Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Chronicles of Caldor To Stew's

Spring has come, and Stew Leonard's has finally opened the former Caldor on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington, Connecticut. It's been a long time in the making -- luckily we were there for it all.

Many of my readers may not understand my kinship to the building at 3475 Berlin Turnpike.

I've seen it come, go, and grow into what it is today. Like many of those who drove by it daily, saw a nearly vacant plaza once hung by Caldor just sit by for almost seven years as prospective buyers passed up a tough to sell area of the mighty Pike.

Coupled with my first digital camera (since departed) and the spirit of an amateur shooter, I made way to a familar site; the almost notorious, defunct Caldor site in Newington.

Beginning in February 2006, I became enthralled with capturing what amounted to be Connecticut's last remaining Caldor. As months passed, I soon caught word of certain fate planned for a historically ill-fated site and the coming of Stew Leonard's fourth store and a future set in stone unlike a few other proposal before it which had failed. Thus, I established a project then having no official name but was nothing short of a goal. A goal whose since shortly after morphed into a project: "From Caldor To Stew's"; an introspective photography project tracking the progress of a long-dead Caldor building and to watch it resurrect into something greater, something desirable once again.


Caldor, which opened its Newington store in 1994, fell on hard times when the chain, who entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy one year later finally closed all its stores in 1999, leaving a ripe store on the Berlin Turnpike to suffer through more of its afterlife in vacancy. The store model was adherent to those built as part of the company's 1990's expansion with two large entrance pillars and stretching window panes in the middle to give the chain's newer stores more natural light; something which was lesser considered on older discount department stores in general. The new wave also prompted the unveiling a new logo and brighter color scheme (departing from all things toned around brown and orange) amongst other interior modifications like a "Cafe Court", or snack bar area, and even a Carousel. The Newington store was also unlike the droves of other aging, remaining stores located around the state.

Ever since Stew Leonard's announced their plans to turn Newington's short-lived Caldor husk into a "Fresh Farm Market", I was on the case for almost every step. Approximately one year away, we saw the little things to colossal changes, and ultimately many questions answered. One of them centered around demolition plans: when would the orange dozer come through a take the place down? Never really happened. Most of the store's skeletal remains stuck with the future of Stew's, a little known factoid.



Mid-Summer was undoubtably the highlight of findings and intrigue for the project. I'd make my trips down to the Berlin Turnpike, preferably on Saturday and/or Sunday evenings but as you'll find, all times of day and night throughout. We encountered the best and worst of weather as well during our reporting: from gray days, glaring ones, even got caught in a downpour or two, but was also lucky enough to be able to be there on silent, peaceful albeit humid Summer evenings when the entire plaza was, in a matter of speak, all mine.
When Toys "R" Us had closed at 6, and all the building's workers were at home readying for tomorrow's day of construction to continue. We eventually skipped the fence and secured some elusive interior photos and with it, managed to make away with some souvenirs like leftover receipt paper sitting in a pile behind the fenced, gutted building.
By intimately documenting stages of its early transformation to the days before Stew's ever sunk its "coming soon" pike out front to the current day of Stew's enabling Newington Fair to flourish once again. I sunk my efforts into the project and a very intriguing experience I can now look back upon. Now, I would like to share my quest all of you in a project I am very proud to have been apart of. In addition, I look back and see how I've evolved as a shooter while watching this place grow and evolve.

We've reported on the story of The Newington Fair aplenty, and the progress it has made in just one year. Stew's is doing very well, and has successfully made a future for a plaza of fallen promises thrive again. Currently, the clearing is being made for Sam's Club to establish itself somewhere inbetween Stew's and Stickley Audi & Co. (a former Service Merchandise), additional freestanding retail and the rumors continue of Toys "R" Us renovating its current store, which replaced Heartland Drug in 1996.

While we haven't brought ourselves to the attention of Stew Leonard's staff, we've assessed the store on a few occasions. We have chosen to respect their wishes not to shoot pictures (with the other mere factor of their being many eyes) inside the store. I've got one better for ya, go check it out for yourself and see why Stew Leonard's isn't any ordinary place to shop for more than just food.

