Saturday, January 13, 2007

Westfield Shoppingtown Trumbull; Trumbull, Connecticut

For a few months now, I’ve been obsessing about getting out to Trumbull. The mall, that is. Just last year, I visited the mall I never really knew existed in the Southern end of Connecticut. Shortly before Christmas, I previewed the mall again, ready to do an report on it on my way down to Bridgeport.

Just this week, my lovely travel companion, Renee, and I made it to Westfield Trumbull on an early Tuesday morning.

Another mall later purchased by the ambitious Austrialian-based Westfield Group, a notorious “Shoppingtown” mall development and management company, who is most well-known for being widely successful in buying up and/or converting their older, historic malls and rebranding or lobotomizing their unique and significant histories. Any mall today owned by Westfield is known too well as a Westfield center as their name Westfield is quite frankly everywhere Westfield. I always thought it would be funny if somehow fate dictated Westfield to have a mall in Westfield, Massachusetts and let the ridiculousness just play itself out. Jokes aside, this was an actual controversy which helped former Westfield-owned Enfield Square gain back it’s original name. Way to go?

In the late 1990‘s, Westfield has made it’s mark around Connecticut with a few centers some of which survived once slumping or staggering fates including one we covered back in September, Meriden Square (tehnically was never dying), Connecticut Post Mall (which was in a distressed state), and the since sold Enfield Square (which Westfield most likely jumped ship), which is now a Vornado Reality-owned center. Their nationwide strategy, inspired by their Aussie origins, essentially saw to “rebrand” their existing or acquired malls under a uniformed banner of “Westfield (and/or) Shoppingtown” prefix, which seemed to bowl over well in their homeland while not quite grasping here in America.
Westfield Centers of Connecticut History
Westfield Connecticut Post (originally known as Milford Mall, later renamed Connecticut Post Mall, later purchased, now owned by Westfield). Opened 1960.
Westfield Shoppingtown Trumbull (Originally known as Trumbull Shopping Park, Opened as an outdoor center 1964).
Westfield Shoppingtown Meriden (formerly known as Meriden Square). Opened 1971.
Enfield Square (formerly known as Westfield Shoppingtown Enfield). Opened 1971. Renamed Enfield Square by new owner, Centro Watt/Centro Properties Group.
Luckilly, we don’t follow outlandish definitions of a Shoppingtown (because we all know how dirty and unsophisticated a word “mall“ is in this day), which has caused the company to partially drop it from all current company associations. The "Shoppingtown" travesty is still evident on many of its malls road pylons in Connecticut.

The wonderous center court includes a triangular multi-spring fountain and mirror-lined escalators.

For better or worse, everything they’ve marketed and rebranded under their Westfield name has turned to be a success. Proof can only point to its crowning, thriving centers today; especially Connecticut Post Mall, which was a once staggering, outdated center purchased by Westfield and turned into a prosperous, upper-echelon "Westfield Connecticut Post"; a three-level center with two food courts and a movie theater! Another center they once owned in Enfield, helped move it along by adding attractive anchors and tenants.

Trumbull Shopping Park opened in 1964, by Jack Frouge as a outdoor shopping center anchored by Korvette; a discount department store, Read's; an upscale clothier, and a Waldbaum's supermarket amongst other five-and-dimers. Sometime in the 1970's, when G. Fox entered the marketplace in Trumbull in the collapsed Korvettes, at the sunrise of the indoor shopping mall boom of the times, the property was enclosed and vastly expanded into a modern mall setting from there and years after including 1986, adding Macy's to the roster to in the former Read's space, where it also hit a milestone from 740,000 to 1 million square feet. In 1992, expansion furthered adding a new anchor Lord & Taylor.

Located on median tree-lined Merritt Parkway (CT-15), accessible a few miles off CT-8 in the quaint suburb of Trumbull on its Main Street, a modern standard of being remotely Interstate-aided, like its competitors, didn't seem to affect its fate over the years. Originally, the center was a servant to locals, when it became an enclosed regional shopping center, the location as well as the Merritt Parkway had to be altered to suit the mall's increased traffic, adding a bridge to cross the highway.

During its time, it survived a long time against some heavy competition; Connecticut Post Mall (built in 1960), which was owned independently in Milford, reportedly a kingpin in size during its time and Lafayette Plaza (built in 1968), a more urban setting in Bridgeport. Later in the ages, the mall was purchased by the Westfield Group and renamed Westfield Shoppingtown Trumbull under the banner of Westfield's brand-centric marketing strategy in the late 90's. The mall's volume grew and became a consistent top-tier servant in the area in terms of shopping far from its conception decades past.

A deteriorating parking garage with dead plantlife growing all over it mustn't be questionably there.

The parking garage, which serves Lord & Taylor, and the former Filene's, now (since relocated) Macy's suppose the garage was added most likely during the 1992 expansion when Lord & Taylor was brought to the map in Trumbull. While no longer considered a "Shopping Park", the property attempts to stay true to the origins; a "park"-esque setting with median landscaping on the driveways in-and-out to Main Street, and even overgrown vegetation spilling over the parking garage walls. By park, you can also interpret that as "parking [lot]".

