Sunday, December 23, 2007

De-Malls of Connecticut Chronicle: Charter Oak Mall

The Caldor Rainbow presents...

The De-Malls of Connecticut Chronicle featuring the late Charter Oak Mall in East Hartford.

In this segment, we'd like to explore malls that once were, and are no more or have been dramatically reformatted for today's landscape.

Charter Oak Mall; East Hartford
940 Silver Lane
Opened on April 12, 1976 (Bradlees opened on March 15, Stop & Shop, Medi-Mart opened on April 12)
Dimensions: 200,000 sq. ft. enclosed/sidewalk mall
Original Anchors: Bradlees, Stop & Shop, Medi-Mart
Current Anchors: Aaron's, Burlington Coat Factory, Super Stop & Shop, Big Lots
Known Today As: Super Stop & Shop-Burlington Coat Factory Plaza
Opened on April 12, 1976, the Charter Oak Mall was a roughly 200,000 square foot small enclosed shopping mall in East Hartford, shortly off Interstate 84 as well as (then) I-86, along the town's shopping district and direct artery into Manchester, Silver Lane. Anchored within the boundary of a typical strip-style complex, flanked by Stop & Shop Companies on each end beginning from left-to-right; Bradlees department store, Stop & Shop supermarket, and Medi-Mart drug store (within Stop & Shop). Shortly after opening, a four-screen Showcase Cinemas, which had currently existed, became recognized as apart of the mall's left-end as a supplemental outparcel.

Today, Showcase Cinemas, which has managed its conquest to more than triple its space into 14-screens since its original 4 at opening, is entirely closed as of 2006 as is still standing vacant.

In 1976, the mall featured the usual array of mixed chains, local and nationally known, from Radio Shack, Fayva (shoes), Sackett's Hallmark and even the Massachusetts-based Papa Gino's Restaurant, all of which today are no more. Shortly after a contest of restaurants attempted to move in including Red Lobster, which was much ballyhooed citing traffic overflow in local papers and across the way Denny's, who had their restaurant on the outskirts of the mall property, near Silver Lane which has since become occupied by office space.

Today, the Charter Oak Mall is no more. Locals know it well as the Charter Oak Mall, but its property owners have dropped the name altogether, simply identifiable through the plaza's anchors.

Retrospectively, it's hard to throw the blame on its two original anchors fleeing for the failure of the mall. When the state decided to seal up access from I-84/86 via Forbes Street, mainline access became crippled. Regardless, strong anchorage of Bradlees and Stop & Shop kept patronage and parking spaces filled -- for most of its life even those who've vanished since the 70's: Medi-Mart, an heir appearent akin to today's successful Walgreens (once a competitor to Stop & Shop's drugstore-pharmacy branch, later sold to them), is inherently integrated into today's Super Stop & Shops as Walgreens succeeds the former Red Lobster space near Silver Lane today.

Bradlees, a discounter who needs no jog in memory remembering from their prime ages of the 70s and 80s into their 2000 collapse, had a difficult time finding a new anchor after its early closure in the mid-1990s, eventually urged Burlington Coat Factory to move up the street from its former placement along Silver Lane.

A good idea of what Bradlees looked like at the Charter Oak Mall upon its March 15, 1976 opening

As any one who's studied the landscape of smaller malls existing today will know the current day rarity of the dying breed of shopping center. The faddist indoor mall of the 1960's-1970's have largely demalled in many markets, eclipsed by regional mammoths and big box-power centers that have replaced them in today's retail landscape. If the concepts haven't swung into opportunist discount arrangements, keeping their mold like East Brook Mall in Willimantic, Hawley Lane Mall in Trumbull they've converted them into outdoor centers like New London Mall, or like in East Hartford's case, they've been decimated into mere strip plazas or entirely vacant power centers like the neighboring town's Manchester Parkade.

While the vestigial land is largely held together by a thrice remodeled, triumphant Super Stop & Shop, the supermarket chain eventually took over most of the formerly, withering enclosed mall portion containing the once small handful of shops and restaurants, leaving its original placement to succeeding closeout discount anchor Big Lots on the far-right end, while the fallen Bradlees on the far-left of the mall is now headed by a subdivided building: Aaron's (Rents) and Burlington Coat Factory. Remaining strip store space is held by smaller shops, including Dollar Tree.

The year-plus loss and inability to fulfill the landspace of the Showcase Cinema to a neighboring Manchester complex caused its parent company to shutter the age-old East Hartford adjacent mall location in mid-2006 setting harder times against the continual sponging sprawl of the Buckland Hills-Manchester area, which continues to devastate both towns' historic districts of forgotten retail, including a once centerpiece Manchester Parkade.

Vestiges of a Ghost Mall
Looking closer, the ghost of the mall still exist. Apart from the architecture being roughly the same for both former anchor spots, upon entering the mall from Silver Lane, one can find a truck sign for "Mall Delivery." On the building's far-right end side, aside the original Stop & Shop (currently Big Lots), is a small Bradlees label scar hiding under the wall's paint. Most noteworthy, visibly off the interstate is a vintage Stop & Shop trailer, doning the 1970's logo, which seems to be immobile, and is a staple artifact on the site hearkening back to the former mall days.

A genuine Bradlees label scar on the far-right building side of Big Lots

"Mall Delivery" sign, visible from the Silver Lane entrance

Got anything on the Charter Oak Mall? Send us an e-mail or leave a comment about your experiences. Make sure you head over to Dead Malls and read Jim Sawhill's testimony on the late mall, a Connecticut local who seems to have a solid recollection.

All newspaper advertisements courtesy of The Hartford Courant. All digital images property of The Caldor Rainbow.