Monday, November 20, 2006

West Street Shopping Center; Keene, New Hampshire



It was only a month or so ago the discovery of the West Street Shopping Center came about. Located near the heart of the city of Keene, New Hampshire, shortly away from Keene State College, on West Street, this shopping center appears to be the town’s biggest throwback to earlier eras.
The town itself serves as a home to thriving retail landscape most likely due a few key factors. For one, these smaller retail landscapes in New Hampshire survive due to the generally undermalled landscape of New Hampshire like no other to my knowledge in the mighty Northeast (with only about five or six actual malls in the entire state). The town also caters as a one-stop shop for many surrounding townspeople and college students of both Franklin Pierce College in nearby Rindge and nearby Keene State College shortly distant. Unless you head into the foothills of Route 2 / Massachusetts, most towns around it don't have as much as a Market Basket or Wal-Mart without a drive into scarse rural Rindge or here in college town Keene.


One of the few JCPenney stores located off mall grounds featuring decades of minor damage by the elements.


It's customary for JCPenney to not update stores past 1980, so this one matches perfectly within the company image.


From left-to-right: Vacant plaza anchor, Rent-a-Center, Hallmark, EMS, Hair Masters, Coconuts.



Bordering retail and mall juggernauts like New York, it's closest neighbor Massachusetts, and green-clad Vermont; New Hampshire’s tax-free incentive might explain the lack of shopping malls around, especially on the brink of it's state borders. Even the outermost portions of New Hampshire's bordering Massachusetts territory don't feature much more than a few rinky-dink gas stations, small town markets and restaurants. But for what ol' New Hampshire doesn’t have in two-leveled climate-controlled shopping centers, they have in shopping centers. In Keene, there are a few competitors near one another with all the familiar big boxers still short of their own Best Buy. The people live here because they don’t mind shopping in the virtually year-round nippy weather. Right?


We found a live one: a Coconuts Music and Movies store. Yes, that sign says "Open", perhaps to Michael Jackson case



Neighboring it is an equally dated “Video Headquarters” featuring wonderfully discothèque neon signage, and a Fashion Bug catering to that same era. The plaza has a few vacanies, not nearly enough to be considered struggling, as traffic flows heavily in this familiar old center.



The groovy Video HeadQuarters might still be a holster for BETA and VHS...



Jo-Ann Fabrics featuring a long-replaced 1980's signage against an equally matched facade.

West Street Shopping Center could be considered one of the earlier, ugly duckling, flashback plazas in Keene, date of origin unknown, almost masquerading for what seems to be a few decade as a mock, twilight shopping mall. The center anchors an array of shops typically found in a [older, dwarf] mall: a restaurant, supermarket, and a clothing department store and a small bunch of shops all under brown-shingled roofing harkening back to the 1970’s. As it stands today, the plaza hosts [to name a few] a Hannaford supermarket, JCPenney, Eastern Mountain Sports, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Friendly’s Restaurant & Ice Cream, Hallmark and a sought to be long-dead Coconuts Movie & Music Store as what seems to be a lone survivor from the recently phased out Suncoast and Sam Goody era.





Street-side features JCPenney on the far-left, and right down the space-time line from there.


Another appearent vacancy sits between Video HeadQuarters and Jo-Ann.

Apart from Hannaford, which was renovated to modern standars recently, the entire design of the plaza remains trapped in a brown-draped fantasy consisting of deteriorating and scarred old shingled roofing which once promoted a faux-village scape. Even more oddly enough, JCPenney exists as the plaza’s grandest anchor, atypically featured outside any mall grounds - a practical measure for shoppers looking for threads as there are no malls within an hour of Keene.
On the street-side of the center lies a age-old multi-faced Jo-Ann Fabrics store which, in it’s most rare form, features original 1970’s signage from when upsidedown eyeglasses Estelle Getty wore in Golden Girls were fashionable.


Visible from your upsidedown glasses from the street: A flashback to the 1970's and long-phased retro company signage.

Aside from West Street Shopping Center, you've got a former Kmart now Sears Essentials plaza across the way, the newly built Monadnock Marketplace featuring a bevy of big stores further down Rt. 9, and the former Bradlees now Wal-Mart and Shaw's plaza the other side of town on Winchester Street. Sure, those plazas might have updated accordingly with the ages but does it have the character West Street has? For unknown reasons, this one doesn't want to conform anytime soon and stays comfortably where it is in time and space. As far as space goes, you can buy some and help live on the funky spirit of West Street Shopping Center.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Keene and this shopping center was built in the mid 80's, 1984-5ish. The JC Penney store was originally a Rich's Department Store until the chain went out of business in the early 90's. Penneys moved into this space from their former location on Putney Rd in Brattleboro, VT. The space that is next to Hannaford's that is vacant was a Friendly's Restaurant. It was a 2nd location for them, the first being a free standing restaurant just up West Street less than a mile. Guess they decided 2 locations was 1 too many.

Anonymous said...

You most be a very narrow minded person. Do you think that as each decade passes a landlord should update the front of it's building to match the current trends? Look at The Colony Mill Market Place - it is in an old wollen mill and looks like it is from the 1800's or earlier. You don't buy the outside of a store you buy the products sold with in.

TRJ22487 said...

I've lived in Keene since 1995. That was the year that Rich's became JC Penney, and Sun Foods became Hannaford's. Since 1995 Hannaford's has been completely remodeled inside and out, the inside used to look just like a giant warehouse instead of an actual supermarket, and the entire layout of the store was strange, a giant tunnel made of products instead of actual walls guided you to the vegetables, you could not go to whatever area of the store you wanted to go first, you were forced to the vegetable section.