Of all the Westfield malls in the state, including the later Westfield-purchased Connecticut Post Mall in Milford, being a mere 10 miles away just off CT-15, along the motherload of Eastern U.S. traffic, I-95, Trumbull seems to be the most affected by the very trouble and inabilities competitor Connecticut Post once suffered with no help from the litany of problems pouring out of New Haven County’s ramshackled cities and towns.

Tables turned today where in the early 90's the lesser of the eternal rivals, Connecticut Post, formerly owned independently, was strategically purchased and turned around by Westfield. Releaving the rivalry, Trumbull who was once the regional leader, now seems to be showing it's age and distress against the extreme $118 million makeover Connecticut Post has recieved this past year. Does Westfield have something on the horizon for this once leading Connecticut mall?

Like Trumbull, Meriden and Milford are equally troubled cities. Trumbull seems to bare the enormous burden of crime between them all, having more gray hairs than it’s sister malls and also the latest to see developments and expansions. Once a woeful Connecticut Post of the 1990‘s, a decade later turned completely around with its latest expansion, along with the ever-evolving Meriden (which has just seen a few new anchor stores) leaving Trumbull somewhat behind.

When it comes to crime, it can easily be traced back to the notorious neighboring city, Bridgeport and all its problems which have bled into Trumbull aplenty during the early 90‘s; having a history of violence right here at the mall. One instance included a riot which broke out involving over 100 people with 10 security guards attempting to break it up in 1994, various and repeat reports of gun-related activity, parking lot muggings and various brawls.

The violence, which has had an unfortunate, continuing saga at the mall, plagued by it’s proximity to the city, prompted a boost by Westfield to take action. In 2003, a Trumbull Police sub-station housed itself inside the mall to assist the center's own security in an attempt to repel rampant criminal activity. While not overrun with surveillance cameras, common with other Westfield malls, regular patrols from police and mall security are stationed throughout, which is why we couldn't secure any shots of the food court. Make no mistake, security protocol is mainly precautionary, perhaps more so than other malls, but it isn't particularly dangerous to shop here.

The former Filene's, pre-dates to 1979, when G. Fox was in the spotlight.

JCPenney, as usual, unable to escape their bug and dust-filled interior sign lighting.

Despite its odds, Trumbull is without a doubt one of the more interesting shopping malls and in Connecticut for any mall enthusiast for it‘s unique attributes in design which presmably contains origins predating to the 1970's. Despite the many possible expansions, the mall has a non-pareil flair about it to this day, staying plenty true to it’s earliest indoor-conversion before the bombastic shopping big box age of the post-1980’s helped most classy centers lose their charm and soul.

Allow me to announce my bias, I typically favor such malls which have a lot of vintage flavor still in them, as they were the glory days of mall design and architecture. Any existing in such a form today, largely untampered with are no less than golden. As much a fan of Westfield I’m not, many of their centers leave much from the old days evident, even if they've decidedly tried to change that in past years.

Upper Level, on the left, Lower Level on the right. Trumbull has eventually molded into an eccentric "A-shape" design.
Distinct aspects of Trumbull are certainly the unusual layout and decor. While a modern standard two-levels, the mall’s layout feels more bizarre, and somewhat labyrinth-confusing when physically inside than it looks; an “A”-molded map, non-symetrical on each floor. You’ll find there are plenty areas inside the mall you may never suspect are multiple leveled with no oversight to lower levels, feeling about as bunkered as a one-level mall usually feels.

With butterscotch and caramel tones in the tiles, various stationed planters and seating areas, decidedly mahogany hues along the walls, random lower-level overlooks, and wood-trimmed planks covering the sharpely shaped-framed ceilings and spiked skylights, there’s little doubt they ever changed most of the upholstery past the 1970's and some '80s era. Nothing in the state compares to Trumbull‘s offerings. While borderline mediocre and somewhat ghastly, there's something about it, surely something else you won't find at other Connecticut malls.

Brown and tan hues against industrial-frame skylights might be the eras in contrast.

Due to the level of darker tones, jagged, blind corridors, a half-artificially lit center leaves some areas of the mall feeling trapped; some with no windows, or natural light around. On one end, a cramped food court; a flourescent fantasy set to the back of dark shades, on the other various skylights stroon about to contrast the darker aspects of the mall‘s colors - some not situated in areas that could‘ve used it (especially the mess hall, er... food court). With some conditions, primarily in the areas like the food court you'll most want to relax, is uncomfortably tense and close quarters.

Pathway to the food court coming from a bunkered corridor.

Given that, some corridors evidently harken back to early design often stumbling upon escalators on some oddly-placed areas of the mall as if they later added more due to customer complaints of wondering how to access lower levels of the mall. Westfield Trumbull, while having the expansion of today’s mall, are a throwsback to what malls were like before the evolution of uninspired, copycat malls which became commonplace today.

