Friday, January 26, 2007

Crystal Mall; Waterford, Connecticut

The Crystal Mall opened in 1984 in Waterford, Connecticut, by brand-conscious mall management outfit, Simon Property Group; who around the millennium, began training shoppers to memorize their Simon brand a la Westfield.

Located off Interstate 95, CT Route 85, and just bordering the city of New London serving coastal regions of Connecticut with the changing regional indoor shopping mall trend which was sweeping in after a boom of smaller, indoor malls of the decade before it. In its time of conception, the two-level mall was a bright, new attraction easily trumping a few smaller enclosed malls around the area including the New London Mall, located a short exit away on 95 which has since become a "lifestyle" center, and the further away Norwichtown Mall, nestled in Norwich but plenty far north and holds near flatline status. Even back then, neither could quite compare to the increasing appeal for the regional Crystal Mall; who had no hard competitive edge for many miles.

I wouldn’t say developer Simon is as brand-centric as egomaniacal Westfield Group, who sees its objective to rebrand and disassociate much about older malls they either own or have acquired over the years for the sake of their icon (find me one person content calling a mall "Westfield..."). The two groups are certainly bordered by a fine line in presentation, attempting to revive aged or long-neglected centers and you‘ll see the resemblances at their other malls doning their names at even kiosk and corner. Currently, Simon owns just one property in Connecticut, and it so happens to be Crystal Mall which is also the smallest regional mall by square footage but also one with some distinct qualities in a sea of copycat shopping malls.

The central chandelier at Crystal Mall

While no certain or admitted history is currently available, there’s very little doubt its developers named their mall after the elegant Waterford Crystal name; based in Waterford... Ireland. Seeing its base in Waterford, Connecticut, it was more or less a shoe-in to connect the two and create more than just a name but doubling as a classy shopping center. To further this conclusion exactly, the mall actually features a much scaled down, and quite frankly, eccentrically placed chandelier in the smack central of the mall, where there could’ve easily been a center court designed to better display it. Why exactly does a median-level mall need a chandelier anyway?

Known Anchor History

Filenes; 1984-2006, subdivided into Christmas Tree Shops (Level 1) and Bed, Bath & Beyond (Level 2) to be completed in early 2008

Jordan Marsh; 1984-1996, became Macy’s 1996-presently
JCPenney; 1984-presently
Sears; 1984-presently

One of the more fully-functional Sears includes an Auto Center around the other side.

The Crystal Mall hasn’t done much more in past years to challenge most upper-echelon malls in the state, especially those with the glaze of malls like Westfarms, an iconic Connecticut Taubman Center located in Central Connecticut. Given it's cozy, somewhat isolated position along the coast, it really doesn't have to.

When Crystal Mall opened in 1984, primarily brown-and-gold shades draped the center from top to tiles, like most malls fading out of the darker-centric tones of the 70's. At around the tenth anniversary of the mall's life, it came to realization that a refreshing look would have to dawn through the dark corridors of the aging dungeon look of the center. Brighter trends of the mid-90's were clashing with with primarily outdated brown-atmospheres of yesteryear architecture turning the contrast up many notches to a sterlized, arctic wonderland of white.

At last, Crystal Mall would start to resemble its crystalline persona.
Now, everything’s white as snow as far as the eye can see enough to mistake it for Level-8 in The Legend of Zelda; except for it feeling anything like the dungeon it used to.

This is 2007, and where most malls across the state have updated their look or are planning (like Macerich-owned Danbury Fair Mall), expanded, and grew with the changing trends, Crystal Mall is steeped in insipid mediocrity by design and decor. As far as its basic array of shops (including a retro Radio Shack) and clientele, it probably won’t attract any different a crowd of most median-income malls across the state (or country for that matter), even that of a vastly improved The Shoppes at Buckland Hills, even those who've drastically upclassed its image (and name!) in the past years to compete not only with the changing trends of shoppers but also with rapid developments (like the outdoor mall; The Shops at Evergreen Walk) all around it.

An original Connecticut Filene's, with a truly distinct, geometrical skylight-facade, now vacant.

