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!