Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Almost Gothic

Since we (I) here, at the Caldor Rainbow, breached what became our (my) pre-Halloween story, we had something else in store (that's a pun, sonny boy) for such an event, a day where little children (and some questionably mental adults, too) dress up like ghastly figures and corporate incarnate in order to deceive people into setting an ultimatum of tricking or treating, in other words, recieving candy to facilitate the rotting of teeth (and increasing Dental visits/bills) and brains (contested; zombies already festering off those of the people over 12) of a continually gothic holiday of Halloween.

Just this Sunday, I and my Renee defiled ourself on the Holy day and created our own Pumpkin, not in the image of the Caldor Rainbow, but modeled after Nintendo's own Wario, who shares a special space inside my [dark] heart. She prefers Bowser, but we had restrictions revolving around time. Oh, precious time.

Yes, that's my copy, the one I paid about $40 for. Nightstalkers, you better beware...

It's between this digest and listening endlessly to [a "classic"] Castlevania rap with Perfection Selection Dracula until the little boys and girls cease from slamming their smelly [and questionably greedy] little figures upon my doorbell [in triplicate].

Friday, October 27, 2006

Norwichtown Mall; Norwich, Connecticut

Living on the far eastern side of Connecticut must’ve been tough for mall goers and shoppers alike. It’s a hastle, having to drive about a half hour on the highways to get to a decent mall if you're a native of Norwich and nearby towns. Located at the edge of CT-2, on the brink of I-395, comically near the Butts [Lane] of Norwich, the Norwichtown Mall has an excellent location for potential business located on the New London Turnpike directly off the highway.

But you’ve got heartier competition all around the compass...

The SIMON-owned Crystal Mall in Waterford, the New London Mall in New London: since reformatted to insipid, outdoor "lifestyle" (see: cringe) format, the equally dry East Brook Mall in Willimantic: formerly anchored by Ames now Kohl’s [vacuum] and about a lengthy drive to hit Connecticut’s more upscale Westfarms Mall at the other side of Route 2 on Westbound I-84 and Eastbound for the grandiose (and vastly improved) Buckland Hills in Manchester. It’s appearent that most shoppers won’t come to Norwichtown Mall to hit those typical mall shops - most of which this mall has none of. Needless to pronounce, Mystic area Connecticut won't be a destination if you're looking to go do some mall shopping.

Thanks or no thanks to Super Stop & Shop, a chunk of Norwichtown Mall traffic is able to exist today.

The Norwichtown Mall, owned by Eden's & Avant, opened in 1968, was a at heart a humble mall living close to the small-town image of sub-division Norwichtown; it's parent Norwich have in part today. At one time, Norwichtown Mall contained a few notable specialty stores; Style’s [local] department store chain, and a compact (early years) “rainbow-era” Caldor department store, and a bevy of small hometown shops; most of which are faceless with vacancy’s darkness today. For many years, beating hard after Caldor closed in 1999, the mall’s occupancy rate became ever more comparable to the [then] practically-dead (and now locked up) Bristol Centre Mall in the downtown of Bristol. Evidently, the town’s patronage became dependent upon on the now-departed Caldor to hold an otherwise troubled mall together, which it did for many Norwich and nearby natives.

Through Super Stop & Shop and
Bob's Discount Furniture, Norwichtown Mall has survived a little more than before when Caldor left (also note the modern Stop & Shop "Mall Entrance" font).
Shortly after the Norwichtown Mall’s loss of Caldor, local entrepreneur, and owner of Bob’s Discount Furniture (known well for over 15 years in the northeast as the guy with obnoxiously corny, effective and humble commercials) took over the other end of the mall by completely refurbishing the former department store setting, cramming all possible merchandise into the already limited former Caldor space. Testimonies tell this location wasn’t exactly an optimal setting for a furniture store to the magnitude of Bob’s usual store measurements (sometimes double-leveled) but decided to conform to the mall’s decidedly home town persona.

Ever since mid-way (about May 2006) into this year, I had never heard of the Norwichtown Mall. Actually, I had never been to the town of Norwich before then either. I thought I had been to just about every significant Connecticut shopping mall, see as there aren't as many as surrounding states. As we went to the current resident of my friend's (Nick) girlfriend's (Kristina), my eye caught what I saw to be a shopping plaza across from Kristina's mother's restaurant, Irene's, directly across the mall divided by scrub-brush. Kristina told me the Bob's there now was Norwich's former Caldor thereby allowing me to identify a label scar on the former store's side and this is where the story began for me.

According to a source at Ames Fan Club, Dollar Tree was once original anchor "Style's". My how times have changed...
After Style’s closed, which took up a great scale of the mall’s space and prestige, super market chain Super Stop & Shop purchased a greater portion of the mall, reducing the anchorage space of a few indie stores and instituted a renovation plan to suit the supermarket’s revitalized image by building an expanded store opposite the former Caldor and into the mall space. Despite it‘s dissociative element with the mall by excluding a mall entrance, it looks all dressed up post renovation, albeit lacking stunning quality, but still as if it should be attracting more people (seemingly including an active management staff) looking upon plans to revitalize the practically dead state of the Norwichtown Mall.

Red and gray colors of 1990's-era Caldor after abandoning the "rainbow" look also give notion of an earlier anchor with grooved walls were windows might've been.

Vestige of Caldor and it's rectangular '90's logo remain scarred on the unrenovated half of Bob's Discount Furniture and possibly something before it.