Simon is certainly capable to revitalizing aging centers; Florida Mall, built in 1986, is their quintessential portfolio. Those who’ve seen the Florida Mall turn a 180 in the early 2000s to its present look can see what’s over the horizon at a [Crystal] mall centered around its decade-old reworking.

Now a Crystal Mall wouldn’t be crystal enough without the theme intact it took a good ten years to get right. A roof-lined of skylights all along the middle keeps the center now from feeling dank; which also allow the mall to live up to a "crystalline", luminous sheen beyond its years, especially on those sunnier where the light casts down onto the center creating less of a indoor experience (especially in the Winter months). Despite this, and it's white-era, there's some aspects that hearken back to the mall's origins apart some aging white tiles like wood-trimmed railings and even some groovy sloped bars below them.

Yet, among the whited-out decor of the mid-1990's remodel, the mall is given a volumous appeal while holding close to an earlier era especially within most of its anchor stores; especially the rock face facade around the Filene's, the [scarred] brown-brick around the former Jordan Marsh, and the mirrored walls around JCPenney. While they've addressed most of the mall's aging looks, there are certainly those elements which hearken back but also give the mall it's character and origins not decimated by the banes of today's cheap, safer, less-experimental facades.

If not for the colors of the interior, Crystal Mall might’ve just been inspiration for Danbury Fair Mall with the spiked tent-like skylights, warehouse-style ceilings, and a somewhat airy interior helped along by it's brighter sheen, and is an eerily alternate link to the past with a darker-shaded Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua, New Hampshire (sans the step-downs), also owned by Simon.

A touch of neon lighting "Food Court" sign added sometime during the remodel and a mirror-facade JCPenney which hasn't changed since!

Compensating for its size, the mall follows a two-level standard and just a few things that make it a unique mall, certainly also a memorable one. Lately, the tenant set hasn't matched the vitality of a once booming center that appears to now seek steady improvement.

Crystal Mall once featured a few Boston-based department clothiers Filenes and Jordan Marsh -- not featured in any other mall at the time, which helped make the mall a more distinct shopping experience in '84, apart Westfarms.

This is the only Connecticut shopping mall to have featured an originally built Filene’s department store anchor, which were otherwise added later in the state when the G. Fox namesake became phased out as part of the 1993 Filene’s name enclosure. Unfortunately, the original husk was vacant up until late 2007 until a couple unusual-for-mall tenants Christmas Tree Shops and Bed, Bath & Beyond announced a subdivision, to be completed in 2008.

Filene's, which once bogged the mall with it's outtatime look and unfortunate vacancy stay original with an interior wooden brown-toned 1970's-styled facade which remains very true to art deco design on the outside as well. The vestibule is complete with the tones; globe lights, and a geometric skylight glass entrance. A few years before its closure, the store was slightly renovated, replacing the once, deteriorated wood-draped exterior.

Visible Jordan Marsh scarring against a stone-originated inner (as well as outer) entrance.

Jordan Marsh also opened with the mall, unlike any other during its time, which in 1996, became a home to Macy‘s when they sunk. While Jordan Marsh is but a memory, the interior helps live that legacy being richly evident of Jordan Marsh stores in the 1980’s with a host of 70’s basketball court faux-wood linoleum flooring, low-level ceilings and bizarre wood-framed department dividers. It’s a true relic and experience into the 70's-80's fade of decor, certainly one that hasn’t seen the brighter age of some of Macy’s newer looking acquisitions with vastly improved lighting and space.

The exterior is also an intruging design -- with a rich, rounded stone design which is sadly fallen victim to heavy deposits of time's weathering today.

A food court, which has been reworked over the years still serves most of the fast food types (Burger King, Sbarro, "Chinese" etc.), but also some designed with an athletic-centric mini-stairs idea I personally remember this mall for since my coming here as a young'n. All across both levels of the mall, the developers fancied the idea of including various steps and handicap accessible ramps alongside for a good amount of footage along the mall's interior. Instead of a flat layout like most malls, this one believes you should stay in shape while you browse the shops at Crystal Mall.

