Sunday, January 06, 2008

West Hartford-Elmwood 'Swept Wing' Caldor Dismantled

What's going on over at 983 New Britain Avenue in the Elmwood section of West Hartford?

Reader Jude of the Caldor Rainbow and local resident who runs a site of her own, "Scenic Root" swung by the oddly-sloped facade building of fallen retailer Caldor at the former "Piper Brook" area to notice it surprisingly being dismantled and felt compelled to inform us.

Chances are, if you're local, you've seen or remembered having shopped the now time-warped, weather-damaged, pockmarked stucco-nightmare which has been hailed as a infamous town blight and a continual haunt to residents in a plaza whose pavement is akin to shattered glass -- and shattered [dollar] dreams.

Surrounded by those signature yellow cranes, the building is apparently finally being "taken down," piece-by parallelogram-piece.

The Caldor Rainbow has taken a trip to the gravesite this Sunday morning, and brings you these pictures -- the final images of Connecticut's final memory trip to the golden age of Caldor expansion.


Locals have questioned for years about the usage of the site, who hasn't seen much success after Ames left it vacant in 2003. An area of much distress, includes the dual-tenanted plaza. A dollar-centric "Dollar Dreams;" a neighboring the vacant husk continued operation out of an equally crippled store space held by Waldbaum's and before it, Stop 'n Save. Then in late 2007, word came about of a phantom supermarket chain hoping to dominate the long distressed space, and it might happen soon enough.

Late last year, we suggested if someone didn't rip it down, it might fall down given the hazardous, withering condition it has suffered and endured since before and after the end days of late retailer Caldor, who crafted the iconic, yet equally bizarre "swept wing" look that became synonymous with the then rising retailer in 1972.

A typical Star's spot advertising questionable "Around The Clock" business, shown in The Hartford Courant in November 1972.
Before Caldor took it over, renovating it extensively, the site hadn't much long-endured success when it was Star's Family Fair and a Popular Supermarket, which opened in September 1962. In it's later years, Star's Discount, who practiced business unusually was oddly open around the clock only in Elmwood, offered just about every odd and end. When it closed the Elmwood location in the early 1970's, retailer Caldor snatched up the space and had decades of success until the chain closed up.

Star's Discount, who later became known as Nu-Star's, had two other regularly operated locations apart the closed 24-hour Elmwood location in Wallingford and Torrington. The chain closed up for good in the late 1990's.

WEST HARTFORD-ELMWOOD as it looked, pictured on MAY 30, 2006.
On November 2, 1972, the Caldor Corporation crafted what's referred to as the "swept wing" facade look on its proud 21st Anniversary, 21st chainwide store on Farmington Avenue in New Britain. The company then unveiled the ever-reminiscent rainbow-motif to go along with the angled facade look spawning an experimental and certainly distinct look for the ever-popular department retail chain.

Others like it spread to this West Hartford-Elmwood location as well as Southington in 1973. All but this lonely location has been snatched up by Wal-Mart in 2000.

When Caldor met its chainwide closure in 1999, the building was quickly swept up by the overzealous Ames, who met ends with its expansion ills in 2003 when they announced their own chainwide closure. Despite the building's enormous volume, a good percentage unused by Ames' needs, the building's deteriorating state wasn't much a concern for the acquisition.

With the site at 983 New Britain Avenue coming down, there's only one former Caldor left in Connecticut in Groton, which is currently under use by the Pfizer Corporation (you can find details on that one here and here).

We honor the former site as a window into the distant past -- the rich heritage of Caldor. Ever since the early days of 2008, the building served as a floodgate for memories long beyond what it was built for. We'll certainly miss it, but hope the site sees prosperity in the near future.

If you haven't already, please review our premium Caldor Store Locator and our report on the now late site at 983 New Britain Avenue.

UPDATE / FEBRUARY 5, 2008. The former Caldor site will become a PriceRite discount supermarket. Existing land which includes demolition of the vacant, outparcel Piper Brook Restaurant will be "a new building that would house either a retailer or a bank." Also, wondering what happened to the "swept wings?" Appearently, they were "...knocked down... because it was a safety hazard." Read more on The Hartford Courant.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Maybe they're getting the site ready for redevelopment. I believe this was one of a couple sites in West Hartford that a grocery store might move into from an article that was in The Hartford Courant a few months ago.

Anonymous said...

Dollar Dreams should either close or move. I visited there a year or two ago and it's scary. The ceilings leak, the place looks tired. I always liked the selection of merchandise for cheap, but the store (structure) is falling apart.