The renovation focused on the frontal areas of the store leaving these side and back portions as evidence of an earlier (Caldor and beyond) era.

Yes, even those at Stop & Shop wanted very little to do with the mall’s dismal image as they’ve closed off their premises and any chance of a mall entrance and all identity from what the mall once had. Instead, a Dress Barn serves as the mall’s feeble opposing anchor to Bob’s, adjacent to a few independent restaurants Bee Bee Dairy (which had it's location downsized and moved upon Stop & Shop's expansion) and Golden Star which might be considered this mall‘s “food court“. Super Stop & Shop’s decision to sever connections with the mall has made their involvement with the uncertain future of the mall pretty grim, seeing as they continue their enormous success parallel the mall that does not.

When Stop & Shop renovated the Norwichtown Mall a few years ago, they didn't add much flair to a decidedly bland looking setting leaving some odd shuttered storefronts (like one pictured above) presumably from the late 1960's.

Like the Bristol Centre Mall, Norwichtown Mall features a long-phased out hair salon at many malls in the 1980's, Cutting Crew, rare and still in action.

Upon my trip on Thursday morning, the mall was occupied by the usuals seen in these troubled malls; elderly people (who must prefer quiter [sans the musak], youth-less environments), and those sketchy, middle-aged [males] people who you know have generally have no purpose being there (excluding the “mall walkers”) two of which I came encountered with as I used the restrooms down an almost entirely vacated wing of the mall practically owned by GNC, a recognizable health and vitamin store. There were some questionable attendants; “normal” looking folks, one of which I overheard saying [she] visited the ‘Waterford Mall’ (Crystal Mall) but failed to eavesdrop any longer as to comprehend why she and her party was here (my guess is that she was completely mislead).

Apart from the grand total of 10 people being in the mall at once, most of which walking the empty corridor(s) of the mall, were shopping at the minimalist parcels which still attract the least of people. Lastly, there were those who worked at the mall’s customer-less stores, one middle-ager who smiled at me, seemingly all by their lonesome. Somehow I suspected the [dire] state of this mall had very little to do with it being around 11 AM on a Thursday.

GNC, a thriving health and fitness store, lonely owns an almost dominantly vacant wing of the Norwichtown Mall today.

Apart from the heavy vacancy rate at Norwichtown Mall, there are some surprising shops here that probably shouldn’t be. The world’s most-void-of-people Waldenbooks (name slowly being phased out as part of the Borders [bookstore] group), Radio Shack, and lower-eschelon strip mall thriftier stores Dollar Tree and Dress Barn which are breathing any life that might be left here at the mall. Spattered more so than these livier stores were just dark, stripped-away parcels, cold bench seating, stray shopping carts belonging to Dollar Tree, and unrented bazaar carts (that have trendily clogged most major malls today) and store pilons which serve as literal obstacles than attractions.

Some of Norwichtown Mall's lasting stores are mainly those recognizable ones like Radio Shack while other more obscure small shops are shuttered from lack of patronage.

For a more extensive background on the Norwichtown Mall, Associated Content reporter Corey Sipe wrote up a fantastic in-depth piece about the mall, obviously knowing much more about it than I. He supplied the information, I’ll supply the visuals. The Ames Fan Club has plenty of more historical information posted there as well. As for the future of the mall, Sipe hints at yet more closures to add to the shopping list of ones already (non) existant at the mall. It’s now official that Bob’s Discount Furniture has announced closure as it sees itself moving out of the mall by year‘s end to a brand-new East Lyme location, forecasting a critical anchor space vacant once again. Surely there are ideas to save the mall, perhaps a luring discount anchor as Sipe suggests, but the ownership doesn’t seem up to the task of bring new life into an ill-fated and possibly finished Norwichtown Mall.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"Festival of Fright" at Target

If I'm not already on the Target Corporation's watch list for hammering stores with applications this past year, I might just be on their radar for typically taking a lot of pictures of their stores much less spending idle (or idol) time browsing stores when I visit the one(s) in my area. For as many times as I’ve come camera equipped, I’ve never really faced anything more than Asset Protection (for stores that have "Target Security") looming around me while at the Target store in Keene, New Hampshire; where Renee and I take trips usually when I’m up there.

Ever since September’s beginning, Target has put fourth their clever and punny (Boo-Levard; contender for the year!) Halloween line, presentation as usual in high-grade and fashion, and like the chain, refreshingly different and more passionate from any other store's approach by a long shot. Target stores strike me more than any other store I’ve ever frequented before. Those who are more than just shoppers of Target, meaning those who spend too much time there admiring their striking edgey, stylish approach towards department store shopping in addition to shopping, can stress the importance of flashy marketing that Target uses to invite and comfort their guests.

No, you won’t find this elsewhere. Target surely prides itself on distinction and it’s something most stores have not really tried to replicate. Unlike any stores of the past, all of which have seen their darkest day, Target doesn’t care that Wal-Mart “Always” has lower prices (debatable, from an unbiased point of view). Certainly, it would seem Wal-Mart might be picking from Target’s playbook a tad (been noticing some, but only some, contemporary odds and ends there lately) even if it seems their aim is not to become a shadow of the islander Target. Shopping Target's sleek red-lined corridors of product and flashy gondolas is most likely today's non-replicated equivalent to a family trip to Sears at the turn of the 20th.

Now some of you might argue I already work for Target pro-bono. Say what you will. I am, indeed, a proud Target guest and that’s not scary.