Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Westfield Shoppingtown Meriden; Meriden, Connecticut

By the time I was in kindergarten, my mom dragged me to just about all the malls across the inter-Connecticut area. While most of the time it was at the Westfarms Mall, one of the alternatives was the Meriden Square in Meriden, now known as Westfield Shoppingtown Meriden.

Westfield Meriden current anchors Macy's, Dick's Sporting Goods, Best Buy, JCPenney and SEARS, and soon Borders.

Located strategically on the brink on Meriden (near the Berlin townline) Chamberlain Highway (CT-71), and on the other side, outside the city limits, stratled between I-691 (formerly the extension that once was CT-66), and Lewis Avenue, property owners had truly seen prospects for a mall which they hope will serve consumers nearby. Also located on 71, but built before Westfarms Mall’s 1974 conception, saw it’s own playing field having no major malls or shopping centers for many miles. It’s closest piece of competition was the already troubled nearby Meriden Mall (later renamed "Hub") located just a few miles away in the downtown area.

Like most JCPenney stores, this one also probably hasn't changed too much since it's 1971 opening.

When the Westfield Group opened the Meriden Square, the nearby Meriden Mall faced a further plunge; scowering to the two-leveled, one-corridor, air-conditioned, indoor shopping center. For many, Meriden Square was a shopper’s delight seeing as there was nothing of a threat nearby to compete with it. Even when the Westfarms Mall opened in 1971, distance kept Meriden Square perched above the I-691 edge and long down 71 enough not to collide with each other.

Most formerly Filene's, and what was originally G. Fox now Macy's.

The Meriden Square Mall opened in 1971, by the California-based Westfield Group was originally host to a two-leveled shopping center with a few well-known anchor stores; G. Fox and JCPenney. The mall later faced a humble $5 million renovation in 1989 with proposal to add a grandiose new two-leveled wing, a bunch of new shops as well as a much needed food court, and new anchor; Sears which opened in 1993. Throughout the changes in the early 1990’s, G. Fox soon became Filene’s.

SEARS at Meriden, opened as part of the mall's first major expansion wing anchor in 1993 and is probably one of the nicer stores from the exterior.

Many things changed at the mall around 1997 as the Westfield Group came through putting fourth a $38 million revitalization and expansion plan into effect which included adding a new May Department Store anchor, Lord & Taylor, which opened in 1999 with a slew of new shops in it‘s wing. In addition to the celebratory new anchor, a parking garage was also set to be built beside the Sears on the Lewis Avenue facing end of the mall.

The newer side of the mall featuring Dick's Sporting Goods, and Best Buy after Lord & Taylor's short-lived tenancy at the mall.

Unfortunately, Lord & Taylor didn't see a future at the mall. After only a few years, the store drew cutbacks, mainly in part of the May to Federated buyout and which caused a closure of many stores all over Connecticut. Westfield quickly moved on with the vacancy by bringing two winning anchors to the mall's newest wing, big-box electronics Best Buy; which filled the space vacated by urban clothing store EbLens and sporting goods chain Dick's Sporting Goods which moved right into Lord & Taylor's sizable store.

Designed originally for Lord & Taylor, Dick's parking is on top of the very foundation.

The staple of the Meriden Square-era geodesic dome which is the only source which sprays natural light into the mall.

Along with the expansion plan, the Meriden Square was also planning to become rebranded as Westfield Shoppingtown Meriden, stripping away the Meriden Square name we once knew as part of a sour effort to uniform Westfield-owned malls. After facing much critcism, the Westfield Group detached the queer “Shoppingtown” addage to most of their malls in 2005, even though the mall still features it on most of their plaza signage.

Veteran patrons might remember this perched former Meriden Square sign, since rebranded as Westfield Meriden.

After some trouble with mall security about photographing in the mall, I managed to make away with some decent interior photos displaying both old and new contrasts to Westfield Meriden.

