For years, small enclosed malls have been slowly disappearing off the landscape replaced by large enclosed shopping malls with entertainment components and lifestyle centers, strip malls that feature something for everyone.
I believe small enclosed malls have a place and so do the owners of the 462,000 square foot Hawley Lane Mall in Trumbull, CT.
This mall has been through cycles of success, failure, extreme failure, and now success.
However, the owners of the mall should have unified the mall in a user friendly way and there are several oddities and unique aspects of this mall.
At one end of the Hawley Lane Mall is one-level Kohl’s Department Store which features clothing, small appliances, home textiles, toys, and greeting cards.
It opened in the mall in 2000 after taking the lease of Caldor Department Store, a northeast discount store similar to Wal-Mart, which was an anchor of the mall since its opening in 1971.
At the other end of the mall is a one-level HomeGoods, a T.J. Maxx-style home furnishing discount store, opened in the mall in 2005 after taking the former Waldbaum’s Supermarket, which was similar to today’s Super Stop & Shop Supermarket.
Between Kohl’s and HomeGoods, there is a main hallway of shops connected to the outside through two “mall entrances” near the exterior entrances of both of these anchor stores.
One of the unique aspects of the mall is its Dunkin’ Donuts which has a mall entrance in the middle of the seating area.
This entrance connects the eatery’s exterior entrance, its primary one, to a small corridor leading shoppers to Kohl’s.
A similar situation occurs with Quizno’s Sub Shop which shoppers walk past in order to get to HomeGoods.
Other stores in the hall include chains such as Payless ShoeSource, People’s Bank, H&R Block, Radio Shack, Dress Barn, and a Miller’s Hallmark card shop.
Independent stores include T.J.’s Wine and Liquor, Joyce Leslie, a children’s clothing store, Crystal Nail’s, Anthony’s Hairstylists and Wigs, and Hawley Lane Opticians.
Another unique aspect of the mall is the fact that the one-level Best Buy is entirely on the upper level along with its corporate offices and space for its Geek Squad, the computer repair department of Best Buy.
Best Buy features CD’s, DVD’s, electronics, home theatre, car audio, office furniture, and appliances.
Escalators and elevators connect the lower level with the shops and other two anchors to the upper level in a lobby area outside the Best Buy mall entrance.
This upper level was the former home of Sage-Allen Department Stores from 1982-1993, owned by May Department Stores who also owned G. Fox Department Stores, at the time.
In 1993, G. Fox and Sage-Allen were merged under the new Filene’s name.
There was a Filene’s store at the nearby Trumbull Shopping Park, now called Westfield Trumbull Shoppingtown, so this Sage-Allen store closed.
Steinbach’s Department Store filled this void from 1997 to 1999 until the chain went bankrupt and Best Buy, one of the last anchors to move into the mall, moved into the spot in 2006.
One of the oddest aspects of the mall I noticed when I was there is the fact that a sign leads shoppers to take the escalator from the lower level to the upper level and walk through the Best Buy store and its parking lot to access Target.
The sign specifically states “Target/Best Buy” and an up arrow implying that Target is actually in the mall when it really is an outparcel to the Hawley Lane Mall.
This particularly large Target store opened in 2005 with its own underground garage with elevators leading directly into the store.
Perhaps this is the only outparcel Target I know of with its own parking garage.
The garage prevents the common sight of all shoppers having to enter and leave into the store via the main entrance doors to access parking, which at most stores is in front of the store.
It also prevents shoppers from having to transverse the sides of the walls of Target to get to the main entrance since garage parking allows more spaces to be closer to the store.
Target still has parking in front in addition to the garage.
A monument style “Target” sign with the red bullet reads “parking below store”.
Another small sign with “P” at the top in the same font and color as the Target logo with an up arrow reading “Parking Below Store” is located on the side of Target facing the mall.
The garage is accessible through entrance and exit ramps at the back of Target which is clearly marked.
Pedestrian signs and painted markings on the garage’s brick walls lead shoppers from the parking spaces to the elevators going into Target.
The Hawley Lane Mall is a sort of matrix lifestyle center and shopping mall and renovations to the mall did not address this obvious disconnect between Target and the rest of the Hawley Lane Mall.
I believe the mall should add a corridor between the two and enlarge the underground parking thus adding more retail space to a mall currently at 100 percent occupancy.
Another oddity of the Hawley Lane Mall is that a sign in front of Best Buy announces that shoppers should “enter through Best Buy for HomeGoods, Kohl’s, and Lower Level Shops.”
This encourages people to use Best Buy as a walkthrough since the mall was built on an incline and there is no actual mall entrance from the outside on that level of the mall.
This is the same side of the mall that faces the Target store.
Those parking in front of Best Buy see the rear of Kohl’s and HomeGoods without entrances on this side of the mall.
Shoppers entering through Best Buy and taking the escalator down are taken to a spot in the mall right in front of HomeGoods, forcing them to make a U-turn to get to much of the mall and Kohl’s.
On the other side of the mall is the front of Kohl’s, HomeGoods, and the lower level shops, many of which have outdoor entrances if they are on the side of the hallway farthest from Target.
