Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sun-Vet Mall; Holbrook (Long Island), New York

Since my [patient] brother lives on the [Long] Island south of Connecticut, or the sometimes considered orphaned annex of New York, it has for the past few years opened me to another wide land of retail excursion. A few months ago, The Caldor Rainbow visited a long ramshackled Caldor-Pergament site tipped off by our Ames Fan Club radar, amongst a few other interesting findings. In the few years of my good brother attending Stony Brook University and now living on the Island, I’ve come to terms that Long Island is quite the host for malls with lush histories not entirely decimated by the Westfield Group well known for lobotomizing many individually-flavored malls.

The Sun-Vet Mall is a surviving small one-level enclosed mall located in the suburb of Holbrook, located in Suffolk County. The namesake came through to me, but not as simply as it should’ve, after thinking a little about it: located not too far from the L.I.E./I-495 (Long Island Expressway, I-495), on the split between Veterans Memorial Highway (NY-454) and on Sunrise Highway intertwined with POW/MIA Memorial Highway (NY-27) and eureka; you’ve got Sun-Vet. Being on a high traffic split, commerce-wise Sun-Vet is by not particularly a dead mall as it capitalizes off the convenience it serves to patrons while living a dual identity like it‘s namesake suggest with a hybrid in-and-outdoor concept. In terms of décor and fashion, Sun-Vet reflects forgotten times in conjunction with a changed discount-molded market of the present ultimately saved by the high-traffic perk which neither shares notoriety nor dire fate for the mall as a whole.

Allow me to entertain my thesis for what the Sun-Vet hybrid symbolizes today. The Sun (refers to the vivacious dawn of new; the “lifestyle” or strip mall) and the Vet (or Veteran, refers to the outdated, indoor and old-style of these malls who are favoring “lifestyle” and outward-facing centers today). Sadly, the mall isn’t quite there yet, but attempts to faux a strip mall look while serving as a full-fledged indoor mall most relative to the Bristol Centre Mall in Connecticut with an alternate fate.

Being that, there is very little history regarding the mall around the net; even the basics of ownership, former anchors, and/or year of conception is but a mystery. Despite it’s odds, it seems to be doing alright with locals. The lack of prominence, without any doubt, is due to it’s eclipse by it’s own lack of evolution and and with no help by the domineering Westfield and SIMON market surrounding on all fours, the mall serves people with it’s indoor-strip style offerings with the usual shops to fill them.

The mall, inescapably a sub-mall in comparison to a few surrounding Westfield centers; Westfield Sunrise [Mall] in nearby Massapequa, which opened in 1973 and has seen it’s fair share of market changes anchored now by Wal-Mart in lieu of the departure and purge of once dominant fancy department clothiers. Westfield South Shore, a one-leveled younger brethren located in Bay Shore, a similar heir to the Sunrise, has the big guns as well which serves to the median mall market with the usual anchors JCPenney, Macy’s (an oldie with white caps!), and Sears to name a few. Along the northern parts, you’ve also got Smith Haven Mall, a veteran mall of Stony Brook (Lake Grove), which is changing it’s face to an upper-echelon market and the already upper class Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington Station, both owned by SIMON and built by the same developer, David Muss.

Sun-Vet, in it’s own respective socio-economic holding, doesn’t try to compete with the modern malls but mostly caters to essential and convenient parcels (rather than boutique or specialty shops), and discounters found in most strip or dried up malls with some exceptions; Blockbuster Video, Fashion Bug, Payless Shoe Source, Radio Shack, “Dollar King” (to go along with other silly Dollar store compounds). Sun-Vet has some attractions which keep the spaces filled; Pathmark, a local grocery chain on the Island, Toys ‘R’ Us, Mandee (one of the girlfriend’s favored fashionably and resonable discount clothing stores), FYE (which was most likely rebranded) and even a surprisingly still alive withering chain of Salvation Army-meets-TJ-Maxx style post-apocalyptic dawn discount close-out junksters; Tuesday Morning (preferably “Mourning“).

Odd thing about Sun-Vet is the current layout of entry to some shops including Pathmark, which oddly cannot be accessed outside the mall even though there’s vestige of the anchor before it allowing such outside access since walled off. This more or less requires patronage to actually trail inside, typical with “celebrity-status” anchors in suffering malls, including having to cart groceries through the mall‘s nearby corridor.

Sun-Vet Mall aerial view; Toys 'R' Us (left), Pathmark (right). (courtesy Microsoft Virtual Earth).

While most likely a win-win for mall ownership allowing customers to see the mall and it’s tenants especially since Pathmark undeniably attracts the most traffic, but a bummer to have to associate with the mall to get there. The outermost other end cannot be accessed from the interior which includes primarily a newly faced Toys ‘R’ Us, which can only be described as smart for having little or no part in[side] Sun-Vet. Some shops can be accessed both out and indoor, which are obviously most service to customers.

Apart from the more widely-known national stores, there’s a handful of charming stores which are the make-up of more community-oriented malls they once were, and those long past. Local restaurants, comic book stores, tabacco and gift shops, cleaners, barbers and even a “Kid City”, discount store for those who might typically stray from department store or [Toys] “R” prices. There are a few shoe shops, and even a tuxedo store which used to be in a lot of now regional malls, including my own local ones. In comparison to the many other attractive malls on the Island, Sun-Vet is as forgettable to those who don’t depend on it’s local amenities as Google fails to mention it is.

This mall has it’s decorative history intact, and it shows. A basic “E“-shaped layout; basic one (wide) corridor with three mall entrances on left, middle (main), and right ends. Insipid and dated décor and other tales of void evolution on the stacked-stone walls via exterior; a staple of early 1970’s and throughout the decade. The generic speckled light brown and tan floors are certainly vestige of the earlier era, and for the rest of the interior which obviously never received any significant improvement(s) beyond some minor cosmetic changes at best halted in the early 80‘s. The original designers probably ever expected the mall to serve beyond an indoor-outdoor hybrid that it’s become and seems to have been molded by the times, originated by the 1970’s explosion of primarily one-level enclosed malls. The remaining exterior sees truer to the times, a no-frills red-striped façade, zestless, and masks mostly darker shades of brown underneath.

We ended up making it here around the Christmas season, on an late Sunday afternoon where the mall was surprisingly booming with people. Judging by the climate of these types of out-of-time malls, there would’ve been an elderly and strange vagrant population if not for the season. Of course, a lone security guard stationed in the mall’s fancied seasonal “center court” who looked trained to take down people with cameras. It seems to be a trend to have these smaller malls take a stance against shooters, luckily it didn’t happen today.

Here's some excellent shots of Sun-Vet and information from the ever-wonderful SiteRide, which reveals older facades (before Toys 'R' Us received their renovation) and tenants like The Gap, and Office Depot (beside Toys R Us, most likely a former Kids 'R' Us); all since departed Sun-Vet.