The newest wing of Westfield Meriden, aside the construction of Border's.

Best Buy at Westfield Meriden, facing Dick's.

The sleek looking newer wing of Westfield Meriden.

Vestige of an older mall; CVS seeking the need to
renovate in the original upper corridor of the mall.

JCPenney, which might not have renovated it's store since the 1980's.

The JCPenney side of the upper corridor of the mall and a
dollar store which was, at one point, a Sam Goody.

Tiles of the remaining Meriden Square-era in the original mall parts.

Meriden Square-era center court, possibly
unrenovated since the late 1980's.

SEARS mall entrance.

In the SEARS wing, across the food court.

One of the last remaining Software Etc. stores which hasn't faced
the uniform "GameStop" treatment in the SEARS wing.

Cafe Square, the food court, which no longer features one of Meriden Square's original (fast) food restaurants; Roy Rogers and home to one of the smallest freestand-style Dunkin' Donuts ever.

The future of Westfield Meriden hopes to include another much needed anchor store; Borders book store to open aside Dick's and Best Buy in the new wing of the mall, which will open early 2007. Here are some construction photos of the store being built now.

Some of my memories of the (Westfield) Meriden Square are favorable. I've been there since even before they added the Sears wing and remember it quite well. At the time, all there was to get a good quick eat was Roy Rogers, situated on one of the mall's wings. When the expansion went ahead, Roy Rogers moved into the food court.

I still call it Meriden Square (I was confused when Westfield did the silly "Shoppingtown" thing), and believe it's most certainly one of Connecticut's most underrated, small-time charm malls left. Enfield Square (formerly owned by Westfield) tried to mimick it, but never quite evolved. While various expansions at Meriden's have made it more "big box age", it still feels like a quaint place that has repeated success time again.

Meriden Square always been the alternative mall to visit if you didn't want to enter the bombastic Buckland Hills and it's overmalled atmosphere or the ordinary local (for myself), upscale Westfarms Mall. Meriden Square is a mall that serves well to take a drive to pass time, especially if you want to avoid traffic taking CT-372 to 71-A to 71 to get there (a well-rounded relaxing drive). It feels like a different mall against the hyper nature of most of Connecticut's malls, and for that, makes it feel good in it's own place. I do, however, consider this mall a daytime-only mall - if you've ever been here after dark, it's overwhelming and crowded as it's still a tad too compact to hold many people.

The mall has successfully evolved throughout the course of time and continues to add useful stores (Best Buy, Dunkin' Donuts, two gaming stores in one mall are good examples) and expansion ideas that fit right into the concept of the mall (even if that meant ousting the Time Out arcade). While the city of Meriden is otherwise avoidable for shopping (generally due to the grimey nature of the area) and the properties surrounding the mall are at best underdeveloped (for better or worse - with only a Target across the street), the Meriden Square is one of those smaller feeling malls that is not as grand as the others.

Photography; "legal or not", taken August and September 2006.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Other Lost Cunningham

Just when you thought Tom Bosley and Marion Ross kept no more secrets, it would appear there's another which has been unveiled just today. While Richie Cunningham went to go make films, Joni, well who cares about Joni because the boys didn't, and Chuck Cunningham was "the lost one" and Fonz who secretly wanted to be a Cunningham under his 40 year-old frustration with high school chicks. Enter Lewis Cunningham, a most likely sheltered cast member now an unhappy and bitter lack-of-stage-time pion, went ahead with his malsuccess trying to subvert the spam filters on my Yahoo's bulk inbox as seen here...

Bad spelling or con-artist? Oh Lewis, the other lost Cunningham, we never knew ye.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hill & Dale Mall; Northampton, Massachusetts

I first saw the Hill & Dale Mall while looking for food (or a Papa Ginos) on the way back up to New Hampshire via I-91. Located along the uppermost retail drag on King Street / Route 5 in Northampton, right off the interstate (but not visible), and not even a mile away from that unusual plaza, the Hill & Dale Mall is sits along the bustling road beside some smaller active businesses a completely vacant eyesore. By definition, the mall sits dead as any sign of commerce has vacated the vegetated property for what seems to be many years.

