).

  3. Wouldn’t Fazoli’s be an Italian fast food chain?

  4. Wow! A vintage Papa’s! And yes, Papa Ginos is a very underrated pizza chain outside of the homeland of Mass. Why aren’t they doing well? Is it their prices ($13.99 for a smaller than normal large is kind of steep but it’s quality goodness)? I just wish they weren’t pulling stores out of Connecticut left and right because I gotta go nosebleed north to get my dirty little fix now.

    Anyway, Dos Equis is on the other line… they want their logo back.

  5. Papa Gino’s seems to have actually emerged from their malaise over the past couple years, and have been opening lots of new restaurants (and rehabbing old ones) in MA and RI. Has that not been the same in CT? I know they were slowly closing them for some time through the 90s and early 00s but it seems the trend has reversed.

  6. Cool, a vintage Payless Shoe Source sign, I love those.

    What’s with the “XXXX” on the sign? Is there a porn store in the mall?

  7. Vintage Payless sign? I think not (yet). Those “old” signs (not much “older” than Walgreens “timeless” logo they once promised to rework) are still around in droves and have yet to be phased out just yet (give them at least until maybe 2010). Actually, Payless has in recent years been very successful (likely due to marketing and ramping up with some trendier discount alternatives) and has resulted in expanding quite a bit and with it they’ve unveiled a very swanky new logo that appears to take some 70s appeal. Actually, this might be one of the few logos that brings hope in a boring big box era if likely reeking of regressive flair.

    About Papa Gino’s, they recently closed up a (relatively new) local store in New Britain, CT but they may have been due to other reasons. After all, Papa’s is franchise owned. I can’t believe there aren’t more than three locations in CT being right on the Mass. doorstep.

  8. That’s what I meant. I liked the yellow and orange Payless sign. It’s…cool!

  9. They need to spruce this place up, you know do a little decorating? This place looks bare.

    I hate how shopping today has been more and more focused to the higher upper class, sorry the more “affluent” is the term,it turns me off.

    WTF happened to serving the normal regular people? Ya’ know the middle class?

  10. Oh, one more thing I like that odd looking logo too, reminds me of the days when mall logos were neat little clever puzzling symbols that caught you’re attention.

    I also love the old Payless shoe source logo, so retro! pity they didn’t keep the orange and yellow colors they had in the old logo it was eyecatching!



    I love how the old logo stacked on top of itself in alternate placement, I’ll miss that.

  11. I’ve only seen the new Payless sign at a freestanding store in Detroit. I guess they’re starting with freestanding stores first, then they’ll phase out the signs at mall stores. I agree thought that the old sign looks cooler, the new one does’nt even resemble Payless to me.

    This mall looks cool though for being so small, it’s not as interesting as Arsenal Mall but I like the mix of stores (never seen a Dunkin Donuts in a mall before :D).

  12. You guys know I like the little malls like this. They have that certain aura of character to them that the big airy mega-malls can’t recapture.

    The anchors are strong ones, so Target wanting to build out into the mall, thus eating away inline and common area space, isn’t suprising. it looks to me like the mall was remodeled in the mid-1990s or so.

    Strawberries’ closing isn’t too suprising either. First off, Best Buy has them beat on price, as well as Target. Also their parent company, TransWorld Entertainment, shut like half their chain of stores (FYE, Suncoast, et al) after this past Christmas holiday season. Them buying Musicland was a huge mistake….it’s just further put them in the red.

    Then again, mall-based music and DVD stores are pretty much done for as it is. You can buy the stuff cheaper at big-boxes and you have a much wider selection online.

  13. About Dunkin’ Donuts in malls. I’d be surprised if this place or any around it *didn’t* have a DD inside. For those who don’t know, Dunkin’ Donuts originated right here in Quincy, Mass. – and it shows. So in case you’ve not been down a typical road or route in the commonwealth, you’ll have not noticed a shop not within each exit much less a few miles apart. If you don’t live in or around the Northeast, you may not know of DD’s sprawl especially since the later 90s but mostly right after the 2000s when they broadened their clientele diversity enabling for what’s now a highly profitable franchise.

    Living in Connecticut, I’ll say DD inside malls are quite rare likely because they’ve already got shops everywhere to the tempest of if you can’t beat em join em. When they are, they’re a smashing success. Actually, when you throw a DD inside anywhere, they’re bound to be successful be a Stop & Shop, Wal-Mart or Home Depot.

    It’s usually the higher-end chains like Gloria Jeans, Starbucks and Coffee Beanery that snatch up the kiosks, high-rent parcels, and “upper” class folks along with them. After all DD hasn’t harnessed that audience (but they are trying with their concept shops)beyond blue and white collars (though have moved to more white collar appeal it seems) instead of the psuedo-intellect, thick-rimmed or turtleneck sweater archetypes.

    I’m rambling, either way there you have it.

  14. Mark: There are malls and shopping districts that do indeed focus on “the lower/middle class”, as you say. In the “white trash” section of town, there’s a shopping center (an old Kmart, matter of fact) containing Tractor Supply, U-Rent-It, an Asian supermarket, a Goodwill (old Big Lots). Formerly, there was a cheap generic grocery store called Yes! Less and a Dollar General. Across the street, there’s a Church’s Chicken, Albertson’s, a liquor store, a shoddy-looking haircut place, a Wal-Mart (surprise!), and a (seemingly oddly placed) Scholotzsky’s Deli (or however it be spelled) with a Cinnabon inside.

    Then, outparcels in the old Kmart include a restaurant called Taste of China, AutoZone (this one is notorious to me, I once saw an AutoZone in the same strip mall as a porn shop!), and I think there’s another store. Across the street (on the other side) is a closed Putt-Putt that had lost it’s branding.

