Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ames Demolished at Torrington Parkade

As part of a phased demolition to make way for Lowe's Home Improvement store and an expanded Big Y Supermarket, the formerly four-years silent vacant Ames department store on 540 Winsted Road is -- at least -- halfway gone.

Back in March, The Caldor Rainbow brought to light the story of the Torrington Parkade, a vintage shopping center whose hung on for years along Winsted Road in Torrington, a town rich with heritage, roots and a historically youngest elected 23-year old mayor. The Parkade, whose scope could be sighted briefly off Route 8 (South) and a barely visible "Ames This Exit" sign would still signal patronage from off the highway beyond its years. In a few short months, upon years of awaiting change, the Torrington Parkade will soon fit an adaptive "today" incarnation of its former self.

For almost four years now, the Torrington Parkade was frozen in time beyond Ames' vacancy. An incomplete "AR TREE" (Dollar Tree) channel sign with a scaffold underneath stayed in the same stagnant disposition for over a year. At least they knew what was up; the end of the Torrington Parkade would soon be near.

A partially-active shopping center whose suffered for years after one of its parent anchors, Ames, folded with the rest of the chain causing a gaping hole in the distressed old plaza leaving the lone anchor Big Y and a fleet of soon fleeing smaller stores to hold it together. In early 2007, Lowe's Home Improvement announced in a joint plan with Big Y Supermarket to do a 200X-centric "big box" revival of the plaza whose charm, formerly set to the backdrop of its 1960's flair and a neon-clad road sign no Torrington resident didn't recognize, was to become a soulless, plastic soul of its former self. An antique sign, still visible along Winsted Road might is hanging in the balance with question if it may see past Lowe's tenure.

Following the plan sanctioned by the plaza's anchors, some smaller chains as well as some well-known ones like Jo-Ann Fabrics, who took over the placement of House of Fabrics, a fallen fabric chain dating to its latest years upon the 1990s, was in the husk of one Parkade Cinema, whose small number of screens were no stranger to the trend of many 1970's-era plazas soon becoming a victim of absent trends dictated by larger, more accommodating "mega-plex" theater chains by the 1990s, which helped clear out those few screen cinemas boomers remembered from their prime ages.

Upon my photo shoot, a red-shirted middle-aged women holding a cigarette overlooking the wreckage from a dank mini-mall portion of the Torrington Parkade asked me what happened to Jo-Ann Fabrics, whose former self was now a pile of rubble behind wired, tarped fencing. Having closed not too long ago in April, she didn't seem in the least bit satisfied she might have to shoot down to Wolcott Street in Waterbury to find the nearest location.

At the dawn of June, the commissioned wrecking crew of Plainville-based (where I spent my earliest years) Manafort bulldozers began to dismantle a mantle of Torrington for decades. Trailing as far back as SEARS department store in the mid-1960's (possibly leaving for nearby now bygone Naugatuck Valley Mall in Waterbury), discounter Caldor (who reportedly lived up the earthly rainbow motif for decades) swooped up the short-lived location in the early 1970's and managed to hold its own up until the entire chain entered bankruptcy in 1999.

Not too soon after, a rising rival discount sprawler, Ames, purchased eight former Caldor locations, inheriting this rustic Torrington location who had a history and not much renovation to speak of over the years (with further reports of oldness inside until Ames plastered the walls). The overzealous Ames chain, who took a heavy blow after gobbling a staggering Zayre chain in the late 1980s, soon went the way of Caldor as expected, when they collapsed in 2003. Apart from some paint jobs, (A+) decals, and other minor fixins, a decades-old department store who has sealed showroom windows under two white-clad canopies from the Sears-era building has shown its age up until the very end -- June 2007.

We were there for first phase: the demolition of Ames. Lowe's will be placed right here once the clearing in established, which includes the days-numbered mini-mall portion which staples itself between the anchors. For the first time, upon our various former visits, we were able to see the interior of the store along with many signature Ames decals and department signs. For the current time being, you can watch it happen before the entire place gets a reface especially since they haven't yet removed those "Entrance" and "Exit" signs plastered with the Ames logo as well as the inverted road pylon.

Come on, folks, there's no need to mask our bias here at The Caldor Rainbow. We understand if the people didn't want big box havens, they wouldn't pop up in such quantity all across the land. But our regressive spirit knows this big box-lifestyle trend of emptiness that's campaigned greatly from renovation removal projects at malls and shopping centers, painting over colors for endless fields of white paint, dating back to 2000s coming is just sweeping the corners of America's unique shopping centers, ridding it of every last vestige of places like the Torrington Parkade. These cookie-cutter plazas don't have a legacy. They don't have character like many stores we grew to love but which we've seen fall before our eyes. So please, bask in the mourning of another revered center as we watch this plaza fall into the black hole of retail's past.

You can view the entire demolition photos taken on June 7, 2007 hosted on my Yahoo! Photos account as well as the March 9, 2007 visit and the accompanied story.