Monday, November 27, 2006

Newington Fair-ly Coming Along

Announced earlier this year, the former Caldor, most recently over a half-decade vacant, used for spare storage for eldest surviving plaza anchor Toys “R” Us, will be transformed and revitalized into something new come first quarter 2007. The Newington Fair, for about seven years, has undoubtably faced troubles scarred with “dead mall” status. But unlike the conventional shopping mall, The Newington Fair, an open-air shopping center, has every opportunity to revive like some malls in such a lessened state have not over the years.

Distinctively located on the sloped Newington town line along the Berlin Turnpike (US-5, CT-15), just over the Berlin line, the Newington Fair has not received the same treatment by patrons like just about every other unnamed but grandly anchored center in being troubled with vacancy for a good number of years. Even when Bradlees, a former Two Guys, located at the crossroads of Routes 173 and the Turnpike itself, departed in lieu of Chapter 11, that plaza faced only short vacancy before behemoth savior Wal-Mart saw an opportunist retail space typically owned by Caldor stores throughout their prime.

Future Stew's, Former Caldor site today (November 27, 2006).

This could’ve been due to any number of things, at the time, Caldor had faced little competition (pre-Wal-Mart and Target sprawl in Connecticut, of course), with a F&M Drug Store which later became Toys “R” Us in 1996 and Bradlees, located not too far off but not too close for discomfort. The fall of Caldor had little to do with their retail location along the mightly Berlin Turnpike. Or did it? Whether that’s true or not, space for development post Caldor shuttering was not attractive. Six plus years of vacancy might tell some truth to that. But was it the fault of Caldor or the drought of discount department stores to follow in the heavy competition of Wal-Mart and Target, in a later following of slews of closings; Bradlees in 2000, Ames in 2003, and many K-Mart stores (the Sears merger saved that one), which planned, but never had a Newington store .

The plaza itself was designed with a bizarre broken-island set-up that would hope to accommodate the bigger parcels against the off-kilter, sloped placement of this particular area of the ‘Pike. With the worry of being on the outskirts of retail stardom along the Turnpike, the plaza also faced an appearent visibility problem, located within something of a cavity far below the roads, one of which other big boxers like Lechmere had no problem with, located right in the central of retail epicenter along the Berlin Turnpike.

Strange development: Stew's paves the hillside (November 27, 2006).

Newington Fair was also a dire setting for smaller stores like ones found in the Lechmere plaza and nearby Ames plaza next door difficult to live here. The center was clearly not designed with flexibility or organized strip-mall format in mind without major development as an option for the smaller tenants, as the center originally catered to the grandiose Heartland Drug and F&M Drug Store. The space was suitable for the bigger players, the later bloomers, a suitable space for Caldor to expand. Service Merchandise, which entered after Heartland closed, closed itself in 2002 with the company but was snatched quickly by another, albeit upscale, furniture outlet Stickley, Audi & Co. To put it in layman’s terms, everyone just wanted their own store and their own space. A design or decision; both of which cost the Newington Fair and cursed it for a long time.

Now, it seems to have struck a turning point. Earlier this year, Stew Leonard’s announced they wanted the former, well-preserved Caldor husk for their latest “Fresh Farm Market” store. Shortly after, Sam’s Club, located right over the Berlin line, in the Home Depot plaza, announced they were going to partner up with Stew’s plan to revitalize the once barely breathing Newington Fair.

Inside the post-apocalypse Caldor, looking across to Toys "R" Us.

Not everything like this happens everyday; the Newington Fair, with it’s up’s and down’s, will most likely be able to share success once again becoming a power center and leave a mostly troubled 1990’s behind.
Over the last year, I’ve made it a project to track the slow demise of Connecticut’s last former Caldor building. Luckilly, the final days were captured even if the entire site has been on a progressive slump all Summer with little visible progress today.

Stew Leonards will completed within the first quarter of 2007 as Sam's Club will be completed by third quarter.

Former Caldor from the hillside, taken earlier this year.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

When Black Friday Comes...

The malls will surely be swamped on early Friday of this end of November. The blackest day in retail, for both shoppers and employees, will be at hand - but not at the Bristol Centre Mall. Will it ever leave the City, along with the curse it‘s bestowed on Bristol for decades? Not if lone remaining anchor Ocean State Job Lot has anything to do about it - which they have.

A former entrance to a once upscale clothier, now shuttered in the grasp of a closeout/fallout retailer Ocean State Job Lot. My how times have changed...

Earlier this year, the City of Bristol, who owns the vacant eyesore Mall at Bristol Center on North Main Street, announced an "Everything (or anyone) Must Go" clearing for any remaining tenants inside the over 90% vacated mall to relocate their premises. Most business like Eagle Auctions; operating in a long departed Sears Outlet Center, left prompty, Choices, a gift boutique, which was one of the mall’s charms left without any fight, and the manlessly operated neither-world amusement park-from-the-other-side, Ride-a-Rama, fought nothing. Long time restaurant, and one of the mall’s few eateries, Center Mall Pizza, finally left in the Fall of ‘06, ironically, while the warrior Ocean State Job Lot is awaiting their cancerous court battle to prolong their business as long as possible. Job Lot, who’s infested two grandiose fleabag retail enterprises in Bristol, one in this former Sage-Allen at the mall and another opened shortly after the demise of Bradlees in Bristol Plaza, inside the original Stop & Shop, has been fighting the entire year to keep their original store alive inside an otherwise long-doomed Bristol mall.

The Last Mall; a lasting image of the now locked-up center, awaiting death row.

