While many compare the slowly vacating Norwichtown Mall in Norwich to the dead Bristol Center Mall in Bristol, nothing could be further from the truth.
Norwich has had plenty of visibility with its own exit off Route 2 (Exit 29 “Norwichtown”), I-395 (Route 2/32 Norwich), and its visibility off the Norwich-New London Turnpike.
The tenants at the 241,451 square foot Norwichtown Mall have been quite vocal in the newspapers, The New London Day and the Norwich Bulletin, recently as this New London County Mall fights to survive despite its growing list of stores which have closed which brought traffic to the mall.
These include Caldor discount Department Store, Styles Department Store, Chelsea Groton Savings Bank, University Music, a jewelry store, an optical, a candy store, a card and collectible store, an arcade, a pet store, and Westies Shoes.
With the upcoming closure of the 3,500 square foot Bee Bee Dairy Bar at the end of the year and the 87,136 square foot Bob’s Discount Furniture’s decision to consolidate its Norwich and New London locations at its new East Lyme location, even more vacant storefronts will greet shoppers.
However, those left in the mall include Super Stop & Shop with Pharmacy and Dunkin’ Donuts (which has no actual mall entrance forcing mall customers to go outside and up a sidewalk) , Dress Barn/Dress Barn Woman (having both an outside entrance and a mall entrance), Delilah’s Silks, Swords, and More, K&M All-Star Sports, Waldenbooks, Fancy Nails, Radio Shack, Dollar Tree, GNC, Cutting Crew, Golden Star Chinese Restaurant, and a Weight Watchers meeting location.
This combination of locally owned and nationally owned stores, restaurants, and services are expected to stay at the mall for a while despite the owners, Edens and Advent, who claim they have big plans for the mall without any specific details.
It is uncertain whether these big plans would make the interior mall into a strip shopping mall, which is what happened to the New London Mall, now anchored by Marshall’s, Shop Rite, A.C. Moore Crafts, Home Goods, West Marina, Chili’s, and a number of small stores and restaurants.
The Norwichtown Mall has centrally located restrooms, water fountain, benches, plantings, a community bulletin board, small children’s rides, and automatic doors at both mall entrances.
A number of green “Dollar Tree” shopping carts sit outside the store hoping to attract eager shoppers looking to do their shopping at the mall’s only variety-type store.
Most remaining tenants at the Norwichtown Mall have agreed to remain at the mall until at least summer 2007.
However, the mall’s uncertain future has led to increased vacancies.
Suburban Stationeries and Cards said they needed to sign long-term leases with the mall of more than six months, an action Norwichtown Mall refused to take prompting its closure in February 2006.
This store featured much more than Hallmark cards and collectibles, it also included Yankee Candle, Precious Moments, an extensive teachers aides area, stationery, maps, Christmas houses and accessories, and items for weddings, anniversaries, and baptismals.
Bee Bee Dairy’s closure, one of the first tenants of the mall, is a result of the lack of a long-term lease as well.
However, those in Norwich and surrounding towns have patronized the remaining businesses and it is likely the list of closed stores at the mall will not be growing anytime soon.
Expansion plans for the mall might be limited due in part to the mall’s proximity to the Yantic River and it being in a flood zone.
My proposal is that the 5,000 square foot Dollar Tree be relocated to the former Suburban Stationery Store, thus gaining it another 5,100 square footage to be able to sell more merchandise like its sister stores in Waterford and Griswold.
Moving the Dollar Tree allows a potential developer easy access to 103,221 contiguous square feet taking over the soon to be vacant Bob’s Discount Furniture, the former Styles Department Store, the former arcade, and the current Dollar Tree.
Interior work to the mall does not require special approvals from the city’s wetlands commissions but exterior work would require such persmission.
With a Wal-Mart in Norwich and a Wal-Mart Super Center in Lisbon, it’s quite obvious that another chain could be so profitable even with stores that close to each other.