A fine idea then and now; especially for a growing obesity rate in America (or one which hopes you'll become hungrier and/or thirstier faster). At any rate, Crystal Mall might just contain the most manual staircases in any mall frequented in the state leaving any sense of automatics inside anchor stores or at either points of the mall.

Steps or ramps?

You might often be forced to use those manual-access stairs. That's right, the oddly placed "one-way" escalators on each side of the mall will have you walkin' or steppin'. Can't use the stairs by any chance? Need to get back downstairs? Either take the center's elevators (which happened to be under repairs when I last visited) or go around looking for a randomly-placed polarity escalator.

Surprisingly, there's no actual center court or fountain; typical indoor shopping mall centerpoints, even if the chandelier and neighboring cascading-waterfall staircase hint there maybe should've been one. Upon the ten-plus year old remodel, there's no more planters and seating areas are now scant. Should you want to, you'll have to "refuel" in the somewhat uneasy food court where you'll likely spend your time under some purple fluorescents. No time for relaxing, so eat or shop!

As something of a sub-anchor, the mall also contains a Massachusetts-based Tweeter Etc., which has reportedly faced downsizing over the years in favor for a "Mall" entrance beside it. While not the trend or scale of amateurish Best Buy and Circuit City, Tweeter Etc. traffics in mainly top-of-the-line hi-fi home theater and consumer goods with an all-around wider selection in that arena than its younger-aimed counterparts but not quite to the dimension of Bernie's.

The last "retro" Radio Shack left in the state, which refuses to update its signage.

As the Simon-template webpage shows, and a keen observation from one of our readers, they've abandoned once "street-style" signs which once directed shoppers as they hung over tenants. Upon the white remodel, the brown-gold original octogonal vertical-striped "C" logo from the original mall has also been retired. Apart the colors, Crystal Mall is still preserved in its original mold as well as not having had too many anchor changes over the years and, of course, has yet to expand.

The Caldor Rainbow visited the mall on a very chilly New England weekday morning in January 2007 but have returned since January 2008, so we hope you enjoy our year-old (particularly exterior) shots. If you want to get an idea of what Crystal Mall looked like before the remodel, check out some of our photos from a bizarro Crystal Mall: Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua, New Hampshire, taken January 2008.

Very special thanks to David "Fox N Allen" Cuozzo, who submitted this Christmas shopping bag featuring the vintage logo from a personal collection. Retail Memories Coast To Coast has an incredible amount of shopping bags from retail history.

UPDATE: June 26, 2007. A "vintage" picture of Crystal Mall; circa 1980's. You can see Radio Shack on the far right end as well as The Gap on the lower level. They may have only painted the slats but they kept that chandelier! And check out those floor tiles! Submission by Joseph Rifkin.

Here's a bonus gallery of shots taken at Crystal Mall, some not pictured here, as part of my Flickr. While the mall has a written no camera policy, that of course didn't stop us apart the mall's lack of patrols!

This page has been edited due to appearent inaccuracies and additional information gathered. Would you like to report any others? E-Mail me
at or submit a comment.


Anonymous said...

It's evident that some unique features were removed from the mall.

Such as these small emerald shaped signs which can be seen in this older photograph.

The last time I've been in the Crystal Mall when it still had some of the original decor was in 2000 during the time of Opsail 2000.

The mall had those mini-signs above the stores,and a large odd-looking emerald shaped logo on the front (main?) enterance on the northeast glass atrium face of the mall (maybe the octoganal C-logo you're talking about).

It looked like this: in a light blue color it had a half octogon top and a pointed bottom except the bottom had a quirky upside-down triange shape with a line going to the right side cut out of it.

it looked kind of butt-ugly really

They also had this logo on the inside walls of the mall close to the main anchors

Anonymous said...

Ahh, the Crystal Mall. Doesn't look like too much has changed, but that's not totally the case. The mall was practically unchanged prior to 1996. But when Jordan Marsh changed to Macy's, more little things changed.

Ok, where to start? After Macy's moved in, the mall underwent new paint and new Tile floors in 1997. There use to be all brown 70s style tile floors through-out the mall. And Tan tiles gathered around all the stair-cases making some weird-decorative octagon pattern. Until 97', when the bland greenish white tiles fell on top of them. (the old tiles can still be seen near the "employee's only" doors, just peek under the door and they're sticking out!)

