Wednesday, February 07, 2007

983 New Britain Avenue; West Hartford, Connecticut

Following our report on an uncovered former Caldor in Groton revealed by a Connecticut local, and a forecast of slow reporting this week due to ridiculously chilly weather in the Northeast which prevents me in my idle time from shooting much of anything new. So, we've decided to dig into the best of 2006 archive and introduce a segment on The Caldor Rainbow; a half-vacant site I had visited repeatedly last year.

983 New Britain Avenue is now home to fallen retail stardom. A plaza most formerly belonging to department discounter Ames has seen brighter years of the past, but not too much since. Ever since its final vacancy in 2003 the building stands devoid of retail traffic today in a mostly dilapidated area in the outskirts of West Hartford. While not originally, it's most notably known as having once been home to Caldor, which was later purchased by Ames.

Signature green of Ames logo peeks from behind the black-out.

Located just no more than three miles from Westfarms Mall, the plaza is located on New Britain Avenue, along Route 71, near some mainlines into the southern end of the capitol; New Park Avenue being one, which trails right into central Hartford, but too far off easy and/or more direct access via Interstate 84.

Apart most of West Hartford’s flourishing historic retail scapes, whether it be the Main Streets, upscale West Hartford Center, the Northernmost shopping parkades including Bishop‘s Corner, and big box areas surrounding the [Westfarms] mall, even going further into Hartford with the brand-new Charter Oak Commons, there could be more than obvious reasons why this neglected, islandic defeated property continues to degenerate into forgotten territory. It would appear the dowdy town is quite ashamed of it's Elmwood side, often times forgetting the somewhat isolated retail beyond the old railroad track underpass.

Within the lesser glamourous sectors of West Hartford, often referred as being more apart of the suburb Elmwood and bordered on the southern end of Hartford, amidst a rustic industrial landscape of the Southern tier of the town, this is an area less traveled by most anyone looking to shop. But it's got a history, maybe one that has shifted demographics over the years into a servant of scrap and alternative retailers, auto centers, government and commerce businesses nearby.

Apart from the town’s otherwise richer population on the other ends, this shopping district tends to cater more towards lower-eschelons; may it be lower-income or minority ethnic groups of the neighboring Hartford and Elmwood. Today, the location is more or less a testiment to poor location versus a sunken socio-economic consumer and collapsed retail plane dominated by big box survivors of the post-millennium. Factor that into an overall uninvitingly doomed and
degenerating landscape and you're up against the current situation.

Dollar Dreams; self-proclaimed "Largest $1.00 Store in Conn." operating a former Waldbaum's supermarket.

Built in 1961, this unique structure was not quite the self it promotes today. Originally housing a local department store chain, Family Fair and in 1962 was purchased by the Star's Discount Department Store chain which hosted a Popular Super Markets within. Star's was more or less a typical discounter of its time ranging in many goods you might find at a Target today. This particular location was branded Star's Family Fair.

An elusive Star's Family Fair advertisment from the January 5, 1964 edition of The Hartford Courant (click to see full size).

An "Opening Sale" of Star's Family Fair from the September 2, 1962 edition of The Hartford Courant.

The chain, who shared it's heyday in the booming discount era of the 1960's, presumably had a few other locations across Connecticut, but fell down by the early 1970's. The building style, however, belongs to later tenant, Caldor, with once evident identical buildings in New Britain along Farmington Avenue, and Southington along Queen Street; both long-demolished homes to the mammoth Wal-Mart who was once successor who snatched up a bevy of fallen pinnacle Caldor sites around their falling.

Not too much is known about Star’s legacy, apart from being an department retailer much within it’s own time, sharing mostly forgettable, scattered history today, and was eclipsed by emerging Norwalk, CT-based discount department store Caldor, who purchased a few of their shuttering locations in the area by the early 1970’s. In its time, Caldor, like Wal-Mart currently, sprawled in the discount department store market and had the advantage for snatching up some of the best locations for retail traffic commonly located in highly visible areas which included along major routes and highways. This store wasn’t entirely the case, but in it’s own time, it might’ve been serviceably stationed for the other end of West Hartford but not less travelled areas.

The enormous pebble-faced, concrete-looking box still surely sets itself apart from a long-gone architecture with a decidedly eccentric design; namely rhombus and triangular-shaped scaffolding pillars as a frontal façade. Remarkably, the former super-sized discount store building has no easily identifyable label scarring from before Ames, whose rectangular logo shadows the bulding’s furthest right end today. It's hard to imagine any significant improvements over the years beyond a few paint jobs.

There are plenty of ghastly elemental scars from weathering, including immense amounts of water damage on the building's frontage, most likely seeing a few paint jobs and subtle patch works over the years. Today, the building can't hide its dilapidation with pockmarked walls, gaping holes, and an overall degenerating façade.

Along the sides and rear of the complex show more dire circumstances as most vacancies share; dumping grounds, graffiti-laden, and other unusual items and litter. Along with the rest of the plaza, tenants on the outskirts, all of which have fled years ago include a former Piper Brook Restaurant, and a now dilapidated vacant auto center from the 1960’s.