I recommend the Norwichtown Mall work to obtain Target, Kohl’s, or possibly Christmas Tree Shops (which has no stores in the area). Either of those additions could add business to the mall, encourage more to move into the mall and visit the mall.
Whether Norwichtown Mall can ever be a destination like it was before with one strong anchor store, is still up in the air.
Bristol Center Mall
While a long spur exit from Interstate 84 and a “new” route 72 connector were planned to be built to facilitate traffic to the mall in Bristol, it never got built.
Bristol Center Mall shoppers are forced to shop at Ocean State Job Lot and a handful of outparcel stores with no actual “inside” component open to the public.
Ocean State Job Lot is a store similar to the old five and ten stores and features departments such as seasonal, toys, hardware, automotive, bed and bath, stationery, picture frames, small electronics, audio electronic devices, health and beauty aids, some collectibles, books, and a variety of different types of food and water.
Outparcel stores at Bristol include a McDonald’s, Sherwin Williams, Rent-A-Center, and a Discount Food Outlet.
In the fall of 1999 and 2000, plans floated around that the Bristol Centre Mall would become “Bristol Town Centre” with street-level shops, parking garage, office space, and residential.
However, these plans never materialized and no developer has shown serious interest in the mall located in downtown Bristol.
The City of Bristol bought the aging 450,000 square foot one-level mall built in the 1960’s for $5 million.
City administration envisioned the mall could be home to a complex of stores, offices, apartments, and public buildings.
The controversy led to the mayor’s electoral loss with the new administration, after much study decided the mall needed to go.
The mall was formerly anchored by “The Grand” discount department store, similar to Caldor, with two levels and a Rafael’s, a small family grocery store.
Sage-Allen Department Store in the early 80’s moved into the former grocery store.
After years of being closed The Grand’s lower level became home to a “Sears Outlet” leaving the upper level of “The Grand” still intact, possibly acting as a time capsule of storage.
However, the closure of both anchor stores at Bristol Center Mall and the expansion of the nearby Westfarms Mall in West Hartford with a new wing including Nordstrom and a variety of small shops lead to more in-line stores to close.
Ironically, the Ocean State Job Lot took over the recently renovated Sage-Allen and has fought the city in trying to keep the mall open. It offered to buy the mall from the city for $7 million.
The city, concerned the property was across the street from town hall and attracted crime and gangs, wanted the mall demolished.
In summer 2005, all tenants were given letters asking them to move out of the mall and their leases were
The city agreed to help businesses find new locations and assist in relocating costs.
While the outparcel stores have not been forced to move, perhaps since the mall is thinking new development would include retail, all stores in the mall were forced to relocate.
The Ocean State Job Lot took the city to court claiming the anchor store was in a long-term lease and the ownership of the mall did not matter.
Unfortunately, the court ruled in favor of the city.
In my personal opinion, Ocean State Job Lot as a landlord would enable the mall to be successful as it has for other properties it owns including that of the Slater Village Shopping Center in Griswold anchored by Ocean State Job Lot, Tractor Supply, Dollar Tree, a liquor store, and a karate studio in a strip shopping plaza.
The store is still in the mall, open to customers, and shows no signs of closing.
The chain also has a sister store on the other side of Bristol but has expressed the fact that both stores can operate without affecting the performance of either, clearly a sign of the times as Connecticut continues to experience economic problems when high-tech companies move out and Indian casinos hire positions often low in pay and with benefits that are worse each year.
City officials say Ocean State Job Lot, the only open store in the mall, is looking to relocate to another part of town.
Since the stores in Bristol Center Mall closed, the mall entrance from the Job Lot to the mall has also closed forcing customers to use the outside entrance.
While the city explored demolishing the rest of the mall and leaving Job Lot retain its southern spot, it was
determined electrical, heating, and plumbing connections to the store run throughout the mall.
Demolishing the mall in phases, city officials’ claim will be more costly.
The future of this mall lies in the hands of the City of Bristol.