The elevator was repainted and the "80s style" food court sign on it was actually added on to it around 97' or 98'. So this wasn't an original 80s theme.

I SWEAR that the skylights use to have globe bulbs all around the trimmings! but then they've been replaced with the cheper-Neon lites that are placed under them. The "mall" signs outside of the buildings were added on later, as well as the blue overhangs. And the original lamp-post lights outside of them are no longer operating. The metal on the railings use to be green, but then they were painted white.

The section where Tweeter's is was totally changed. Tweeter's use to be a wide hallway going directly to an exit of the mall. Then in 1998, the Tweeters was built around that space, and the hallway was moved on the left of it, making a smaller hallway torward the exit.

Then in 2004, all the old "light bulb" equiped fire alarms were replaced with new "A.D.A. compliant" strobe equipt fire alarms. And the Management offices Received a renovation.

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

That's what I get for assuming, eh? I've been to this mall many times in my (childhood) days and cannot remember it changing much too much. How wrong I was!

Thanks for the history though, it looks like I might have to do some editing here. Either way, I think the mall still is a bit cosmetically dated and/or a little bland. I'm almost shocked to know the mall was mainly brown!

As far as the old Crystal Mall sign goes, pretty sure it was brown and tan colored and reminds me of the OCP logo in Robocop. And that entrance near Tweeter? I should've suspected something of it; the "Mall" entrance sign next to it is the same one on the newer renovated Auburn Mall in Mass.

And to Joseph, are you the same one who informed me of a "dead 70s/former Caldor plaza" on my first topic? If so, please tell me where its located in Groton...

Anonymous said...

The railings used to be a teal-green color until everything was painted, and the food court used to have a large old-style clock with mirrored ceilings.

I thought the repainting happened around 1994-1995, not late like 1997.

I was wondering when you were going to do this mall! :)

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

Very interesting revealings. Thanks to all of you, I officially do not remember much of this mall before its white-out. And Megan, you say there was a large clock in the food court? Where abouts exactly? And mirrored ceilings?!

It's hard to do these mall histories because of this: everyone thinks they remember when. Not to discount anyone (including myself, the biggest loser here), I think if we get enough confirmations we can then write it down as fact for now. If anyone has anymore info, keep it coming and you'll be credited when I do the edits.

It seems the paint job around 1996 makes sense; Macy's purchased Jordan Marsh and maybe wanted to show some class. The 1994 thing works to; a new look for the mall's ten-year milestone clearly decades old look.

Can we confirm Sears or Tweeter was apart of the mall at birth? I now have a feeling Sears was part of an expansion or perhaps a facade renovation...

Anonymous said...

The clock was close to the middle of the "hall" across from the current Sprint store (where there are tables, but it's shaped like a hallway), and the mirrored ceilings were in that hall only, as far as I know. The tables used to be arranged in straight lines, not the mess they are now. It was a very dark hall, and I don't think the purple neon lights were there until after the renovations.

My parents both say Sears was there from the start but they used to have a warehouse that you had to pick up larger items from down on Cross Rd. I don't know if you still have to pick up stuff from there or if you can just get it at the mall.

Anonymous said...

The Filene's store in the mall was opened when Filene's was still part of the Federated chain, It was the first Filene's (FDS) store in CT.

With its FDS roots, it was much more upscale then when it became a MayCo store. Almost on the same scale as its sister Bloomindale's. It actually wasn't that much smaller then the closest branch in Warwick, RI. Only after the May purchase of Filene's, and the rebranding of G.Fox, did Filene's as a store carry a full line assortment. Unfortunetly, the merger caused the chain to downgrade its merchandise assortment. Even G.Fox had a higher class of merchandise, but because of the May principle, it too was downsized dramitically.

At that time, Filene's carried stricly clothing and soft lines in home only, hence the small size of the store. Most of the northern stores outside of CT had to be expanded to accept the new merchandise.