ATTENTION: Yahoo! has recently announced the closure and discontinuation of the photo-sharing host, Yahoo! Photos. To our dismay, this means all of our existing albums, which were hosted on Yahoo! will soon become defunct. However, we have chosen to transfer all of our albums to Flickr, a subsidiary of Yahoo! where all of our previous albums will be able to be viewable in the future, and in much better quality. In the meantime, we apoligize for the delay and will inform you when the transfer is complete.


Anonymous said...

Awesome work as usual, Nick. I only went to the Caldor once and I believe they called it a Super Caldor. I remember getting a Nathan's Hotdog there.

Price Chopper officials in Southington tell me our Newington Store is still doing well despite the new "Stew's".

Anonymous said...

You can ever so slightly spot the former vestiges of Caldor in the building. Very cool that they kept the skeleton intact.

I'd wish they'd to this type of demolition more often, you know reuse the previous stores skeleton?

Probably cuts down time and saves more money compared to tearing the entire thing down and building from scratch.

Funny thing the new building seems to have more personality than the Caldor's modern design without looking cheesey, I like that.

Meanwhile I'll be waiting longer while they tear down the entire structure of Torrington Parkade and building a new plaza from scratch, sigh.

(psst don't tell them but it looks like they kept the original parking lot lighting so far)

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

Super Caldor? Not sure I remember anything to that caliber (nor can I find any evidence it was). Caldor never established a "Super" edition of itself like Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart did. Furthermore, I'm sure it was the size of a typical Caldor store at the time.

When I first entered Stew's, first thing I did was look around. I noticed they simply repainted the skeletal ceilings - the same ones used for Caldor (although I'm sure their store was not warehouse ceiling). I, too, like how they managed to conserve as much as possible from the Caldor era including the gray-red lamps which I was almost certain were going down upon Stew's finality.

I also agree with the building in that it has original flare; it's not everyday you see a exterior made of all wood (although I can't help thinking it looks incomplete as if it looks it could use a paint job).

I hope to get the photo album up soon; at least by week's end so you all can see more details of the former structure.

Anonymous said...

Well there goes another Caldor building....sadly....But I have to say, I'm super proud that this is no Big Y or Stop & Shop.

Stew Leonards may be a confusing maze to shop in, but all their foods are organic and as free range as supermarkets like this could be (I don't buy any Meats, Dairy, or any animal products at other supermarkes....it's scary stuff what they do to those poor animals!)

Oh, and the wood exterior is beautiful! Along with its orange letters!


P.S. Super Caldors, with a Nathans Hot Dog stand? Well I do recall Trumbull's Hawly Lane Mall's former Caldor (now Kohls). It was certainly the BIGGEST Caldor I've been in, at the time. It had 2 floors (a 1st floor and a basement floor to shop in) and it had a food stand called (The Cafe' Court).

Note: The Escalators in Kohls are NOT original, the original Escalators were were the elevator was, and they were not stair type, they were FLAT BELT escalators, so shoppers could bring their carts down! (Therefore the elevator is not original either, all this I've mentioned about dates back to the 70s.

P.S.S. I FINALLY got a copy of the Vintage Crystal Mall page! Just give me a week and I shall send it to an e-mail account near you, Nick! :)

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

Two-level Caldor at Hawley Lane Mall? Interesting bit. I actually refrained from going into Kohl's upon my last visit as I really didn't think it would be anything special (like a typical Kohl's I suppose). And ramp escalators for carts?! How insane an idea?! Talk about a vacuum for lawsuits and other related injuries to have come. It must've been scrapped quickly.

How many Caldor stores were double-leveled? I believe the former store at Connecticut Post Mall was two-levels and they used one of them for storage. Caldor must've wanted two-levels for malls to compensate for the lack of space on one. Pretty sure Norwichtown Mall's was only one level.

The Cafe Court was their established name for the food/snack bar area within 1990's renditions of the store (with the red/accent-wedge logo). Surprised they didn't milk the Nathan's association a little more... after all they're still alive.

