Imagine walking into a mall where half the stores are closed and most are not even covered with drywall. Imagine a mall without even decent anchor stores.
That is the shape of the 241,451 square foot Norwichtown Mall, in Norwich, Connecticut located minutes from the Route 2 expressway, Route 32, and Interstate 395.
The mall was renovated only a few years ago which involved brand new flooring, brand new benches, new centrally located restrooms and a renovation of the mall entrances including the removal of one for more retail space and the installation of automatic doors to facilitate shopping carts.
It used to be anchored by Caldor, a discount store similar to Wal-Mart, Styles Department Store, a department store similar to Filene’s only smaller and with a larger indoor playground for kids, and a small Stop and Shop grocery store.
Now, Bob’s Discount Furniture Store, a regional furniture store chain and a renovated and brand new Super Stop and Shop, anchors the mall.
Super Stop and Shop took over a good portion of the mall’s corridor where some of the specialty shops used to be located including a drug store and Bee Bee Dairy Bar, which had outside entrances and were between the mall and the grocery store.
During the mall’s lifetime, it used to have a cable company office, several shoe stores, several women’s clothing stores, several food outlets, a couple jewelry stores, a bank, a carousel ride, a computer software store, a Hallmark gold crown card
and gift shop, a Connecticut College owned music store, a pet store, and an arcade.
Today, the mall’s northern anchor, an 87,136 square foot Bob’s Discount Furniture took over the former Caldor and like its predecessor is accessible via the mall only without an outside entrance except for furniture pickup.
The Caldor was quite small especially after it was renovated resulting in less space between the aisles and the creation of Nathan’s Hot Dogs in the women’s clothing department severely limiting the ability of that department to have the variety of clothing as its sister Caldor’s in New London County, particularly the one in the Cross Roads Center.
That Caldor’s became an Ames for a while before that chain also went bankrupt and the store lay vacant for a while before it was demolished and is now the home of Lowe’s Home Improvement Center.
I do remember the last days of Caldor at Norwichtown Mall, managers with microphones advertising specials in a similar fashion as carnies and signs everywhere stating “Going Out of Business Sale”.
You saw everyone come out of the woodwork for the sale as customers grabbed up specials on exercise equipment, clothes, and merchandise from a variety of seasons including Christmas, summer, and everything in between.
Those entering the northern entrance of the mall today see a vacant ATM lobby before the automatic doors and signs stating that children are prohibited from the mall during school hours.
At one time, many children would come to the mall’s popular arcade and many stood in line waiting at the ATM for money long before the Super Stop & Shop was renovated and now offers a People’s Bank location and adjacent ATM.
It was a time of simplicity in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, before cell phones became the rage, malls were no longer “community centers” and merely places to buy new clothes, and Dunkin’ Donuts took over the area gobbling up any venue they could including Super Stop & Shop, Wal-Mart, and stand-alone locations with drive-thrus.
During the last several years, those driving the road going around the front of the mall must have seen the full Bob’s Discount Furniture lot, similar to what the lot looked like when Caldor was open, and thought the mall was doing well.
The Backus Hospital used to use the lot as a commuter employee lot with bus service which enabled employees to run in before or after work to pick up something quick at the dollar store or perhaps the grocery store at the other end of the mall.
Bob Kaufman, owner of Bob’s Discount Furniture, is proposing a brand new store in East Lyme off Interstate 95 in the former Budweiser building.
He said it will not look like the Norwichtown or New London locations and both stores will close when the new East Lyme store opens.
Those who shop at the Norwichtown location are likely to travel south to East Lyme, Kaufmann said.
The Norwichtown Bob’s is unique because it has a pond in front, a candy and coffee area, and large windows overlooking the parking lot in the bedding department.
It used to have a kid’s playground in the middle of the store but Kaufmann said this was shut down for liability reasons.
“The Pit” is located in the back of the store with mainly clearance merchandise and is one of Bob’s few locations with this feature.
It is unlikely there will be “The Pit” in the East Lyme location, a town with a higher median income and shoppers with more discriminating tastes.
In the Norwichtown Mall, next to Bob’s, is the former Styles Department Store, the only closed store covered with drywall except for the 5,000 square foot space abutting Bob’s occupied by the Dollar Tree.
The remaining space of the store is 9,365 square feet without the Dollar Tree.
On the mall map, it appears a space a little bit bigger than the Dollar Tree exists between the dollar store and Bob’s but one would never notice it.
Perhaps Bob’s only took over most of the discount department store leaving an area formerly used as Customer Service Desk and possibly a manager’s office vacant.
Most of Styles lays vacant save for the former store’s entrance area used by Bob’s to display his furniture attempting to attract customers to visit his store.
In front of the former Style’s are about three kiddy rides that largely sit unused.
A southern mall corridor consists of a vacant 1,190 square foot eyeglass store, a vacant 1,320 square foot music store operated by Connecticut College, and a 1,497 square foot GNC.
Between the former music store and GNC is yet another side corridor with pay phones on the right, a community bulletin board on the left, and restrooms straight ahead.
Most malls have these weird hallways to the restroom but this one simply has a weird hallway to its 880 square foot mall management office.
The mall’s restrooms are barely used so it is easy for management to keep them clean.
The new restrooms are a large improvement over ones formerly located in front of Caldor near the mall entrance tucked away in a side corridor.
These restrooms were small, dank, stinky, and often unclean. They were taken out when Bob’s took over the former Caldor’s.
Past GNC on the left hand side is a 1,281 square foot vacant store formerly housing a community room, and a store before that, but I’m not sure of its name, and a 2,779 square foot vacant pet store which always smelled up the mall especially the dogs.
