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.