Monday, June 18, 2007

The Languishing Latham Circle Mall

In case you've ever wanted to read a lengthy novel, do some homework, or perhaps audit your stamp collection in a campy, social, public setting and the library is a tad too stuffy for your suits, your the next best option may not be too far away. It may just be at the local, languishing Latham Circle Mall.

Yesterday afternoon, The Caldor Rainbow took what amounted to be our latest and likely last field trip to the Capital Region of New York in the small, quaint town of Latham.

Times used to be good for Latham Circle Mall.

Opened in 1956 as an open-air plaza following suit to the enclosure trend in 1977, the mall fell on rickety times and dramatic anchor shifts throughout its life but managed to stabilize up until the late 1990's when many of its juggernaut anchors went bankrupt. In a few short years after, surrounding malls upgraded their presentations causing this one to slug behind considerably.

Slipping in a side corridor where most stores were vacant; red-trimmings of a former, since moved CVS/pharmacy are sitting darkly. Folks are strolling along the twilight corridors of the mall in their twilight years. Mixed use offices overlook a Burlington Coat Factory. Musak plays softly over the speakers and all the while not much else but a depressive, funky air can be heard and breathed. Before you know it, you're flanked with mirrors, pinholes and scars above dark storefronts stacked with vacant shelving, uneven and often scruffy looking foamboard ceiling tiles, and hanging-by-a-flimsy string globe lamps, some cracked, leftover from some 1970's alterworld.

This is Latham Circle Mall, and without understatement, distressed and kind of strange in sight and smell.

Arriving at the peak of afternoon after what round about became a two-hour jaunt, we came to see for ourselves a mall whose seen its fair share of internet infamy by our fellow affiliates but especially one report done at Labelscar and some archivist ones at Dead Malls. Helping catch our attention due to its otherwise interesting history, being the first enclosed mall in the Albany region, having off-kilter and haphazard architecture and most of all faltering placement in the shopping mall race for the region. Like most dying centers who've lost fame and populous to other malls surrounding it, this forgotten mall is running on a decade plus now and is hanging on just yet barely. To its own sad fate, the ambush of closure of key anchorage helped hurt Latham Circle Mall apart from aged storefronts (some with red, frilly carpeting) who eventually left their spaces dark, tenants trickling down and becoming highly vacant in past years.

Caldor and Stein Mart, who were once at the mall as prime anchors during the 1980s up until the tip of the 90's, drove out many smaller stores subsequently due to their luring absence. Since then, Lowes Home Improvement has managed to help resuscitate the dying mall in the former area left by Caldor, while leaving the Stein Mart space but has chosen likely for their own good, not to open into mall like Caldor did. As a result, patrons will head first themselves into a wall now.

Following a trend trailing other big box or power center superstores began shortly after the 2000s, new-age competition like Home Depot or discounters Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy have chosen to largely disassociate from malls at which their prime anchorage serves and saves. There's more or less a testament or perhaps an implicit agreement between big boxer and mall to the tune of 'we'll help you get your traffic back but in return, we don't want to be apart of your mall'. These big boxers are demanding their own parcels and operating by their own guidelines outside the bounds of yesterday demands of mall ownership to have all anchors open into the mall.

Slowly losing the grasp of surrounding towns to other malls, like Colonie Center, who models like most upper-range, up-to-date centers today, and the medium-tier Crossgates Mall, Latham Circle Mall has been sort of dwindling between times past and lost in something of a funk, riddled with the inability to adapt and evolve with trends other malls have and one whose continually since the late 1990's has been unable to rebound. So much, that the mall has more or less become a vacuum to the forgotten and disarray.


Because of this, Latham Circle Mall lives as an interesting and equally bizarre mall not quite like any other. Those who've come to the mall have noted its unusual design and mismatched decor-ridors. From dead ends to dead fronts, mixed use areas, parcels laden with vacancy, oddly-positioned office spaces and wall murals to strange oversight office areas plagued with one-way mirrors to often unusually high and variously differed acute angled ceilings, Latham Circle Mall isn't a conventional mall by far.


One area in particular, above the mall security offices, can be accessed by an ancient zig-zag staircase which leads to multiple levels with various balconies to more office space. Unfortunately, this part was barred off and while we had great temptation to explore the upper netherealms of the mall, we eventually abstained for reasons we'll later divulge.




No more than minutes before the top of the hour, we were matched presence by mall security who gave us a bitter reception. Like an RPG (Role-Playing Game -- not the explosives), our sights locked as he approached.

He was a stocky individual whose name I failed to capture. Beyond middle-aged, unshaven, generally unfit and unkempt and was also missing a good number of off-colored and ghoulish teeth likely due to tobacco habits to which resonated in scent as he spoke. Wearing a white button-down shirt a few buttons loosened from the top and slightly slurred in speech, his provincialism lacked prominence as he approached me, awaiting my reprimand. In something of a let's-play-detective manner, he whips out what looks to be a badge likely commissioned to him by the mall's dollar store and proceeds to lay down the protocol or something to the effect of 'what do you think you're doing'?