The Macy's (JM) was also the first Jordan Marsh location in the state, opened when Allied was being absorbed into Federated as well. At the time it opened, Reads was still around, and it was shortly rebranded to JM. When Federated took over, most of the Read's stores were either converted to JM or closed down completely. The store in the Trumbull Mall became an A&S before finally switching to Macy's.

Anonymous said...


I have some old Crystal Mall bag pics, if you are interested in posting them. Let me know..


Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

Absolutely would like to see the older bags, Fox. Actually, this might reveal what the former octo-logo looked like better done than my words. At your request, I will add it to the page - it needs some editing already.

Anonymous said...

the mall sucks

Anonymous said...

And I would also like to add an update to my last comment. That girl above me was right about the mirrors in the food court and the clock (sorry it actually took this long for my memory to come back about this). The mall did recieve new paint around 94', but the beyond (now disinigrating) white bland tiles were added around 97'.

There is still one picture of the malls interior taking somewhere in the 80s. It is found in the book of Waterford (which the waterford library only owns, as far as I know.)

Ready to hear this? The elevator use to be originally RED. This came back to me, as I've recently noticed that parts of the current grey elevator paint is now chipping off, exposing it's original groovy color. The food court use to have an arcade next to Burger King, and a Cinnabon use to be next to Pac Sun. And I am super-proud to see the original logo. Looks like a combination of the AT&T logo/OCP Robocop logo.

I live 10 minutes away from this mall, and this mall is the most boring mall to chill out in....Jeeze....I REALLY HOPE this mall gets aquired by MACERICH sometime soon! Bwahahaha

Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading your post. I recently moved to this part of the state and stumbled on the mall a few months ago.

Pseudo3D said...

My question is, why did Macy's choose the now-dated (and this point, a bit frumpy) Jordan Marsh store and choose the Filene's as the new Macy's? Or just split the departments? (though Dillard's is much more notorious for doing this, Macy's does it too!)

Anonymous said...

Okay this mall is my life. I go here like all the time. Don't diss the Crystal, it's the best thing in New London County.

Anonymous said...

This mall opened the year I graduated High School (1984); and yes, Sears was an original anchor along with J.C. Penney and Filene's and Jordan Marsh.

Also some original tenants were Waldenbooks, US General Hardware, County Seat, Chess King, Lords & Ladies Hair Salon. There was a pizza restaurant in the Food Court that had strombolis. I think there was a Cinnabon also out the entrance to the Food Court.

Stormy said...

Ah, home. :)

Somewhere, I have a 1980's retrospective insert from the Norwich Bulletin that has some info on the mall opening in '84. I will try & dig it up & send you some scans.

Anonymous said...

Well, Burger King and Sabarros (sp?) used to be their own "stores" you'd walk in and sat down independently from the food court, sabarros atleast. The hall way that was where the former tweeters is now, that's where Burger King was. also with a poster store and something around the corner. Hm. The sears warehouse down the road is no loger. It is now a SECOR Sheetmetal. Anyone remember the old Virtual Reality Machines? the huge things the moved all around, held about 10 people and was supposed to simulate a roller coaster? they had one of those there most of the time.

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, the Burger King was down near Sears on the lower level. I believe there was a Waldenbooks near that on the lower level as well. Strolling along that lower level, on the Filene's side, there was a really cool store called (I think) US General. They sold unique hardware items and what they didn't carry could be ordered via catalog.

On that same side of the mall up towards the Food Court was a Merry-Go-Round, across from it on the Jordan Marsh side was a Chess King. I bought my first pair of Parachute Pants there in 1984! Good Lord, does anyone remember those? They also carried the line of Sergio Valente wear and Ocean Pacific, etc. Wow, remembering about this I can almost smell the Aquanet and original "Polo" by Ralph Lauren cologne!

On the lower level (Jordan Marsh side) was the Radio Shack and down from there was a news/magazine store....I forget the name. News Shack? On the first level near Merry-Go-Round was Wilson's Suede and Leather, Athlete's Foot, Foot Locker(?), Petite Sophisticate, Things Remembered, Spencer Gifts. I think there was a CVS on the first level too.

One of the previously mentioned stores may be second level, but after 24 years memory fades a bit.