These include Quizno’s Sub, Joyce Leslie, T.J.’s Wine and Liquor, and Dunkin’ Donuts.
They do not include Payless ShoeSource, a jewelry store, and Hawley Lane Opticians which feature only mall entrances because of their placement in the mall.
The other lower level stores have no exterior access because of the hillside and rely solely on mall traffic.
Those stores include People’s Bank, H&R Block, Crystal Nails, Miller’s Hallmark Cards, Radio Shack, Anthony’s Hairstylists and Wigs, and Dress Barn.
Without having having a mall entrance from the anchors Kohl’s, Best Buy, and HomeGoods, these stores might possibly die.
For example in the Rhode Island Mall, located in Warwick, Rhode Island, both Kohl’s and Wal-Mart were built onto the mall but force shoppers to walk outside since they have no mall entrances.
This has lead the mall to be “dead” in the small retail portion while it is anchored by three strong anchors: Kohl’s, on it’s upper level, Wal-Mart, on it’s lower level, and Sears, on both upper and lower levels, the latter the only one actually allowing shoppers to transverse directly from its store into the mall without having to go outside.
Ironically, the Hawley Lane Mall Kohl’s actually has exterior signage “Kohl’s Mall Entrance” leading customers to a small mall hallway connecting to a main hallway which feeds into Kohl’s.
I found this a little odd since only a few hundred feet away, one could step into Kohl’s through its exterior entrance.
Another oddity is that those entering and leaving the Kohl’s exterior entrance must walk around a large metal four foot fence, perhaps a way to discourage shoppers from being the store’s fabric shopping carts outside or to prevent them from walking out into the street in the middle of the store’s entrance?
A monument sign clearly reads “Hawley Lane Mall” in the same panel as Kohl’s with HomeGoods on a separate panel, which shows the pride both anchors have of being part of the mall.
All anchor stores have exterior entrances allowing them to have the “life-style” concept so customers can quickly go in the store, make their purchases, and leave.
Some smaller malls such as East Brook Mall in Mansfield, Connecticut, force shoppers to walk down a small hallway to access an anchor, Kohl’s, which has no direct access to the outside.
The Hawley Lane Mall, during its time, slowly was losing interest because of its gradual loss of anchor stores and the construction and subsequent opening of the Connecticut Post Mall in Milford which was at one-time anchored by a Caldor store much bigger than the Hawley Lane Mall location.
New York-based National Reality and Development Corp. had invested $8 million in the Hawley Lane Mall to revamp the aging center as a result from a neglectant former owner.
The closing of Caldor’s, Steinbach’s, and Waldbaum’s, happened one after the other making the mall anchorless, vacant, and dead at the end of 1999.
Even when Kohl’s opened in 2000, it appeared the store alone could not attract the same type of traffic attracted by Caldor, the famous discounter, and Steinbach, a popular department store.
The rebirth of the mall happened in 2005 leading the Hawley Lane Mall to undergo renovations which lead to today’s look.
This renovation included a fresh coat of white paint on the interior, carpeted flooring, ceiling-hanging Main Street-esque signage over each parcel with a red background and white lettering, a block-façade similar to the Kohl’s architecture, a glass-encased elevator shaft and escalators giving access to Best Buy and office space.
Planters, wooden benches, and matching wooden garbage cans are setup throughout the mall, perhaps in places where larger malls would put retail carts.
Perhaps in the end, Hawley Lane Mall has proven to be more successful than the Westfield Trumbull mall.
The Trumbull Mall is trying to attract retailers such as Target and Nordstrom to build onto the center since the merger of Filene’s and Macy’s lead the mall to have one large vacancy which has boarded up windows.
The aging mall is also anchored by J.C. Penney, Lord and Taylor, and Circuit City, as an outparcel.
It’s obvious that the Hawley Lane Mall is a dream for any developer hoping to redevelop an aging shopping center to have it compete with larger malls.
The Naugatuck Valley Mall in Waterbury, formerly anchored by Sears and Filene’s, much larger than Hawley Lane Mall, has since died and been redeveloped thanks to competition from the Brass Mill Mall in Waterbury
The Farmington Valley Mall in Simsbury transformed from an indoor shopping center to a lifestyle center.
The mall once housed 2-floor D&L (Davidson and Leventhal), Stop and Shop, Bob Stores, Walgreens, and a 2-floor Three D Bed and Bath.
It is now anchored by Stop and Shop, Walgreens, Bob Stores, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond, now called the Simsbury Commons.
Despite its oddities, Hawley Lane Mall survived in a dying breed competing against large malls and life-style centers.
Hawley Lane Mall is located near Exit 8 of Connecticut Route 8, a four-lane highway through the Naugatuck Valley, and Exit 52 of Route 15, the Merritt Parkway. It can be accessed from Interstate 95, the Connecticut Turnpike, by using Exit 33.
This Fairfield County mall is close to the Stratford border.
Obviously, the mall is located on Hawley Lane near its junction with Nichols Avenue and is close to the nearby CVS headquarters and a number of other shopping centers.