Anyone who’s been paying attention–and that likely includes most of the regular readers of this here blog–knows that malls aren’t actually in trouble. Sure, a good many individual malls are in trouble, and far more are closing than opening. But the species itself isn’t troubled; it’s just that why people go to malls has changed.
With our busy schedules and long American workweeks, big box centers make sense. You can swing in, grab what you need, and get home. The functional enclosed mall serves less and less purpose for this reason, but anyone who’s traipsed around to see a lot of malls all over the country (and we’re certainly guilty as charged) will agree that the top-tier malls, the biggest and most dominant centers in every area, are doing better than ever. Why is this? The really large centers are actually shopping destinations on their own, and Americans still love to shop.
That’s why I feel the need to give some kudos to the current, in-progress renovation and repositioning of the Colonie Center, the older of the two mega-malls serving the Capital Region of New York. The larger and more dominant Crossgates Mall, which opened in 1984 just a mile or so away, draws people from over 60 miles in every direction. In the time since, Colonie Center has soldiered on with a different set of tenants, but new owners Feldman Mall Properties have decided to aggressively re-position and retenant the aging center. Here’s the deal:
Colonie Center opened in 1966 as the first enclosed mall in the Albany area, with a strategic location between Albany, Troy, and Schenectady, right near the intersection of I-87 and I-90, and along US-5. Sears and Macy’s were initial anchor stores. For twenty years, the mall was the dominant center in the region, pulling shoppers from all over east-central New York. Even the 1984 opening of Crossgates Mall didn’t seem to dent its success. Colonie Center’s management was proactive during most of the center’s existence, and in 1992 expanded the mall substantially, adding a Steinbach department store in the center of the mall and expanding the length of the main concourse to the north along Wolf Road. At this time, Macy’s moved to the 300,000 square-foot, grand brick facade store (their old one was swallowed up by mall space) that they still occupy today. Steinbach closed in 1995, but was replaced by Boscov’s. Macy’s, Boscov’s, and Sears remain as the 1.2 million-square-foot mall’s three primary anchor tenants today, and they were joined in the late 1990s/early 200s by Christmas Tree Shops and Steve & Barry’s University Sportswear, respectively.
In 2005, the mall was sold to Feldman Mall Properties, and they are attempting to rebrand the mall–which had clearly been suffering at least some amount due to Crossgates–as an entertainment-oriented destination. The front of the mall is abuzz with construction activity, which will add a large, tall Regal Cinemas to be cantilevered over the mall as well as Barnes & Noble and L.L. Bean as new anchor stores, while also bringing new restaurants. The plan? According to the placards placed in the mall, they want Colonie Center to be “Downtown Albany” (a bit presumptuous, but I support the concept); a place to gather, browse, eat, drink, and be entertained. The interior of the mall, which was in good shape to begin with, was given yet another facelift that dressed the mall in an Adirondack theme, complete with working fireplaces, television lounges, and living room style arrangements. I’ve seen much of this at other malls, but it was more well done here.
Most importantly, Feldman seems to “get it:” They understand that the malls of the future will be places people want to spend leisure time, not places targeted towards the convenience-oriented consumer. Plenty of people will still want to get out of the house, to be able to have dinner and browse stores and see a movie. Tenants like Barnes & Noble and L.L. Bean–lifestyle brands that offer leisure products people actually enjoy pawing at and browsing–will thrive in this arrangement. Similarly, mid-sized metropolitan areas like Albany–cities that are substantially-sized but which lack the in-town shopping or entertainment offerings of larger cities–will likely embrace changes like the one underway at Colonie Center.
Here are the placards detailing Feldman’s plans for Colonie Center:
In addition, one of Colonie Center’s new tenants as a result of its repositioning is a men’s formalwear shop called Spector’s, that I include a picture of due to their store’s blatant nod towards mid-century retail design. Could it foretell a trend?