Do not be misunderstood, like the name says, this mall doesn't fit the definition of a typical shopping mall, but more or less a strip mall lacking the volume of a conventional indoor mall containing only a few parcels along a strip. While Northampton itself doesn't have any nearby mall competitors, aside from the neighboring mammoth Holyoke Mall at Ingleside in Holyoke and the "twilight-era" Hampshire Mall in Hadley (which is about five miles off the interstate), reasoning for the mall's demise isn't quite certain.

While there's not too much history on the bygones of the Hill & Dale Mall, it was at one point, host to two anchor stores; a Price Chopper Super Market, what looks to be a restaurant and maybe some smaller stores with plenty vestige of decay. After one of the plaza anchors called it quits, a flea market moved into one of the available properties on the lot which shuttered in late 2003 for some obvious reasons. The property now provides relief for truckers, which is prohibited but not exactly enforced. It appears there were rumors to move in a conventional strip mall with some recognizable chains, but that idea seems a little far off now.

Here's more pictures, all taken a few days ago while passing through Northampton.

The left side of the beaten down strip mall and it's mystery former anchor.

The left side of the building shows a considerable withering paint job.

The left side entrance to an unknown anchor.

A former Price Chopper Super Market onced operated business in this rather cramped space.

Seen faintly behind a troublesome out-of-control tree was a sunroom-style area.

More of the sunroom, blocked heavily by overgrownness.

Seemingly crashed-in and boarded up area which might've been a window. Unusual roofing and such predates this building back to the 1970's.

A former restaurant?

A black tarp covers something over the Price Chopper space.

"South Entrance" into the unknown.

Remaining plaza signage, as seen from the road.

If anyone remembers Hill & Dale Mall, and what it might've been, by all means feedback provide some insight.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

History of Westfarms Mall

In lieu of the recent Macy’s changeover at my local hometown mall, The Westfarms Mall, I began thinking about the history of the many eras the mall and I have gone through. I began thinking about stores that used to be in the there within childhood memories and the expansion wing which never made the mall feel completely the same as the removal of the center court fountain in 2001. After doing some brief searching on anything I could find about the mall, I came across a page I must've missed upon recent browsing on fellow Blogger and mall enthusiast Keith Milford and his Malls of America website and found an incredible photo of the Westfarms Mall around it’s conception in the mid-1970’s. Has much changed? I surely remember that black "information" tower and the now hidden "Westfarms" emblem on it still at the mal albeit scattered all throughout inside and out.

If you'll note, see the angle this picture was taken (on the former second level, in front of the former Sage-Allen now Macy's Men's/Furniture) and spot the differences from then and now. See the beloved fountain behind where the old stage was; now a seating area. Thom McAnn (shoe store) where Build-a-Bear is now. A store named Vanguard is where one of the billion jewelry stores is at the mall. Two unknown stores are now filled by the double-sized Abercrombie & Fitch, while Susan Terry is now Bebe. The Lord & Taylor wing is completely nonexistant as it was built in the early 80's and the information tower has relocated to the Macy's side of the mall instead of inside the center court. While I remember those wooden-handle bars and red carpeting, the green floor tiles I do not, while the center court's I do, as they were replaced not too long ago. What you can't see in this photo is the movie theater this mall once had across from Hakky Shoe Repair, one of the mall's longest running active tenants today.

Update: You can see how Westfarms looks today compared to how it looked then by a postcard we received from dating back to the mid-1970s.