Just one of the unusual aspects of Trumbull; like this corner preview to a lower level.

Known Anchor History
Korvette; 1964-1978, became G. Fox; 1979-1993, became Filene’s; 1993-2006, became Macy’s; 2006-present
; 1964-1979, became Jordan Marsh; 1987-1992, became Abraham & Straus; 1992-1995 , became Macy’s; 1995-2006, currently vacant

Lord & Taylor
; 1992-present

; 1970's (?)-present

Circuit City
; Mid-1990’s (?), outparcel

A vintage Read's clothier which later housed Macy's, now a piece of neglect by the new way of today.

Boarded-up doesn't bode well for an active mall.

The state of the mall, including it’s future, has changed the possibilities just within the last decade with the purge of the Filene’s brand caused by the Federated uniform of Macy's. As a result, the original Macy’s has vacated their original location aside Lord & Taylor to move into the newer store, former G. Fox/Filene's leaving the original 1964 Read’s to sit a vacant, partially boarded-up leaving a wood-fenced eyesore A/C-unit atop the roof.

The rising electronic age in the 90's brought Circuit City to the mall, having opened sometime in the mid-1990‘s. Due to the lack of retail space in the area, Circuit City is positioned outparcel and recognized as an anchor.
So what’s missing from this list? Sears, you say? Malls almost require Sears as a median anchor, especially due to Trumbull having been the premiere shopping center in the area. So why no Sears over at Westfield Trumbull? Could it be the company’s own financial problems? Well let’s look at the possibilities...
Sears had plenty stores already in the area including the Connecticut Post Mall only 10 miles away, Naugatuck Valley Mall, since moved to the newly-built Brass Mill Center in 1997. Many Sears not featured previously in malls, moved in sometime in 1990's making some mall anchor space more complete with such a familiar, household name. But it never happened at Trumbull.

The reason can be partially attested to the now collapsed Lafayette Plaza, renamed The Hi-Ho Center in the 1980's shortly before it’s demise due to the city of Bridgeport [still] suffering from urban decay. Established pre-indoor mall era, Sears competitively had a location inside the Hi-Ho Center to contrast New Haven's Chapel Square Mall Macy's store, and Trumbull's Read's. When it closed in
1992, it has sat vacant since.

When the Trumbull mall initiated its '92 expansion, they seemed to just miss the mark to move Sears in after sealing the fate of the Hi-Ho Center, losing an opportunity to add Sears as a future mall anchor.

In 1993, Sears closed its store in Hamden due to declining sales, sealing the fate for yet another location, lessening the possibility of opening any brand-new store in the New Haven area. However, in the same year, another Westfield property saw Sears opening: in the Meriden Square, with its new 1993 expansion. It’s clearly possible Sears planned a retreat against the New Haven area due to two stores failing, seeing it only to be an area of decline.

But who knows what the future holds, especially with the new Sears prototype coming, and the proposed 2007 expansion, a Sears could possibly come to Trumbull better than ever.

Expansion '07
From the lost opportunity of being able to grab Sears, timing seems to be another challenging element not entirely on the side of this Trumbull mall. Like their other properties in Meriden and Milford (Connecticut Post), Trumbull is hoping to dose another expansion, to the scale of $250 Million in 2007. Talks of new anchors; Target, which hopes to occupy and demolish the vacant former Macy’s, and hopes to garner upscale clothier, Nordstrom; being a first for a Connecticut Westfield center and a second state-wide location aside the Westfarms Mall in West Hartford.

Some of the expansion boomers of the times; Target, Kohl’s and Best Buy, also current day saviors to mall expansion prospects and/or reviving dying centers are certainly ideal strategies which have helped other Westfield centers thrive; Best Buy at Meriden and Target at Connecticut Post.

But that card has already been played - over at the once struggling, since rebounded smaller Hawley Lane Mall on the Trumbull-Stratford border, also a wrench between the Westfield malls. Does Trumbull really need another Target store just a few miles off?

The proposal has been challenegd various times with hopes to add the hip discounter to the Trumbull mall's 20th century expansion roster is still being hammered against the backdrop of a decrepit, old Read's/Macy's building. There's also one over at Connecticut Post, so why another here? There's a good chance when Waldenbooks' lease is up this month, a likely candidate for replacement will be a Borders, which recently added onto the Meriden branch, but nothing has been proposed yet.

With the upcoming expansion, Circuit City is likely to renovate from the "plug-outlit" design into the 2001 "[bland] big box" design of the chain's new look.

A "Mall Entry" label scar from the Shopping Park-era behind a Westfield sign.

Lastly, we would like to thank Billholden over at TRUMBULLchat who shed some light on Trumbull Shopping Park history, John Lauria of TrumbullHistory for historic image. We'll be continuing our malls in Connecticut here at The Caldor Rainbow. If you've got any insight or clarity regarding the history of Westfield Trumbull, please let us know by throwing over a comment or two.