Very much looking forward to your old shot of Crystal Mall.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Norwich Town Mall Caldor was only one level, as most of it's former stores were kept pretty small.

And the Hawly Lane's former Caldor used the Belt-Ramp escalators until it closed up, when I was about 10 or 11. When Kohls came in, the store was completely renovated, they removed the 70s belt escalators, and put new stair escalators in the middle of their store (rather than in the wayyyy back of the store, where the former Belt escalaters were), and they've also cut theirselves a new "outdoor" front entrance, that Caldor didn't have at the time.


P.S. I also have a vintage photograph of the 1988 Caldor in Waterford, CT (which was torn down for the Lowe's Warehouse where it is now).

Anonymous said...

Those flat belt escalators in a sense still exist in some places!


Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

Conveyor/flat belts for people are common at airports to give those a rest when moving around with hefty amounts of luggage but I've never seen one in a shopping setting. Those are laden with possible lawsuits!

As some of you may know, some Target stores (like one in Nashua, NH) with two-levels have pioneered (or at least have featured them in stores) "cart escalators" whose sole purpose is to transport shopping carts to with opposing levels to escape all the hastle and hazard of dragging one up or down steep grades. A brilliant concept in this day and age and all...

Update on the photo album: they're still being transported according to Yahoo! Photos. Please be patient - I know I'm not!

Anonymous said...

There was a two decker Caldor in bishops corner briefly. The once Lord & Taylor closed down in the 80's and the location became a two-level caldor-clothing upstairs, General Merchandise downstairs. This closed around '90-'91 and the location split. Upstairs now sits a Marshall's and [formerly] Barnes & Nobles... Downstairs became a Finast supermarket, later Edwards.. then Adam's Super Food Store, now vacant. A vestige of Lord & Taylor... the three level parking garage still remains. There is ample ground level parking for all tenants even when occupied since, this garage is somewhat of an oddity.

MIKE said...

There never was a Caldor at Bishop's Corner.

Anonymous said...

say what? There was a Caldor at Bishop's Corner, and it definitely was two levels!

I think the Caldor in Manchester near Buckland Hills was also two levels, but I could be wrong about that. I wasn't a regular in Manchester in my youth.

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

There's a West Hartford pictoral book which claims before it was Marshalls, that original Lord & Taylor (with attached parking garage) was a Caldor. I have been largely unsuccessful in finding evidence (including looking through newspaper archives) to provide concrete to that claim.

Phil's right on with his commentary; The Bishop's Corner space which might've held a former Caldor is now Marshall's and behind it a vacant Adams supermarket. Both stores have that enormous parking garage and I will concur that the entire property is bizarre. Adams (a former Edwards) closed up years ago but they've been unsuccessful in filling that somewhat obscured space.

I remember the Caldor in Manchester, Connecticut - it was an oldie. It was one of the first stores in Connecticut (before they extended I-84, and "Buckland" took over). As far as it being two floors, I cannot recall and certainly do not remember. I've been in there since as Ames (we know most Ames stores couldn't fill the entirety of most former Caldor interior space). Upon inspecting the building recently as "VF Outlet" and there's no second level access, at least to customers. If it was in fact two levels, it must've been a basement level not to say they didn't overhaul the interior, but there's no way the building height could support another level.

Anyway, good thoughts on the matter everyone.

Dad+3 said...


Just a comment on the moving belt escalators. They are pretty common over here in England.

They have grooves in them and correspoding grooves in the trolley (cart) wheels so the trolley actually "locks on." You can push the trolley, just but it holds it very firm.

If you look at this picture (http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=343858621&size=o) you can see how the lady on the right isn't even holding her trolley with kid in.


Great site by the way.

Orochimaru said...

Great pictures! It's something that the developers decided to keep the skeleton of the building. Unlike the old Ames Store on the Turnpike. But the Price Chopper Building is nice. Back on topic here. I remember this Caldor, when it opened and when it closed. When it first opened it was clean, organized, had a carousel in it, then everything went downhill and it just closed. I can tell you stories about The Berlin Turnpike and Kitts Lane and how I helped open the Newington Media Play.

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