The remaining neighboring tenant, whose home was once a Waldbaum’s Supermarket, shuttered all Connecticut stores around the departure of Caldor, now houses a Dollar Dreams; a self-proclaimed “Largest $1.00 Store in Conn.” who's patched some local vacancies of past with other locations in New Britain and Manchester. Despite the current anchor woes, Dollar Dreams is the only one left keeping parking spaces filled - and they are in fact fulfilling the objective. Even their property has signs of elderly distress.

When both Caldor and Waldbaum's collapsed around the turn of the century, the entire plaza was soon falling into alarming vacancy rates. It wasn't too soon when an overzealous Ames snatched the site in 2000 in their attempt to house themselves in one of many various former Caldor locations, finding overspaciousness to ensue. The gargantuan complex, which housed a volumous girth, was apparently too large-scale for Ames’ stock causing them to purge unused store space by a good 25 percent.

Ames, who purchased the troubled site, eventually adopted the curse of the Caldor closure in 2003 causing the building to become what's now a borderline vacant eyesore with an equally hazardous parking lot. When last I visited Ames in the store's final week before closure in 2003, it was evident the place was destined for bulldozing. The surrounding area smelled of something rotten just within the parking lot and beside a distressed creek.

Currently the building has an owner; and one that seems to have legal troubles of their own. In 2005, the building was converted and gutted to suit a climate-controlled storage facility seeing the property had no forseeable progressive future beyond demolition. Despite this, the building resembles it's former retail occupants with no alterations done to the original exterior.

A plaza which was serviceable at one point in time seems to be living on the brink of an expired contract. The times have changed, and long beyond the years of the plaza's structures. Hindered today by it’s inability to attract and adapt to both developers and patrons. Drudgey surroundings or the lack of retail support keep it down, adjacent to a branch of the Postal Service, or beside it, Shield Street and its other commerce. Shield Street Plaza neigboring it, once a destination center, is now dominated by an alternative array of Asian commerce including an unusual ethnic otherworldly A. Dong Supermarket who might not be seek your average demographic either (like Stop & Shop of the third, alternate world).

How much longer will the plaza at 983 stick around? Perhaps until the building itself falls.

See more photos of 983 New Britain Avenue on Facebook. All pictures were taken in Summer to Fall 2006.

EDIT (July 8, 2007): Vintage advertisments for Star's Family Fair added.


Anonymous said...

Star's/Nu-Stars discount department stores buildings are the types of buildings where you won't find a labelscar,because they installed their signage on top of the building(like Zayre did). I notice how short and wide the building looks from far away which was probably because the design of the building was focused on making the sign on top more eyecatching. I've actually shopped in a Star's location in Torrington (now a BJ's) which was named under the Nu-Star's moniker (according to a price tag)and I vividly remember that their sign was installed on the roof of the building, it was red letters spelling out "S-T-A-R-S" with multi-colored stylized stars(smaller stars within lager stars) surrounding it. That building dated to at least the mid-to-late 60's so it's not that hard to imagine that this building had a similar sign installation since it was reportedly closed in 1970. I think Star's eventually went out of business in part due to that their signs were continually animated, the signs letters and stars flashed on-and-off in sequence, and probably consumed a lot of electricity, plus when some of the lights burnt out or malfunctioned(which did happen often) the maintaintance must of cost a lot.

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

I couldn't get any information about the Star's chain anywhere. I very much apprechiate this input. That's actually kind of a funny, stupid way to go out of business. In the big department store venture in the 1960's, these guys were so bad they didn't really make it far because of their exorbitant signs?! Someone else, a Connecticut local, mentioned their rooftop signage as well. Either way, their signs must've been unique eye-candy.

I've discovered the "slanted angle" facade over the door was in fact an original design by Caldor. Appearently, they employed this very design when they built their Southington store in 1973 in "Caldor Village".

I heard that Torrington "Nu Stars" store was among the last of the chain, surviving well into the 90's. I'm currently looking for some old images of what this building could've looked like.

Anonymous said...

A little more info about Star's chain:

The frequently named Nu-Stars was a small business it's full name was Nu-Stars Inc. according to a list on Uconn small business it had two locations Torrington & Wallingford.

Supposedly from what I read from this:

the companies original name was Star's Department Store one shopper from the Ames forum remembers the inconsistancies of the Star's name on the outside sign and the Nu-Stars name on the tag.

I may have a theory, the original Star's Department Stores may have went bankrupt and a new small company Nu-Stars bought their remaining locations and used them for their companies business.

Or this theory Star's Department Store files for bankrupcy pretection which could explain the reasoning for closing some locations such as the one in West Hartford in 1970. After reorganization (a possibly a merger with another company) they rebranded themselves as a new company Nu-Stars inc. (as in this is "the New Stars") this switchover may have occured in the mid-70's.

Also to note the Wallingford location which was reportedly near a bowling alley (my guess it was Bowlerland later called T-Bowl which is located at 980 North Colony Road) still stands but has been converted to a indoor cart track. The track that was formerly Star's must be On-Track racing since that is located at 984 North Colony Road and the only indoor racing track located near a bowling alley.