    XISMZERO: I’ve never seen a DD inside any mall, in fact, there’s only one in town. As for kiosks, most of the mid-range ones peddle giant pretzels, cell phone stuff, belt buckles, or if you’re lucky, pirated video games.

  15. XISMZERO: Thanks for the explanation on DD in malls. The only DD shops I see around here are either free-standing ones, or mall outparcels that share a space with Baskin Robbins.

  16. Speaking of Baskin Robbins, I know they were once common in malls, all the ones around here vanished, but in Mississippi (or Alabama), anyways, Deep South, there was a stand-alone BR with…get this…a playground in pink!

  17. The only mall I can recall with a Dunkin Donuts in NJ is Willowbrook, but now I am starting to see more malls in the area with one. For most of my life, DD was always a place where you park, run in and get coffee and/or a breakfast item and/or donuts and get out. Starbucks (and Panera) invite you to hang out and stay a while while enjoying your coffee beverage with comfy looking dining areas and WiFi. DD is trying to take some of their customers with the addition of their lattes and other coffee beverages, but I still haven’t seen any DDs in this area with the “inviting interior” of a Starbucks or Panera.

  18. Other than on this site (and the Caldor Rainbow), the only mall-based Dunkin’ Donuts I saw were in North Carolina. One was a kiosk in Four Seasons Town Centre in Greensboro that lasted about a year, and the other is in Raleigh at Crabtree Valley Mall. That one’s been there for decades, even though there were no other Dunkin’ Donuts nearby until recently.

  19. Quaker Bridge Mall has a Dunkin Donuts/Combo store in its food area.

  20. I mean a Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins.

  21. In CT, Westfield Trumbull (a.k.a. Trumbull Shopping Park) and Danbury Fair both have DD. The Danbury one I think may be closed now as they re-build that half of the food court. Danbury opened in the mid 90s, but the Trumbull one has been there for ages.

  22. I don’t think a Michigan mall has ever had a DD in it. Baskin- Robbins in malls used to be a dime a dozen however.

  23. There are Dunkin Donuts in many malls in the Greater Boston area, I know that the Meadow Glenn, Liberty Tree, North Shore Mall and South Shore Plaza all have DDs in them.

    Many of the new Stop N Shop stores also have a DD in them.

    Also, before they got a huge reface in the mid to late 80’s DD’s WERE places where people sat and drank their coffee, they had real coffee mugs and counters, I think they make more money having people get in and get out.

  24. Looks like they are building a movie theatre in the old Dream Machine/Strawberries Space. From the look of the carpet it looks like a “Hollywood Hits” discount second run theatre.

  25. Just got the lowdowon on this mall yesterday. Looks like Target is taking over half the mall space, so Avenue, Marcou Jewlers and Papa Gino’s are all moving over to the Best Buy side of the mall replacing Dream Machine and Stawberries.

    Shame to lose the old Papa Gino’s, as it was one of the “classic’ style locations. I’m sure it will be revamped the way the one in the Wouburn Mall has been.

    The Watertown Mall location was very similar to the old Assembly Square Mall location.

  26. Yeah, it’s weird in there now, all the stores on the Target end are closed and Target has closed their “cafe” and put boys clothing in there.

  27. Hi Guys, great pics! I went to this mall today and am sad to see that Target is pretty much taking over of what’s left of the interior of the mall with a major renovation/expansion. Papa Ginos is now inside the mall down by Best Buy and about 10 store remain in the interior of the mall. It’s too bad Target is taking over most of it. It’s only a matter of time before the whole thing is Boxed out.

  28. Target is now re-connected to the mall – it appears that the entrance just reopened, and although I didn’t check out the mall itself, I could see from the doorway that it was pretty crowded!

  29. I remember that Papa’s and Dream Machine so well. I used to go there all the time with my best friend and his dad growing up. It’s a shame to see that it’s been demolivated.

    Last time I was there was probably two years ago, right before I moved away to CT. The venerable old papa, barrel-of-pizza in arm, was just waiting to serve me up a 3 cheese pepperoni pizza.

    There were rumors floating around several years ago that Dunkin’ Brands (DD, Baskin Robbins and TOGO’s) were looking at partnering/acquiring with papa’s.. guess that never happened.

  30. My family’s first experience of a shopping mall was Watertown Mall in 1980. I still remember back in the day when the mall is always closed Sundays thanks to the state’s Blue Laws, which is such a bummer. They finally open for business on Sundays at around 1983.

    Bradlees has been the primary store we go to. I never forgot how good the pizza Papa Gino’s made.

    Interestingly, we rarely go to Stop & Shop. But its next-door tenant MediMart (the Walgreens of its time?) we certainly went to because they were selling a lot of uncommon products that caught our eye. In the mid-1980s, there was an arcade next to MediMart and that was always packed with my peers when video games like Pac Man was the craze.

    Like most shoppers, when Arsenal Mall opened across the street, we flocked there because of the tons of options. It left Watertown Mall into practically a ghost mall if it wasn’t for Bradlees being there. Only when Target and Best Buy arrived did Watertown Mall made a comeback.

    Its weird that except for the Old Country Buffet and the two anchors, there’s not much to offer in the mall unless you need to go the Registry of Motor Vehicles to get your license renewed or something.

  31. Sean -This dish is called Pad See Ew which means “stir fried with soy sauce”. It’s Chinese in origin not originally Thai.

  32. …thought I remembered seeing this when the coverage of the Boston Marathon coverage is on TV. Apparently they are using this mall as command central. Krikey.

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