The City, who purchased the already largely vacant shopping center via eminent domain a few years back, has plans to further revitalize the City; the mall having much to do with the stalemate to an already vastly improved landscape of North Main Street in historic Brisol. The Mall at Bristol Centre, built in the 1960’s, has always been something of a burden for the City, not attracting as many patrons as the bevy of other successful successors in the Hartford and beyond areas. Largely, the mall’s mal (or mall)-success was due to the center being poorly managed and placed; too far from any vitality (or interstates), having virtually never received any renovations since it’s conception. The mall found it hard to be more than a service to Bristol residents as well as out-of-town traffic. Shopping malls, which survive based on umbillical interstate commerce, had none from the start and whether or not adding a mainline to the Bristol Centre was once visioned - never happened.

A long dissociated mall entrance to Centre Mall Pizza, a familar spot for locals have moved just across the street. For years, this glass canopy has served as a portal into the dead world...

As recently reported in native city newspaper, The Bristol Press, tenants on the outlines of the property, like Sherwin-Williams, and off, like McDonald’s, owned by franchise-owner Santa Cruz, have each made deals to relocate within Bristol. McDonalds, which looks antiquely brown-draped, unrenovated interior will be one of Connecticut’s oldest McDonalds to follow in the shadows, second to the former Berlin Turnpike location, currently receiving an enormous upgrade.

A unique "M" eched bush beside the temple-esque steps at Bristol Centre McDonalds will soon be no more.

As it stands today, just a roadblock in Bristol’s plans to upkeep the city with the times, The Mall at Bristol Centre has been locked up since Summer’s end. The City plans a demolition to happen, but not as soon as residents and city leaders would want. Once Ocean State looses their useless battle, the $2 Million dollar project to rid the mall of it’s everlasting misery will be final. Luckilly, the Caldor Rainbow has secured well over 200 images of the mall property shortly before it‘s end, mostly viewable on Facebook (if anything, a fine host for pictures). With all the mall’s tenants finally gone, it stands out of time, waiting for it’s big steel ball of destiny. Even a child, visiting this mall a good 15 years ago, the mall was eerily dead...

Other vital shopping centers like the richly preserved former Caldor (since Kmart, now Price Chopper) Bristol Commons along the Route 6 corridor, will be celebrating the holidays again.

Bristol Centre Mall galleries from earlier this year, just before closure can be seen here...
My Trip and The Return.

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.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Everything Must Go

Updates are currently in the making here at The Caldor Rainbow. At this time, we would like to reflect on a few things which have happened in our world at as well as our supporters.

One of our good friends, Marc Bramhall, had his website shut down yesterday morning by Shaw's corporate for displaying information they deemed unsuitable. Bramhall's page, which is a tribute to Southington's former Shaw's supermarket, which we spotlighted in our last update, has ubruptly been discontinued by Cease & Desist Order coming straight from the raider patrol at Shaw's.

To be fair, Shaw's cited some information on the website which was understandably unsuitable to be displayed as it forsaked the privacy of former employees who had worked at Shaw's. In addition to the list, Bramhall featured a series of photographs
from the final months at Shaw's, which they further deemed unsuitable on the grounds of violating "trade secrets" (a popular argument retail establishments use for the prohibition of photography). While a partially understandable argument, it's also not enforced at many places as it is merely unwritten rule - giving the camera barer full right to photograph freely on (privately-owned) public property. As you know, there are many sources on the internet, including ours, which feature photographs of in's and out's of stores for non-profit use. We received shock, it opened our eyes to relative action, but we will troop on and keep on doing what we do for the love of retail.

Furthermore, Shaw's observed the harmless nature of his tribute site, but still condemned it demanding Marc remove the site content pending legal action. We all found it strange how the site was kaput, being targeted, after being active for a little over a month. We would like to extend our support to Marc with hopes this won't discourage his reporting on preserving moments in retail history.

Furthermore, we at the Caldor Rainbow would like to thank Jason Damas at Labelscar for him plugging our Westfield Meriden report in his own [out-of-state] take on one of Connecticut's first malls. We are currently working on future projects on revealing more malls across Connecticut so stick with us.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Caldor "Rainbow-Era" Trailer Sighting

BREAKING NEWS! (Southington) - Sighted Thursday afternoon on Route 10, Queen Street in Southington, parked behind Friendly's (Restaurant) and Goodwill, located in the neighboring Queen Bee Plaza was an initial shocker. Sighted by one of my pals, Marc Bramhall, who works on Queen Street, reported the sighting of a Caldor shipping trailer presumably temporariliy out-of-service delivering for the nearby Goodwill. Marc reports, without a camera at the time, believed he wouldn't get the chance to snag an elusive set of photos of the now-defunct department store's vestige in the form of a [rusty] trailer.

A vintage Caldor "rainbow-era" trailer elusive sighting; perhaps once or twice in a lifetime.

Confirmed and on the property of Price Chopper, presumably by neighboring Goodwill store.

"Where shopping is always a pleasure"

Thinking, The Caldor Rainbow may not get it's chance, Marc reported further the trailer was still there a day later, giving plenty of hope that I may be able to capture it before disappearing into time.

A blaring purple violation sticker: But it's for Goodwill... Tell it to the judge...

Flabberghasted, arriving on Saturday afternoon, there it was in all it's glory. Infinite thanks to the tip by our good buddy Marc, who has contributed greatly to The Caldor Rainbow. Marc, who recently worked at the now shuttered Shaw's supermarket in Southington has a small tribute page to the market I myself remember all too well as Finast before Edwards on Queen Street and has served people of Southington and surrounding towns well for over 20 years.