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.


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labelscar said...

I originally found this mall in 1998 myself, and (like you) I'd never heard anything about the place before then despite having visited Norwich many times.

Anyway, back then, Caldor was still around and the place was sort of buzzing. Because Caldor ONLY had a mall entrance (no parking lot entrances), people had to go in and it meant that the mall had some decent traffic.

There used to be a great little independent record store down that side hallway. Since you didn't mention it, I'm assuming it's gone... which is a real shame. It was probably the main attraction there.

I also clearly have to get down there soon to get some pictures for my blog in case it's in danger of closing, which it seems it is...

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

While the state of mall is staggering (especially in lieu of Bob's leaving), I still don't see this "mall/shopping plaza" hybrid disappearing anytime soon.

Will someone take Bob's? Perhaps. But the mall is richly vacant, and that will hurt business (of course). One of the only saviors (and in Norwich, there are plenty of options) the mall can see is a transformation to outdoor format - promoting some of the mall's successful stores inside like Radio Shack, GNC, Bee Bee, Dress Barn, Dollar Tree - most of which many people might not know are inside.

In the end, there are far too many tenants to fill that will not. Will the owner's want to invest the money to do so? Probably not at this time, especially since the mall underwent renovation not too long ago.

As for University Music, it was unfortunately shuttered in the GNC wing. I'm afraid I missed taking the picture of the former tenant which had a label scar.

I look forward to your take on Norwichtown Mall.

Anonymous said...

I'm the only one of my friends that remembers the Norwichtown Mall before it was renovated! (When you mentioned that Stop & Shop expanded and took out Styles, and Bee Bee moved, the mall was renovated to look more modern.) The ceilings extended a lot higher, with these very cool oval...flattened globe type lights in them, and dark wood paneling. My memory begins in 1986 or so, back when the Crystal Mall was brand new, and I remember going there for the first time as well.

Anyway. Next to GNC, there used to be a pet store. I don't know when it closed (1998? 2000? around there). Across from the pet store was an arcade (!!!) which closed in 1996 and the spot was never filled again. The "very 60's" spot you identified used to be a place that specialized in jewelry and crystal gifts, called McDermotts. The center display piece actually revolved all day with the crystal pieces on it reflecting in the light.

Golden Star used to be located where the entrance to the mall near Dress Barn is.

And Univesity Music closed around 2000. Yes, they were awesome for an indie music store...but at the same time they sold a lot of mainstream CDs that were overpriced. Their specialty throughout the 90's was still vinyl.

As for Radio Shack and Walden...well...they're there because they've always been there lol.

I miss Caldor and I remember when they switched from the rainbow type to the ugly 90's was the same year the rest of the mall was renovated but unfortunately I don't know exactly when that was. I'm thinking 1994 or so.

The good thing about the Norwichtown Mall is doing donuts in the parking lot LOL!!!

Anonymous said...

I remember going to this mall when I was a kid, along with the Danbury Fair Mall (Danbury, CT), Crystal Mall (Waterford, CT), Trumbull Shoping Park (now owned by Westfield; Trumbull, CT), and New London Mall (before they changed it to an outdoor plaza; New London, CT).

The Norwch Town Mall first opened in 1975 according to some history log. The original Stop & Shop was located where DressBarn is today, then in the 90s they expanded themselves to Super Stop & Shop, and let DressBarn take their original spot. Caldor use to be where Bob's Furniture is today. Bob's is closing and moving their location to East Lyme, CT. Soon, the rest of the stores that are still in operation will close permanitely or temporarly, because the town is suppose to convert the small indoor shopping mall into an outdoor plaza (just like they did to the New London mall in 1999-2000).

Bee Bee Dairy restaurant opened their first location in the Norwichtown Mall, later they opened a few more around South-Eastern, CT (2 In Waterford, One in East Lyme, and maybe a few more). Bee Bee Dairy was purchased by Newport Creamery, then they all closed down except for the original Norwichtown location.

I remember the old arcade that the Norwichtown Mall held. I remember the 70s-80s games and the "Rocketship" that the place had (LOL). I still have an old token from there. It's brass and it has a clown's face on the front, on the back it has words that say "Norwichtown Mall Arcade."

It seems that people seek larger indoor malls, mainly to stay for a long period of time in. And people seek small outdoor malls, so they can scan what the plaza has to offer for stores while they are in their cars. But small indoor malls are just not in style anymore....

Anonymous said...

I grew up at the Nowichtown Mall. When it first opened, the anchor store was a WT Grant store. This later became the mall entrance and a Grant City was added to the right, complete with auto service, outdoor garden center and Bradford House Restaurant. I bought my first "45" here, "I Think I Love You" by the Partridge Family, and sold my gerbils that I raised at home to the pet dept. for one dollar each!

In the way of most retailers, Grant City went out of business, and Caldor quickly moved into the space in 1976, closing the restaurant, car care service, and outdoor garden dept (seen as Bob's Customer pickup area today.) Interior walls were placed in front of the old Grant City walls, and the upper level office, locker rooms, break rooms, switchboard room and receiving areas in the back and stockrooms in some departments were original. I worked at Caldor from 1980-82 and was always discovering parts of the old Grants that I remembered.

As for the mall, that arcade, and the mall itself was a great hangout for us teenagers in the late 70s to early 80s. The mall was always filled with people, and there was a great clothing/jeans store called "Two Legs" in the side hallway that all the cool kids shopped at. I remember working at Caldor and having people piled up at the "cage" entrance, waiting to get in before we opened! How times have changed!!

Ted Lorson said...