I thought he might be Police, but seconds later I realized he was definitely not.

I play out, knowing what I'm to be told as I carry my pocket camera having just been caught capturing a wall decal next to an active office space. No pictures, I get it. Well it didn't stop there. The eager guard, enthused by the chance he may get to use his interrogation skills or to stir up some drama at a dried-up setting further asked a few more questions as to why I was taking pictures of the mall to which I gave him my verbal credentials. Noting it was strictly non-profit, whose gain was merely to capture and preserve retail history in lieu of a proposed renovation (which is pending approval by the town and is slated to begin Summer 2007), I understood his skepticism but soon realized how silly this could become.

He thereby demanded some form of written credentials or a business card, to which I don't carry around as I'm not in business, telling me that if I wanted to take pictures, asking mall management was paramount.

Silly me, I had left my wallet in the car.

He asked me to stay put as he turns aside to whip out his gray clamshell cell, talking to what was believed to be a superior, who likely didn't seem very busy only taking about a few rings. Wondering what this guy was going to tell me next, he blurbs 'The Caldor Rainbow' over his phone to which the next immediate response was 'No.' Not surprisingly, I had predicted that my request to document the mall would be shot down faster than unauthorized aircraft over Groom Lake.

After all, that's why I shoot first, ask later. If not for that, some of our other stories would've never been possible.

With something of a sour demeanor on my part, I decided it was likely time to leave. He continues his line of questioning which led to something of a mild argument between the two of us about something relatively simple which I should have aborted early on. Him stating that I was on "private property", I amended that I was on public private property, which is technically anywhere outside your yard, right?

Private property, or so he told me, was the defense for not taking photos at a shopping mall.

Last I remembered, one is not prohibited to snap photos in a parking lot much less a park. That's one of the joys of civil liberties and my freedom of press. In a somewhat stubborn and belligerent tone, he continued to pound that I was on private property and there was no reasoning beyond this. I acknowledged, and then notified him that if the mall's policy was so stringent against the use of cameras, there might be a sign telling those to refrain. Otherwise, there's no inhibitions and no defense. There's no law other than some garbled
implicit one about photography in shopping malls unless stated in writing, like some malls. In that scenario, I would've been caught and my defense would've been bleak. My loss.

He wasn't finished with his two-bits which he then gave me a tired example of me probably 'not wanting people to take photos of my house'. Fair enough, except my house is not open to the public, malls are open to everybody. Do I want strangers to take photos of my house? No. A stranger taking a photo of a shopping mall versus a house obviously present different degrees of security issues, no? Are we now comparing public settings like shopping malls to people's private homes?

Not pleased with most press about Latham Circle Mall, and what he called 'bad press and bad photos' floating around out there (please take no offense Labelscar or Dead Malls; especially the ladder whose photos are quite elusive of a former Caldor), I then informed him that the mall was undeniably in a decline but reports had surfaced about a rebound, which was the focal point of our article (actually I don't think he knew what I talking about). He didn't seem happy with the realty that Latham Circle Mall has become a bottom-feeder of Albany's surrounding malls, and the ensuing press it created on its own. As a matter of fact, he felt the need to remind me of just how obscure my page was by saying he had never heard of it. Hopefully, we'll have gained a new reader or two.

He finally asked -- no -- told me in not so many words not and somewhat disgruntled mall "guard" who decided to make things escalate to realms of unprofessional. We to share or post my photos on the site. However, we believe the cause of Latham Circle Mall transcends beyond a disheveledcould've handled things better, but he decided to make things difficult and go beyond into a territory of overzealous.

Upon leaving, we managed to capture the road pylon, laden with character.

The mall is currently slated for a $12 million renovation and lifestyle adaptation which will see an end to much of the mall's antiquated oddities and hopefully patch up many vacancies throughout.

If you happen to be that security guard who played sheriff with me yesterday afternoon, by all means, welcome to the site and enjoy the pictures!


Anonymous said...

I've had some run-ins with security myself. See the Washington, PA mall post on Labelscar for more info on that hilarious encounter. I've also been more politely asked to stop without any interrogation a few times, notably in Asheville, NC and Indianapolis. One of the more obnoxious encounters I had was at the Moreno Valley Mall in Moreno Valley, CA, where I was snapping photos as usual in what I thought was kind of a dead area of the mall. Low and behold, I noticed that I was being watched intently by this huge woman in her wig store on the upper level, who immediately got on the horn and was ostensibly calling about me and my horribly suspicious activity. I continued through the mall and was actually on my way out when I was intercepted at the top of an escalator by some security guard kid who was like 18. He grabbed my arm and said I had to leave and that taking pictures was so wrong and terrible, and said I could come back once I put my camera back in my car. Just have to be stealthy, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Nick did you get the picture that I sent you?