However I highly doubt theres any remnants of Star's (signs,ceiling vents,labelscars,etc.)left in that building.

About the interior it was basically plain and the ceiling had hanging HVAC industrial type of ventilation think of something along the lines of many large cylindrical tubes meandering all over the ceiling containg numerous sources of ventilation including industrial fans,serveral outlet ducts on the ends of the tubes,on other several other spots on the tubes besides the ends,and large oversized outlet vents located on the ceiling itself ,several other tubes were square shaped. There were hundreds of these tubes all over the store varying from small to large. Of course the problem with this system was that it was located high on the ceiling and instead of providing reilable clean air and doing something useful such as providing cool air in the summer,all it did was make A HUGE amount of noise (Think of something along the sound of a continous loud humming of of air going through hundreds of ducts,better yet imagine the sound of a vaccum or a fan except 100 times louder) that in some areas you had to scream to people just to be heard! I remember now that the air coming out of those fans smelled musty and only could be described as "industrial" plus with all this air coming through this smogasboard of ventilation it frequently got very hot inside and sometimes had to leave the store just to BREATHE! or else I would faint. However even with all this Star's/Nu-Star's or whatever you want to call it was a pretty good store the prices were decent and despite being slightly outdated had decent products.

Anonymous said...

I've found several articles on NU-Star's Discount Stores.

these are from a search on NewsLibrary:

about the Wallingford store:

"1. New Haven Register (CT) - November 10, 1995

Nu-Stars Discount to close at year's end
In Wallingford: Store spent 30 years on North Colony Road. Nu-Stars Discount Store, a fixture on North Colony Road for 30 years, is closing its doors at the end of the year.The store, at 984 N. Colony Road, offers housewares, clothing, Christmas decorations and other items at discounted prices. It's offering a 20 percent discount over and above the discounted prices.The store manager, who declined to give his name Thursday, said about 65 people work at the store. He...

and the Torrington Store which closed in 1997:

1. The Hartford Courant - July 17, 1997

Nu Stars department store will soon close, putting the store's 50 to 60 employees out of work.Michael Goldman, one of the store's owners, said Wednesday that he has not set a firm date for when the store will end its 38-year run in Torrington. Goldman, a New Hartford resident, refused to comment on why the store is shutting its doors for good. He did say small, independently run businesses have a daunting task competing with corporate giants such as Wal-Mart, but he...

Purchase Complete Article, of 486 words
2. The Hartford Courant - July 28, 1997

The demise of Torrington's Nu-Stars, whose owners have announced that the store will soon close, is a sign of the times to be greatly lamented.Nu-Stars has been variously described as a department store, a discount house, a variety store and, perhaps most accurately, as a bazaar. Many longtime residents considered it a community treasure. It had the comfortable feeling of an old barbershop, where neighbors would meet for the latest news and gossip. For 38 years, Nu-Stars was the...

Purchase Complete Article, of 321 words"

So the actual name of the store was NU-Stars Discount stores I haven't seen anything that officially calls it Star's so far.

Anonymous said...

a comment/correction on an incorrect passing sidenote in this entry... Waldbaum's did not close up all connecticut locations in the early nineties... It morphed into A&P... First Changing from "Waldbaum's Foodmart" to "Super Foodmart" and then later to "A&P Super Foodmart" -- although dozens of stores closed, there are 12 remaining foodmarts in connecticut, with the "other" West Hartford location still bannered as "Waldbaum's Foodmart" in Bishops Corner....

P.S. compare the arcitecture of the Bishop's Corner Waldbaum's with the Newington A&P Super Foodmart to see the transition.... The word "Super" replaced "waldbaum's" in the logo.... and the A&P was stapled to the building much later, and look it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the addition of the Star's ads definately reminds me how the chain's store experience was, which was basically a bargain bin type place, with cheap goods all crammed under one roof of a primitively designed, no-frills building, LOL, yep those were the days.

Anonymous said...

I found more info on Star's check out this link it talks about Star's Discount department stores...maybe the reason why they went bankrupt.

Anonymous said...

Of course, now the Newington A&P is gone too. Only ones that I know are left are Berlin, Middletown, Bishop's Corner (the only Waldbaum's), East Haven, Naugatuck, and Danbury. Southington died when Stop & Shop was built. Was Village IGA before '82, when Food Mart was down the street north of 84 and former Shaw's/Edwards was GE Madison's. Now a package store, Namco, and CT Lighting. As for Wallingford Nu-Stars, it is a Go-Kart track. Heard old plans for a Christmas Tree Shop about 4 years ago, but have not heard anything lately.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to know.

Patrick said...

I know this article is old, so I don't know if this will draw any attention.
There was a proposed development on Route 6 in Terryville that was to house a new STARS location in 1992. I recall the "Join STARS sign" being there for years and becoming overgrown. The signpost is still there, but layers of new development signs have been tacked on again and again. Of course, no development was ever done.

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Brandon said...

Was this eyesore finally demolished? If it was how long ago was it?