Nick, do you know how the Caldor/Ames building being taken down will affect Dollar Dreams?

Elmwood/West Hartford must not know what sort of potential this plaza could have for the area, and yet they wait until now to do something about it.

Anonymous said...

Wow they're already starting to redevelop it? about time!

I'm just amazed that they only two years later after it appeared on your blog!!!!

hoping someone would find an old picture of the Stars store soon, so far no luck,sigh.

Anonymous said...

Now's the oppertunity for little kids to climb the Swept Wings.

m said...

My brother used to work at the West Hartford/Elmwood Caldors. We even have photos of him working there at Christmas time.

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

Marissa, I would love to see the pictures! If you would like to send them over, drop me an e-mail.

Anonymous said...

Wow brought back some great memories (and some not so great). Marissa, love to see the pictures too. My first job was at that store at the young age of 16. I was employed between '79 and '81. Me and my Bros had such a good time. Strangely, I had moved away by the time they went under, and my dad (long deceased) was surprised that I didn't want to go back for the going out of business sale. (WAY too depressing if anybody has been to one).
'Bottom line store 29' as it was known. It was run by a displaced store manger from Methuen Ma (Mr) Stone, who had brought his wife along to run the toy department.
Mr Stone made no secret that he was unhappy to be slated to try to turn around one of Caldor's under-performers. Brown smocks (shmocks as we called them) sporting the rainbow, dress shirts and generally a clip-on tie were the standard uniform. We bowed to a photo of Tony Bennett who was either founder or CEO at that point.

To be cont
Tom G

Anonymous said...

Nobody mentioned that Stars burned badly under mysterious circumstances in what must have been the late 60's or early seventies. Not even sure if they ever re-opened, but it was a company out of NY that did the stone venire on the remodel for Caldor.
I was hired as Sunday help, as most part timers were at that point, until you could prove yourself. No better place for a bunch of losers as Sunday help.
(BLue laws in CT had ended just several years B4, allowing retail to be open on Sundays). An innocent young kid from West Hartford, I was introduced from all types, coming mainly from West Hartford, Newington, and Hartford.
I'll never forget one Sunday, two maniacs in sporting goods brought out a '22 and taking several shots, took a nose off a manequin in ladies ware. Fridays and Saturdays were a regular party out behind the place complete with beer and even pot if that was your thing. It seemed that after closing, nobody went home, and even the occasional police officer turned a blind eye to the underagers as long as it was under control. (different era I know.)
I Started in the seasonal department, progressing to the toy dept as I was hired as regular help for the summer. Part time, turned out to be full time hours, and with the advent of RC cars, and recently intoduced hand-held video games, it was the coolest job in the world for a young kid. I had friends who got fired, and kept coming in, donning the schmok, and would spend their nights in the cavernous stock rooms. Catania and Shunski were the full time security staff, and they seemed at least tolerant of our amatuer antics.

Tom G

Anonymous said...

At Caldor vintage 1980, it was a known fact that many employees were robbing the place blind. Unbeknownst to anybody, around late 1980, Caldor had hired a security plant, and had him working in the receiving dept. Late in the year, one evening, what must of been half of West Hartford's police department showed up out in back. Depnding on who's story you believed, a plan was hatched between employees to keep all of the jewelry returns, then sell it on the outside. It seemed we lost 30% of our workforce that evening, all fired and arrested. In the days that followed, several others turned on each other, and more were fired. shortly after, I was relocated to the front registers, and was never sure why. I decided at that point, it was time to leave. Being 18, I was able to get a job as a security guard, making a dollar more than the $2.91 that Caldor was paying. We were union employees, but it was a very weak union, not doing much more for us than taking dues. Local 291!
Again, some great memories! Dated several great girls. The store had great stock, especially for a young gearhead like myself. Tachometers, rally guages, ignition parts ect. The best stereos from Kraco, and Sparkomatic. Cal-custom performance parts. Way cool!
One Sunday morning before start, a friend and myself set up a makeshift oval racecourse out in back, and staged out own 'Caldor 500'. As I recal, his Javelin beat my Firebird handily, but we were both dragged up to the mangers office to find out what the Hell we were doing! A good tail whipping followed.
One bad memory I'll never forget:
Spring, 1980. An EXTREMELY windy driven rain day. Got to work after either a broken car or a missed bus drowned like wet a rat. The entire store was like a morgue. One of our shipping guys (a Hartford firemen who's name escapes me ) working part time unloading a trailer. A roof on the recieving dock let go and fell on top of him.
He was blue by the time rescuers got there. Was dead on the spot. Good family man. horrible. Seems like several people never came back after that tragedy.
Anyhow, thanx for the memories.