An update...Bee Bees is now closed, as is Waldenbook and Bob's. The only stores left are the Dress Barn, Golden Palace, a nails place, GNC, a hair salon, Radio Shack and the Dollar Store. That's it.

Also, a brand spanking new Stop and Shop opened on Rt 32 in Montville earlier this year, which certainly is taking customers from Norwichtown.

Both the nails place and hair salon have signs posted that read "we are not closing." Guess they have kept their regulars.

William Kenny said...

The Cutting Crew is gone--the Weight Watchers, which had set up shop in the abandoned McDermotts' location has moved to the Route 32 mall and the K&M Sports shop went out of business after last Christmas.
Waldenbooks beat all three stores out of the mall and all the space that each occupied is now abandoned.

Edens & Avant supposedly promised a report on their intentions and directons to the Mayor and Planning Director of Norwich for the first week of December (2007) but it never showed up. I would not be surprised to learn no one, aside from me, can recall their promise.
(We're funny that way in Norwich.)

The Mall is, itself, a tombstone to the deceased dreams of those who worked to make a life, and a livelihood, in retail.

Stormy said...

Like Joseph, I remember the arcade from this mall.

Living in Ledyard, we almost exclusively went to the Caldor in Groton, but would occasionally hit this one. Visiting the arcade was always the highlight of the trip.

Ted Lorson said...

Radio Shack was gone as of mid January, according to a sign I was met by when I went there the other day for some cables.

Chinese food, nails, Dress Barn, Dollar Store and GNC are now all that are left.

William Kenny said...

I had noticed the same thing myself: and am left to wonder just how much longer the folks who own the property are planning on letting it atrophy and rot before finally puttig a bullet in it and ending the misery.

Anonymous said...

Great and sad to read about the Norwichtown Mall. I, like all my friends, hung out there through the 80s. Friends worked at Caldor and Bee Bee's. It was the place to be seen, for the kids. And the place to shop for the grown ups.
I remember when I was very little, so late 70s, there was a bakery at the corner, before Mcdermots. Great donuts! And back then GNC was a health food store, that served frozen yogurt, different flavors different days. There was also a sit down resturant that you could access from the outside or inside of the mall, in the area that faces where Dollar Tree is. I remember it being all dark inside, red booths, dark wood. Cant think of the name.
Its too bad some fore thought had not gone into this property. It is in a good location, but is far behind in what should have been done to maintain and keep it prosperous. As soon as the Crystal Mall opened, we all left Norwichtown for bigger and better.

Anonymous said...

The restaurant you speak of was called The Pickadeli and it consisted of a restaurant and lounge. The bar area was accessible from the parking lot and the restaurant was accessible from inside the mall. There was also a gentlemen's clothing store named H.A. Bruckner as well as a card and gift store named Burrs. Lots of memories! Lots of fun!

Anonymous said...

With a broken AC in the Norwichtown Mall, it seems the property continues to rot. As for Stop and Shop, the store went through a major renovation, new flooring and repainted walls.

Anonymous said...

I spent a lot of my youth here. Some of the store names that haven't been mentioned:
Tons Of Fun was the name of that arcade.
Puppy Love was the pet store
Two Legs was the jeans/Levis store. I bought a Garbage Pail Kids poster there :D
Styles was right near Caldor and there was a big bee-type thing that kids could sit on while their moms shopped.
There was also a (Joannes?) House of Nuts kiosk in the middle of the mall and a candy carosel. There used to be another entrance into the mall as well next to the old bookstore (before it was Waldenbooks- forgot the name of it though). My wife and I had our first date at Bee Bee Dairys :) If anyone has any pics of the mall from the 80s, PLEASE post them or links to them!

Anonymous said...

The old bookstore used to be the Paperback Booksmith, run by an older couple. It sold books, magazines, records (this was way before CDs). They always made you feel like they were welcoming you to their own library and I was sad when they retired and were replaced by the Corporate Motif. My older son used to work at a few of the stores (Puppy Love, in particular, dated a girl who worked in that mysterious caged-in corner - first an inexpensive jewelery shop, then a candy store (or it might have been the other way around)) and he lived in the Arcade more than he stayed at home. Having been there since it opened and remembering it as such a community gathering place (you would always run into at least half a dozen friends there and, like I said, my two sons grew up there), it's just too depressing to visit today.

William Kenny said...

My wife worked in the NT Mall when the Candy Corner was in that little area and moved to 'the big store', Suburban Stationers, when they closed up the Candy Corner.

She very much enjoyed her time at both locations but always worried as the customer traffic dwindled that the store would close, which it did.

Blah Blah Blog said...

Does anyone know where I could find a copy of the Bee Bee Dairy Logo?

Anonymous said...

I love reading about all the old stores that use to be in the Norwichtown Mall, I remember having lunch at the Picadeli restaurant with my mother and getting shoes at CALDORS. It was trulya great store and when my husband and I got married in 1998 we bought a lot of stuff from the housewares dept for our first apartment....good times.

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Corey Sipe said...

The Norwichtown Mall officially closed on Sept. 14; signs outside the mall indicate. Drywall has been erected right past the former Chelsea Groton Savings Bank blocking walkers from accessing much of the mall. Signs indicate access to the Dollar Tree will remain. The mall doors near the former Bee Bee Dairy are now closed and locked. Dollar Tree staff said they are unsure when they are closing their store. Their plan is to move onto West Main Street in the former Fashion Bug at the Marcus Plaza, anchored by T.J. Maxx and Shop Rite. When the Norwichtown Mall transforms into the Norwichtown Commons, they plan to open their second Norwich store. The nail salon has already moved to West Main Street while GNC closed up weeks ago. Dress Barn is scheduled to close when their store is renovated.

Anonymous said...

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