The mall has a western exit but nobody uses this one since its near loading docks and there is no parking on this side.
Across from the former pet store is a vacant 1,720 square foot arcade and of course the other side of the 9,365 square foot vacant department store as mentioned earlier.
The main corridor opposite Dollar Tree has the mall’s northern entrance, a 2,554 square foot vacant Chelsea Groton Savings Bank which moved onto Route 32, and a 2,200 square foot Radio Shack, adjacent to a vacant kiosk.
Further down the hall is a 1,235 square foot Fancy Nails nail salon, a 3,023 square foot vacant Westies shoe outlet and a 2,957 square foot Waldenbooks yet to be converted to the new Borders format.
The Waldenbooks was recently renovated several years ago and closes early on Saturday night as well as closing at 3pm on Sunday.
Often the area in front of Waldenbooks is used for special events, this being the center of the mall and one of the stores with the most amount of pedestrian traffic.
A calendar shop, Day by Day, owned by Borders/Waldenbooks, opens here at Christmas time.
Continuing down the hall on the left is a 600 square foot K&M All Star Sports, which is a small independent sports memorabilia store, a 1,665 square foot Delilah’s Silks, Swords, and More, a store featuring incense, clothing, and knickknacks and at the end of the hallway a 9,500 square foot Dress Barn/Dress Barn Woman.
The Dress Barn store is the only store in the mall with both mall and outside access and is located next to the mall’s entrance on the south side.
When exiting the mall and turning right, visitors will see the other entrance of Dress Barn and the 73,239 square foot Super Stop and Shop can and bottle deposit area next to the store’s main northerly entrance.
Many do their grocery shopping at this recently renovated grocery store but the store has no direct connection to the mall, thus many grocery shop and then go to their car to unload and leave.
On the mall’s west wing from the south entrance is a 3,500 square foot Bee Bee Dairy restaurant, formerly a Newport Creamery, before the chain went bankrupt.
The restaurant serves lunch and dinner and is next to the mall’s other eatery, a 1,810 square foot Golden Star Chinese Restaurant.
Further down the hall are a 10,100 square foot vacant Suburban Stationery card store, a 1,200 square foot Cutting Crew hair salon, a 1,836 square foot vacant jewelry store, and a small 322 square foot vacant store housing a candy shop and then an urban store.
The former jewelry store is another victim of a store moving out of the mall and onto Route 32.
The card shop was unable to negotiate with the mall a long-term lease and was unable to acquire additional space stating their store had a stock room too small.
The shop has locations in Middletown and Cromwell.
The Norwichtown location used to have a large Christmas housing display area, a Yankee Candles area with a good variety of different types of candles and housing, an educational area for teachers, a large card department, a wedding department, a large Precious Moments and other collectibles department, and usually always a clearance section all year round with Christmas merchandise.
The store was going downhill for a year before it closed and the stock room got expanded severely limiting its collectibles department and eliminating its nice Christmas display.
Staff got cut at the store and the store suffered from the lack of a decent anchor inside the mall and while many came for the store’s going out of business sale, few would return seeing what a turn for the worse the mall took and giving them little reason to come back in the future.
As if the mall experienced enough problems already, a Dollar Tree employee said she heard rumors Bee Bee Dairy will be closing in December and that is also the planned time when Bob’s will close its store, one of the only stores of the regional chain located in a mall.
The employee confirmed the Dollar Tree store was doing well in the mall but if the mall did close, they would be forced to relocate elsewhere.
When Caldor closed its location there in the 1990’s, many outside the store with Caldor bags filled with bargains in hand lamented that they would have to go elsewhere to shop and that the discount store was the major reason they went to the mall.
While some chose to shop at the Norwich Ames Department Stores only a few miles away, others turned to Norwich Wal-Mart for their shopping needs.
With the departure of Ames, Wal-Mart is the only discount department store in Norwich although the city does have a Walgreens, Surplus Unlimited (a limited discount store), a CVS, and a Brooks Pharmacy.
Some customers interviewed at the nearby Lisbon Landing said they used to shop at Norwichtown Mall but now shop further north at this new outdoor shopping center.
The main building houses Home Depot, Kohl’s, Champ’s Sporting Goods, Cingular Wireless, Dunkin’ Donuts and Wal-Mart Super Center.
O’Neil Theatres are housed in a separate building adjacent to Wal-Mart
A third building has Linens N’ Things, Bath and Body Works, and Old Navy as its tenants while a fourth building has Pier One Imports and Famous Footwear.
Ruby Tuesday occupies an outparcel on the property.
The center is more conveniently located to Interstate 395 than Norwichtown Mall.
Rumors circulated when Caldor’s closed that the mall was charging a lot for rent scaring away potential stores such as Target and Christmas Tree Shops to rent the former anchor store.
The mall is owned by Edens and Avant, whose website states the mall is near Routes 2 and 32 with 41,500 cars per day and that within a 10 mile radius of the mall there is a population of approximately 108,676 consisting of 41,988 households, and an average household income of $71,145.
The mall competes with the Crystal Mall anchored by Macy’s, JC Penney, and Sears as well as the outdoor New London Mall anchored by Marshalls, Shop Rite, and A.C. Moore Crafts.
It also competes with the Waterford Commons, an outdoor mall across from the Crystal Mall anchored by Borders Books and Music, Michael’s Arts and Crafts, Raymour and Flannigan furniture, Babies R Us, Dicks Sporting Goods, Best Buy, and Ruby Tuesday.
My recommendation is that the mall put in a Christmas Tree Shop or other store not already in New London county but if it must put in a store the county already has let it be a Target which does not currently have a location in northern New London County just one in Waterford near the Crystal Mall.