Erik said...

Latham Circle Mall was voted favorite local hangout in my 1995 yearbook. It was pretty close then to what it is today.

Anonymous said...

I leave near latham circle mall and go there for the movie theater. You are right, it is an eerie place, and that security guy sounds creepy. Did you also notice that the whole food court is completely empty except for a pizza place and a Hot Dog Charlies?

Pseudo3D said...

Do you have a rough layout of the place/where the second levels are/dead ends/list of the stores, etc?

For some reason this mall really intrigues me!

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

Labelscar has a excellent entry of the mall and layout. You can check them out here:

Latham Circle Mall is indeed an oddball mall which is why I took the drive to come up here and eventually risk getting shot down by the 'bigshots' running that place.

There really is no defined, unified "second level." There are a few scattered about and must be accessed within their own areas like the one I've pictured above the security office (was seriously considering going up there but that would've most likely gotten extracted from the premises for fear of police action). There was also one in the JCPenney sector, where you could only access the Regal Cinema and overlook the courts on each side. Again, very unusual design here.

I would've love to have gotten more pictures but per usual, you've just got to take as many before the largely powerless security yells at you and tells to stop.

Stealth is key.

Patrick said...

I first encountered Latham Circle when moving to the area in 1997. At that time the mall was in perfect condition, with Caldor still open, and most stores filled and open. RecordTown hadn't become FYE yet, KB, a McDonalds with a playscape IN THE MALL, an arcade, a great comic book shop, even one of the Gateway computer stores. A 42" CRT computer monitor? Can you imagine such a thing!
What a sad decline, as the rest of the Latham Circle area blooms with new retail and new restaurants.
Thank you for your documentation efforts, and let me know if I can answer any questions for you!

Anonymous said...

So here I set, in my dorm room at Harvard, smoking pot past midnight. I have absolutley no connection or have ever heard of Latham, and it finds its way into my life through the www.

Is this you as well?,_New_York

Nice landmarks!

For my research
My question is... With a mall like that, does it severely misdevolp teenage girls in Latham and make them come out societly abnormal by the time they reach womanhood due to the lack of a better mall image?

Anonymous said...

I'm from the Latham area, and I just happened to come across your blog. The area above the food court in Latham Circle Mall was originally suppose to be extra seating. The area was constructed when I was pretty young, but if I remember correctly it wasn't opened once it was finished.

As for the cruddy "security" you came across, he's still there. He's actually the janitor, but I guess he doubles as security.

I doubt that Latham Circle Mall will ever be redeveloped. The owner of the mall is involved in other projects in the Capital Region, and used his money elsewhere. Latham Circle Mall is a lost cause.

Erik said...

I finally got around to reading your post. I thought I'd clarify: I don't think that Stein Mart was there in the 1980's - I'm pretty sure that's recent. I do hazily recall a Woolworth being there (across from CVS) during the 80's. I'll also chime in that the food court went through a renovation and isn't like it originally was.

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Eric said...

Thanks for the post. I went here as a kid but don't remember well. I went back just recently and was amazed just how dead it is. I've gone back a few times just because the mall is so interesting. I find something new every time. Last time it was a faded WGNA logo on the offices across from and above the Coat Factory. Apparently they used to broadcast from there??
The mall has only continued to be deader since your post in 2007. Since I've been going (past 6 months) the JC Penny wing has continued to die. 2 stores have gone out there and another mom and pop gift shop has come in across from the coat factory. There's about 20 storefronts not vacant but you'd be lucky to find more than 5 open on a given day. The JC Penny may be relatively new but the outside is turning black, the inside is small and even more claustrophobic since they closed off the mall entrance. The theater is really nice but no one wants to go in cause you get a clear view of the empty mall. Also, the parking deck for the theater should probably be condemned. It is sinking and has huge potholes.

The coat factory is equally bad shape. It feels like the building is too small and has the original signs from, it looks like the 1970s above the escalators. Upstairs you will find blue tarps hanging from the cieling cause the roof leaks so much. The food court has that neat second story that was never used, but the floor is coming apart. I would also like to see the offices upstairs across from the coat factory, but will probably never happen.

Then there's the dead end where caldor used to be as well as the black door where stein mart was. The door next to stein mart used to just close early but now it's completely closed. Probably the best move for this mall is to demolish everything but the newer cinema and penny's and start fresh (as another lifestyle complex or strip mall... ugh). But some company took over leasing of the mall in May so I'm hoping it can bounce back. It needs MAJOR renovation though so it doesnt look so run down.

I have a lot of pictures, if anyone is interested send me a message or just respond to this!