When the mall opened in 1984, it saved many of us from having to drive to Warwick, Rhode Island in order to go to a real mall. Of course, Westfarms Mall was an alternative but I didn't feel like dealing with I-84 traffic.

Simply driving up I-95 to Warwick was easier when you lived in Southeastern Connecticut. If you filled up with gas anywhere on Route 2 in Warwick or West Warwick, you'd save a few cents over Connecticut prices.

Speaking of the Warwick Mall and it's competitor the Rhode Island Mall, I'd love to see and read how the malls in the area are today on this site, along with other readers' memories of it's former glory as well. I was there in the late 1990's and shocked with how it had declined. Bald Hill Road had turned into box-store sprawl and many once identifiable landmarks gone (Lechmere's, and the sure-fire solution to Mothers' Day gift-giving, Uncle Matty's Flowers).

One last bit of nostalgia comes to mind: Does anyone remember that 1985 IROC Z-28 Camaro (bright yellow) the hood and body of which was signed by musicians and other celebrities and raffled off at MJ Sullivan Chevrolet in New London? What music event was that tied into? I entered that contest...wonder who won it? The car must be worth something today!

Anonymous said...

The biggest mistake that Crystal Mall has made to date is to allow the Disney Store to close. There must be someway that the mall can entice Disney to keep that store open...That is the ONLY reason for going to the Crystal Mall now- and with it closing, many people will never shop there again. I bet the Mall will be closed within 2 years.

Anonymous said...

I was at the mall over this past labor day weekend (2008)and I couldn't believe how many stores have left this mall and how empty and cavernous it felt walking from one end to another. It was rather depressing I do have to say. It was nice to see some newer stores such as Aerie, but the amount of vacancies was astonishing. Where did all the stores go? Any idea on what might be coming in? I live on the Mass border near 395 so used to frequent this mall often many years ago.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you anything about the Mall you want to know. I Worked in the mall since the day it was open. Yes there was a Green clock but it was directly infront of what is now burger king which use to be down by Sears. Yes Sears was there since day one. Boarwalk fries use to be where burger king is and the clock is now in fron of the old waterford police station.

Unknown said...

The reason the mall got the Name Crystal Mall is because of the Waterford Crystal Chandelier. Which by the way happens to be the largest ever made by Waterford Crystal Inc. It weighs 2000 pounds. It contains 12,826 crystals.

Brandon said...

Being born in 1984, and growing up right down the road in Salem, I remember the post-remodeled mall distinctly.

The ash trays on top of the garbage cans, the original location of Sbarros ( in the foodcourt area, but had it's own restaurant style seating for some reasong) and Burger King, way on the other side of the mall.

As a kid, I remember those horrid brown tiles, which always looked greasy and wet. That faux wood still haunts the railings today.

Next to the elevator was a raised seating area with many tables, which extended way beyond the food court, and also the old D&L which my mother always dragged me into for what felt like hours.

I'm sure there is more, but that is all that comes to mind at this moment.

Unknown said...

The clock that was in the food court was given to the Town of Waterford and now sits outside of the Police station. You can see it if you drive on the Boston Post Rd.

I have worked in many stores as a teenager in the 80's at this mall. Sear was one of the original stores. I remember when they first opened the mall only Filene's was open. The rest of the mall was still closed but we could see it from the glass doorway.

I believe I have a number of photos from the mid 80's a few weeks before they started improving the mall in the 90's. I will see if I can dig them out.

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Anonymous said...

Roman delite was the pizza place that was a sit down place along with newport creamery and burger king not 100% sure but I think there was a taco bell as well

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Colin said...

In case anyone was wondering: I was at the Crystal Mall last month; the retro Radio Shack sign is still up.

Barsan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kevin said...

The Crystal mall is going under a $10 million renovation which includes new flooring, light fixtures, updating the food court, and signage.Here is the article on it:

Also in case anyone was wondering the radio shack sign was changed to the newer logos.

Anonymous said...

The clock that used to be in the food court is now in front of the Waterford youth center on Boston Post Road. Thank you for the history lesson. My wife started working for Sears about 6 months before the mall opened when Sears was across 95 from the New London mall. Long time ago.