Anonymous said...

On any given day, had I been arriving to work, and find our store porter Sal, in front of the store collecting carts, I would gun my car between those archetectual facades (with inches to spare) in an attempt to run him down. This was all in good fun....and I PROBABLY never would have hit him, but it usually culminated in me taking out one or more of the carts!
Anything for a good time!

Tom G.

Orochimaru said...

Sweet memories of retail past. So the whole white elephant's going down? I remember going here, my family always shopped here, my cousins worked here for a while, and one my friends, she stole a few tapes from here too. Ahh the good old days. Lincoln Ice Cream was across the street and Piper Brook was there too. I never went to Piper Brook, but it was real classy at one time. I've seen worse looking plazas, take a good look at Newington Center, no really, please do.

Anonymous said...

Lincoln there's another good memory. Going with the fam as a young kid, hot summer nights with the convertible top down. The Piper Brook was another great hangout. Former muffler shop in Caldor plaza, converted to the bar/ restaurant around 1982. Joint venture between a guy named Roger, who may have been a Hartford firefighter retiree, and George Basos, a former neighbor and winning Bloomfied high football coach. Great folks, great atmosphere, good food, cheap beer.
My own personal Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Holy cow!!! Hey anonymous I was running that jewelry dept. when my returns were stolen by our wonderful fellow employees!! I had forgotten all about that.
Speaking of Dave Stone ...that's how alot of us got there, displaced or messed up in another store...slap on the hand and sent directly to 29!
Owner was Carl & Dorothy Bennett by the way.
You have a great memory on names...I've forgotten most of them. I wish I could remember the name of that receiving guy that died during that storm. It was a truly sad day for all of us.
Wow, Sal I haven't thought about him in years!!! Wonder what happened to him.

Thank you for all your memories!!!

Anonymous said...

I have some excellent news!!!!!

Today I was looking at old microfilms in the Torrington Library for stuff on the supermarkets that were located at 549 Migeon Ave. Thru the first Microfilm dated August 1991 I came across a few, no excuse me A LOT of Star's old newspaper ads, and they had a particular logo on them, they were both blocky italic letters within a half circle shape which said "Star's Nu *'s"<----with the "S-T-A-R" was substituted by two star shapes one half seen which was white and another which was black covering the white one, "nu" was above the stars and was placed upon on the star's left point, it was really cool to see. (I wish I printed it out, darn it looked so cool) Anyway based how the logo was designed it seems that Nu-Star's was indeed a sub brand store of Star's Department store.

Also in March 1982 the arch shape in the logo used to be a rainbow.

I recommend you get your butt down to the Torrington Library soon, because these newspaper microfilms are FILLED with full page Star's advertisements, 100% genuine Star'
s Department Store ads.

Be sure to request for August 1991 and March 1982 Torrington Register Citizen microfilms because those are your best bets for some rare Star's ads to start off from, I tell you they're filled with them. (make sure you hit the print button when you see something you like.)

One word of warning though don't stare at microfilms for a too long period of time though, because for some reason you get dizzy and nauseous after a while, also unfortunately it was hot in the library today and I had to drink water,and step outside for a period of time to recuperate and get some fresh air.

It ain't easy staring at microfilms all day,it can be tedious.

Oh, and Library Cards here are FREE if your a Torrington resident!!!! :)

I also saw a lot of Caldor and Ware House Food ads as well in my search through the microfilms, and one for a Torrigton Parkade ad for an Easter event.

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Anonymous said...

Hey Tom G...Thanks for trying to hit me while getting carriages...Good times...I was there when all those folks were arrested for stealing jewelry... the Planted security guard worked undercover in Shipping for a week and his name was Mike. I didn't like him as I sensed something about him that raised red flags for me...and I was there when Bob lost his life while unloading that trailer. Soon after that, our dock was ready to be ironic...Were you there when Dave Stone bought a used Corvette for his wife as a present and didn't start? what are you doing these days? You know that there is a Detective in W Hartford with the same name as yours? Thanks for the great memories..

Anonymous said...

I was the guy that Tom G was trying to run over while collecting carts...the fallen Fireman at the receiving dock's name was Bob...