Page updated, links added: July 17, 2007.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

From May to Macy's

May Department Stores was once responsible for many popular mall-anchored department stores such as Lord & Taylor, Filene’s (Boston-based) and their many acquisitions of regional offsprings such as Hecht’s, and Kaufmann’s (New York-based) over the last century plus. In 2005, May Department Stores were acquired by Federated Department Stores, another once rival giant who owns the more upscale Macy’s, and the even more upscale Bloomingdale’s. As a result of the acquisition, Federated prompty chose to brand all of May’s string of department store chains and names which includes Filene’s and names under one successor: Macy’s. If you’ve shopped a Filene’s, then-owned by May Department Stores, the company who acquired the former G. Fox and Sage-Allen locations (which originated right here in Hartford), you’re basically shopping at the same stores as you’ve been going to all along. But there are some differences within...

Farewell to Filene's; taken weeks before the transformation.

What’s the real difference with the merger? Store interior designs have changed a bit; mostly in regards to Macy’s promotional banners and signage in and out of the stores. Facades have been repainted and some restructured (although varied in some locations) and prices aren’t quite as heavy as Macy’s have been known to charge in the past. Selection? The same trendy brands Filene’s has been offering over the past years. Presentation wise, you might not be able to tell anything beyond marginal differences here and there. The personality of many of these stores, including Filene’s, some of which many people including myself have grown up with have now been uniformly rebranded in Macy’s name which kicked off officially on September 9, 2006.

The Westfarms Mall; located between Farmington and West Hartford, Connecticut was host to original Hartford-originated G. Fox and Sage-Allen stores before their fallouts in the early 90's.

The final weeks of Filene's brand, originally G. Fox in front of one of the two monuments built here since the 1974 opening.

Macy's now operating at the former Filene's, originally G. Fox.

Macy's main exterior entrance.

Macy's upper-level entrance.

The Filene's Men's Store/Furniture Gallery operating in the former Sage-Allen space. This photo was taken after mall closing hours and months before the Macy's rebrand.

Overlooking Westfarms center court, Macy's now operates in the former Filene's Men's/Furniture, originally Sage-Allen.

Macy's Men's Store upper-level entrance, brown facade unchanged from the Sage-Allen era.

Macy's Furniture Gallery entrance, brown facade also unchanged from Sage-Allen.

Macy's Men's/Furniture entrance with original "sky-rise" style window facade.

Macy's Men's/Furniture entrance with original flare.

Then: Filene's Men's Store/Furniture Gallery exterior entrance.

Now: Macy's Men's/Furniture entrance as of September 9.

Danbury Fair Mall; Danbury, Connecticut

The now vacant Filene's at the Danbury Fair Mall; a mall which hosts an original Macy's. Photo taken earlier this year, the building now features stripped away signage.

An original Macy's at Danbury Fair Mall also one of only original stores in any mall in Connecticut.

Macy's mall entrance at Danbury Fair Mall.

The former Filene's at Danbury Fair Mall still without a known replacement anchor.

Stamford Town Center; Stamford, Connecticut

Connecticut's first original Macy's and it's grandiose exterior at the other Connecticut Taubman Center; Stamford Town Center.

Interior the Stamford Town Center Macy's

Enfield Square; Enfield, Connecticut

Macy's sign being assembled outside the former Filene's Men's Store exterior entrance.

Macy's sign being assembled at the former Filene's Men's Store at the Enfield Square (formerly known as Westfield Shoppingtown at Enfield).

Another exterior entrance with "rainbow" arch entrance throwback to original 1960's design of the mall.

A Filene's tarp just before pre-unveiling the company's uniform brand outside the exterior entrance.

An unusual "rainbow" style facade on a former G. Fox, to Filene's, and now Macy's inside the one-level Enfield Square.

Some Other Malls...

Soon to be removed signage at the Auburn Mall in Auburn, Massachusetts.

The last notion of Filene's on this road pilon at the Holyoke Mall in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

An unusual Macy's facade at the Sunrise Mall in Massapequa, New York (Long Island) which was not Filene's before (Photo credit: Michael DiMaio).