As of 2009 I still work with and know a few people that worked at Rich's. One of them told me that he was making $5.15 an hour in 1994, and management told him never to tell other employees about his salary because THEY WOULD GET JEALOUS IT WAS SO HIGH!

The person below claims that Friendly's next to Hannafords is vacant. That was Friendly's, but it still is. As of 2009 Keene still has two Friendly's on West Street, and I've never known this being anything other than a Friendly's. However, right next to Friendly's WAS a CVS for the entire 90's, but they completely remodeled where that store used to be and changed it to something else.

Also in the mid 90's was a bookstore called "BookSmith" which I often went into. Closed in the late 90's/early 00's. It was either next to or one store down from Coconuts, which also has been gone since about 2007. VideoHQ and Jo Ann Fabrics are definitely the ironmen of this plaza, I don't think they've ever been anything else. VideoHQ has made major remodeling on the inside since the late 90's, but going inside Jo Ann is like stepping into a time warp.
Since Coconuts finally went out though I've had very little reason to come to this plaza, or even this side of town very often.

I have been dying for the longest time for somebody to come up with pictures of this plaza pre 1995 when Rich's and Sun Foods were still here.

Keene is nothing like it was when I moved here. The entire city used to be surrounded by wetlands, but they paved all of it around 2003 to make the giant Price Chopper-Home Depot-Borders-Dic.k's-Target-Circuit City plaza. That ALL used to be nothing but swamp and wetland, completely untouched by human foot. In the late 90's K-Mart (across from the West Street Plaza) was the most successful dept store. My absolute favorite store was Bradlees (the Keene one was one of the best) and sadly the store sat abandoned for over a year before being converted to Wal-Mart :/ around 2002.

Hope this was helpful

TRJ22487 said...

To add one more thing about this plaza, Keene used to have two CVS'. (and a Brooks!)

There was the one I mentioned next to Friendly's that was completely remodeled when it closed in the early 00's, but there was also one next to the former THE TOY WORKS. When CVS moved from THE TOY WORKS plaza (I've never known this plaza to have an actual name) they demolished the wall to make The Toy Works (by then K.B. Toys, with the outdated sign out front and to the side still intact) smaller, and Petco went in where CVS was.

Both stores closed around the same time when a giant standalone CVS was built further down West Street (if memory serves correctly there were just houses or a small building with a local business-Amber Moon perhaps? before the giant CVS was built.

I can't remember if the West Street Shopping Center CVS was like this, I think it was, but the thing I always HATED about the CVS next to Toy Works was that the ENTIRE back wall was a giant mirror, so basically you were staring at yourself shopping whenever you were in there. Effective security I suppose, but I used to get so sick of being able to see myself and everyone else at the same time when I'd go in there.

Also across from the West Street Shopping Center is the former K-Mart plaza. Is this plaza newer than WSSC? Either way I remember in the corner of the Kmart plaza, there used to be a tiny tiny little McDonalds, and I almost feel like it was called something else, like McExpress or something. It was there for years, and I never went inside, and never knew exactly what the hell it even was. Did you like place your order over the phone? I mean seriously, can anybody tell me what that McDonald's did? There definitely wasn't a drivethru ever, the location makes that obvious. I always got the feeling you couldn't just walk in and get food, as ridiculous as it sounds. I'll have to ask some older people that have been around Keene as long as me, because I have noooo idea, but I am positive there was once a small McDonalds next to the K-Mart Garden Center.

There is another plaza in Keene called "The Center at Keene"
This is largely a dead plaza, but there have never really been any major stores in it. Toy City was once at the center of the plaza, but they have moved to the former Indoor Mini Golf (80's)/Sears (90's) next to Keene Cinemas. Gold's Gym was once in this plaza. In the late 90's there was a small videogame store, in the age before Gamestop, but it didn't last long. Next to that was a nightclub called "Millenium" which I believe closed fittingly enough since 2000. The Center at Keene changes so frequently and I give it so little attention that I honestly have no idea what stores are even in this plaza anymore

tim said...

They just updated the look of this plaza this past summer, but the weird part? JoAnn Fabric and Video Headquarters retained their signage! It's awesome.

EMS is no longer there, being one of a handful I've ever seen close up shop.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Wow, serious degree of nostalgia from browsing this post and subsequent comments. I grew up in Keene. The West Street Plaza is largely vacant now, but as usual only JC Penny's, Video HQ, and Jo-Ann's Fabrics remain. VHQ in particular held out strong through the Blockbuster rise and fall, and the Redbox era. They seem to still be doing okay, but haven't updated their interior greatly since the early 2000's.

I remember the Colony Mill, I worked at the Mill Toyworks/Basket Company around 2004-2005, but it too is vacant of all but one or two stores now. Sad to see it go to ruin, as it's still a beautiful old building. Most of its long-standing shops have moved to Main Street.

I believe the same company also owns the Center at Keene, which again is mostly vacant. There used to be a TCBY, Gold's Gym, Toy City, Douglas Cuddle Toy's retail center, a hardware store, a NYC style deli owned by a friend's father, a used book shop, a thrift store, etc. there. They used to have an old steam engine in the courtyard that you could touch and climb on.

Sad to see it so empty. It's just a smattering of small medical offices now.