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.